Inter Press Service » Cooperatives Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:38:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Children Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

By Josh Butler
NEW YORK, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children – and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market."It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.” -- Kathy Spahn

Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.

“The area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,” Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.

“We’re teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.”

The programme, ‘Making Markets Work For Women,’ or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.

Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.

Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist – traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.

“HKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,” Spahn told IPS.

“We call the programme ‘enhanced homestead food production.’ With that, comes nutrition information. It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.”

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. While each household may only produce an amount too small to make market sale effective, joining forces with other women means each collective has a larger volume to sell.

“We want to build their capacity in business and marketing. We give them training on market research, demand, book-keeping, and organise the households into groups so they can aggregate their products,” Spahn said.

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

A group savings scheme is also offered, whereby women can place some of their income into a shared pool that any member can access for large expenses such as hospitalisation or replacement of packaging machinery.

“If something breaks down, we can’t replace it because that’s not sustainable. This is about development, not charity,” Spahn said.

M2W2 was originally a three-year pilot programme from 2009 to 2012, but received an extra injection of funds from the British government to continue until January.

“We are looking for more support to keep going,” Spahn said.

The programme’s outcomes are resounding. Spahn said of the 2,500 households involved, “nearly all” saw a 30 percent increase in income.

“When we started, everybody had a poor diet. Three years later, nobody did,” she said.

Eggs, a rich source of Vitamin A, helped address deficiency of that vitamin and vision problems associated with such deficiencies, but Spahn said the most powerful benefit was social, rather than physical.

“We found 90 percent of women had the sole decision over the money their raised. They were bargaining more efficiently, and feeling more empowered,” she said.

Empowerment and financial independence for women is one of the ideological pillars of Women Advancing Microfinancing New York. WAMNY board member Danielle LeBlanc said the microfinancing and social entrepreneurship can be among the simplest and most effective ways to advance the economic prospects of disenfranchised women in poorer countries.

“With an opportunity to earn income on their own, it helps women gain some independence and increase the financial sustainability of their families,” LeBlanc told IPS.

“When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their kids to school, improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family.”

LeBlanc said the term ‘microfinancing’ was a broad concept, viewed differently by many parties. She said governments consider it to be grants of under 50,000 dollars and that banks consider the threshold to be closer to 250,000, but LeBlanc said vast progress can be made with an initial outlay of as little as a few hundred dollars.

“In the U.S., microfinancing might help out street vendors like in New York City, or to fund home daycare centres, or even small businesses with shopfronts. Overseas, we can be talking about the very poor, like women selling goods by the roadside, farmers, or craft makers,” she said.

“To us, the increase in income for a family in poor countries might seem very small, but it makes a huge difference in their lives. It helps increase the nutrition of children, increases the standing of the woman in the family, or can put a tin roof on a thatched house.”

LeBlanc said the increase standing of women in the eyes of their husbands and their community is one of the most important benefits that such projects can offer.

“It changes from community to community, but when women start bringing income into their family, it increases their confidence and they move from being totally dependant on their husband to someone bringing income into the house,” she said.

“There is more respect there for the woman. It makes a huge difference.”

She said the M2W2 programme was selected for presentation at the WAMNY event on Tuesday because of its “holistic” approach to empowering women, benefiting families, and changing communities.

“It is working with various women’s issues, from joint savings programmes to technical assistance and increasing farming output,” she said. “It is getting women working together, to co-operate as a community. Projects like this encourage our members to think outside the box for how to work.”

At its core, M2W2 is a simple one – give seeds and tools to women, show them how to farm, and teach them how to sell their produce. But both Spahn and LeBlanc said that, in the field of microfinance, often the simplest ideas can have the most impressive outcomes.

“The key to whether a programme is successful isn’t necessarily the budget, it’s about whether it is based on a need. It needs clear communication with the community, if it is a programme they like and can use,” LeBlanc said.

Spahn said HKI is currently working on a project in African countries including Mozambique and Burkina Faso, helping women there to grow sweet potatoes to make into chips, bread and cookies – again, both to sell and to feed to their own families.

“We’ve always said, we should aim for complex problems and simple solutions. We want to take a problem apart, and find a solution that isn’t overwhelming,” Spahn said.

“The problem is in scaling things up, from one community to a nationwide programme. Once you have the solution, how do you reach the people hardest to reach? How do you take it past the village?”

Spahn said HKI hopes to institute the M2W2 programme in other other countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tobacco Workers in Cuba Dubious About Opening of U.S. Market Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:57:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba , Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

“We have to wait and see,” “There isn’t a lot of talk about it,” are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.

“If the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,” said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y Martínez in the province of Pinar del Río, 180 km west of Havana.

The region of Vuelta Abajo, and the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez, San Luis, Guane and Pinar del Río in particular, combine ideal climate and soil conditions with a centuries-old farming culture to produce the world’s best premium hand-rolled cigars.

In this area alone, 15,940 hectares are planted every year in tobacco, Cuba’s fourth top export.

While continuing to hang tobacco leaves on the Rosario plantation, Borrego told IPS that “there is little talk” among the workers about how they might benefit if the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, is eased, as part of the current process of normalisation of bilateral ties.

Borrego said “it would be good” to break into the U.S. market, off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. And she said that raising the pay of day workers and growers would be an incentive for workers, “because there is a shortage of both female and male workers since people don’t like the countryside.”

Cuban habanos, rum and coffee represent a trade and investment opportunity for Havana and Washington, if bilateral ties are renewed in the process that on Friday Feb. 27 reached the second round of talks between representatives of the two countries.

Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a Dec. 17 reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties.

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Among the first measures approved by Washington to boost trade and ties between the two countries was the granting of permission to U.S. tourists to bring back 100 dollars worth of cigars and rum from Cuba.

But the sale of habanos in U.S. shops, where Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars reign, is still banned, and U.S. businesses are not allowed to invest in the local tobacco industry here.

Furthermore, the lifting of the U.S. embargo depends on the U.S. Congress, not the Obama administration.

In 2014, Tabacuba adopted a plan to double the production of tobacco leaves in the next five years, in the 15 Cuban provinces where over 16,000 producers, mainly private farmers or members of cooperative, produce tobacco.

Experts say that while Cuba stands out for the quality of its tobacco, it is not among the world’s biggest producers – which are China, the United States, Brazil, India and Turkey, in that order – nor is it among the countries with the highest yields –which are Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.

In fact, due to armed conflicts in different parts of the world, high import tariffs in Europe, and climate change in Cuba, the sales of the country’s cigar company, Habanos SA, fell one percent from 2013 to 2014, to 439 million dollars.

But when it happens, annual sales of habanos in the U.S. market are expected to climb to at least 250 million dollars, according to estimates by the only company that sells Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, a joint venture between the state-run Tabacuba and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

The corporation estimates that 150 million cigars from the 27 Cuban brands could be sold, once the U.S. market opens up.

The new permission for visitors to take home 100 dollars worth of cigars was called “symbolic” by Jorge Luis Fernández Maique, vice president of the Anglo-Cuban company, during the 17th Habanos Festival, which drew 1,650 participants from 60 nations Feb. 23-27 in Havana.

“The increase in sales in Cuba won’t be big,” the businessman forecast during the annual festival, which includes tours to tobacco plantations and factories, visits to auctions for humidors – a specially designed box for holding cigars – and art exhibits, and combined cigar, wine, rum and food tastings.

In its more than 140 locations worldwide, La Casa del Habano, an international franchise, sells a pack of 20 Cohiba Mini cigarrillos for 12 dollars, while a single habano cigar costs 50 dollars.

Premium cigars are the end result of a meticulous planting, selection, drying, curing, rolling and ageing process that involves thousands of humble, weathered hands like those of day worker Luis Camejo, who has dedicated eight of his 33 years to the tobacco harvest.

