Inter Press Service » Cooperatives http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 30 Mar 2017 22:37:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149499 Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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Innovative Credit Model Holds Out Lifeline to Farmers in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/innovative-credit-model-holds-out-lifeline-to-farmers-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 01:33:26 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148852 Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Employees of Grupo Ideal, a participatory company in the village of Paso Real, pull out tilapias ready to be sold, from the José Cecilio del Valle reservoir. An innovative credit system is helping family farmers in poor rural areas of Honduras, who have been excluded by the banking system. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PASO REAL, Honduras, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

In this village in southern Honduras, in one of the poorest parts of the country, access to credit is limited, the banking sector is not supportive of agriculture, and nature punishes with recurrent extreme droughts.

But over the past two years, the story has started to change in Paso Real, a village of about 60 families, with a total of just over 500 people, in the municipality of San Antonio de Flores, 72 kilometres from Tegucigalpa.

A group of family farmers here, just over 100 people, got tired of knocking on the doors of banks in search of a soft loan and opted for a new financing model, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) decided to test in this impoverished Central American country.

The initiative involves the creation of development financing centres (FCD), so far only in two depressed regions in Honduras: Lempira, to the west, and the Association of Municipalities of North Choluteca (Manorcho), to the south.

Both areas form part of the so-called dry corridor in Honduras, that runs through 12 of the country’s 18 departments, which are especially affected by the impacts of climate change.

Paso Real is part of Manorcho, composed of the municipality of San Antonio de Flores plus another three –Pespire, San Isidro and San José – which have a combined population of more than 53,000 people in the northern part of the department of Choluteca, where people depend on subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising.

Rafael Núñez is one of the leaders of Grupo Ideal, a company that is an association of family farmers who also breed and sell tilapia, a freshwater fish very popular in Central America. In addition, they raise cattle and grow vegetables.

Núñez is pleased with what they have achieved. Even though his family already owned some land, “it was of no use because nobody would grant us a loan.”

“The banks would come to assess our property, but offered loans that were a pittance with suffocating interest rates. They never gave us loans, even though we knocked on many doors,” Nuñez told IPS.

“But now we don’t have to resort to them, we have gained access to loans at the development financing centre in Menorcho, at low interest rates,” he said, smiling.

Nuñez said that because the banks would not lend them money, they had to use credit cards at annual interest rates of 84 per cent, which were strangling them. Now the loans that they obtain from the FCD are accessible, with an annual interest rate of 15 per cent.

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives.  Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Farmer Rafael Núñez told Central American visitors how the banking system mistreats small farmers in Honduras, and how the introduction in their municipality, San Antonio de Flores, of a financial centre for development which the FAO is testing in two depressed areas in the country, has improved their lives. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“It has not been easy to get on our feet because the banking system here doesn’t believe in agriculture, let alone family farming. I collect the bank books that you see and someday I will frame them and I’ll go to those banks and tell them: thanks but we don’t need you anymore, we have forged ahead with more dignified options offered by people and institutions that believe in us,” said Nuñez with pride.

He shared his experience during a Central American meeting organised by FAO, for representatives of organisations involved in family farming and the government to get to know these innovative experiences that are being carried out in the Honduran dry corridor.

Nuñez showed the participants in the conference the tilapia breeding facilities that his association operates at the José Cecilio del Valle multiple-purpose dam, located in the village.

Grupo Ideal is a family organisation that divides the work among 11 siblings and offers direct jobs to at least 40 people in the area and generates indirect employment for just over 75 people. They are convinced that their efforts can be replicated by other small-scale producers.

Among the things that make him happy, Nuñez says they have started to improve the diet of people in the local area.

 

 

 Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS


Marvin Moreno, the FAO expert technician behind this solidarity-based and inclusive innovative microcredit model, which so far has helped change the lives of 800 poor families. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We eat with the workers, we work with them, side by side, and at lunch they used to only bring rice, beans and pasta, but now they bring chicken, beef, tilapia and even shrimp,” he said.

One requirement for working in the company is that employees have to send their children to school. “This is an integral project and we want to grow together with the village because there are almost no sources of employment here,” he said.

Marvín Moreno, the FAO expert who has been the driving force behind the two experimental FCD finance centres, told IPS that the new model of financing has allowed families to organise to access opportunities to help them escape poverty.

Participating in the FCDs are local governments, development organisations that work in the area and groups of women, young people and farmers among others, which are given priority for loans.

The innovative initiative has two characteristics: solidarity and inclusiveness. Solidarity, because when someone gets a loan, everyone becomes a personal guarantor, and inclusive because it doesn’t discriminate.

