Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:38:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 360 Million of 625 Million People Are Overweight in Latin America and Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/360-million-of-625-million-people-are-overweight-in-latin-america-and-caribbean/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:36:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148612 FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean 360 million people are overweight, and 140 million are obese, warned the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Panamerican Health Organisation (PAHO).

“The rise in obesity is very worrying. At the same time the number of people who suffer from hunger has diminished in the region. We need to strengthen our efforts and have food systems with improved nutrition based on sustainable production methods to reduce those figures,” Eve Crowley, FAO acting regional representative, said Thursday at the organisation‘s headquarters in Santiago.

At the regional FAO office in Santiago on Thursday Jan. 19 the two organisations launched the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, which sounded the alarm about the phenomenon in this region of just over 625 million people.

The problem, highlighted the report, largely affects children and women, increasing chronic diseases, driving up medical expenses for countries and individuals, and posing a threat to the quality of the future labour force that national development plans will require.

At the same time, the region has considerably reduced hunger: today only 5.5 per cent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is undernourished, the Caribbean being the area with the highest prevalence (19.8 per cent), largely because Haiti has the highest malnutrition rate in the world: 53.4 per cent.

Chronic child malnutrition (low height for age) in Latin America and the Caribbean also dropped, from 24.5 per cent in 1990 to 11.3 per cent in 2015, which translates into a decrease of 7.8 million children.

Despite the progress made, currently 6.1 million children still suffer from chronic malnutrition: 3.3 million in South America, 2.6 million in Central America, and 200,000 in the Caribbean. About 700,000 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, 1.3 per cent of them under the age of five.

Asked whether the difficulty of access to natural, good quality foods is due to the high prices or to a flawed production and distribution system, Crowley told IPS that it is “a combination of factors“.

“We talk about a food system because it involves a set of factors – from supplies to which foods are available at a national level. For example in Latin America there is a great availability of sugary foods and meat. But ensuring physical availability and access to nutritious, healthy, affordable fresh food in every neighborhood is still hard to achieve,” she said.

“There is evidence that food high in bad calories, from ultra-processed sources, is less expensive than healthy food, and this poses a dilemma to guaranteeing good nutrition for the entire population, particularly people in low-income households,” she said.

Crowley said there are changes in consumption patterns, with people shifting away from their traditional diets based on legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables toward super-processed foods rich in saturated fats, sugar and sodium, which are backed by extensive advertising.

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

She called for better information, nutrition warnings, taxes on unhealthy foods, and subsidies for healthy foods necessary for the population.

With the exception of Haiti (38.5 per cent), Paraguay (48.5 per cent) and Nicaragua (49.4 per cent), overweight affects more than half of the population of the countries in the region, with Chile (63 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent) and the Bahamas (69 per cent) showing the highest rates, states the report.

Erick Espinoza, a physical education teacher in a private school in a middle-class neighborhood in Santiago, sees the problem of the change in eating and behavioural habits of his students, aged six to 10, which is a reflection of what is happening throughout the region, and in particular in the countries with the highest overweight and obesity rates.

“As snacks, they don’t bring fruit, only potato chips, crackers or cookies, fizzy drinks, juice or milk high in sugar. And they don’t just bring a small package, but sometimes two or three packages or even a big one,” he told IPS, referring to the snack during recess.

Since 2016, kiosks that sell food in Chilean schools have been prohibited from selling foods high in sugar, sodium or fat. “They have to sell fruit, but the kiosk is not doing well because the children don’t buy fruit or yoghurt, but bring other things from home,“ said the teacher.

Alexandra Carmona, a teacher at a municipal school for children aged four to 17 in a low-income neighborhood in Santiago, pointed to a different problem.

“There was an obese boy who was really bullied. Everybody would say ‘hey fattie‘, ‘hey grease ball‘. So I called the parents to tell them what was happening, but they didn’t give it any importance,“ she told IPS. The boy ended up in a special school even though he had no learning disability.

At her school, the school provides meals, but many children won‘t accept the legumes and balanced diet that is offered.

The Panorama reports that 7.2 per cent of children under five years old in the region are overweight, which means a total of 3.9 million children, including 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200,000 in the Caribbean.

The countries with the highest rates of overweight in children under five years old are Barbados (12 per cent), Paraguay (11.7 per cent), Argentina (9.9 per cent), and Chile (9.3 per cent).

The report also points out that several countries have adopted taxes on sugary beverages, including Barbados, Chile, Dominican Republic and Mexico, while others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile have laws on healthy nutrition which regulate advertising and labeling of food products.

With respect to the countries that stand out in sales per person of ultra-processed products, the report says that Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay exceed the regional average of 129.6 kilograms per inhabitant. Mexico ranks first, with 214 kg per inhabitant, and Chile is second with 201.9 kg.

In 30 of the 33 countries studied , more than half of the population over 18 is overweight, and in 20 of them obesity among women is at least 10 percent higher than among men.

According to PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne, “the region is facing a two-fold burden of malnutrition, which has to be fought with a balanced diet which includes fresh, healthy and nutritious foods, produced in a sustainable manner, besides addressing the main social factors that lead to malnutrition.”

In addition to the lack of access to healthy foods, she mentioned the difficulty of access to clean water and sewage services, education and health services, and social protection programmes, among others.

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It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:31:31 +0000 Ken Cook http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148533 It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farming - OPED by Ken Cook from the Environmental Working Group (EWG)

By Ken Cook
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

Conventional farming and food production practices in this country are creating serious environmental and public health problems. Every day, an industrial farming system spinning out of control confronts all Americans with serious challenges. Among these are the explosion in toxic algae blooms in sensitive waterways, cancer-causing pesticides on foods we feed our children, the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and, of course, contaminated drinking water, all courtesy of corporate agribusiness.

Thankfully, we have an alternative: organic.

Study after study shows organic food is better for our health, and organic farming is better for our environment.

Organic milk has higher concentrations of beneficial nutrients than its conventional counterpart, and organic foods can have higher levels of antioxidants and far fewer, if any, pesticide residues than conventionally grown crops. In addition to the notable consumer benefits, organic farming consumes far less energy and can reduce water pollutionincrease biodiversitypromote healthy soils and sequester significantly more carbon than conventional farming.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been advocating for organic food and farming for more than two decades, with much of our research documenting how the practices and finished products of both conventional and organic agriculture influence our health and the environment.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand
In that time, I have worked alongside many pioneers and have seen organic farming grow from a fledgling movement available to few, into a nearly $40 billion a year industry. Organic is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. food industry with some of the country’s largest retailers struggling to keep up with customer demand and keep their store shelves stocked.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, fewer than 1 percent of American farms were classified as organic. This has forced many organic food companies in the U.S. to turn to foreign suppliers to meet customer demand.

There is no reason why we cannot be meeting the surging demand for organic foods here at home, growing and producing it ourselves. However, if we are going to grow more organic food in this country we will need more organic farmers. That means recruiting new farmers, and helping existing farmers transition to organic.

Easier said than done.

We will need to provide farmers with technical assistance to help them transition to organic. We will also need to invest in more science and research to ensure that organic and transitioning farmers are armed with high yielding, regionally adapted seeds, designed with organic systems in mind.

Now, you don’t have to be a D.C. lobbyist or congressional staffer to know that the purse strings on Capitol Hill have been pulled tight in recent years, and funds supporting agriculture are tethered closely to the interests of Big Ag, not organic. While EWG will continue to call on Congress to make serious investments in organic in the next farm bill, there is a lot that can be accomplished in the interim if the organic community pools its resources, and approves an organic research and promotions program.

That is why EWG supports the organic check-off program.

The principle of a check-off program is simple: Producers of a particular commodity pool their resources, and collectively invest in research and promotion of that commodity. These programs are authorized by Congress and directed by industry-driven boards overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this sounds simple, it hasn’t always worked out in the best interest of producers.

EWG is fully aware that farmers have been burned by past check-off programs, and we are glad that so many in the organic community have been part of productive discussions about the organic check-off currently under consideration. After all of those discussions one thing is clear: The organic check-off is not your father’s check-off.

It is the first such program that is not based on a specific commodity, but rather on the notion that if everyone pitches in a little, the organic community can address its shared research, education and promotion needs together.

With the funds raised every year from the check-off, the organic community would be able to provide transitioning farmers with greater technical assistance and training to bring more acres into organic production. It would also be able to fill in the research gaps left every year by limited federal research dollars that all too often skew toward outdated and damaging industrial farming practices. And, the check-off will ensure that the organic sector has an opportunity to educate consumers about organic and promote its benefits in the same way that major commodities like milk and pork were able to do with the “Got Milk?” and “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaigns, respectively.

To be clear, both Congress and organic food companies will also have to do their parts to increase funding for research and promotion of organic in the years to come. But that shouldn’t stop the organic community from supporting the organic check-off program and taking organic to the next level.

After all, EWG not only believes that organic farming can help feed the world, we believe that organic systems and practices may be the only way to do so sustainably. However, the footprint of organic on the agricultural landscape and in Americans’ shopping carts must grow significantly if we are to realize organic’s full potential to feed the planet in ways that enhance the environment and public health.

I hope you will join me in supporting the GRO Organic campaign to make this a reality.

This story was originally published by Food Tank

 

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Is Cash Aid to the Poor Wasted on Tobacco and Alcohol?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/is-cash-aid-to-the-poor-wasted-on-tobacco-and-alcohol/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 21:07:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148507 Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Not at all. Or at least not necessarily. The fact is that cash transfer programmes –regular money payments to poor households—are meant to reduce poverty, promote sustainable livelihoods and increase production in the developing world. One in four countries on Earth are applying them. But are they effective?

That depends. In some countries, like Brazil, the so-called Bolsa Família is cited as one of the key factors behind the positive social outcomes this Latin American giant has achieved in recent years.

The programme is an innovative social initiative taken by the Brazilian Government, says the World Bank (WB), which has provided technical and financial support to it.

In fact, Bolsa Família reaches 11 million families, more than 46 million people, a major portion of the country’s low-income population. The model emerged in Brazil more than a decade ago and has been refined since then.

Poor families with children receive an average of 70.00 R (about 35 US dollars) in direct transfers. In return, they commit to keeping their children in school and taking them for regular health checks.