During the October to March harvest, Camejo picks tobacco leaves and hangs them in the shed on the Rosario plantation. Like the others, he is reticent when asked how he and his fellow workers could benefit from increased trade with the United States. “I wouldn’t know,” he told IPS.

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

He said he earns 1,200 Cuban pesos (50 dollars) a month during harvest season, and a bonus in convertible pesos after the plantation owner sells the tobacco to the state-run companies.

That is more than the average of 19 dollars a month earned by employees of the state, by far the largest employer in this Caribbean island nation. But it is not enough to cover people’s needs, given that food absorbs 59 to 75 percent of the family budget, according to the Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

“To reach a dominant position in markets, we have to grow from below, that is, in quality and yield, because Vuelta Abajo isn’t growing,” said Iván Máximo Pérez, the owner of the 5.4-hectare Rosario plantation, which produces 2.5 tons of tobacco leaves per hectare. “In terms of production, the sky is our limit,” he told IPS with a smile.

In his view, “tobacco is profitable to the extent that the producer is efficient.”

“The current harvests even allow me to afford some luxuries,” he admitted.

He said he continues to plant tobacco because “it’s a sure thing, since the state buys everything we produce, at fixed prices based on quality.”

Pérez, known as “El Gallego” (the Galician) among his people, because of his northern Spanish ancestry, is using new technologies on his farm, where he employs 10 men and eight women and belongs to one of the credit and services cooperatives that produce for the tobacco companies.

He has his own modern seedbed, is getting involved in conservation agriculture, plants different varieties of tobacco, uses organic fertiliser, and has cut insecticide use to 30 percent.

“I never thought I’d reach the yields I’m obtaining now,” he said. “Applying science and different techniques has made me see tobacco in a different light.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: How Shifting to the Cloud Can Unlock Innovation for Food and Farming Sat, 13 Dec 2014 12:57:25 +0000 Andy Jarvis Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

By Andy Jarvis
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The digital revolution that is continuing to develop at lightening speed is an exciting new ally in our fight for global food security in the face of climate change.

Researchers have spent decades collecting data on climate patterns, but only in recent years have cost-effective solutions for publicly hosting this information been developed. Cloud computing services make the ideal home for key climate data – given that they have a vast capacity for not only storing data, but analysing it as well.Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

This rationale is the basis for a brand new partnership between CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres, and Amazon web services. With 40 years of research under its belt, CGIAR holds a wealth of information on not just climate patterns, but on all aspects of agriculture.

By making this data publically available on the Amazon cloud, researchers and developers will be empowered to come up with innovations to solve critical issues inextricably linked to food and farming, such as reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

The first datasets to move to the cloud are Global Circulation Models (GCM), presently the most important tool for representing future climate conditions.

The potential of this new partnership was put to the test this week at the climate negotiations in Peru, when the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 24 hour “hackathon”, giving Latin American developers and computer programmers first access to the cloud-based data.

The challenge was to transform the available data into actionable knowledge that will help farmers better adapt to climate variability.

The results were inspiring. The winning innovation from Colombian team Geomelodicos helps farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

The prototype programme combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations. The vision is that one day, this information could bedisseminated via SMS messaging.

Runners up Viasoluciones decided to tackle water scarcity, a serious challenge for farmers around the world as natural resources become more scarce. Named after the Quechua goddess of water, Illapa, the innovation could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops.

The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. In times of drought, this application could prove invaluable.

Farmers are in dire need of practical solutions that will help protect our food supply in the face of a warming world. Eight hundred million people in the world are still hungry, and it is a race against time to ensure that we have a robust strategy for ensuring these vulnerable people are fed and nourished.

By moving agricultural data to the cloud, developing innovations for food and farming will no longer be dependent on having access to expensive software or powerful computers on internet connection speeds.

Making sense of this “big data” will become progressively easier, and one day, farmers themselves could even take matters into their own hands.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women? Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrive Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Civil Society in Cuba Finds More Space Under the Reforms Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:25:21 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez 2 Puerto Rico’s Green Crusaders Still Going Strong Wed, 01 Oct 2014 20:35:00 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero Casa Pueblo. Credit: Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Casa Pueblo. Credit: Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

The heart of Puerto Rico’s central mountain range is the site of an extraordinary story of struggle and triumph.

Since the 1960s, the government of this commonwealth of the United States had intended to authorise strip mining for copper in the mountain municipalities of Lares, Adjuntas and Utuado. But a decades-long grassroots environmental campaign forced the government to desist.“We are economically self-sufficient, and because of that our talk of freedom is not mere discourse.” -- Casa Pueblo director Alexis Massol

In 1996, then-governor Pedro Rosselló forbade strip mining in the island and signed into law the designation of the parcel of land where the digging would start as “The People’s Forest” (El Bosque del Pueblo).

The successful opposition to mining was led by Casa Pueblo, a non-governmental organisation based in Adjuntas. The group was founded in 1980 by artists, intellectuals and environmentalists associated with Juan Antonio Corretjer, internationally renowned poet and one of the independence movement’s top figures until his death in 1985.

From 1937 to 1942, Corretjer was imprisoned in the United States for his association with the Nationalist Party, which engaged in armed struggle for independence.

In 1982, a secret source inside La Fortaleza (the governor’s mansion, which houses the executive branch) leaked to Corretjer’s group a mysterious map of Puerto Rico, which showed the island crisscrossed with what seemed like infrastructure projects, highways, petrochemical factories, open pit mines and military bases.

Corretjer tasked Casa Pueblo, back then called the Arts and Culture Workshop, with researching what the map meant. After consulting several sources, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the group uncovered Plan 2020, a secretive resource extraction and militarised economic development scheme which had strip mining at its heart.

Over 30 years after the exposure of Plan 2020, strip mining was stopped before it began, but other elements of the plan, like the construction of superhighways, continue apace in spite of environmentalist protests.

Casa Pueblo has remained vigilant in its protection of Puerto Rico’s environment and active in promoting sustainable development. From 1999 to 2003, the organisation aided protesters who engaged in civil disobedience to shut down a U.S. Navy firing range in the island-municipality of Vieques. Casa Pueblo’s volunteers carried out peer reviewed in situ scientific studies of military pollution in the firing range.

For its work for peace and development, Casa Pueblo won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002.

“This is a project of evolution and re-evolution,” said the organisation’s founder and director, Alexis Massol. “It is a response to the capitalist colonial project that the U.S. empire seeks to impose on us. Our project is dynamic; it is not afraid to face errors or contradictions. And it combines education and action.”

Casa Pueblo is named after its physical home, an old house that was taken and restored by the organisation in the mid-1980s. The house has a community library and a large hall often used for meetings and cultural and artistic activities.

Its second floor is used by an artist in residence programme. In the back there is a butterfly sanctuary and another structure which houses Radio Casa Pueblo. Founded in 2007, it is Puerto Rico’s first ever community radio station.

Independence is very important for Casa Pueblo. Since 1989, it has been funded by sales of its own artisanal brand of coffee, Madre Isla. Much of it is grown in Casa Pueblo’s own Madre Isla farm, which also has an eco-tourism project.

In 1999, the Casa Pueblo building went off the electricity grid and switched to a solar energy system.

“We are economically self-sufficient, and because of that our talk of freedom is not mere discourse,” Massol told IPS. “We speak with our own independent voice and we do not make alliances with political parties.”

The organisation’s most ambitious project is the Model Forest. This proposed forest, which has been signed into law by governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla and is currently being amended and negotiated by the Puerto Rico House and Senate, will cover some 379,000 acres and link 20 existing natural protected areas through ecological corridors.

“The Model Forest is a project of sustainable economic development, ecological preservation and citizen participation,” according to economist Mike Soto-Class, president of the Center for a New Economy, a business think tank based in the capital city of San Juan.