“The priority are the poor families with a subsistence livelihood, but we also have families with more resources, who face limited access to loans as well,” Moreno said.

“It’s a question of giving people a chance, and we’re showing how access to credit is changing lives, and from that perspective it should be seen as a right that must be addressed by a country’s public policies,” he said.

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Abel Lara, a Salvadoran small-scale farmer, highlighted the experience of the financial centres developed by FAO in Honduras, which he says show that concentrating on local solutions close to farmers is key for supporting family agriculture. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

This view is shared by Abel Lara, a small-scale farmer from El Salvador, who after learning about the experience, told IPS that this “basket of funds that makes available loans with joint efforts only comes to prove that it is possible to get family agriculture back on its feet, from the communities themselves..”

The two FCDs established by FAO in Honduras have managed to mobilise about 300,000 dollars through a public-private partnership between the community, organisations and local governments.

That has enabled more than 800 small farmers to access loans ranging from 150 to 3,000 dollars, payable in 12 to 36 months.

In the case of Manorcho, César Núñez, the mayor of San Antonio de Flores, said that “people are starting to believe that the financial centre offers a real opportunity for change and our aim here is to help these poor municipalities, which are hit hard by nature but have potential, to move forward.”

In a country of 8.4 million people, where 66.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, access to loans as a boost to family agriculture can change the prospects for some 800,000 poor families living in the dry corridor.

These experiences, according to FAO representative in Honduras María Julia Cárdenas, will be part of the proposals for regional dialogue that the Central American Agricultural Council will seek to put the development of family agriculture on the regional agenda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drought Deals Harsh Blow to Cameroon’s Cocoa Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146702 Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
KONYE, Cameroon, Aug 28 2016 (IPS)

Tanchenow Daniel fears he will lose more than half a tonne of his cocoa yield during the next harvest at the end of this month.

He usually harvests no less than 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans during the mid-crop season, but he says every farmer in the Manyu Division of Cameroon’s South West Region is witnessing a catastrophe this year because of a prolonged dry season.

“The effects of droughts were worse this year because people had been ignorantly cutting down trees which provided shade to cocoa. Many trees have been dried up this year while bush fires dealt us a heavy blow,” Tanchenow told IPS, adding that though he is a victim, others have it even worse, including a friend who lost an entire farm of five hectares.

Adding insult to injury, prices fell in August, ranging from 1,000 CFA francs (1.72 dollars) per kg of cocoa to 1,200 CFA francs – down from prices as high as 1,700 CFA in July – with producers saying buying was delayed because of the drought.

Chief Orock Mbi of Meme division in Cameroon’s South West region tells IPS that he and other cocoa growers in the division also witnessed “a drastic drop” in cocoa yields in the past few months. He hopes for new methods to protect this key crop from the effects of climate change.

The South West Region of Cameroon is among the major cocoa-producing regions of Cameroon, along with the Center, East and South regions.

Data from the National Cocoa and Coffee Board suggests the drop in cocoa production was nationwide. The data indicates 7,610 tonnes of cocoa were exported in March. In April, the country exported 5,780 tonnes and the figure further dropped to 3,205 tonnes by the end of June.

Farmers pin hopes on cooperatives, new varieties

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cocoa. It has exported 239.7 million kgs this year of which 97 percent was grade II, according to statistics published on Aug. 3 by the Cocoa and Coffee Board.

The country’s minister of trade believes for this position to be maintained, farmers burdened by the undesirable effects of climate change must join cooperative unions. It is through these cooperative societies that government distributes farm inputs such as pesticides and improved variety seeds to smallholder farmers.

Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana addressed hundreds of farmers in Konye municipality on Aug. 3 as he launched the 2016/2017 cocoa marketing season.

He told the farmers in Cameroon’s third-largest cocoa producing locality that cooperative unions would help to constantly improve on the quality of their cocoa and protect them from deceitful cross-border buyers from neighbouring countries that pay them less than the worth of their produce.

Clementine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says cooperatives would help farmers make the best of aid offered in their localities, boost their bargaining power and improve gains for the six million Cameroonians who depend on the cocoa sector for a living.

Besides distribution, cooperatives sensitise farmers on the use of new varieties and techniques.

Zachy Asek Ojong, manager of the Konye Area Farmers Cooperative, tells IPS they have provided immense support to local members. “Farmers can attest to the assistance they have had from the cooperative society,” says Ojong.