And so Bolsa Família has two important results: helping to reduce current poverty, and getting families to invest in their children, thus breaking the cycle of inter-generational transmission and reducing future poverty.

Although relatively modest in terms of resources when compared with other Brazilian social programs, such as Social Security, the Bolsa Família programme may be the one that is having the greatest impact on the lives of millions of low-income Brazilians, according to the WB.

But what about other countries and regions?

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on Jan. 4 reported that during the past decade, an increasing number of governments in sub-Saharan Africa have launched cash transfer programmes that target the most vulnerable groups, including subsistence farmers, people with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, as well as families caring for elderly and disabled.

But “although local economies and numerous households have benefited from this social protection measure, critics remain doubtful.”

Five Common Myths

Whatever the case is, there are at least five common myths about cash transfers.

FAO elaborated the following list aimed at evaluating how they play an important role in improving food and nutrition security and reducing rural poverty, based on evaluations carried out in seven African countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Myth: Cash will be wasted on alcohol and tobacco

Reality: Alcohol and tobacco represent only 1 to 2 per cent of food expenditures in poor households. Across six countries in Africa where FAO and partners carried out evaluations of cash transfer initiatives, no evidence of increased expenditures was found.

In Lesotho, for example, alcohol expenditures have actually decreased after the introduction of cash transfer programmes.

Myth: Transfers are just ‘hand-outs’ and do not contribute to development.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers increased farmland by 36 per cent, and with that the use of seeds, fertilisers and hired labour, which resulted in stronger market engagement, and prompted the use of more agricultural inputs.

The country recorded an overall production increase of 36 per cent. Furthermore, the majority of programmes show a significant increase in secondary school enrolment and in spending on school uniforms and shoes.

Cash transfers... are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Cash transfers… are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Myth: Cash causes dependency and laziness.

Reality: In several countries, including Malawi and Zambia, research shows a reduction in casual wage labour and a shift to more productive and on-farm activities.

In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa cash transfers lead to positive multiplier effects in local economies and significantly boost growth and development in rural areas.

Thus, cash does not create dependency, but rather spurs beneficiaries to invest more in agriculture and to work more.

Myth: Transfers lead to price inflation and disrupt local economies.

Reality: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were all part of the Protection to Production project, which, among other things, analysed the productive and economic impacts of cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

None of the seven case study countries experienced inflation.

Beneficiaries represent only a small share of the community (15 to 20 per cent), and because they come from the poorest households and have a low purchasing power, they do not buy enough to affect market prices, thus enabling local economies to meet the increased demand.

In Ethiopia, for every dollar transferred by the programme, about 1.5 dollars are generated for the local economy.

Myth: Child-focused grants increase fertility.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers showed no impact on fertility. In Kenya, adolescent pregnancy even decreased by 34 per cent and in South Africa by over 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, FAO, together with its partners, continues to generate evidence on the impacts of social protection interventions to reduce poverty and hunger.

Findings have shown that the implementation of such programmes leads to increased food consumption, better nutrition, improved school enrolment, reduced child labour, economic development, agricultural investment and many other benefits, it says.

“Cash transfer programmes have become an increasingly important tool in finding the path out of poverty and have contributed to making a long-term impact on the lives of many families.”

So far, so good.

The fact, however, is that there are still almost a billion people who still live in extreme poverty (less than 1.25 US dollar per person per day) and 795 million still suffer from chronic hunger, according to this UN leading agency in the filed of food and agriculture.

“Most of the extreme poor live in rural areas of developing countries and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods… They are so poor and malnourished that their families live in a cycle of poverty that passes from generation to generation.”

What About Women?

The case of women is particularly flagrant – although representing nearly half of all rural workers worldwide, with peaks of up to 60 per cent in some developing countries—they have always been among the poorest of the poor.

FAO informs that their main goal is economic growth rather than the economic empowerment of their beneficiaries –-who are usually ultra-poor people; however, evidence of their development impacts is contributing to a shift in how policy-makers perceive these programmes.

On the specific case of women, it says that in many countries, the majority of cash transfers beneficiaries are poor and vulnerable women.

“As a result, it is often claimed that cash transfers have an empowering effect on women based on the assumption that, as the main recipients of the transfers, women gain greater control over financial resources.

Nevertheless, “available evidence on empowerment outcomes is far from being conclusive, particularly as to whether cash transfers actually improve women’s bargaining power and decision-making in the household.”

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When Your Healers Become Your Killershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/when-your-healers-become-your-killers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-your-healers-become-your-killers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/when-your-healers-become-your-killers/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:10:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148473 Since the introduction of penicillin in the middle of the 20th century, antimicrobial treatments have been used not only in human medicine but in veterinary care as well. But their excessive use in livestock (and aquaculture) contaminates the environment and contributes to a rise of resistant microorganisms, posing threats to human health, animal health, food security and people’s livelihoods. Photo: FAO

Since the introduction of penicillin in the middle of the 20th century, antimicrobial treatments have been used not only in human medicine but in veterinary care as well. But their excessive use in livestock (and aquaculture) contaminates the environment and contributes to a rise of resistant microorganisms, posing threats to human health, animal health, food security and people’s livelihoods. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

There is a major though silent global threat to human and animal health, with implications for both food safety and food security and the economic well-being of millions of farming households. It is so-called anti-microbial resistance.

The problems arises from the indiscriminate, excessive use of synthetic products, such as anti-microbial medicines, to kill diseases in the agricultural and food systems, which may be a major conduit of the anti-microbial resistance (AMR) that causes 700,000 human deaths each year and has the potential to raise this number to up to 10 million annually.

AMR is a natural phenomenon of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are no longer sensitive to the effects of antimicrobial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections.

Nevertheless, commercial practices meant to increase benefits have been leading to the dramatic fact that these drugs are more and more used to practically solely promote animal growth. "Anti-microbial Resistance has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year" – UN

“The world is in the midst of a different kind of public health emergency, one that is just as dramatic but not as visible. Except for the headline-grabbing ‘superbugs’, anti-microbial resistance (AMR) doesn’t cause much public alarm,” the heads of three international organisations dealing with human and animal health have warned in a joint article published in the Huffington Post.

AMR Could Be More Deadly than Cancer

“But AMR has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year and, according to a recent review undertaken by the United Kingdom, to cost the world economy as much as 100 trillion dollars annually,” added the Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

According to them, if left unchecked, AMR will make chemotherapy and common dental and surgical procedures increasingly risky, as infectious complications become difficult or impossible to treat. The gains in health and longer lives of the 20th century are at stake.

In addition to the growing high number of human deaths each year that are estimated to be related to anti-microbial resistant infections, the AMR further poses a major threat to food safety and security, livelihoods, animal health and welfare, economic and agricultural development worldwide, warn United Nations specialised agencies.

FAO's Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

FAO’s Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

The global use of synthetic products to indiscriminately kill bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi in agricultural and food systems requires a concerted effort to map, understand and mitigate the risks of AMR, says FAO.

While anti-microbial resistance was first described in 1940, scientific understanding of the myriad of pathways by which resistance emerges and spreads remains in its infancy, according to its report titled Drivers, Dynamics and Epidemiology of Antimicrobial Resistance in Animal Production.

AMR may be a natural genomic process for bacteria, but it was very rare in clinical isolates predating the introduction of antibiotics, the 67-page technical report notes.

Food Contaminated with Antibiotic Resistants

“As foods from around the globe are today frequently contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli and Salmonella, measures which encourage the prudent use of antimicrobials are likely to be extremely useful in reducing the emergence and spread of AMR.”

In view of this growing health challenge, three international organisations –FAO, WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health — held last November a World Antibiotic Awareness Week to raise awareness of one of the biggest threats to global health.

The report summarises the magnitude of AMR in the food and especially the livestock sector, which is expected to account for two-thirds of future growth in antimicrobial usage.

The need to support and pursue more research — involving both molecular sequencing and epidemiological analyses — into factors influencing how and why resistant bacteria become incorporated into human and animal gut micro-biomes as well as the need to create standardised monitoring procedures and databases so that adequate risk-assessment models can be built, are some of the report’s recommendations.

Use of anti-microbials solely to promote animal growth should be phased out, the UN agency stressed. Instead, alternatives to antibiotics to enhance animal health — including enhanced vaccination programmes — should be more vigorously pursued.

Antimicrobial Residues in the Environment

Antimicrobial residues in the environment, especially in water sources, should be tracked in the same way as other hazardous substances, the report urges.

“Given our current limited knowledge of transmission pathways, options to mitigate the global spread of AMR involve controlling its emergence in various environments, and minimizing the opportunities for AMR to spread along what may be the most important routes.”

While cautious about how much remains unknown, the report’s authors — experts form the Royal Veterinary College in London and FAO experts led by Juan Lubroth — highlight compelling evidence of the scale of the threat.

For instance, U.S. honeybees have different gut bacteria than is found elsewhere, reflecting the use of tetracycline in hives since the 1950s.

Fish farms in the Baltic Sea show fewer AMR genes than aquaculture systems in China, which are now reservoirs of genes encoding resistance to quinolones — a critical human medicine whose use has grown because of increasing resistance to older anti-microbials such as tetracycline.

The recent detection of resistance to colistin, until recently considered a last-ditch antibiotic in human medicine, in several countries also underscores the need to scrutinise livestock practices, as the drug has been used for decades in pigs, poultry, sheep, cattle and farmed fish.

What to Do?

The report focuses on livestock because future demand for animal-based protein is expected to accelerate intensive operations — where animals in close contact multiply the potential incidence of AMR pathogens.

A poultry operation in Egypt. Good hygiene on farms can help stem the rise of AMR due to over-reliance on anti-microbials. FAO

A poultry operation in Egypt. Good hygiene on farms can help stem the rise of AMR due to over-reliance on anti-microbials. FAO

Poultry, the world’s primary animal protein source, followed by pork, are important food-based vehicles of AMR transmission to humans.

Cases in Tanzania and Pakistan also demonstrate the risk of AMR coming from integrated aquaculture systems that use farm and poultry waste as fish food.

As animals metabolise only a small fraction of the antimicrobial agents they ingest, the spread of anti-microbials from animal waste is an important concern, it says.