“It promotes conservation while it generates business and jobs, and it contributes to the country’s food security. It is a project that exemplifies a paradigm shift in the use of resources, and in the way development and governance models are conceived.”

“A Model Forest is a territory in which people organise and participate to manage their forests and other natural resources together in search of sustainable development,” according to the Iberoamerican Network of Model Forests (RIABM). “Model Forests contribute to reaching global objectives of poverty reduction, climate change, the struggle against desertification and the Millenium goals.”

There are currently 28 model forests in Latin America.

“In this forest there will be popular participation and shared governance,” explains Massol. “It will be an ecological project but will also include economic development, especially agriculture.”

Casa Pueblo has proposed that the Model Forest be a zone of sustainable agriculture free of genetically modified crops.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Boosting Incomes and Empowering Rural Women in Cuba Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:29 +0000 Patricia Grogg A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Leonor Pedroso’s sewing machine has dressed children in the Cuban town of Florida for 30 years. But it was only a few months ago that the seamstress was able to become formally self-employed.

“My husband, a small farmer, didn’t let me work outside the home,” Pedroso, 63, told IPS. “I could only sew things for neighbours or close friends, for free or really cheap. According to him, jobs weren’t for women.”

She is now one of the beneficiaries of a project funded by international development aid that helps women entrepreneurs with the aim of closing the gender gap, as part of the economic reforms underway in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Pedroso, whose main activities were running the household and raising the couple’s four children, did not have a stable enough flow of income or the knowledge to capitalise on her skills until she took courses in business plan development and management and gender along with other female entrepreneurs.

“I stood up to my husband, to do what I like to do, and now I am setting up a business in my home, to sell what I make and to teach young girls to sew and embroider,” she said with satisfaction, while waiting for the delivery of new sewing machines for her business.“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry. Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.” -- Neysi Fernández

She is now a new member of the local Producción Animal 25 Aniversario Cooperative.

The project, carried out by ACSUR Las Segovias, a non-governmental organisation from Spain, and the local Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP – National Association of Small Farmers), with financing from the European Union, provides training and inputs to 24 women, including farmers, craftmakers and rural leaders.

The project, whose formal title is “incorporation of rural female entrepreneurs into local socioeconomic development from a gender perspective”, has helped women who have traditionally been homemakers to generate an income. It is to be completed at the end of the year.

The women involved are in Artemisa, a province near Havana; Camagüey, a province in east-central Cuba, where Florida is located; and the eastern province of Granma.

“In the past, men were seen as the breadwinners and the owners of the land, but women have started to understand what they themselves contribute to the family economy,” Lorena Rodríguez, who works in the area of projects with ACSUR Las Segovia, told IPS.

She said “machismo” and sexism continue to stand in the way of the incorporation of rural women in the labour market.

One of the women involved in the project is Neysi Fernández who, seeking a way to make a living, moved from her hometown of Yateras in the eastern province of Guantánamo to Guanajay in the province of Artemisa, where a family member offered her a piece of land to work.

On the four hectares of land she is planting cassava, malanga (a tuber resembling a sweet potato), beans, maize and plantains.

“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry,” the 42-year-old small farmer, who married a manual labourer four years ago, told IPS. “Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.”

According to social researchers, the problem of access to remunerated work is one of the worst forms of inequality in rural areas in Cuba. Women represent 47 percent of the more than 2.8 million rural inhabitants in this country of 11.2 million people.

The work carried out by the wives and daughters of small farmers – raising livestock, tending family gardens, taking care of the home and raising children – is not recognised or remunerated, speakers said at the third review meeting of the National Action Plan held in 2013 to follow up on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Only 65,993 women belong to ANAP, and they represent just 17 percent of the association’s total membership, according to figures published this year by Cuba’s daily newspaper, Granma.

Women make up 142,300 of the 1.838 million people who work in agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing in Cuba, according to 2013 data from the national statistics office, ONEI.

The economic reforms undertaken by President Raúl Castro since 2008, with the aim of reviving the country’s flagging economy, have included the distribution of idle land under decree laws 259 of 2008, and 300 of 2012.

The objective is to boost food production in a country where 40 percent of the farmland is now in private hands, according to ONEI’s 2013 statistical yearbook.

But it is still mainly men who have the land, credits and farm machinery, and they remain a majority when it comes to decision-making in rural areas.

Given the lack of affirmative action by the state to boost female participation in rural areas, several civil society organisations and international aid agencies have been working to foster local development with a gender perspective.

With backing from the international relief and development organisation Oxfam, more than 15 women’s collective business enterprises will be operating in 10 municipalities in eastern Cuba by the end of the year. They include a flower shop, beauty salon, laundry, cheese shop, and several tire repair businesses.

With funds from the European Union, the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation and the Japanese Embassy in Cuba, the small businesses have been furnished with equipment and vehicles for transportation. In addition, the participants have taken part in workshops on self-esteem, leadership and personal growth.

According to sociologist Yohanka Valdés, the value of these projects lies in the strengthening of women’s capacity through empowerment and recognition of their rights.

“If an opportunity emerges, men are in a better position to take advantage of it because they don’t have to take care of the family,” the researcher told IPS.

Economist Dayma Echevarría says the female half of the population is at a disadvantage when it comes to the diversification of non-state activities in Cuba.

She says gender stereotypes in Cuba keep women in their role as homemakers and primary caretakers.

In one of the chapters of the book on the Cuban economy, “Miradas a la economía cubana” (Editorial Caminos, 2013), Echevarría says the lack of support services for caretakers is one of the reasons for rural women’s vulnerability when it comes to employment.

The recent process of land distribution has not translated into opportunities for boosting gender equality because it failed to foster active female participation, according to the expert.

At the same time, there are few Cuban women with the resources to set up their own businesses within the current regulatory framework.

Echevarría said Cubans were still waiting for the implementation of regulations that would enable more equitable insertion of women under the new labour conditions while incorporating a gender focus.

Cuba is in 15th place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, but in the subindex on economic participation and opportunity it ranks 66th out of the 153 countries studied.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Families Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:16:31 +0000 Robert Kibet Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAKURU COUNTY, Kenya, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Just two years ago, Mary Ondolo, a 50-year-old mother of nine from Kenya’s marginalised, hunter-gatherer community, the Ogiek, used to live in a grass thatched, mud house. She’d been living there for decades. 

But thanks to a donation of livestock and equipment she has now been able to send four of her children local universities and collages and has been able to build a timber home for her family.

“I and my husband, apart from our subsistence farming, used to earn extra income through casual labour,” Ondolo, who is from the small village of Mariashoni, in the Mau Forest, which lies near Nakuru in Kenya’s Rift Valley and is about 206 kilometres northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told IPS.“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially." -- Agnes Misoi, member of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer community

For decades Ondolo and the women of her community had been denied opportunities, choices, access to information, education, and skills, which was compounded by the cultural perception that women are mere housewives.

According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, historically, hunter-gatherer communities have been and still remain the most marginalised sections of society on the continent.

But two ago, a donation livestock and equipment made to Ondolo and a few other women in her community, changed their lives by giving them a steady financial income and, as a result, a role in decision making.

At the time, Ondolo had been trying to get the other Ogiek women to form groups in order to pool their resources and rear poultry together.

“It all started with merry-go-round after I visited one of my friends outside our locality. And having realised the many problems we women of the minority Ogiek community origin face, compounded by the deeply-rooted culture and gender disparity, I mobilised 30 women [in a savings cooperative].

“Members would put their monthly money contribution into a common pool,” Ondolo said, adding that members were entitled to borrow loans for as little as Ksh. 500 (five dollars).