Esapa, president of South West Farmers’ Cooperative, says “cocoa farmers have never really witnessed the effects of climate change until this year. So now we are beginning to work with common initiative groups in sensitising farmers, especially cocoa and coffee growers.”

He tells IPS the cooperative is now, among other things, advising farmers who had cut down trees to replant them in order to shade their cocoa and coffee farms. “The sunshine this year was so wild that people who set fires on their farms ended up burning many other farms around them. We are reinforcing campaigns against bush fires,” he said.

Tanchenow says he has planted 4,000 cocoa trees of a new variety commonly called “Barombi,” a name coined from an organisation that introduced the variety in the division. He says that two years in, yields are better and “Barombi is the hope for our cocoa’s future.”

However, he does not trust cooperative societies and calls them unreliable and tainted by favoritism.

“People in my area who depended on them for pesticides were shocked to find out selected individuals were called up by a different organisation to receive farm inputs from the agriculture ministry,” Tanchenow complained.

Farmers fall ever deeper in debt

The National Cocoa and Coffee Board says Cameroon’s cocoa was exported to eight countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain –  with the Netherlands alone importing 76.30 percent.

Still, farmers in Konye live without roads and electricity and depend on solar energy and firewood for drying and processing their cocoa. Some of them prefer to hang onto old ways of financing and sales despite the advantages of adhering to cooperatives.

Edward Ekoko Bokoba tells IPS that many farmers still prefer “pledging” their farms as means of financing, while others operate outside the major buyers of cocoa.

“Climate change is impacting pledging negatively, but some farmers seem to trust the system more than the micro-loans from the cooperatives,” he says.

“Pledging” is a system where farmers sign agreements with individuals who pay for farm inputs or lend them money. At the end of the harvest and sales, the funder’s money is reimbursed with an agreed quantity of cocoa or cash in interest.

Bokoba, who currently is expecting profits from a “pledge,” says when the dry season is prolonged or when the weather is distorted, as was the case this year, farmers are forced to borrow more money and may end up handing over all their harvest to creditors.  Some creditors are cocoa merchants who claim exclusive rights to purchase all their debtor’s cocoa and by so doing, dictate the price.

Another farmer, Ako Kingsley Tanyi, says though government is condemning sales of cocoa to trans-border buyers, some farmers prefer to sell their cocoa to Nigerian buyers who pay better prices. “Cocoa sold to Nigerians does not go through the Douala seaport and government does not have the figures,” he explains.

The performance of Cameroon’s cocoa has been as unstable as weather conditions in recent years. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) forecasted in 2011 that climate change will lead to a global slump in cocoa production by the year 2030.

Many hope that relief might be forthcoming from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation once their country-based COP21 plans have been fine-tuned.

CIAT, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics, says the coffee and cocoa sectors could be the first to benefit from this fund.

In the same optimistic regard, Cameroon’s trade minister holds that government’s target to export 600,000 tonnes by 2020 would be met.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 22:55:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146396 As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

She lives in Tsarampioke village in Berenty, Amboasary district in the Anosy region, which is one of the three most affected regions, the other two being Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.FAO estimates that a quarter of the population - five million people - live in high risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

“Most farms are dry, but ours has remained green and alive because we dug boreholes which are providing us with water to irrigate,” she told IPS.

Timely interventions have changed her story from that of despair to expectation as she continues harvesting a variety of crops that she is currently growing at her father’s farms.

Some of her sweet potatoes are already on the market.

Rakotomalala was approached by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as one of the most vulnerable people in highly affected districts in the South where at least 80 percent of the villagers are farmers. They were then taken through training and encouraged to diversify their crops since most farmers here tend to favour maize.

“We are 16 in my group, all of us relatives because we all jointly own the land. It is a big land, more than two acres,” she told IPS.

Although their form of irrigation is not sophisticated and involves drip irrigation using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works – and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are flourishing.

“We were focusing on the challenges that have made it difficult for the farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and through simple but effective strategies, the farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” says Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius.

Experts such as Philippison Lee, an agronomist monitor working in Androy and Anosy regions, told IPS that the South faces three main challenges – “drought, insecurity as livestock raids grow increasingly common, and locusts.”

FAO estimates that a quarter of the population – five million people – live in high-risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the numerous ways plants can be cultivated, genetically altered, and utilized even in the face of drastic and devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the end goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying their crops, planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and looking for alternative livelihoods such as fishing.

“Madagascar is an island but Malagasy people do not have a fish-eating culture. We are working with other humanitarian agencies who are training villagers on fishing methods as well as supplying them with fishing equipment,” Talla told IPS.