While smallholder systems may rely less on anti-microbials, they often use over-the-counter drugs without veterinary advice. Inappropriate, sub-lethal, dosing promotes genetic and phenotypic variability among the exposed bacteria that survive.

Finally, the report says that working collaboratively across all sectors and aspects of food production, from farm to table, will provide an essential contribution to an integrated one-health approach to combat AMR.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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Threat of Famine Looms in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:27:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148420 On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Millions of Yemenis could soon face widespread famine if no action is taken to improve food access through humanitarian or trade means, an early warning system has said.

Up to eight million Yemenis are severely food insecure while another 2 million are facing food insecurity at emergency levels, just one phase below famine, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has found. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the food-insecure population in the Middle Eastern nation could be even higher at up to 14.4 million, representing half of the population.

This has contributed to rising acute malnutrition and risk of mortality. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 4.5 million are in need of treatment for malnutrition, including over 2 million children.

The ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis has largely driven the food crisis in Yemen, which FEWS Net describes as the “largest food security emergency in the world.” The two-year civil war has left thousands dead and 3 million displaced, limiting humanitarian access and food availability on the market.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded system highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access in order to continue and increase much needed food and nutrition assistance.

Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food.

Though current food assistance from organisations such as the World Food Program (WFP) is helping mitigate the crisis, FEWS NET noted that such operations alone have been insufficient to meet the country’s needs.

Action is also needed to ensure sustained commercial food trade. Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food. The unrest has since disrupted the government and private sector’s ability to import food. Most recently, wheat imports were suspended in December, a staple grain for Yemenis.

Without such imports, humanitarian actors will also be unable to ensure local food availability.

Though food is still available on local markets, increased prices and reduced income have limited access to goods. WFP found that prices of red bean, sugar and onion were respectively 48 percent, 24 percent and 17 percent higher in November than in the pre-crisis period.

A major reduction in food import levels will only serve to worsen food security in the country.

“In a worst-case scenario, where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, famine is possible,” FEWS NET reported.

In 2016, the UN requested almost $1.7 billion towards Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Approximately 40 percent remains unfunded.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

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How the US Government Subsidizes Obesityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 17:48:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148348 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> 8976878849_a17eba627c_z

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR , Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Until the turn of the century, the United States of America (US) was the country with the highest share of overweight and obese people. Soon after the former president of Coca-Cola Mexico became the new president of his country, Mexico overtook the US.

In late 2014, the McKinsey Global Institute announced that 2.1 billion of the 7.3 billion people in the world were overweight or obese. This represented a fifty per cent increase over the previous WHO estimate of 1.4 billion less than a decade earlier. The Institute also estimated that about 2.8 percent of world income is spent dealing with the consequences of associated ill health.

While almost 800 million people are estimated to be ‘chronically hungry’, higher real incomes for many as well as globalized lifestyles, including food consumption, have changed micronutrient deficiencies and increased diet-related non-communicable diseases, many associated with overweight and obesity. With the United Nations General Assembly calling for a global Decade of Action against malnutrition from 2016, there is greater interest in the role of food systems in contributing to various dimensions of malnutrition.

A recent study found that those who most consume government subsidized foods had a 37 percent greater risk of being obese. They were significantly more likely to have belly fat, abnormal cholesterol and high blood sugar. While it could not prove cause and effect, this strong association is consistent with other research showing that diets higher in subsidized foods tend to be of poorer quality and more harmful to health.

American junk food
Almost three-quarters of the US population is overweight or obese. Junk foods are the largest source of calories in the American diet, with sweet desserts, bread, pizza, pasta and sweetened drinks the major culprits. These foods are largely products of seven food items heavily subsidized by the US government, namely maize, wheat, rice, soy, sorghum, milk and meat. Hence, such foods are cheap and plentiful.

Between 1995 and 2010, the US government paid out US$170 billion in agricultural subsidies to produce these foods. While many such foods are not inherently unhealthy, only small shares are eaten as produced. Most are used as feed for livestock, converted into biofuels or processed into cheap products such as sweeteners, industrial oils, processed meats, refined carbohydrates and other processed foods.

While the US government’s latest dietary guidelines recommend that people eat much more fruits and vegetables, only a very small fraction of its subsidies actually support fresh produce. Most agricultural subsidies go to crops processed into foods linked to obesity. Thus, such subsidies damage health and raise medical costs to treat the effects of overweight and obesity.

US farm subsidies
US farm subsidies were introduced decades ago to secure its food supply and to support struggling farmers. Since 1995, the US government has provided American farmers with almost $300 billion in agricultural subsidies. Typically, these have been included in the US farm bill, besides financing its food stamps program. The US farm bill is renewed by Congress every five years, with the 2014 bill approving US$956 billion in expenditure.

But the subsidies program no longer serves its original intent. Instead of supporting small farmers who grow fruits, nuts and vegetables – considered ‘specialty crops’ by the US government – the program now primarily subsidizes large commodity crop producers.

Small, including ‘specialty’ farms use three-quarters of the country’s cropland, but receive only 14 percent of government subsidies. Large agribusinesses specializing in growing the major commodity crops represent 7 percent of cropland, but receive half of all subsidies.

Thanks to public awareness and pressure, the 2014 farm bill allows farmers who grow commodity crops to use 15 percent of their farmland to grow fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. It now supports organic farmers, including US$100 million for research to improve such production.

A ‘healthy incentives’ program encourages food stamp recipients to consume more fruits and vegetables by increasing the value of food stamps used to buy fresh produce at retail stores or farmers’ markets. However, such funding is still paltry compared to the billions in subsidies for commodity crops.

Of course, many factors influence what people eat. While it is impossible to prove that farm subsidies directly cause obesity, they clearly contribute as agriculture and food policies are not aligned with public health goals.

A national food policy should ensure that farm laborers gets decent incomes, everyone has affordable access to healthy foods and is effectively discouraged from consuming unhealthy foods, and that governments coordinate their nutrition goals with their food and agricultural policies.

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Quality Water for All a Life and Death Issue in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 23:29:37 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148324 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

There is no exaggerating how crucial water is for human survival, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers. The level of water in a river here directly affects the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people living on its two sides, so much so that rivers and water bodies of varied sizes are an inseparable part of Bengali culture and heritage.

Several hundred rivers and their tributaries flow through the country. However, some of the rivers — often called the lifelines of Bangladesh — are dying, inflicting prolonged suffering on the people. For example, the 309-kilometer Teesta flows through northern Bangladesh and drains an area of 12,540 square kilometres on its way from the Himalayas to Fulchhari of Gaibandha in Bangladesh where it meets the Jamuna.While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it.

The river, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is reduced to a width of about 70 metres during the winter and is even narrower or completely dry at some places during the very dry season (March and April). This leaves fishermen without work and farmers in acute need of water for irrigation.

While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, particularly during winter, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it, particularly during the monsoon. Also, salinity ingress in the surface and groundwater in the coastal region has reached such a state that not even grass can grow in some areas and people face an acute shortage of drinking water.

Someone said that a third world war may be fought over water. And it indeed is turning out to be a serious issue, not only in Bangladesh but also worldwide. In any case, quality water access on the one hand and devastation caused by flooding on the other are the hallmarks of water being the cause of large-scale suffering of people in many parts of the world. Water-related natural disasters have occurred in the past, but are increasing in recent times in terms of both frequency and extent of the devastations caused.

The reasons behind various water sector problems include a growing population, fast expanding economic activity, spreading water pollution, and the consequences of climate change.

In Bangladesh, as a matter of fact, the average annual per capita availability of water is robust — 7,568 cubic meters per capita, around five times higher than that in India. However, the highly uneven seasonal and spatial distribution of available water in Bangladesh poses serious problems. Adequate water access for drinking or for other purposes by certain groups of large numbers of people and in certain areas of the country is becoming increasingly serious.

Another set of problems related to the water sector arises as Bangladesh is at the bottom of three major rivers systems—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. A particular feature in this context is severe water scarcity in certain parts of Bangladesh in the dry season, Jan. 1 to May 31, particularly in March and April, due to low-flows through transboundary rivers as a result of excessive upstream abstraction. Also, floods in Bangladesh mostly originate upstream. Hence, regional cooperation in water management is an important issue.

Increasing salinity in water in coastal areas, arsenic contamination of water, and water pollution caused by human actions are becoming increasingly serious problems. Devastating floods and prolonged droughts also affect various areas of the country from time to time.

Clean, accessible water for all is the sixth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. The Sheikh Hasina-led Government of Bangladesh is working relentlessly to achieve the goals well before the 2030 deadline. The country already has necessary policies to save the rivers and other water-bodies and to ensure even distribution of quality water.

What the country now needs is stricter enforcement of the policies and relevant laws, and more effective efforts from both government and non-government actors in realising the goal of ensuring accessibility to quality water for all.

Against such a backdrop, the National Water Convention 2016 is being held in Dhaka on Dec. 28-29, 2016. Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) — the government-established apex development agency of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad — a non-profit research organization, and NGO Forum for Public Health are organising the event.

Through 13 sessions participated by experts, scholars, government high-ups and sector-related actors, the Convention will review the state of affairs in respect of various key water sector issues and to reflect on: where we stand regarding those issues, how people’s perspectives can be brought to bear on water policies and water actions, how the increasing water difficulties and problems can be more effectively addressed, how coordination among various stakeholders, particularly between the Government and others can be strengthened, and, overall, how the best possible water regime can be forged under the prevailing circumstances.

Ensuring accessibility to quality water for all is a must for sustainable development. And this has to be ensured before it is too late.

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Bio-Product Targeting Deadly Toxin Holds Hope for Africa’s Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bio-product-targeting-deadly-toxin-holds-hope-for-africas-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bio-product-targeting-deadly-toxin-holds-hope-for-africas-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bio-product-targeting-deadly-toxin-holds-hope-for-africas-food/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 11:40:15 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148311 Application of Aflasafe in groundnut field. Photo courtesy of Aflasafe.com

Application of Aflasafe in groundnut field. Photo courtesy of Aflasafe.com

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

As food contaminants, aflatoxins are amongst the deadliest. Between 2004 and 2007, contaminated maize killed nearly 200 people in Kenya, left hundreds hospitalised and rendered millions of bags of maize unfit for consumption.