Her idea, which attracted the attention of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP), a local NGO with close links to the community’s issues, soon led to the life-changing donation.

“Having learnt of our organised poultry rearing groups, OPDP in partnership with Kenya Community Development Foundation [KCDF] helped us start poultry and beekeeping enterprises,” Ondolo said.

So in 2012, in the small village of Mariashoni, a group of 80 women gathered at an open field surrounded by the indigenous Mau Forest to receive improved indigenous chicks, poultry-rearing equipment and feed.

OPDP had received about 22,000 dollars in funding from KCDF, which it used to purchase the livestock and equipment.

Honey-harvesting equipment and 40 beehives were also given to the Langam Women’s Group and Ogiek Women’s Empowerment Group. The women were also given skills training.

Ondolo said that, at first, the women who engaged in beekeeping had to overcome their own community’s cultural barriers against women earning an income. But now, she said, they all are major contributors to their families.

“My husband’s source of income comes from small subsistence farming. But thanks to the beekeeping project, I have been able to help my husband pay school fees for our children two are in university and two are in college currently, and the others are in primary and secondary school,” Ondolo said.

She is also now a lead member of the Langam Women’s Group.

“Without any sense of power whatsoever, their participation in decision-making is minimal, both at home and in the community,” Daniel Kobei, a member of the OPDP and the Ogiek community, told IPS.

Jane Rotich, a member of Ogiek Women Beekeeping Empowerment Group agreed. “Practical and cultural barriers limited the participation of us Ogiek women in decisions affecting our community, aspects of our public life, as well as in economic progress and development,” she told IPS.

In Nessuit location, about 10km from Mariashoni, Agnes Misoi, 30, was also a beneficiary of the poultry project. She currently owns over 60 chicken, having sold some to pay for the education of her two high school children.

She told IPS that prior to the introduction of the poultry project, she relied mostly on her husband — a subsistence farmer.

“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially of which I have been able to assist,” said Misoi, adding that she normally accumulates about 200 eggs in a month, which she sells for about 24 dollars.

And her husband, Samuel Misoi, has been grateful for her financial support.

“Nowadays, [my wife] is the one assisting me during financial difficulties. She helped me purchase timber for completion of our new house,” he told IPS, pointing at a three bed-roomed timber house under construction.

Fanis Inganga, a gender officer with OPDP, told IPS that the project brought great changes to the Ogiek women’s attitude, as they were now more confident to work and contribute to the economic and social betterment of their families and community.

To maximise profits and lock out brokers, the women only sell their honey to the Ogiek Beekeepers Association, which is affiliated to Mariashoni Community Development (MACODEV), a community-based organisation that refines and packages the honey into a final product.

MACODEV’s chairman Martin Kiptiony said that the women’s groups have ignited a great challenge to the men who used to consider themselves as only ones fit to engage in beekeeping.

However, poor road network bars the women’s groups from accessing readily-available markets. Instead they have to sell their packaged honey and poultry products at public gatherings in the locality. A 250ml tin of Ogiek Pure Honey sells for three dollars.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at or on twitter @Kibet_88

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New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rights Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowly Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Salvadoran Peasant Farmers Clash With U.S. Over Seeds Sat, 05 Jul 2014 14:49:53 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Cruz Esmeralda Mejía, Maybelyne Palacios and Rosa María Rivera growing plants from improved maize seed in the La Maroma cooperative, in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cruz Esmeralda Mejía, Maybelyne Palacios and Rosa María Rivera growing plants from improved maize seed in the La Maroma cooperative, in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador, Jul 5 2014 (IPS)

Under a searing sun, surrounded by a sea of young maize plants, Gladys Cortez expresses her fears that her employment in the cooperative that produces seed for the Salvadoran government may be at risk, if United States companies achieve participation in seed procurement.

“This is our source of income to support our children,” Cortez told IPS as she continued her regular farming tasks at the La Maroma cooperative, one of the seed producing establishments located in La Noria, in the municipality of Jiquilisco, in the eastern department of Usulután.

The U.S. government, through its ambassador in El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, has set conditions on the delivery of a development aid package worth 277 million dollars from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency. It wants the country to open its seed procurement process to U.S. companies.

Aponte told local media that excluding U.S. companies violates the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Central America- Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA), which was signed by El Salvador in 2004.

Since 2011, the Salvadoran government has bought 88,000 quintals of maize seed annually from 18 producers, for distribution to 400,000 small farmers as part of its Family Agriculture Plan. Each farmer receives 10 kilos of improved seed and 45 kilos of fertilisers a year.

Among the 18 producers are the La Maroma cooperative and four others in the Bajo Lempa region, in the south of the department of Usulután.

These lands were divided up and distributed to ex-combatants of the former guerrilla organisation, now a political party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) after the 1992 peace accords that put an end to 12 years of civil war that cost 75,000 lives.

The first FMLN government, in power since 2009, opened certified seed procurement to local producers.

The administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander who took office on Jun. 1, is maintaining links with the cooperatives, but has also indicated willingness to include international companies in the seed tendering process.

Certified seeds are varieties with higher yields and better resistance to adverse climate effects. They are produced by crossing genetic strains that have not been modified, in contrast to transgenic seeds. The cooperatives also produce some native seeds, on a smaller scale.

Seed quality is monitored and approved by the Salvadoran Ministry of Agriculture, which paid a total of 25.9 million dollars on seed purchases in 2013, most of them maize and beans which are staple foods in El Salvador.

Until the new model was implemented in 2011, 70 percent of the market was cornered by a subsidiary of U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, Semillas Cristiani Burkard. Since then, other producers have entered the field, like the cooperatives, with better quality certified seeds and more competitive prices.

Last year’s seed was purchased by an executive decree of December 2012, with the approval of Congress, and in practice U.S. companies were excluded. The U.S. embassy demanded a public and “transparent” tender process.

In January 2014, lawmakers approved a new decree allowing international companies to participate in the tendering process. However, the bidding in April was won by the same 18 producers.

Ambassador Aponte is now pressing for a different procurement process that will favour U.S. companies. This position is being criticised by social organisations and rural producers, who protested in front of the embassy in San Salvador in June.

“The embassy’s position serves to promote Monsanto’s seeds,” environmentalist Ricardo Navarro told IPS, referring to the world leader in transgenic seeds, against which many protests have been held in Latin American countries.

Aponte did not mention Monsanto in her comments, but according to Navarro “it is obvious she is referring to Monsanto, the largest company in the sector,” whose local branch “lost a market they thought belonged to them.”

The embassy did not grant an interview with economic adviser John Barrett, requested by IPS.

But in a press release on Wednesday Jul. 2 it expressed “satisfaction with the government’s expressed commitment to carry out future purchases of corn and bean seeds in a transparent competitive manner that respects both Salvadoran law and DR-CAFTA.”

As for Monsanto, it only sent IPS an e-mail signed by spokesman Tom Helscher, denying any part in the embassy’s campaign.

The discord has reached Washington. Sixteen members of Congress sent a letter Jul. 1 to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing concern over the pressure exerted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in favour of the embassy campaign in San Salvador.

Nathan Weller, the head of EcoViva, a U.S. organisation that works on development projects in Bajo Lempa, told IPS that some U.S. companies have won contracts from the Salvadoran government, not through public tendering, but by direct purchasing or invitation.

Both methods are legal, but they lack the transparency that the embassy is calling for for seed procurement.

For example, in 2009 and 2010 Chevron Caribbean was awarded direct contracts for fuel supply, for 340,000 and 361,000 dollars respectively, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The company “offered products at a much higher price (than the competition), and yet USTR made no comment,” Weller complained.

Seeds of a better life  

Growing seeds has also promoted employment in an area with a lot of poverty.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households live below the poverty line, compared to 29.9 percent of urban households, according to the 2013 annual survey by the Ministry of Economics.