“Madagascar is facing great calamity and in order to boost the agricultural sector, farming must be approached as a broader development agenda,” he added.

He said that the national budgetary allocation – which is less than five percent, way below the recommended 15 percent – needs to be reviewed. The South of Madagascar isalso  characterized by poor infrastructure and market accessibility remains a problem.

According to Talla, the inability of framers to adapt to the changing weather patterns is more of a development issue “because there is a lack of a national vision to drive the agriculture agenda in the South.”

Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies the farmers bargaining power and they are unable to access credit or subsidies inputs. This has largely been left to humanitarian agencies and it is not sustainable.”

Though FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives and there are pockets of them in various districts in the South including Rakotomalala and her relatives, he says that distance remains an issue.

“You would have to cover so many kilometers before you can encounter a village. Most of the population is scattered across the vast lands and when you find a group, it is often relatives,” he says.

Lee noted that farmers across Africa have grown through cooperatives and this is an issue that needs to be embraced by Malagasy farmers.

Talla says that some strides are being made in the right direction since FAO is working with the government to draft the County Programming Framework which is a five-year programme from 2014 to 2019.

The framework focuses on three components, which are to intensify, diversify and to make the agricultural sector more resilient.

“Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential in the South is being exploited so the target is to diversify by bringing in more crops because most people in the North eat rice and those in the South eat maize,” Talla explained.

The framework will also push for good governance of natural resources through practical laws and policies since most of the existing ones have been overtaken by events.

Talla says that the third and overriding component is resilience, which focuses on building the capacity of communities – not just to climate change but other natural hazards such as the cyclone season common in the South.

“FAO is currently working with the government in formulating a resilience strategy but we are also reaching out to other stakeholders,” he says.

Since irrigation-fed agriculture is almost non-existent and maize requires a lot of water to grow, various stakeholders continue to call for the building of wells to meet the water deficit, although others have dismissed the exercise as expensive and unfeasible.

“We require 25,000 dollars to build one well and chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in every two wells are not useful,” says Lee.

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No More Dumping of Milk in Laikipiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2016 12:22:06 +0000 Daniel Sitole http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145479 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia/feed/ 0 Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Is Demise of Small Farmers Imminent?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 10:05:37 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145148 Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.]]>

Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

By Raghav Gaiha and Vani S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI AND PHILADELPHIA, May 17 2016 (IPS)

Imminent demise of small farmers is predicted as they are not competitive in a context of transforming agrifood markets. Most important is the transformation of the “post–farm gate” segments of the supply chains.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Agrifood markets have been transforming because of growing affluence, urbanisation and large inflows of FDI induced by liberalised investment policies. A few salient features include replacement of local and fragmented food value chains by geographically much longer chains. Traditional village traders/brokers/processors have declined while small and medium firms have proliferated with eventual domination of large domestic firms and multinationals (Reardon and Timmer, 2014). For example, rice mills have declined rapidly. Instead small but especially medium and large scale mills have emerged located in towns. A comprehensive Asian Development Bank report on Food Security in Asia (2013) draws attention to some contrasts between Bangladesh and India in rice supply chains. The role of the village trader, for example, has shrunk, controlling only 7% of farms and sales in Bangladesh, and 38% of farms and 18% of sales in India.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

A large share of food undergoes processing. Grain milled rice is made into bread or polished rice, for example. The rapid growth of food processing is driven by women’s participation in the labour force and dietary shifts, promoted in part by modern retail. The retail segment has transformed rapidly in the last decade. Many governments had public sector cum cooperative retail ventures (e.g. India, Vietnam, and China). These were dismantled with structural adjustment and liberalisation. The supermarket “revolution” has been a catalyst. Supermarket chains seldom buy fresh produce directly from farmers. Instead, they tend to buy from wholesale markets or from specialised wholesalers who in turn buy from preferred suppliers.

In the downstream, dietary changes have been significant. Domestic consumption of high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables rose by 200 % during 1980-2005, while consumption of cereals stagnated. High value food exports –including fruits and vegetables, meat and milk products, and fish and seafood products-from developing countries increased by more than 300% during 1980-2005, and now constitute more than 40 % of total developing country agrifood exports (World Bank, 2008). The growth in high value agricultural exports has been much faster than the growth in traditional exports such as coffee, cocoa and tea, which decreased in overall importance.

The shift towards high value agriculture and concomitant “restructuring” or modernisation of supply chains are associated with (i) increasing number and stringency of food standards for quality and safety; (ii) consolidation of supply chains; and (iii) a shift from spot market transactions in traditional wholesale markets to increasing levels of vertical coordination of supply chains.