On average, 25 to 60 percent of maize – a staple in many African countries – has high levels of aflatoxins in Nigeria, warns the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). And with that comes the risk of liver cancer, suppressed immune system, stunted growth in children, and death.In the first year of the aflasafe trial, farmers recorded 13 percent average sales price over market rate, which is a 210 percent return on investment.

But despite such toxic potency, aflatoxins are hardly popular. Now, a made-in-Africa biocontrol product, Aflasafe, is taking on the poison, and is offering hope to millions across the continent who rely on vulnerable crops like maize.

“Aflatoxins are some of the most carcinogenic substances. But for four years that we have worked with farmers, we have seen great results in the use of aflasafe,” said Adebowale Akande, an aflasafe project lead at IITA, the institute that developed the product.

A four-year trial of aflasafe in Nigeria has yielded an impressive 80 to 90 percent reduction of aflatoxins, Akande said. “You will agree with me that four years is enough to know whether something is working or not,” he said.

Aflatoxin contamination is a global problem. But while developed countries regularly screen crops and destroy food supplies that test over regulatory limits, lax control and low awareness in developing countries mean billions of people face the risk of being exposed to the toxin daily.

The U.S-based Centre for Disease Control estimates that 4.5 billion people in developing countries may be chronically exposed to aflatoxins through their diet.

The toxins contaminate African dietary staples such as maize, groundnuts, rice either in the soil or during storage.

Countries in latitudes between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south—which includes all of Africa—are susceptible to this contamination, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, PACA, an African Union body, said.

Besides health, aflatoxin also has serious economic implications.

“The direct economic impact of aflatoxin contamination in crops results mainly from a reduction in marketable volume, loss in value in the national markets, inadmissibility or rejection of products by the international market, and losses incurred from livestock disease, consequential morbidity and mortality,” said PACA in a 2015 paper.

Aflasafe production quality check after colonisation and drying. Photo courtesy of Aflasafe.com

Aflasafe production quality check after colonisation and drying. Photo courtesy of Aflasafe.com

Pull Mechanism

Aflasafe works by preventing the growth of aspergillus, the fungus that produces aflatoxin. It does so by stimulating the growth of large quantities of a harmless specie of aspergillus instead.

Developed over a decade by IITA, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, University of Bonn and University of Ibadan, aflasafe is applied by hand on soil two to three weeks prior to crop flowering. It works only for maize and groundnuts for now, amid ongoing researches for other crops.

Within two to three days of application, the anti-toxigenic strain of the fungus builds up rapidly on the crop, colonizes it and stops the toxic strain from developing. With that, over 90 percent of aflatoxins can be eliminated.

Despite such promise, there are challenges. Low awareness of the dangers of aflatoxins means low demand for aflatoxin-free maize. Also, poor regulation has limited investments in the control of aflatoxin.

The IITA set up the “pull mechanism” to ultimately expand the use of aflasafe by providing economic and technical incentives to smallholder farmers, who work in groups through intermediaries called implementers. It features per-unit payments based on the number of kilograms of maize treated with aflasafe.

Premium payments equal to 18.75 dollars are paid for every metric ton of high-aflasafe maize delivered to designated collection points. This corresponds to a premium rate of 5 percent to 13 percent depending on the current price of maize.

The pull mechanism began in 2012 in Nigeria, with four implementers and 1,000 farmers. By 2016, the number has grown to 25 implementers and 15, 000 farmers, Mr. Akande said.

Abubakar Yambab, 43, is one of such farmers. At Abaji, a suburb of Abuja where he lives, Mr. Yambab grows maize on a 1⅟2 hectare of land. He told IPS he first used aflasafe in 2015, and his yields have since improved in quantity and quality.

“Using aflasafe has a multiplier effect,” he said. “It removes the coloured particles (aflatoxin) we used to notice in the harvested maize and I don’t think I can grow maize now without aflasafe.”

Yambab said he receives subsidized fertilizers, farming equipment, tractors and chemicals from IITA, and has relied on his farm proceeds to feed his six children and two wives, in addition to recently completing a block home.

Receiving premium payment on aflatoxin-reduced maize makes business sense for the farmers despite investment in the aflasafe technology.

IITA said in the first year of its trial, farmers recorded 13 percent average sales price over market rate, which is a 210 percent return on investment. In 2015, average sales price stood at 15 percent over market rate, translating to 524 percent return on investment.

Commercialization

Nigeria was chosen as pilot location for aflasafe as it is the leading producer and consumer of maize in sub-Saharan Africa and up to 60 percent of its maize may be affected. The country is for now the only developing country in which aflasafe is ready for use by farmers.

But similar work is going to Senegal and Kenya. A manufacturing plant capable of producing 5 tons of aflasafe per hour is operational at IITA headquarters in Nigeria, Ibadan. Another is under construction in Kenya and a third is underway in Senegal.

The institute is also working on transferring the technology to allow companies produce and distribute aflasafe to millions of farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

“It is slated to cover 500,000 hectares in 11 countries where aflasafe will soon be registered,” Matieyedou Konlambigue, who leads IITA’s Aflasafe Technology Transfer Commercialization Project, said at the launching of the project on Dec. 1 at Ibadan, Nigeria.

The targeted countries are Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Gambia, Uganda and Zambia, Konlambigue was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying. The project is to last from 2016 to 2020.

Yamdab said he would advise other farmers to use aflasafe for their crops. “If all farmers in the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) use aflasafe, it will really improve the quality of food products here,” he said.

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Communications Key to Successful Development Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/communications-key-to-successful-development-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communications-key-to-successful-development-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/communications-key-to-successful-development-projects/#comments Sat, 24 Dec 2016 12:34:56 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148303 A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 24 2016 (IPS)

Pumping money into development projects and rolling them out without having a good communications policy in place makes it unlikely the programmes will achieve their desired goals, as communications is vital to connect with stakeholders.

Development projects will thrive if the messages are effectively shared as it helps build an enabling atmosphere, communications experts said while addressing a multi-stakeholder knowledge-sharing meeting titled ‘Communicating for Development: Rural Transformation’ in Dhaka on Dec. 20.

They said one needs to be clear about project goals and messages while communicating in any form. Connecting people across the board with communication helps identify vital issues, build a sense of belonging and pave the way to move ahead.

Emphasising the need for collectivism, Bangladesh’s noted economist Prof. Abul Barkat told the event that project officials often fail to make their key messages clear.

Referring to the weakness in coordination and communication, the economist noted that only four percent of rural land in Bangladesh is ‘effectively’ owned by women, while a whopping 72 percent of urban land is owned by women as the property is often transferred to women by their male family members in a bid to evade taxes. “Where’s this message? No one knows,” he said.

The multistakeholder event held under the auspices of the Inter Press Service (IPS) and entities of the Government of Bangladesh.

S.M. Shameem Reza, Associate Professor of Mass Communication and the Journalism department at Dhaka University, said, “Most development projects, particularly those are related to rural transformation, have the lack of a strong communication approach. Communication doesn’t get much importance in project implementation. In many cases, communication is considered as a project subcomponent.”

For better outputs, there needs to be a very effective and sustainable communication strategy so that the project implementers can identify appropriate channels of communication, the mode of communication, core messages, and can establish communication and feedback mechanisms.

“If so, the system loss can be minimised,” Reza said.

There should be a communication strategy for development, rural transformation and agricultural projects, he said.

According to Adam Smith International, a UK-based award-winning professional services business, effective development communication is the result of a logical series of steps that demands a consistent approach. The steps are defining goals, identifying, stakeholders, developing messages and selecting media, testing and reviewing, launching, defending and responding, and assessing and evaluating.

At the event, separate presentations were made to share communication approaches of the six projects of IFAD. The projects are Participatory Small-Scale Water Resources Sector Project, Char Development and Settlement Project IV, Haor Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project/Climate Adaptation and Livelihood Protection (HIILIP/CALIP), Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP), Promoting Agricultural Commercialisation and Enterprise Project (PACE) and National Agriculture Technology Programme II (NATP-II).

Dr. Barkat told the event that the total beneficiaries of these projects would be around 10 million households, and this vital message needs to be spread.

Barkat said Bangladesh needs to accelerate the process of humane development rather than concentrating exclusively on GDP growth. It is essential to ensure just rights and distributive justice, he added.

However, he added that humanising development within the framework of a free market economy is a very difficult task. “If somebody comes up with a formula how to humanise development within the free market economy, he or she will get the Nobel Prize,” he noted wryly.

Taking part in discussions, representatives of the projects said their aim is to make communication for development an integral part of rural development policies and programmes.

By bringing the media along with other stakeholders onboard, they stressed the importance of raising awareness, acknowledging the cultural dimensions of rural development and valuing local knowledge, experiential learning, and information sharing.

They also talked about giving priority to the active participation of smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process with the ultimate objective of building a Bangladesh that will have food security.

Communication is no longer an issue that can be ignored as it is the key to success for development programmes.

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Agroecology Booming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-booming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:04:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148299 Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding in Argentina, the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and second in the world after Australia, as part of a backlash against a model that has disappointed producers and is starting to worry consumers.

According to the intergovernmental Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22 per cent of the total global land devoted to these crops. Of this total, 6.8 million of hectares are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and three million in Argentina alone.

The Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that between 2014 and 2015, the land area under organic production grew 10 per cent, including herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds.

Legumes and vegetables experienced the largest increase (200 percent). In Argentina there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model.” -- Eduardo Cerdá


“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing since 20 years ago, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” said Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology company that produces olives and olive oil on some 1,000 hectares in the Argentine province of Córdoba.

“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” Pierrestegui said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Cerdá, an agroecology adviser, differentiates between this practice and organic. Agroecology doesn’t use agrochemicals either, but it does not seek to certify production which is “concentrated in four or five companies” and which “has a cost for the producer,” he told IPS.

“We basically work to generate experiences, to accompany producers, to train students, as part of a vision of agriculture based on ecological principles,” he said.

Cerdá, who is vice president of the Graduate Centre of the Agronomy School at the National University of La Plata (UNLP), said there is growing interest in agroecology.

In 10 years the area receiving specialised advice grew from 600 to 12,500 hectares. He and his few colleagues are not able to meet the demand.