“In addition to creating employment, we are demonstrating the productive potential of the local cooperatives,” campesino (small farmer) leader Juan Luna, the coordinator of the Asociación Mangle agricultural programme, told IPS.

Gladys Cortez, hard at work caring for young maize plants at the La Maroma cooperative, has work thanks to the seed programme.

“As well as the jobs, we are given seeds to grow to feed ourselves,” said Cortez, a 36-year-old single mother of a 17-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.

Alongside her, about 50 men and women worked in the maize fields of La Maroma. Most of them wore long-sleeved shirts and hats to protect them from sunburn, on the day IPS visited the cooperative. They are all paid five dollars a day.

In the Bajo Lempa area alone, about 15,000 campesinos are employed growing improved seeds, the cooperativists estimate. They have work for longer periods than on traditional plantations, because more care and attention is required.

“We don’t earn a great deal, but the fact of having an income is very positive for a single mother like me,” Cortez said.

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Mauritian Sugar Farmers Squeezed by Low Prices as Bagasse and Ethanol Become Popular By-products Tue, 10 Jun 2014 08:38:39 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Jun 10 2014 (IPS)

While Mauritius has been forced to transform its sugar industry because of low prices for the commodity, the country’s small-scale sugarcane farmers who contribute to it say they are barely earning a living.

Previously, Mauritius produced only raw sugar from the cane plant. Now it produces value-added refined and special sugar, electricity from bagasse, ethanol and will soon produce bio-plastics.

“We are paid for the amount of sugar produced from our canes and some peanuts for the bagasse they use to produce electricity and nothing for the electricity which they sell to the national grid, or for our molasses or for the ethanol,” Jugessur Guirdharry, a farmer for the Union Park Cooperative Society, in the south of the island, told IPS. Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

With the end of the Sugar Protocol in 2009, an agreement between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific states since 1970 wherein the latter supplied sugar to the EU at a much higher price than was available on the world market, meant that this Indian island nation stopped receiving high prices for its sugar. Instead, Mauritius was producing sugar at 500 dollars a tonne but selling it at 433 dollars a tonne.

To keep the industry alive, the government implemented drastic reforms. It centralised private sugar production factories and from the original 17 there are now four flexi-factories that crush cane, produce special and refined sugars, molasses, ethanol and renewable energy from bagasse — the fibrous pulp left over after cane is squeezed for its juice. Soon they will also produce bio-plastic.

This island nation now produces 400,000 tonnes of special and refined sugars that are sold on markets in Europe from where they are sold directly to big EU firms.

About 75 percent of the sugar produced in Mauritius is value-added refined and special sugar that is sold mainly in Italy, Spain, Greece, United Kingdom and Belgium while the rest is sold to a hundred clients in niche-markets in the United States and China.

However, the 17,000 small-scale farmers contribute to about 28 percent of the national sugar production are not happy. They say it is very difficult to make a living out of cane cultivation only.

Farmers complain of high production costs and costs of inputs like fertilisers, herbicides and manpower and transport.

“If a farmer does not do part of the work in the fields himself, he’ll not be able to make his ends meet,” Guirdharry added.

Without the contribution of farmers like him, this industry would not have survived, Issah Korreembux, a small-scale sugarcane farmer, told IPS. Indeed, the Mauritius Cane Industry Authority (MCIA) says that many smallholder farmers have abandoned between 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of land that had previously been sugar plantations.

“If they are not given their due, more will do so because of lack of manpower, high costs of inputs and an ageing population among the farmers with the youth staying away from agriculture,” Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, in eastern Mauritius, told IPS.

Guirdharry pointed out that by producing bagasse, small farmers contribute to the production of clean energy.

“If we use coal only, the impact on the environment would be devastating. We are thus preventing the import of about 250,000 tonnes of coal annually,” he explained.

Small-scale farmers like Dabydoyal are looking for other means to increase their income. About 5,000 of them have joined the fair-trade movement. They produced 21,000 tonnes of sugar under this label in 2013, which brought them an additional income of 60 dollars per tonne above the normal price of 530 dollars.

Under this certification by an international firm FLO-CERT, the small-scale producers develop good agricultural practices, make good use of the soil, use less chemical products and follow an integrated management plan for pests and diseases to improve the crop.

“This is a very good thing for small-scale farmers and we are encouraging all of them to join the movement,” Sooradehoo Punchu, president of the Mauritius Fair-trade Federation Cooperative Ltd, told IPS.

Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

“Today, these children have grown up and become professionals but have turned their back to the plantations,” Roy told IPS. Small and medium farmers have launched an Alliance of Sugar Cane Planters Association (ASPA) to defend their rights.

Its leader Trilock Ujoodha says a revision of the distribution of cane revenue will solve many problems faced by small and medium producers, which includes among them the issue of abandoned land.

Other farmers recalled that their income from sugar that represented 95 percent of their total revenue in the past stands today at 94 percent, despite the slump in local sugar prices.

“It should have decreased more,” observed farmer Jugdish Rampertab. However, Roy believes small farmers are faring well but “they could do much better with a fair distribution of sugar revenue.”

Mauritius has transformed its main product that is sugar cane into several valued added products. It’s not the end of the road yet, as this industry prepares to face another big challenge in two years’ time with the end of the sugar quota system in the EU scheduled for 2017.

This will again lead to volatile prices of this commodity. “How far can we diversify our cane industry?” Dabydoyal asks.

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Traditional Wisdom to the Rescue in Cyclone Season Mon, 12 May 2014 17:49:17 +0000 Malini Shankar A rare sight of a traditional hut of the Nicobarese in the post-tsunami era. Seen here is a Nicobari family that has retained its traditionally designed hut alongside a “permanent shelter” made of concrete that was given by the government as compensation for loss of household in the Asian Tsunami. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A rare sight of a traditional hut of the Nicobarese in the post-tsunami era. Seen here is a Nicobari family that has retained its traditionally designed hut alongside a “permanent shelter” made of concrete that was given by the government as compensation for loss of household in the Asian Tsunami. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PORT BLAIR, Andaman Islands, India, May 12 2014 (IPS)

May and November bring the most vicious cyclones to the Bay of Bengal rim countries in Southeast Asia.

Local governments must scramble disaster mitigation measures, including food storage, cleaning cyclone shelters, stocking up water supply, sanitising infrastructure, and evacuating people to safety in all the regions bordering the bay.“Going by economists’ definition of supply and demand forces of the market, the Jarawas live in opulence." -- Prof. Anvita Abbi

The cyclones are the harbinger of the monsoons that play out in various densities for months on end across the subcontinent, often putting lives and livestock at peril.

Risking rejection of culture-insensitive food distribution to the evacuees, the governments generally resort to survival rations that stress shelf lives and transportation logistics, often ignoring the native wisdom in nutrition balance and distribution that complements local agro-meteorological and hydro-geological conditions.

For example, in times of cyclones or unseaworthy weather, “the Great Andamanese resort to hunting and gathering,” said Anvita Abbi, a professor at the Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University,who has deciphered the language of the Great Andamanese in the Andaman Nicobar Islands.

“When a particular bird sings a song, they know it is time to go turtle hunting on the beach instead of fishing in the sea,” Prof. Abbi told IPS.

The tribes defer to geomorphological conditions and respect Nature’s benevolence for disaster resilience. The governments’ panic might seem redundant to the tribes: no wonder they are at odds with the mainstream society and shun contact with a corrupted system that favours a few.  The tribes’ traditional wisdom helps them literally coast to safety.

“The Nicobarese and Jarawas switch to harpoon fishing in shallow waters during inclement weather. They have boats for deep sea fishing and dugout/outrigger canoes and catamarans for coastal fishing,” said A. Justin Superintending, an anthropologist at the Port Blair Regional Centre of Anthropological Survey of India.