Overall, the supply chain is lengthening geographically and “shortening” inter-mediationally (or, “simply fewer hands in the chain”). The former implies that food markets are integrating across zones/states in a country; it also implies “de-seasonalisation” of the market. A case in point is the potato market in India, China and Bangladesh.

Although there is considerable pessimism about small farmers’ ability to participate in high value food chains because of their small scale of production, failure to comply with stringent quality standards and unreliability of supply, recent evidence is mixed. The main arguments that transaction costs and investment constraints are a serious consideration in these chains and that processing and retailing companies express a strong preference for working with relatively fewer, larger and modern suppliers are not rejected. But the evidence also shows that many more small farmers participate in such chains than predicted by these arguments.

In India, small farmers play an important role as suppliers in growing modern supply chains. In China, production in the rapidly growing vegetable chains (and in several other commodities) is exclusively based on small farmer production. Poland, Romania and CIS do not show any evidence of “exclusion” of small farmers. Studies of high value export vegetable chains in Africa find in some cases that production is fully organised in small farms or fully in large farms or mixed in small and large farms (Swinnen et al. 2010).

Small farmers are indeed excluded in some supply chains and in some countries, but this is far from a general pattern, and, in fact, small and poor farms are included in supply chains to a much greater extent than expected on arguments based on transaction costs and capacity constraints.

Several reasons underlie this view. (i) Buyers often have no choice where small farmers supply a large share of supply and occupy a large fraction of land. In parts of East Asia and China, with a high population pressure on land, sourcing is often from small farms. (ii) It is often not the case that companies contract with large farms simply because of lower transaction costs. In fact, many companies prefer not to depend on large farms because contract enforcement is harder. (iii) In some cases, small farms have substantive cost advantages. This is particularly the case in labour-intensive, high maintenance, production activities with relatively small economies of scale, such as dairy or vegetable production.

Empirical evidence reveals that small farmers engage in high value contract production because of guaranteed sales and prices, and access to inputs, and not so much for direct profit and income benefits.

Vertical coordination is widespread in high value chains, often as an institutional response to problems of local market imperfection. But vertical coordination varies from integrated (large) farms managed by food companies to extensive contracting arrangements with small farmers. Contract farming improves access to credit, technology and quality inputs for poor, small farmers hitherto faced with binding liquidity and information constraints. But reneging of buy back arrangements on specious poor quality standards is frequent due to weak enforcement mechanisms (a case in point is India).

Evidence on impact of these value chains on small farmers is patchy and inconclusive.

Available evidence suggests that where the smallholders are only partially participating as suppliers, the poorest rural households may benefit from inclusion through the labour market than small farmer participation. In other words, whether small farmers are included in these chains or not, is unlikely to be a good indicator of the welfare effects. On the other hand, the shift of suppliers from traditional to modern markets causes price effects. These price effects and their welfare implications depend on scale economies in modern versus traditional production systems, trade, relative demand and production elasticities (or how responsive is production to price changes), and on the factor intensity of high value commodities. In poor countries, where modern supply chains increase demand for labour- intensive commodities, the spill over effects are likely to be positive.

The transaction costs faced by private actors when transacting with a large number of farmers could be reduced by investing in intermediary institutions (e.g. producer groups). Intermediary institutions reduce the number of transactions and the cost of exchange between farmers and processors or input suppliers. Whether small coverage of producer groups undermines this argument is beside the point as what is emphasised is that the potential of such groups is considerable. Besides, as argued by a World Bank report, Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2016, clear and accessible laws foster a business environment that benefits all market players-especially farmers including vulnerable female farmers and smallholders, consumers and large investors.

In conclusion, the imminent demise of small farmers is exaggerated, if not mistaken altogether.

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WFO Calls for Farmer-Centred Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/wfo-calls-for-farmer-centred-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wfo-calls-for-farmer-centred-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/wfo-calls-for-farmer-centred-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 14:03:53 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145035 By Friday Phiri
LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, May 9 2016 (IPS)

Over 600 delegates representing at least 570 million farms scattered around the world gathered in Zambia from May 4-7 under the umbrella of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) to discuss climate change, land tenure, innovations and capacity building as four pillars on which to build agricultural development.

Among the local delegates was Mary Nyirenda, a farmer from Livingstone, where the assembly was held.

“I have a 35-hectare farm but only use five hectares due to water stress. With one borehole, I am only able to irrigate limited fields. I gave up on rainfall in the 2013/14 season when I lost about five hectares of maize to drought,” Nyirenda told IPS.