The expert attributes it to the disappointment in the “current model” based on agrochemicals, which he considers to be “exhausted.” For him, agroecology “is not an alternative but the agriculture of the near future.”

“Producers are seeing that the promise of 20 years ago of what this technology would solve has not been fulfilled. Neither in terms of high yields nor in costs. They see that the costs are very high due to the amount of inputs that they use,” he said.

While in the 1990s, a hectare of wheat cost 100 dollars, by 2015 it had climbed to 400 dollars. However, the yields did not quadruple. Back then, a hectare produced 3,000 kilos, and now “at the most, we may be at 6,000 or 7,000,” he said.

For Cerdá, “it is an extremely expensive technology for a very inefficient result. We have measured agroecological crops which use a mixed scheme of agriculture and livestock against conventional fields where the crops are produced by companies. We can even say that they are more efficient.”
The ICOA attributes the growth of organic agriculture in Argentina to the increase in international demand, mainly in Europe and the United States. But he points out that organic crops still represent only 0.5 of the total planted area.

In this country of 43 million people, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the economy, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 per cent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

“The main crops grown in Argentina are transgenic soybean, corn and cotton. Organic producers are still very few and far between and they mostly grow fresh produce. We can count on our fingers the farmers who produce ecological grains, because there is no government policy that promotes this production,” said Graciela Draguicevich, head of the Mutual Sentimiento Association.

This association runs El Galpón, in the Chacarita neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which for 14 years has been a market supplying organic products based on the social economy.

“We discovered that the main problem was the middlemen so we directly contacted farmers. But we looked for producers of products free of agrotoxics, because we thought that it was not a good thing to keep consuming toxic chemicals and getting sick from our food,” she told IPS.

Members of the association have a different concept of what is organic. “It’s when they have no social or economic poisons either. When there is no exploitation, or gender-based wage differences, or child labour. Everything has to conserve a balance,” she said.

Draguicevich is pleased that there are more and more markets like El Galpón, although not yet “one in every neighborhood,” as she considers necessary.

Alicia Della Ceca sells fruits and vegetables in this solidarity-based market, which she grows along her two children on 3.5 hectares of land about 20 kilometres from the capital.

They stopped using chemicals 10 years ago, when the government offered them technical assistance. “Since my children are young and have an open mind, they were interested,” she told IPS.

“It is beneficial for health, for the product, and for the earth. My husband 40 years ago used pesticides because it was the normal practice, it was thought that nothing would grow otherwise. But my children have demonstrated that it is possible to work this way. The land gives, there is no need to punish it with chemicals,” she said.

“People who work with chemicals want things fast, in abundance, big and shiny. This is driven by the supermarkets. With neighborhood stores it was not like that. But the supermarkets imposed plastic bags and many other things that go against nature,” she said.

Now a “new awareness” is growing among consumers, according to Pierrestegui from San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, in the face of the “abuse of agrochemicals.”

A study on pesticides published in 2015 by the UNLP found that in the 60 samples tested, eight of 10 fruits and vegetables contained agrochemicals.

“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model,” said Cerdá.

“Over the past 20 years, production of soy has grown to 20 million hectares (in Argentina). We are talking about more than 200 million litres of herbicides every year, plus other products that are applied, which is causing a very dangerous environmental explosion. A great loss of fertility lies ahead,” he said.

Pierrestegui considers that this country has special potential for organic production.

“Argentina is not a great world producer of olive oil, but it is one of the few that are able to produce it organically,” he said. “Spain, for example, one of the main global producers, works on very arid lands, where they need to use many agrochemicals and artificial fertilisers. Argentina has the advantage of good soil,” he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables” says “conversion from conventional to organic production is generally easy in Argentina, thanks to its physical conditions.”

“The endowment of ample and natural fertile soil, the wide abundance of virgin land, and the low use of chemical inputs in conventional farming practices enable farmers to switch to organic production without major adjustments to their farming methods. The diverse climates throughout the country and a low pest pressure allow organic production virtually throughout the whole country.”

Cerdá urged: “All the research that is carried out, everything that the producers spend, even nature is telling them: Folks, weeds work in a different way, it is not enough to increase the dosage, mix more toxic cocktails, because in the long run we all end up poisoned. The logics of nature are different, try to understand them.”

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Climate Change Needn’t Spell Doom for Uganda’s Coffee Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 16:39:11 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148278 Nursery operators raise improved Robusta coffee seedlings in Uganda. Credit: IITA

Nursery operators raise improved Robusta coffee seedlings in Uganda. Credit: IITA

By Sally Nyakanyanga
KAMPALA, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Coffee production provides a quarter of Uganda’s foreign exchange earnings and supports some 1.7 million smallholder farmers, but crop yields are being undermined by disease, pests and inadequate services from agricultural extension officers, as well as climatic changes in the East African country.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, is playing a key role in overcoming these challenges with simple, efficient practices like planting shade trees to protect coffee plants that require a cooler tropical climate.“The knowledge I’ve received towards adapting to farming that suits the changes in the climate, such as intercropping and planting shade trees, has transformed my life." --Coffee farmer Cathrine Ojara

Mujabi Yusuf, 41, a coffee farmer in the Nakaseke District of Central Uganda, told IPS prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainfall had been major setbacks.

“I have fed my family and sent them to school through coffee farming, but the weather has failed us,” says Yusuf. “Buying farming inputs such as fertilizer is a challenge because it’s expensive, yet for some time my farming production has been decreasing.”

Uganda has the largest population of coffee farmers in the world, yet 2 percent of its exports are not certified. It is Africa’s largest Robusta producer, accounting for 7 percent of global Robusta exports. The cost of production is low as a result of smallholder farmers using family labour and few inputs.

“Seasons have changed and become unpredictable. The rains sometimes come but for a short period. This has resulted in leaves wilting and eventually dying,” says Kironde Mayanja, a coffee farmer from Central Uganda.

“Drought stress, pests and diseases, poor quality of inputs, inadequate extension services and financial constraints inhibits farmers from adapting efficiently in Uganda,” says Elizabeth Kemigisha, IITA Communications Officer.

“There is a global awareness that if agricultural research for development is to have a positive impact on the beneficiaries of development efforts, all stakeholders in the process need to be on the same page. All stakeholders can all contribute to address the challenges of agricultural development and food security for all,” Kemigisha told IPS.

IITA generates evidence-based solutions such as a shade tree tool, farmer profiles and segmentation, new crop varieties, intercropping coffee and banana, as well as appropriate investment pathways for various stakeholders.

“Our research is used by non-governmental organisations and the private sector, and we work closely with governments, particularly National Agricultural Research Organisations (NARO). IITA has worked with HRNS as an implementing partner to conduct studies to enhance local knowledge on climate change adaptation in coffee growing,” Kemigisha said.

David Senyonjo, the Field Operations Manager in charge of climate change at HRNS, says his organization promotes and provides technical support for coffee production by working with smallholder coffee farmers.

“Research has helped to enhance farmers’ resilience to the adverse effects of climate change by providing them with the know-how to adapt to the changing climatic conditions,” says Senyonjo.

Cathrine Ojara, a female coffee farmer, is one such success story.

“The knowledge I’ve received towards adapting to farming that suits the changes in the climate, such as intercropping and planting shade trees, has transformed my life,” she says.

Ojara said she has been able to send her children to school and improve her household, as well as establish extra income through projects such as poultry.

Mayanja, who has an eight-acre farm, with the help of HRNS Africa has adopted new farming methods and his yields have increased from 20 to 50 percent.

“We have received training that has made me an expert in climate change and I have put to good use what I learnt to improve our crops. I have been practicing mulching, planting and managing shade trees, using fertilizers, digging water trenches and irrigation,” Mayanja told IPS.

Senyonjo noted that women face additional difficulties. “[They have a] lack of control over production resources like land, which in most cases is a prerequisite to having access to credit, hence women are less likely to use yield enhancing inputs like fertilisers,” he said.

“We don’t have our own land and due to time constraints and domestic responsibilities, we are unable to attend trainings on climate change,” Ojara told IPS.

While women do most of the farm labor, they only own 16 percent of the arable land in Uganda.

Hannington Bukomeko, a scientist with the IITA, said effective adaptation to climate change among coffee farmers requires low-cost and multipurpose solutions such as agroforestry, a practice of intercropping coffee with trees.

IITA has developed a shade tree advice tool, offering the best selection criteria for suitable tree species that provide various ecosystems services in different local conditions.

“Shade trees are one of the climate change adaptation practice we recommend for farmers. Shades modify the micro-environment so that it reduces the intensity of sunshine hitting the coffee plant as well as evaporation of water from the soil,” says Senyonjo.

Bukomeko explained that the tool helps coffee farmers to identify appropriate tree-selection.  “Farmers lack the knowledge on selecting the appropriate tree species, lack the tools and technical support to summarize such information to guide on-farm tree selection,” Bukomeko told IPS.

According to Bukomeko, the shade tree tool relies on local agro-forestry knowledge and scientific assessments of local on-farm tree diversity. “Users of the tool can identify their location in terms of country, province and ecological zone, select their desired ecosystem services and rank them according to preference. In return, the tool advises the user on the best tree options for a given location and ecosystem services,” says Bukomeko.

The shade tree tool was tested and validated for the studied regions, and found to serve the purpose of guiding on-farm tree selection for coffee farmers, according to IITA.

“Through government and other partners, the tool can be used by extension workers who will have mobile devices that can access the application tool,” says Kemigisha.

IITA has also conducted research on banana/plantain, cocoa, cowpea, maize, yam, and soy bean.

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A Pivotal Moment for Biofortificationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-pivotal-moment-for-biofortification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-pivotal-moment-for-biofortification http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-pivotal-moment-for-biofortification/#comments Wed, 21 Dec 2016 17:42:29 +0000 Howarth Bouis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148269 Dr. Howarth Bouis: 2016 World Food Prize Laureate

Dr. Howarth Bouis: 2016 World Food Prize Laureate

By Howarth Bouis
WASHINGTON DC, Dec 21 2016 (IPS)

This year’s World Food Prize pays tribute to biofortification, an intervention that strengthens efforts to address one of the world’s most insidious and pervasive public health challenges—hidden hunger. That is good news for the majority of the two billion people globally who suffer from hidden hunger, and likewise for those fighting to end the epidemic.