The outrigger canoes and dugout boats are eco-friendly to coral reefs in shallows seas. “The people of Chowra are best known for making fishing boats. In return they barter other goods and services that money cannot buy in the tribal district of Nicobar Islands,” Justin told IPS.

“The Great Andamanese shift their fishing activities to streams and rivers inland when the sea is rough,” added Prof. Abbi.

In Orissa, the tribes and people of the state use five different varieties of rice to complement the seasonal changes in the disaster-prone state.

Alternate cropping with complementary crops that can act as natural pesticide is another tradition of the Soligas in B. R. T. Hills in Karnataka in India. The Soligas also know the art of refrigerating food in bamboo stems.

The tribes of Ladakh refrigerate yoghurt in yak hide bags to make butter tea. “To cope with extreme weather in Ladakh’s cold desert, they consume fatty foods and drink lots of butter tea,” Chewang Norphel, a social worker in Leh, told IPS.

“The tribal houses are made of sun-dried mud brick with mud plaster and low roof. Small sized door and windows facing the north side are other features of ecofriendly architecture.”

According to Dr. Avula Laxman, senior deputy director in the Division of Community Studies of National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau – National Institute of Nutrition, “Yes, tribals do adopt coping strategies, especially during natural calamities like droughts/floods.

“They adopt different measures such as consumption of low cost foods, reduce food consumption, borrow food or cash depending on their socio economic status, seek assistance from Government or Administration, use stocked grains, or food stocks or rely on savings, may migrate for employment or sell assets to buy food” according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, Laxman told IPS.

The practise of communal cooking and communal eating is based on sharing resources, and individualism is anathema to tribal society.

Another best practice that they have “transferred as a low cost technology” to modernised humanity is breast milk banks.

Traditional wisdom has it that if a mother dies at childbirth and the child survives, any other lactating mother in the community or even in a hospital assumes the responsibility of breast feeding.

Even when a natural mother lacks enough breast milk, other nursing mothers take over to provide the infant essential nutrition and resilience. In Jarawa society, in fact, every lactating mother breast feeds every newborn infant to foster a bonding in the newer generations, according to the book “Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 20th Century” by Kiran Dhingra.

“Their kinship terms have evolved. It is not surprising that lactating women who stay back in Strait Island get to babysit the kids of those away in employment in Port Blair. It is therefore not surprising that they breast feed another infant,” said Abbi.

This tradition permeates a cross-section of Indian society, transcending barriers of caste and creed. This is the root of the concept that there are no orphans in tribal societies even if they have “precise linguistic expressions for bereavement of siblings and in laws,” according to Prof. Abbi.

Laxman said that, “Tribals are trying to adopt urban and rural cultures, because of encroachment/migration of rural populations into tribal areas. The tribals’ unique culture is totally changed.

“Because of the Public Distribution System programmes, the tribals are compelled to eat rice continuously, because rice is chiefly/easily available at fair price shops. They are changing their healthy lifestyles to modern unhealthy lifestyles. This was observed especially in Kerala tribal population, leading to high stress, insecurity in their lives, leading to high hypertension and high diabetes even among tribal populations.”

Call them fair weather friends but the hill tribes like “Gaddi and Lahauli tribes of Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh India adapt to the geomorphological conditions in the avalanche-prone area to shift their livestock to greener pastures in the plains during summers and stock up food grains and dry rations for the long winters,” said forest officer Hira Lal Rana in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh.

Prof. Abbi sums up the import of traditional wisdom for disaster resilience. “Going by economists’ definition of supply and demand forces of the market, the Jarawas live in opulence because their demand and supply of their needs is favourably tilted towards the Jarawas.

“The forests supply more than enough of what they need so they live in opulence.  Economists say reaching an equilibrium point of demand and supply curve is the hallmark of development. This is met by the forests. They don’t need and they don’t want our system which creates subservience.”

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Community Electricity Lights Up Spain Tue, 06 May 2014 12:33:48 +0000 Ines Benitez Clean sources of energy - challenging the prevailing energy model

Solar panels on one of the buildings of the Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia. Credit: Chixoy CC BY-SA 3.0

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , May 6 2014 (IPS)

Until recently it was inconceivable for small groups of organised citizens in fully electrified industrialised countries like Spain to generate their own power from clean sources of energy, challenging the prevailing energy model.

But now anyone who wants to become an “agent of change” can be a co-owner of community projects that promote renewable energy, such as the Huerta Solar Amigos de la Tierra, a 20-kW solar energy plant in the municipality of Sisante in southeast Spain.

Friends of the Earth Spain and the non-profit company Ecooo are behind the creation of the plant.

“We have to change the 20th century paradigm, where energy equals fossil fuels, and citizens are seen as mere consumers,” Héctor de Prado, head of energy and climate in Friends of the Earth Spain, told Tierramérica.

“Buying shares, starting at 100 euros, people become co-owners, and receive profits,” Ecooo spokesman José Vicente Barcia explained to Tierramérica. Ecooo has 65 collective solar installations placed on rooftops in rural and urban communities around Spain.“The most ecological and economical kilowatt is the one that isn’t consumed.” -- Ecooo spokesman José Vicente Barcia

Ecooo, which forms part of the Platform for a new energy model, made up of over 300 organisations, also installs and maintains solar panels for private individuals and carries out energy audits to analyse consumption.

“Installed capacity is higher than what is needed, to the profit of the energy corporations,” said Barcia. “What is needed is a culture of energy savings, because the most ecological and economical kilowatt is the one that isn’t consumed.”

Another possibility for energy consumers who want to support clean energy collectives is to switch from a traditional power utility to one of several “green” cooperatives operating in Spain, such as Zencer in the southern region of Andalusía, Som Energia in Catalonia in the east, or GoiEner and Nosa Enerxia in Galicia in the northwest.

“We want to make consumers participants in managing the energy they consume,” architect Francisco Javier Porras, founder and president of Zencer, told Tierramérica.

Zencer has been supplying electricity generated by renewable sources at a national level since January 2013.

The cooperatives can purchase electricity from the traditional utilities, but they guarantee that all of the energy they sell comes from clean sources, by granting renewable energy certificates to producers of clean energy.

According to Porras, between 30 and 40 percent of the energy produced in Spain now comes from renewable sources.

In his office in Fuengirola in the southern region of Málaga, Porras said consumers “are reluctant to accept changes in terms of energy supply” even though their electricity bills have soared in recent years.

The cost of electricity for the members of the cooperatives is no higher than what consumers pay for power from the big corporations like Iberdrola, Gas Natural Fenosa, Endesa, HC and E.On, and it can even be lower, while users have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to support clean energy, say advocates of the cooperatives.

In this southern European country, where unemployment stands at 25 percent and the cost of electricity continues to climb, there is a new phenomenon: energy poverty.

The number of people who are finding it hard to pay their electricity bills grew by two million from 2010 to 2012 in this country of more than 47 million people, according to a report by the Association of Environmental Sciences (ACA).

The study found that the proportion of households affected by energy poverty has risen to more than 10 percent – or more than four million people.

José Luis López, who led the study, believes that collective energy management initiatives can have “a certain influence” on reducing energy poverty when they are able to bring down the costs of the members’ energy bills, although he said “there is no immediate short-term effect.”

Promoting renewable, independent energy production also reduces dependence on fossil fuels, thus bringing about a reduction in the millions of euros in fixed costs for the state coffers, López added.

Friends of the Earth Spain complains that the government is standing in the way of the progress of renewable energy in this country, whose enormous potential is not being harnessed, it says, while other European Union countries see green energy as a way to combat emissions of greenhouse gases.