Privileged to be part of the 2016 WFO General Assembly, Nyirenda hoped to learn innovative ways to improve productivity and market access for her garden and poultry produce. But did the conference meet her expectations?

Mary Nyirenda in her garden at her farm in Livingstone, Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Mary Nyirenda in her garden at her farm in Livingstone, Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

“Yes it has, especially on market access. I’ve learnt that working as groups gives us a strong voice and bargaining power. I’ve been struggling on my own but now I understand that two is better than one, and so my task from here is to strengthen our cooperative which is still disjointed in terms of producer partnerships,” said Nyirenda, emphasising the power of farmer organisations – for which WFO exists.

Convened under the theme ‘Partnerships for Growth’, the clarion call by delegates throughout the conference was to change the narrative that, while they are at the centre of a multi-billion-dollar food sector, responsible for feeding the whole world, farmers are the world’s poorest people.

And WFO President Evelyn Nguleka says the situation has to change. “It is true that farmers in almost all corners of the world constitute the majority poor, but the question is why?” asked Nguleka while responding to journalists during the closing WFO General Assembly Press briefing.

She said the meeting established that poor organisation and lack of information were the major reasons for farmers’ lack of progress, noting, “If farmers remain in isolation, they will continue to be poor.”

“It is for this reason that we developed a legal tool on contract farming, which will be mostly useful for smallholders whose knowledge on legal matters is low, and are easily taken advantage of,” said David Velde, president of the National Farmers Union in the U.S. and a board member of WFO.

Velde told IPS that various tools would be required to help smallholders be well equipped to fully benefit from their work, especially in a world with an unstable climate, a sub-theme that found space in all discussions at the conference due to its multifaceted nature.

With technology transfer being one of the key elements of the sustainable development agenda as enshrined in the Paris climate deal, delegates established that both innovation and capacity building for farmers to improve productivity cannot be discussed in a vacuum.

“Agriculture is indeed a global sector that needs serious attention. The fact that a world farmers’ organization exists is a sign that food production, food security, climate change are global issues that cannot be looked at in isolation. Farmers need information on best methods and technologies on how best to enhance productivity in a climate conscious manner,” said Zambian President Edgar Lungu in his address to the WFO General Assembly.

In the world’s quest to feed the hungry 793 million people by 2030, and and the projected population growth expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, more than half in Africa, WFO is alive to the huge task that its members have, which can only be fulfilled through increased productivity.

“WFO is in recognition that the world has two conflicting issues on face value—to feed the world and mitigate climate change. Both require huge resources but we believe that it is possible to tackle both, through increased productivity using latest technology,” said William Rolleston, president of the Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

Rolleston, who is also Vice President of WFO, told IPS that while WFO’s work does not involve funding farmers, it helps its members to innovate and forge partnerships for growth.

It has long been recognised globally that climate change, if not tackled, could be a barrier to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this presented, perhaps, the hardest of choices that world leaders had to make—tackling climate change, with huge implications on the world’s productive capacity, which has over the years largely relied on a carbon intensive economy.

By approving the SDGs and the historic climate agreement last year, the world’s socio-economic agenda is set for a complete paradigm shift. However, WFO President Evelyn Nguleka wants farmers to remain the focus of the world’s policies.

“Whatever changes the world decides moving forward, it should not be at the expense of farmers to survive and be profitable,” she stressed.

For Nyirenda, access to markets holds the key to farmers’ productive capacity, especially women, who, according to FAO, constitute half of the global agricultural labour force, while in Africa, the figure is even higher—80 percent.

“My interactions with international organisations such as IFAD and others who are interested in women empowerment was a serious-eye opener moving forward,” she said.

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Farmers Can Weather Climate Change – With Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-can-weather-climate-change-with-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-can-weather-climate-change-with-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-can-weather-climate-change-with-financing/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 18:27:52 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145012 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-can-weather-climate-change-with-financing/feed/ 0 Seeking a New Farming Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeking-a-new-farming-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 13:20:49 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144975 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
May 5 2016 (IPS)

As the World Farmers’ Organization meets for its annual conference in Zambia to promote policies that strengthen this critical sector, IPS looks at how farmers across the globe are tackling the interconnected challenges of climate change, market fluctuations, water and land management, and energy access.