Hidden hunger is the lack of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) necessary for a healthy and productive life. According to the World Health Organization, zinc, iron and vitamin A are among the micronutrients most lacking in diets globally. The deficiency in these particular micronutrients can lead to blindness, stunting, mental retardation, learning disabilities, low work capacity, and even premature death.

Women and young children are hardest hit. More than half of women and three-quarters of children aged under five in India, for example, are estimated to be iron deficient. The burden of hidden hunger extends to economies. India alone loses over $12 billion in GDP annually to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.[1]

The majority of populations most affected by hidden hunger reside in the developing world where regular access to important and effective interventions such as supplementation and fortification is constrained by cost and infrastructure challenges.

More than half of women and three-quarters of children aged under five in India, for example, are estimated to be iron deficient. The burden of hidden hunger extends to economies. India alone loses over $12 billion in GDP annually to vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Those populations are also, unfortunately, unable to diversify their daily diet and, therefore, their micronutrient intake since they rely largely on macronutrient- and/or energy-rich but micronutrient-poor staple food crops—rice, maize, cassava, beans, etc.—for sustenance. In India, for instance, only about one in 10 children regularly consume iron-rich food, while the proportion of children under two years of age who regularly consume vitamin A-rich foods is less than half.[2]

It is difficult to imagine a reversal in the global incidence and impact of hidden hunger without innovative new approaches to complement conventional nutrition interventions. Biofortification is not the silver bullet, but it can significantly expand the reach of nutrition to populations in need. Its underlying premise is that since millions of people eat staple food crops daily, improving the nutritional quality of these crops will lead to better nutritional and health outcomes.

By breeding and disseminating staple food crops rich in vitamins and minerals, biofortification can substantially increase the intake of micronutrients among households growing and consuming these improved crops.

Biofortification has distinct advantages.  It is sustainable; farmers and consumers who adopt biofortified crops can grow and eat these crops over and over, benefitting from the extra vitamins and minerals for free. It is a food based approach that lets the plants do some of the work. Biofortification is also cost effective. After the initial outlay of funds, the recurrent costs are minimal, and each dollar invested reaps $17 dollars’ worth of benefits.[3]

More importantly, biofortification is effective. Recently published studies show that crops biofortified with iron, such as pearl millet in India[4] and beans in Rwanda, [5] can reverse iron deficiency. Sweet potato biofortified with vitamin A reduced the incidence and duration of diarrhea among children in Mozambique.[6] The evidence on the nutritional and health impact of biofortified crops continues to grow as the crops gain momentum around the world.

To date, biofortified crops have been released in 30 countries, including India, and are under testing in an additional 25. HarvestPlus and its partners are developing and delivering these crops as public goods. At least four million households in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have already been reached with these nutritious crops. Scaling up delivery to reach a billion people with biofortified foods by 2030 is a key objective of HarvestPlus.

By shining the spotlight on biofortification, the World Food Prize has brought greater visibility and momentum to the strategy, and it can be the springboard for its scale up and impact globally. India, a country that is no stranger to agricultural innovations, will also play a major role in scaling up biofortification.

The country has already adopted several biofortified crops such as iron pearl millet, zinc rice, and zinc wheat, with more on the way. In 2018 New Delhi will host the Third Global Conference on Biofortification, which will explore strategies and partnerships to broaden delivery and adoption of the nutritious foods. This is a pivotal moment for biofortification and the millions of households around the world who stand to benefit from its success.

[1] World Bank

[2] UNICEF

[3] The Copenhagen Consensus

[4] The Journal of Nutrition

[5] The Journal of Nutrition

[6] World Development

 

 

 

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Feminism Helps Villagers Coexist with Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 01:26:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148244 “This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
CARAÚBAS, Brazil, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

“The vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita Alexandre da Silva, in the village of Primeiro do Maio where 65 families have obtained land to grow crops since 1999, in this municipality in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in Northeast Brazil.

She is part of the Group of Women that organised in 2001 and adopted the slogan “United to overcome”, with the goal of having their own productive activities, reaffirming their rights and combating sexism.

“I used to only stay at home or in the fields, I wasn’t allowed to go out, to go to town. With the garden I started to go to the city to sell our products in the market, over the objections of my husband and my oldest son,” Da Silva told IPS.

“Bringing money home when my husband was sick” helped overcome the resistance, she said. “Now my son, who is married, has a different attitude towards his wife.”

The 60-year-old mother of three grown-up children shares with five other local women one hectare of the village’s collective land, where they grow lettuce, coriander, onions, tomatoes, manioc, papayas, coconuts and other fruits and vegetables.

The difficulty is transporting products to the city of Caraúbas, 22 km away. The women hire a truck for 25 dollars, and they also have to pay for the maintenance and cleaning up of the stand where they sell their produce.

“We get up at two in the morning every Saturday to get to the market,” said Antonia Damiana da Silva, a 41-year-old mother of four.

But “our life has changed for the better, we eat what we produce, without poisonous chemicals, and we are different people, more free, we decide what we’re going to do and tell our husbands,” she said.

The village was created by families of farmers who lived in the surrounding areas, without land of their own, who occupied an unproductive piece of land. Their first attempt to occupy it lasted 18 days in 1997, when the owners of the land obtained a court order to evict them.

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two years later, they tried again, and the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform assigned each family 13 hectares and a good house in the “agro village”. They were also awarded a common area for the community association building, for raising livestock, and for growing fruits and vegetables.

“Agro villages” in Brazil are rural settlements created in isolated areas, where houses and community and service facilities are concentrated near the plots of land. They form part of the government’s land reform programme, and offer previously landless farmers urban advantages such as schools, health posts and in some cases sewerage.

The drought which has dragged on for five years in the semi-arid Northeast is all too evident in the grey vegetation, apparently dead, throughout the entire ecosystem exclusive to Brazil known as the caatinga. But its low and twisted bush-like trees tend to turn green a few hours after it rains, even if it barely sprinkled.

The Primeiro do Maio agro village appears in the landscape almost like an oasis, because of the green of its trees and of the vegetable garden and orchard, populated by birds and other animals.

The traditional crops grown by the families, mostly corn and beans, were lost to the drought. But the community garden is still productive, irrigated with well water and managed according to the principles of agro-ecology, such as crop diversity and better use of natural resources, including straw.

They receive technical assistance and support from Diaconía, a non-profit social organisation composed of 11 evangelical churches, which are very active in the Northeast.

  Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

The income from the garden empowers the women, particularly in times of drought when the local crops are failing.

But because of the difficulties in getting the produce to market, and the prevailing but rarely mentioned sexism, the Group shrank from 23 to six members, who work in the garden and sell their produce in Caraúbas.

The garden, irrigated without any water wastage, is based on a production model promoted by Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), which groups together some 3,000 social organisations in the Northeast, including trade unions, religious groups and non-governmental organisations.

“Coexisting with the semi-arid” is its slogan, in contrast to the former official policy of ”fighting drought” which generated one failure after another, with the construction of big dams, aqueducts and canals that do not provide solutions to the most vulnerable: poor peasant farmers scattered throughout rural areas.

The Primeiro do Maio village was one of eight places visited by participants in the National Meeting of ASA, which drew about 500 people Nov. 21-25 to Mossoró, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, 80 km from Caraúbas.

“There can be no coexistence with the semi-arid, without feminisim,” according to ASA, which supports the Group of Women and other initiatives that bolster gender equality in rural communities.

 The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village stands in sharp contrast to the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village contrasts with the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The “social technologies” that drive that coexistence are in general more rapidly embraced and with more determination by women.

Damiana, for example, has an arsenal of resources in the backyard of her house that enable her to assert that she enjoys “a wonderful life”.

A biodigester, fed with the manure from her small livestock, provides her with cooking gas. In the village there are 10 other houses that use this technology, which consists of a sealed container where organic waste ferments until producing methane gas and natural fertilisers.

“Biowater”, a chain of filters which cleans the wastewater produced in her home, makes it possible to reuse it in her vegetable garden and orchard. She also raises fish in a small three-metre-diameter tank. The fish she raises is the tilapia azul (Oreochromis niloticus), native to the Nile River, which is highly productive in fish farming.

Vanusa Vieira, a 47-year-old mother of two, is another participant in the Group who works in the collective garden, although she says she prefers working with animals. “I love raising animals, I can’t live without them, I look after them from early morning to night,” she told IPS standing in her yard where she has birds, goats and a cow.

“I learned from my father and mother, who had cattle and chicken,” she said. Now that she has her own house with a big yard she has an aviary and pens.

But the drought has forced her to reduce the number of animals she keeps. Corn got too expensive and water is scarce, she said. And her honey production, which “helped us buy a truck,” has stalled because the woods are dry and there are no flowers, Vieira explained.

But small livestock such as goats and sheep that are able to survive on limited food and water are a resource that helps families survive lengthy droughts like the one that has had the Northeast in its grip since 2012.

Also important is the small subsidy that the families of the agrovillage receive from the social programme Bolsa Familia, aimed at the poorest in this country of 202 million people. In addition, some of the men work as day labourers to boost the family income, in light of the fall in production on their plots of land.

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Food Insecurity: An Agent for Violent Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/#comments Sun, 11 Dec 2016 10:02:24 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148175 By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Dec 11 2016 (IPS)

Up to two billion people live in countries affected by violence, conflict and fragility. Often, such political instability goes hand in hand with food insecurity. “Conflicts have pushed over 56 million people either into crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity”, Kimberly Flowers, Director of the Global Food Security Project, said at this years’ John McGovern Lecture held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The number continues to grow with the escalation of conflicts and violence in countries like Syria, Yemen or South Sudan.

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

However, since the food price crisis in 2007/08 pushed the total number of hungry people to over one billion – a sixth of the worlds population – political leaders have started to pay attention to food insecurity.

Under President Obama, the United States has invested 6,6 billion dollars in “Feed the Future”, a long-term development program focusing on reducing poverty and hunger. The program aims at teaching farmers in developing countries new agricultural techniques, how to increase productivity and improve nutrition.