“The government has some nerve to do what it is doing,” said Marc Roselló of Som Energia, referring to the government’s energy policies, which privilege large corporations that use fossil fuels.

In July, the centre-right government introduced an energy reform, and in December it approved an amendment to the electricity sector law, which was opposed by the hundreds of members of the Platform and 14 opposition parties.

Roselló told Tierramérica that in late 2010, a year after the energy market was liberalised, Som Energia transferred to Spain the solid experience of companies like Ecopower in Belgium or Enercoop in France.

“We don’t only sell energy; we also produce energy through our own projects,” he said. The cooperative’s bills provide the more than 14,000 members with details on the origin of the electricity it distributes. In 2013, for example, the energy distributed by the cooperative came from solar, wind and biogas plants.

Zencer’s Porras also sees “the big objective” for the 600-member cooperative, which is accredited to distribute energy throughout Spain, as producing energy through small-scale electricity generation projects using its own funds.

Although a few years ago social participation in the energy system was not possible, thousands of people from all walks of life – investors concerned about the environment, ecologists and others – are now taking part or investing in clean energy projects, like Viure de l’aire, a community wind energy project in Catalonia.

“Each green kWh that you add to the energy grid is one kWh less from burnt fossil fuels,” said Héctor de Prado.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:32:27 +0000 Adam Bemma John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy.

“Upper Kitete was a model farming village set up by the government of Tanzania. My father received a call while he was in Arusha from his brother in Karatu telling him to apply. We were selected as one of the first 100 families,” Daffi told IPS.

In 1962, British agriculturalist Antony Ellman came to Tanzania and from 1963 to 1966 helped establish the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society on 2,630 hectares located in the Karatu district of northern Tanzania, about 160 kilometres from the city of Arusha.“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated.” -- farmer, John Daffi

“It was a very exciting time as Tanzania just received independence and it was a real opportunity for aspiring farmers to have access to great land,” Ellman told IPS.

Daffi’s father, Lucas, relocated his family from Mbulu village in Manyara region to Kitete village in Arusha region. The villagers selected began a social experiment, and distinguished themselves from other nearby villages with the name Upper Kitete.

The cooperative movement pre-dates independence. Professor Amon Z. Mattee, from Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture, told IPS that the prosperity of cooperatives in the 1960s made the government want to create a level playing field for all.

“Coops started in the 1930s for some of the cash crops like coffee and cotton and for many years up to the time of independence in 1961. They were really member-based and offered excellent services in terms of research, extension, inputs, profitable markets and even social services like education for members’ children,” Mattee said.

Tanzania’s founding President ‘Mwalimu [Teacher]’ Julius Nyerere started the village settlement programme where farmers were encouraged to work cooperatively hoping they would prosper economically. Eighteen months after independence in 1963, the Upper Kitete Cooperative Society was born and it continues to this day.

“The soil was so fertile. We began farming cereal crops like wheat and barley. Now we’re much smaller scale and farm mainly maize and beans, our staple crops,” Daffi said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Tanzania remains primarily a rural country with an agriculture-based economy that employs the majority of the national labour force. Its economy is still highly dependent on predominantly rain-fed agriculture that contributes an estimated 30 percent to the GDP and accounts for 64 percent of all export earnings.

Its main traditional export crops are coffee, cashews, cotton, sugar, tobacco, tea, sisal and spices from Zanzibar. Maize is the main food crop alongside sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, beans, cassava, bananas and potatoes, according to the FAO.

Pius and John Daffi hold up a map of Upper Kitete, showing the original plot of land that was allocated to the farming village when it was set up by the Tanzanian government. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

Pius and John Daffi hold up a map of Upper Kitete, showing the original plot of land that was allocated to the farming village when it was set up by the Tanzanian government. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

“For the first 10 years Upper Kitete was on an upward path. People worked together willingly and life was improving for everyone. They continually had better yields, built bigger homes and the services improved as a result,” Ellman said.

In 1974, the dream faded as Nyerere forced reluctant Tanzanians from urban and rural areas to move into villages causing environmental and organisational strain to existing villages like Upper Kitete. At this time, its population ballooned from 210 to 1,200 residents.

A 2001 study by academics Rock Rohde and Thea Hilhorst called ‘A Profile of environmental change in the Lake Manyara Basin, Tanzania’ examines the stress put on the land due to government directives.

“Ujamaa [Nyerere’s brand of socialism] aimed to move the entire Tanzanian rural population into cooperative villages and achieved this under ‘Operation Vijijini’ when land was redistributed and several million peasants and pastoralists resettled in new, more compact villages, often under duress. [It] had a profound social and economic effect, especially on the highlands of Karatu where wealthy commercial farmers were deprived of their land holdings,” the study states.

Since then, Daffi has witnessed the land at Upper Kitete become scarce as it was divided into smaller portions for the growing community. This village of 500 people in 1963 is now a town of nearly 5,000. Now, the cooperative produces much less than it previously did because it has less land.

“Even though the population has increased, the land hasn’t. Every inch of it is cultivated,” Daffi said.

Mattee researches farmers’ organisations in Tanzania. He said recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives, like the 1997 Cooperative Development Policy, were a failure.

“The government has since the 1990s tried to revive the cooperative sector by introducing new policies, but the coops were already too weak and farmers had completely lost faith in them,” Mattee said.

Ellman reflects on his time at Upper Kitete with great nostalgia. But he realises they face the problem all remaining agricultural cooperatives in Tanzania face — a lack of unity and insufficient resources to support the fast-growing population.

“I keep in touch with many people at Upper Kitete and I visited again in 2012. They’ve asked me to record its history,” Ellman said. “It’s been difficult. With such a dense population they need to adopt more intensive forms of land use and even diversify out of agriculture. Tanzanians are resourceful people. They can do it.”

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Change Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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Women Turn Potatoes into Gold in Zimbabwe’s Cities Sun, 09 Mar 2014 14:46:31 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Potato plants in the backyard of Lina Chingama, 44, from Zimbabwe's Norton town, 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Potato plants in the backyard of Lina Chingama, 44, from Zimbabwe's Norton town, 40 kilometres west of the capital Harare. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 9 2014 (IPS)

Shyline Chipfika, 26, is one of thousands of Zimbabwean women in urban centres who have struck gold by growing potatoes. And a lot of their success has to do with an import ban.

“I used to be a mere housewife, and my life has changed in a big way after I ventured into potato growing,” Chipfika told IPS.“Who said women can’t provide for their families? Really, watch what the potato magic has done for many women here." -- Grace Mbiza

Chipfika’s husband, faced with joblessness, turned to hawking at a local commuter omnibus terminus in the capital, Harare, after the company he worked for shut down in 2008 owing to the hyperinflation that crippled many sectors of the economy.

Chipfika’s rags-to-riches story is a very rare one in Zimbabwe, and she boldly declares she will not abandon the potato-growing venture anytime soon.

“I used to stay in a small apartment, but thanks to this venture, I have managed to extend my apartment into a respectable piece of property,” she said.

The potatoes do not require large amounts of land, just ordinary backyards, where the women plant seeds in sacks filled with fertile soil.

“The potato growing method on urban yards by women here is very simple yet extremely productive, although since time immemorial, urban yards have often been wasted by many who have not seen any value in them,” agricultural extension officer Mike Hunde, based in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province in Marondera, 70 kilometres outside Harare, told IPS.

The officers are engaged by the government to facilitate agricultural research that enhances productivity.

The government promotes potatoes for food security, and as a way of backing local producers like Chingama and many others. In 2013, it banned imports of this staple food, and the crop took off.

Taking advantage of the ban, women in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities have since formed associations to get financial aid from pro-women non-governmental organisations to intensify local potato production.