 

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts - and plates - of local farmers. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts – and plates – of local farmers.
Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

 

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

 

For 12 years now, the women around Tsangano in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have put together their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tons at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

For 12 years now, the women of the Tsangano cooperative in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have pooled their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tonnes at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

 

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

 

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

 

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

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Boosting the Future of the Food Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/boosting-the-future-of-the-food-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boosting-the-future-of-the-food-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/boosting-the-future-of-the-food-movement/#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 18:11:06 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144794 Investing in entrepreneurs will help make the food system more sustainable. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Investing in entrepreneurs will help make the food system more sustainable. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
WASHINGTON, Apr 24 2016 (IPS)

Investing in new entrepreneurs who bring a holistic approach to food sustainability is one way that the food movement can overcome mounting global challenges from environmental degradation to food waste.

“I grow food, I feed people, body and minds. We must look at the food system at large,” Washington told IPS during the recent Food Tank Summit.

Karen Washington, is a 62 year old community activist who co-foundered the movement Black Urban GrowersAfter decades of working as a physical therapist in the Bronx, New York City, she decided to become a food entrepreneur advocating low-income communities to have inclusive access of to fresh, healthy food and a fair market.

“I am active, it is not about talk, it is easy for people to talk, you can look at my hands, I also talk but I farm as well.”

Washington is a member of a community garden in the Bronx and also grows collectively in a three acre piece of land in Chester, New York. She grows vegetables and flowers selling to local markets and restaurants.

As a health care professional Washington saw her patients having problems with their diet and, ultimately, with their health.

“They were developing diet related diseases like type two diabetes, hypertension and obesity. And all of this had to do with the food they were eating. I looked at my patients holistically and saw they were eating the wrong thing”.

An holistic approach to food systems must also address the racial divide in the production and consumption of food.

The face of agriculture in the United States is a white male farmer. As a matter of comparison, New York state has 55,000 white farmers but only 150 are black. “If you look at some states there are no black farmers, so we felt that this was something we had to bring out and expose, racism that continues to persist in the food system,” said Washington.

“We needed to have our own stories and seek for a black leadership on agriculture. There was no place like it, where black young people could see black leadership in action or have a conversation that affected black neighbourhoods, and also to find out we could get together and look at solutions,” she said.

Activists, entrepreneurs and food experts agree there is an urgent need to reinvent the cycle of food, empowering local based solutions and intersecting with economics, education, health, environment and, of course, “the four letter word ‘race’ that no one talks about”, said Washington. “We have to look to those intersections and move the full system in the right direction”.

Supporting entrepreneurs like Washington is one way that the food system can become more sustainable, experts at the two-day summit agreed.

“We have to create a new alliance of people wanting to ensure sustainability for the present generation and also guarantee the future generations can meet their demands and needs,” Alexander Muller, leader of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hosted project TEEB for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood), told IPS during the summit.

“If we look at the whole cycle, we see we cannot guarantee that the future generations can feed themselves and, therefore, we have to act,” said Muller.

Around one billion people suffer from hunger worldwide, and more than two billion have food related health problems like diabetes and obesity. The global food system also relies on increasingly fragile resources. The world is losing 24 billion tons of fertile soils a year because of erosion and the food system is currently losing about 70 percent of all water withdrawn from natural cycles.

“Waiting would only increase the problems. We already see that major agriculture production systems are at risk. We need to know the true price of our food and have clear signals on the markets that sustainable food in the long-run is cheaper than unsustainable food,” said Müller.

The summit featured more than 75 speakers from the food and agriculture fields – such as researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students – that came together to discuss on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, and farm workers.

They agreed that supporting sustainable agriculture is a a matter of urgency. The food movement is at the beginning of transforming a complex system with multiple actors, the time is now, warned Danielle Nieremberg Founder and President of Food Tank, a research organization dedicated to cultivating individuals and organizations to push for a better food system.

“A lot of innovations that farmers are using in the fields cover a great potential to be scaled up,” Nieremberg told IPS. “We have things like climate change conflicts, and we really need to move forward if we are going to make changes and leave this planet in good enough conditions for future generations,” she said.

For Jason Clay, the senior vice president of Food & Markets at WWF, there is a need to increase efficiency and change the way we value food.

“If we can reduce and eliminate waste, that would be half of the new food we need to produce by 2050. We have to double food production by that year. It also means 10 percent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and more than 20 percent of water used to produce food that is going to be wasted,” Clay told IPS.

Clay said that bringing efficiency, conscious consumption and infrastructure to food distribution, especially in developing countries, are relevant strategies to help enhance the food cycle.

“Governments should also be investing in rehabilitating land rather than subsidising business as usual. This is an opportunity to do better,” said Clay.

For Clay and also for Muller, it is important to ensure that the positive signals from the food movements are growing faster than the negative signals of destroying the environment.