Kimberly Flowers underlined that in the United States, opinions on food security are not divided among party lines. The U.S Congress has enacted the Global Food Security Act this summer, a law that will ensure that global hunger and poverty remain a top U.S. foreign policy. “Food security is real and evidence based. Congress understands the importance of addressing this issue”, Kimberly Flowers told IPS.

Despite the uncertainty a Trump administration will bring with it, with the Global Food Security Act, food-security investments will continue for at least two more years.

For the first time, the U.S. intelligence community has recognized the linkage between political instability and food insecurity and has assessed that the overall risk of food insecurity in many countries will increase during the next ten years because of production, transport and market disruptions to local food availability.

“Food insecurity is both the cause and consequence of conflict”, Kimberly Flowers told the audience, linking it with political stability and calling food insecurity a “national security imperative”.

The lack of access to food can be used as a strategic instrument of war. “Hungry populations are more likely to express frustration with troubled leadership, perpetuating a cycle of political instability and further undermining long-term economic development”, Kimberly Flowers said.

In a paper released by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the authors state that food insecurity heightens the risk of democratic breakdown, civil conflict, protest, rioting, and communal conflict.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Islamic State have used food or the absence of food as war tactics, deliberately cutting off Syrians from humanitarian assistance or offering starving citizens food in return for them to join their ranks. The war has devastated Syria’s agriculture and has cost the country 35 years of development. Its food production is at a record low as farmers are unable to hold on to, let alone cultivate their land.

In Nigeria, food insecurity has risen as a result of instability and especially affects areas where Boko Haram operates. “Boko Haram’s actions are preventing food production; they have placed landmines in farmer’s fields, stolen cattle, and forced civilians to flee, leaving land unfarmed”, said Kimberly Flowers. The result is that certain areas are deprived of their harvest, and where food is available, prices have increased drastically.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, food insecurity is linked to economic mismanagement. “90 per cent of Venezuelans report that food has become too expensive to buy”, said Kimberly Flowers. Once a rich country with strong leadership, Venezuela’s dependence on oil revenues has brought the economy to the verge of collapse after a global drop in oil prices. As the population grows hungry, the government has resorted to increasingly authoritarian response tactics.

In South Sudan, conflicts between the government and oppositional groups have had such an impact on the economy that food prices increased dramatically. The denial of food and food aid has played a central part in countering insurgencies in the country. Up to 95 per cent of the population in South Sudan depends on agriculture to survive, “yet there is no underlying state infrastructure to support the agricultural industry”, Kimberly Flowers said. “The dangerous combination of armed conflict, weak infrastructure and soaring staple food prices could result in famine conditions.”

In 2015, the international community has adopted 17 key objectives to be achieved by 2030, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first two goals are to eradicate poverty and hunger. But can these goals really be achieved when instability and conflict are constant threats?

“The SDGs underestimate the difficulties of helping more than a billion people to regain a sustainable path of economic growth and reconstruct a torn social fabric within a short 15 years”, said Kimberly Flowers. To believe that hunger and poverty can completely be abolished within the next 14 years is unrealistic. However, the efforts to implement the SDGs will have a sustainable impact on the countries in need of help. For example on food insecurity: “The number of food insecure people is projected to fall significantly, 59 per cent, by 2026.”

Kimberly Flowers believes that the most important factors to decrease food insecurity are a strong government and keeping agriculture high up on the development agenda.

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Climate-Resistant Beans Could Save Millionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:54:56 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148110 Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

By Ida Karlsson
CALI, Colombia, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

A global food watchdog works around the clock to preserve crop biodiversity, with a seed bank deep in the Colombian countryside holding the largest collection of beans and cassava in the world and storing crops that could avert devastating problems.

On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.
Plants are the vital elements in our ecosystem that clothe us, feed us, give us the oxygen that we breathe and the medicines that cure us. But one in five of world’s plant species are at risk of extinction.

According to a report launched by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in May, the biggest threats are the destruction of habitats for farming – such as palm oil production, deforestation for timber and construction of buildings and infrastructure. Global warming is also expected to reduce the areas suitable for growing crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of the world’s crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000.

“We do not [even] know what we have, and we are losing what we have. Why not try to correct that a bit?” Daniel Debouck of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia told IPS.

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Only about 30 crops provide 95 percent of human food energy needs, according to FAO. Dependency on a few staple crops magnifies the consequences of crop failure.

Botanists are already taking extreme measures to save those plant species deemed useful. Some 7.4 million samples are in seed banks around the world, but huge gaps exist.

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1,300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, sits the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a so-called doomsday bank buried in the side of a mountain. Within the enclosure sit more than 860,000 samples, representing 5,100 different crops and their relatives.

And located among green sugarcane plantations near Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, a seed bank with the largest collection of beans in the world is housed in a former meat quality lab. The seed bank preserves some of humanity’s most important staple crops and contains over 38,000 samples of beans in all shapes colors, and sizes. Varieties developed at CIAT feed 30 million people in Africa. Every September there is a major shipment to Svalbard to keep copies at the seed bank there.

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The 300 scientists and support staff at CIAT have a mandate from the UN to protect, research and distribute beans and cassava, staple foods for 900 million people around the world. Altogether 500,000 materials have been distributed so far. After the war in Rwanda, CIAT put seeds back in the hands of farmers.

“The seeds from the Americas are absolutely critical for food security in Africa. Without cassava and beans, people would not manage,” Debouck told IPS.

The researchers have garnered seeds from around the world for their seed bank. On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.

“But we came back with 300 varieties of popping bean and increased the CIAT collection significantly,” he said.

The popping beans can be prepared without cooking. It is enough if they are heated on a hot surface. This could be important in areas where fuel and kitchen facilities are lacking.

The seed bank also stores beans that can offer climate-friendly options for farmers struggling to cope with rising temperatures.

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The heat-tolerant beans developed by conventional breeding by scientists at CIAT are crosses between the modern kind and the tepary bean, a hardy survivor cultivated since pre-Columbian times. Beans that can beat the heat could be essential to survival in many regions.

“The heat-tolerant beans may be able to handle a worst-case scenario of a temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius. Northern Uganda, southeast Congo, Malawi, and the eastern Kenya are not bean producing areas now because of the heat there. But what we have at present at CIAT could expand the bean production there,” Steve Beebe, a senior bean researcher at CIAT, told IPS.

The new findings would not have been possible without CIAT’s seed bank containing wild varieties and related species of the common bean.

Only 5 percent of the wild relatives of the world’s most important crops are properly stored and managed in the world’s seed banks, according a study published in March by the online journal Nature Plants.

Debouck says there is lack of education around food.

“We think we have food security but we are tremendously vulnerable. If the U.S. would experience drought and Europe would have excessive rains, we would all be in trouble,” Debouck said.

Agronomists used to act as a liaison between farmers and agricultural scientists. But during the last 20 years, many agronomists have disappeared and today mostly for-profit agribusiness firms reach out to farmers, according to Debouck. The companies are often interested in selling agrochemicals, he said.

Bean researcher Beebe pointed out that beans and other legumes are self-pollinated plants and seed need only be sold once.

“That is why the industry is not that interested in promoting them,” he told IPS.

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Nicaraguan Women Push for Access to Land, Not Just on Paperhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/nicaraguan-women-push-for-access-to-land-not-just-on-paper/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguan-women-push-for-access-to-land-not-just-on-paper http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/nicaraguan-women-push-for-access-to-land-not-just-on-paper/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:40:41 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148102 Members of a cooperative of women farmers in Nicaragua build a greenhouse for thousands of seedlings of fruit and lumber trees aimed at helping to fight the effects of climate change in a village in the department of Madriz. Credit: Femuprocan

Members of a cooperative of women farmers in Nicaragua build a greenhouse for thousands of seedlings of fruit and lumber trees aimed at helping to fight the effects of climate change in a village in the department of Madriz. Credit: Femuprocan

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

A group of women farmers who organised to fight a centuries-old monopoly over land ownership by men are seeking plots of land to farm in order to contribute to the food security of their families and of the population at large.

Matilde Rocha, vice president of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives (Femuprocan), told IPS that since the late 1980s, when women trained in the Sandinista revolution organised to form cooperatives, access to land has been one of the movement’s main demands.

According to Rocha, as of 1997, the organisation has worked in a coordinated manner to fight for recognition of the rights of women farmers not only with regard to agriculture, but also to economic, political and social rights.

Femuprocan, together with 14 other associations, successfully pushed for the 2010 approval of the Fund for the Purchase of Land with Gender Equity for Rural Women Law, known as Law 717.

They also contributed to the incorporation of a gender equity focus in the General Law on Cooperatives and to the participation of women in the Municipal Commissions on Food Security and Sovereignty.

For Rocha, this advocacy has allowed rural women to update the mapping of actors in the main productive areas in the country, strengthen the skills of women farmers and train them in social communication and as promoters of women’s human rights, to tap into resources and take decisions without the pressure of their male partners.

“For rural women, land is life, it is vital for the family; land ownership and inputs to make it productive are closely linked to women’s economic empowerment, to decision-making about food production, to the preservation of our environment, and to ensuring food security and protecting our native seeds to avoid dependence on genetically modified seeds,” said Rocha.

Josefina Rodríguez, one of the 18 per cent of women farmers in Nicaragua who own the land that they work. The fund created six years ago to promote the purchase of land by rural women still lacks the required resources to meet its goals. Credit: Ismael López/IPS

Josefina Rodríguez, one of the 18 per cent of women farmers in Nicaragua who own the land that they work. The fund created six years ago to promote the purchase of land by rural women still lacks the required resources to meet its goals. Credit: Ismael López/IPS

Femuprocan is the only federation in the country solely made up of women farmers: more than 4,200 members organised in 73 cooperatives in six of the country’s departments: Madriz, Managua, Granada, Región Autónoma del Caribe Norte, Matagalpa and Jinotega.

Rocha believes the progress made has been more qualitative than quantitative.

In 2010, when they pushed through Law 717, an estimated 1.1 million women lived in rural areas, and most of them owned neither land nor other assets.

The law was aimed at giving rural women access to physical possession and legal ownership of land, improving their economic conditions, boosting gender equity, ensuring food security and fighting poverty in the country, estimated at the time at 47 per cent.

Nicaragua currently has a population of 6.2 million, 51 per cent of whom are women, and 41 per cent of whom live in rural areas, according to World Bank figures.