According to the Urban Women Farmers’ Union, a trade union for women potato growers in Harare, there are 151 associations that women in towns and cities have formed to mobilise funding to cater for their potato growing ventures, with 16,150 women involved in potato production.

“Since the ban of potato imports here, as women potato growers only, we are supplying potatoes to eight percent of the national market, with huge scale indigenous potato growers dominating 88 percent of the market, while a few urban men who have emulated us are supplying the other four percent of the market,” Abigail Mlambo, secretary general of the Urban Women Farmers’ Union, told IPS.

“As an association of 12 potato growers here, we approached non-governmental organisations to seek funding to advance our urban potato growing project,” Nancy Chikwari told IPS.

After securing 1,000 dollars to buy inputs, Chikwari said their project expanded rapidly. Today, the women’s association boasts of sending their children to colleges and universities without financially straining their husbands.

“In 2013 alone, we harvested 30 tonnes and sold each 15-kilogramme packet for eight dollars, raking in thousands of dollars in profits,” Chikwari told IPS, adding that all of them now owned a car and a house in the capital thanks to potato growing.

Women in this Southern African nation make up the majority of jobless. According to the Central Statistical Office, of the country’s 13 million people, 60 percent (7.8 million) are women and 66 percent of them (5.14 million) are unemployed.

Official figures from 2013 indicate that only 850,000 people are formally employed.

The World Food Programme estimates the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe to be around 60 percent, despite the large numbers of people employed in the informal sector.

But for many urban women now undertaking potato farming at home, unemployment has become a thing of the past.

“Women like me no longer worry about employment. I make extensive sales from the potatoes I reap from my backyard,” 44-year-old Lina Chingama from Norton, a town 40 kilometres west of Harare, told IPS.

Chingama said she harvests the potatoes three times in a year and gets 1,200 kilogrammes of potatoes each time. A 10 kilogramme bag of potatoes fetches about 10 dollars at the local market.

This means Chingama pockets 1,200 dollars for the 1,200 kilogrammes she harvests each time.

Traditionally regarded as dependent upon their male counterparts, owing to urban potato farming, many women have even become breadwinners.

“Who said women can’t provide for their families? Really, watch what the potato magic has done for many women here. We are not just sleeping in towns, but rather fending for our families too,” Grace Mbiza, a women’s rights activist, told IPS.

Independent environmentalist Archibald Chigumbu said the process used by women to grow the potatoes is ecologically friendly.

“Their method does not harm the environment, as ordinary sacks with potato plants are placed within urban yards to nurse potatoes as they develop,” Chigumbu told IPS. He said common potato varieties grown here include Amythest, Mont Claire, BPI, Jacaranda, Opal and Emerald.

Ronald Museka, chair of the Potato Council of Zimbabwe, an organisation representing growers, told IPS, “We want to ensure there is enough production for the local market and urban women are just doing that. Soon they may start exporting.”

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is strongly supportive of these urban women’s ventures.

“Women have championed a grand move, maximising potato yields in their ordinary domestic yards and at the end of the day smiling all the way to the bank. We will not hesitate an inch to support them in every way possible,” Made told IPS.

But women potato growers here may face another hurdle with unpredictable local authorities, as the by-laws on such projects in towns are unclear.

“Yes, women are doing well, but council authorities haven’t approved urban agriculture and I’m unsure about what may or may not befall their potato projects,” a top local authority official speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

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Sun Shines on Forest Women Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Vegetable Gardens Ease Poverty in El Salvador Mon, 03 Mar 2014 20:41:08 +0000 Edgardo Ayala and Tomas Andreu Agronomist Francisco Ramírez, a member of the Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative, and his family, in one of the greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

Agronomist Francisco Ramírez, a member of the Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative, and his family, in one of the greenhouses where they grow tomatoes. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala and Tomás Andréu
EL CARMEN, El Salvador, Mar 3 2014 (IPS)

Vegetable growing is flourishing in Cuscatlán, the smallest department in the tiny country of El Salvador, with the help of a national programme to promote family agriculture and lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty.

On one and a half hectares of land, four of the Ramírez brothers used to grow only maize, without much expertise. Today they sell fruit and vegetables to the Walmart transnational chain.

They were determined to make the most of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF), launched by the government in February 2011 to give support to more than 300,000 producers, improve their yields and incomes and fight hunger.

Government technicians trained the Ramírez brothers in horticulture and the creation and management of a cooperative. They learned to build greenhouses to control pests and rainfall, as well as dropwise irrigation techniques.

Entrenched poverty

The policy of the centre-left government of President Mauricio Funes is being supported by several regional and international organisations, as part of a wider fight against poverty, which has had some successes in this country of 6.3 million people.

• 34.5 percent of households are poor
• 8.94 percent of households are extremely poor
• 43.3 percent of rural households are poor
• In 2009, 37.8 percent of households were poor and 12 percent were extremely poor.

Source: Multi-Purpose Household Survey, El Salvador Ministry of Economy, May 2013.
The Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Hortaliceros de Cuscatlán (Cuscatlán vegetable producers’ cooperative) was founded in 2013. It already has 18 members and is one of several that supply national and transnational supermarkets.

In the canton of Santa Lucía belonging to the municipality of El Carmen, the cooperative produces tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, bananas and guavas. Production gradually increased, and so did the families’ incomes.

“I like to work the land that belongs to us, instead of being in a ‘maquila’ (export assembly plant) earning next to nothing,” Andrea Beltrán, the wife of Francisco Ramírez, told IPS as she sorted foods before packaging them.

Her husband was walking along the rows of tomato plants, followed by his three children, checking the colour and ripeness of each fruit.

The cooperative makes three food deliveries a week to supermarkets in El Salvador owned by the U.S. corporation Walmart, generating monthly sales of 12,500 dollars.

Its members share the greenhouses and irrigation system, and each farmer grows their own produce, delivering what they harvest to a collection centre which handles sales and distribution to the markets.

The more a member produces, the more he or she earns, unlike traditional cooperatives in which all income goes into a central fund which is distributed equally between the members.

“The cooperative started with four brothers, and since then our family concern has grown,” said Francisco Ramírez, who has graduated as an agronomist.

The PAF is directed at two main sectors, very poor subsistence farmers and other farmers who, while still poor, have introduced some improvements and have some excess crops for sale, a group comprising some 60,000 producers.

The Ramírez brothers are among this group of poor rural people who nevertheless have a small plot of land that has allowed them to produce enough to pay for Francisco’s studies at the University of El Salvador, which is virtually free.

Another advantage the cooperative has is the Collection and Services Centre (CAS), which also handles produce from other cooperatives in the area, and carries out quality and hygiene monitoring before sending the products to their final sales points.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country has 35 CASs funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which up until late 2013 benefited 45,000 producers.

Lorena Guadalupe Fabián joined the cooperative two years ago, at no cost. Previously her life consisted of buying products and re-selling them in street markets.

“I would leave for work at three in the morning and get back at seven at night, but the PAF changed my life,” she told IPS.

She has received training “that has been very useful.” And now she grows vegetables, but also takes part in quality control, and the reception and dispatch of produce. “I am not only a member, I also have a job,” she said.

“Only yesterday, we sold Walmart 2,000 chilis,” she said enthusiastically.

Another beneficiary is José Arnoldo. He looks after the planting and harvesting, has a steady job, and has become an expert on treating produce, especially in the use of agrochemicals.

The cooperative is a few steps away from becoming a supplier to Súper Selectos, the largest supermarket chain in El Salvador.

It is also negotiating with ALBA Alimentos (ALBA Foods), a subsidiary of ALBA Petróleos, an initiative born of an agreement between mayors’ offices in the hands of the governing (formerly insurgent) Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, and which is broadening its scope to other fields.

“Now we have to carry on growing a lot more,” said Francisco Ramírez.

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