Data from the Household Survey to Measure Poverty in Nicaragua, published in June by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge, indicates that 39 per cent of the population was poor in 2015.

The poverty rate in urban areas was 22.1 per cent, compared to 58.8 per cent in rural areas.

According to the international humanitarian organisation Oxfam, only 18 per cent of the rural women who work on farms in Nicaragua own land, while the rest have to lease it and pay before planting.

“Access to land ownership is a pending demand for 40 percent of the members of Femuprocan, which represents a total of 1,680 women without land,” said Rocha.

The struggle for access to land is an uphill battle, but the organisation is not giving up.

“In 17 municipalities covered by our federation, 620 women are active in the process of searching for lands for our members. Not only women who have no land, but also women who do are engaged in the process of identifying lands to make them productive, as are other governmental and non-governmental organisations,” she said.

One of the members of the organisation told IPS that there has been no political will or economic financing from the state to enforce the law on access to land.

The more than 4,000 members of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives sell their products, many of which are organic, directly to consumers in fairs and markets. Credit: Femuprocan

The more than 4,000 members of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives sell their products, many of which are organic, directly to consumers in fairs and markets. Credit: Femuprocan

“How many doors have we knocked on, how many offices have we visited to lobby, how many meetings have we held…and the law is still not enforced,” said the farmer, who asked to be identified only as Maria, during a trip to Managua.

“The problem is that the entire legal, economic and productive system is still dominated by men, and they see us as threats, more than competition, to their traditional business activities,” she said.

Other women’s organisations have come from rural areas to the cities to protest that the law on access to land is not being enforced.

In May, María Teresa Fernández, who heads the Coordinator of Rural Women, complained in Managua that “women who do not own land have to pay up to 200 dollars to rent one hectare during the growing season.”

In addition to having to lease land, the women who belong to the organisation have in recent years faced environmental problems such as drought, dust storms, volcanic ash and pests without receiving the benefit of public policies that make bank loans available to deal with these problems.

“Six years ago, Law 717 was passed, ordering the creation of a gender equity fund for the purchase of land by rural women. But this fund has not yet been included in the general budget in order for women to access mortgage credits administered by the state bank, to get their own land,” Fernández complained in May.

The Nicaraguan financial system does not grant loans to women farmers who have no legal title to land, a problem that the government has tried to mitigate with social welfare programmes such as Zero Hunger, Zero Usury, Roof Plan, Healthy Yards and the Christian Solidarity Programme for food distribution, among others.

However, sociologist Cirilo Otero, director of the non-governmental Centre of Initiatives for Environmental Policies, said there is not enough government support, and stressed to IPS that women’s lack of access to land is one of the most serious problems of gender inequality in Nicaragua.

“It is still an outstanding debt by the state towards women farmers,” he said.

Nevertheless, data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that Nicaragua was one of 17 Latin American countries that met the targets for hunger reduction and improvement in food security in the first 15 years of the century, as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the U.N. agency, between 1990 and 2015, the country reduced the proportion of undernourished people from 54.4 per cent to 16.6 per cent.

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Soil: Keeping Nutrients in Food and Carbon in the Groundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 22:56:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148098 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/soil-keeping-nutrients-in-food-and-carbon-in-the-ground/feed/ 0 Battle of the Desert (and III): UNCCD ‘s Louise Baker on The Silk Roadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:58:12 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147895 Louise Baker

Louise Baker

By Baher Kamal
BONN / ROME, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

Marking this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification last June, the United Nations announced the launch of a China-United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Belt and Road Joint Action initiative to curb Desertification along the Silk Road.

UNCCD is the key United Nations legal framework to combat desertification. IPS interviews Louise Baker, Coordinator External Relations, Policy and Advocacy Unit, UNCCD about the current effects of drought in the countries, which are expected to benefit from this initiative?

Drought is a complex natural hazard that causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster. Its socio-economic and environmental impacts are severe and far-reaching, Baker states.

“Desertification and land degradation cause poverty and hunger. In turn, these can lead to massive environmental damage and natural resource scarcity that sometimes ends with conflict. It certainly hinders sustainable development.”

She then explains that there are 24 types of ecosystem services in the world. 15 are in decline. Desertification and land degradation are major stress factors. Many countries along the Belt and Road are highly vulnerable to both drought and desertification, and are facing social, economic and political stresses.

Asked for specific examples, Baker cites the case of Uzbekistan: 73.6 per cent of the population live in areas affected by drought.

Droughts have reduced the country’s water flow by 35-40 per cent below the average…crop yield losses range from 42 to 75 per cent… wetland ecosystems are degraded and up to 80 per cent of the lakes are drying out.

The risk of ground water salinization is growing, says Baker, and adds: Iran often suffers from severe drought and has problems with sand and dust storms. A 1991 drought cost Iran 1.25 billion dollars, and a 2001 drought cost 7.5 billion dollars.

Climate Change

“Droughts will become more frequent, severe and widespread as a result of climate change, “ she explains. The Belt and Road Joint Action Initiative is a way of managing the land better, mitigating the effects of drought and promoting green economic growth. “That should lead to more equitable economic and social development.”

Credit: 2013 UNCCD Photo contest Xiaoyun Zheng

Credit: 2013 UNCCD Photo contest Xiaoyun Zheng

Asked what is the new joint initiative all about? How long will it be? How many years it will take to be completed? And how much will it cost and who will fund it? Louise Baker responds: “The joint action initiative involves the 23 countries located along the Silk Road. The long term vision is to protect and use natural resources rationally and to promote the development of a green economy in areas affected by land degradation and desertification.”

The countries, she explains, will work together to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 15 on land, in particular SDG target 15.3. That is about achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

“Land degradation neutrality is about maintaining a balance in the amount of healthy and productive land that every country has available by sustainably managing every hectare of productive land and by rehabilitating an equal amount of already degraded land.”

The partners have laid out a framework for actions in five areas.

First, managing the entire ecosystem so that the plants and animals are not negatively affected by land degradation and they are able to adapt to climate change.

Second, developing a sustainable green economy based on local resources, for instance, using traditional agricultural practices and promoting solar and wind energy.

Third, protecting important natural and man-made infrastructure by using sustainable land and water management for river and lake basins.

Fourth, acting on drought through early warning, preparedness, mitigation and enhancing the capacities for emergency response, controlling dust and sand storms at their areas of origin and controlling shifting sand dunes.

Lastly, all world heritage sites located along the Belt and Road will benefit through measures to strengthen the conservation, protection or restoration of the ecosystems around them.

The Initiative emphasizes joint contributions and shared benefits. “Each country will develop its own activities, estimate the costs of developing social and green industries in the Belt and contribute to the initiative based on their own capacity. China’s State Administrative of Forest will coordinate and collect the data and activities under the initiative.”

IPS then asks Baker why is it called “The Silk Road Economic Belt”? which starts from China and runs to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean via Central and West Asia, geographically linking the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe?

The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads were important routes for trade and cultural exchanges in human history. For millennia the roads linked the four ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India with those of Greece and Rome. The Silk Road strengthened open trade and development, exchanged of knowledge and culture. The concept is built on all these ideas, Louis Baker responds.

Credit: 2009 UNCCD Photo contest Jason Lee

Credit: 2009 UNCCD Photo contest Jason Lee

But the fertile lands along the Silk Roads has become degraded as a result of conflict, over exploitation and unsustainable human activity leading to serious and wide spread desertification, she adds.

“To complement the vision of “Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”, which was launched in 2013 by the Chinese Government, the joint action initiative focuses on the “ecological civilization” of the route.”

Land Locked, Vulnerable to Drought and Desertification

Despite a rich history, many countries along the Belt and Road, such as those in central Asia and the Middle East, are land locked and vulnerable to drought, desertification and other challenges. This Joint Initiative can help unlock some of the potential that is often hindered by location and environmental degradation.

Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said through solidarity and engagement, China “has brought millions of people out of poverty through massive scale land restoration efforts.” Baker explains how.

“The restoration of the Loess plateau and the massive tree planting initiative in the Three North Regions Shelterbelts Development Project are two well-known large-scale landscape restoration initiatives focused on degraded ecosystems,” Baer answers.

The national plan to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation, Dust and Sand Storm Prevention Project in Northern China, is another initiative that not only benefits the people of China, but countries such as South Korea and the United States that are in the path of these dust storms. “These and other initiatives have also benefited land users directly.”

Baker further explains that in the arid and semi-arid regions, China is taking measures to change to better irrigation and land use patterns and is introducing more drought tolerant plant varieties. Rural villagers and farmers get zero-interest loans to adopt these new methods.

They are also compensated for limiting their herd sizes in order to avoid overgrazing. Providing steady incomes, as an incentive to conserve the environment, can go a long way to help poor households.

“For the future, China is also developing new technologies to support land users to reduce water consumption and use waste water. It has set up the Green Silk Road Fund to encourage the restoration, rehabilitation of degraded land along the Silk Road.”

Rural people will benefit from these changes, including through the jobs created by private sector companies that invest along the Silk Road in response to the Initiative, she adds.

To IPS question: What is the share of the region involved in this Initiative, in the fact that, globally, more than 2 billion hectares of the terrestrial ecosystems are degraded, with nearly 170 countries affected by land degradation and drought?, Baker says:

“In 2012, it was estimated that 2 billion hectares of land was degraded globally,” adding that there are about 500 million hectares of that is former – now abandoned agricultural land – that could be restored quickly and cost-effectively.This is far better than degrading 4-6 million hectares of new land each year to meet the growing global demand for food up to 2050.”

Nearly One Fifth of China, Affected By Drought and Desertification

Nearly 20 per cent of China is affected by drought and desertification, Baker explains. “On average, China has recovered 2,424 km2 (240,000 ha) of desertified and degraded land every year for the last consecutive 10 years. That is about 2.5 million hectares. At least, 10 million hectares more could be restored in China. This would be a significant contribution to global efforts.”

Through knowledge sharing under the Road and Belt Joint Action Initiative, China is helping countries that are affected by drought to be more prepared.

“I believe the success of this initiative will motivate more countries to rehabilitate and restore their land. It will certainly increase the resilience of local people, the UNCCD senior official concludes.

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