The attention on food and linking the act of eating to sustainability are the key issues. Without changing the food systems this planet will not become sustainable and the way society produces food cuts across the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed September 2015 at UN headquarters.

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Benefits of Backpack Biogashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/benefits-of-backpack-biogas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=benefits-of-backpack-biogas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/benefits-of-backpack-biogas/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 05:34:07 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144420 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/benefits-of-backpack-biogas/feed/ 2 Thaw with United States Will Put Cuba’s Agroecology to the Testhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/thaw-with-united-states-will-put-cubas-agroecology-to-the-test/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 19:11:16 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144412 A worker on the Marta farm, which was founded by one of the first proponents of agroecology in Cuba, harvests organic lettuce in the municipality of Caimito, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker on the Marta farm, which was founded by one of the first proponents of agroecology in Cuba, harvests organic lettuce in the municipality of Caimito, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA/LA PALMA , Mar 30 2016 (IPS)

The United States has indicated a clear interest in buying organic produce from Cuba as soon as that is made possible by the ongoing normalisation of ties between the two countries. But farmers and others involved in the agroecological sector warn that when the day arrives, they might not be ready.

“The impact would be conditioned by several factors, including the capacity of farmers to design, implement and evaluate agroecological business models that can meet the demands and requirements of the domestic and international markets,” Humberto Ríos, one of the founders of the green movement in Cuban agriculture, told IPS.

The possible opportunities offered by the big U.S. market, where requirements are strict, will test the response capacity of the country’s organic farmers.

“The farmers know how to grow things without agrochemicals. But that’s not enough for developing agroecology,” said Ríos, a researcher who is now working in Spain at the International Centre for Development-Oriented Research in Agriculture, told IPS by email.

Cuba needs “a clear policy to boost the economic growth of the private sector and cooperatives interested in offering agroecological products and services,” said Ríos, who won the Goldman Environment Prize, known as the Green Nobel, in 2010.

Ríos also won a prize for his work in the Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), which with the help of international development aid has taught participative seed improvement and other ecological agricultural techniques to 50,000 people in 45 of Cuba’s 168 municipalities since 2000.

Ríos also said Cuba’s new economic openness could have either a positive or a devastating impact. Experts describe Cuba’s agroecology as a “child of necessity” because it was born after this country lost the agricultural inputs it was guaranteed up to the collapse of the Soviet Union and east European socialist bloc at the start of the 1990s.

If measures are not taken and pending issues are not solved, “the invasion by conventional agriculture and its products is likely to erase more than 25 years of agroecology,” Ríos said.

There have been several U.S.-driven initiatives to create open ties in agriculture, since the thaw between the two countries began in December 2014. And the climate is even more positive since U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic Mar. 21-22 visit to Havana.

A woman picks organic beans on the La Sazón organoponic farm in the Casino Deportivo neighbourhood of Havana, which forms part of the country’s urban agriculture system. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A woman picks organic green beans on the La Sazón organoponic farm in the Casino Deportivo neighbourhood of Havana, which forms part of the country’s urban agriculture system. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

La Palma: an example

In the mountainous municipality of La Palma, where Ríos began to work as a young man with a handful of small farmers in this locality in the extreme western province of Pinar del Río, green-friendly activists already feel the looming threats.

“The surge in improved seeds is a weakness,” said Elsa Dávalos, who belongs to the National Association of Small Farmers of La Palma and coordinates the local agroecological movement, where 500 of a total of 1,127 farms grow their produce without using chemical products.

Scant data on agroecology

Cuba’s statistics on organic food and agroecological farms are scarce and scattered among different municipalities and programmes.

The national initiative that most frequently provides figures is the National Programme of Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture, which promotes organic gardening in towns and cities.

A total of 8,438 hectares are now cultivated under urban farming, including 1,293 small organoponic farms (which combine organic and water-submersion hydroponics techniques), tended by day laboureers; 6,875 hectares of intensive gardens (identical to organoponics but without walled beds); and 270 hectares of semi-protected crops (covered by screens on poles).

In 2015, patios and yards in urban and suburban areas produced a total of 1,257,500 million tons of food, mainly vegetables, 2,500 tons less than the year before.

Dávalos said the improved seeds she was referring to are crops given high priority, such as maize, beans or taro, whose seeds are distributed along with a package of agrochemicals. “Many farmers go this route to get big harvests without having to work so much,” she lamented in her conversation with IPS in La Palma.

Improved seeds became more widely used after the government of Raúl Castro launched economic reforms in 2008, with a focus on increasing agricultural production to reduce food imports, which cost this island nation two billion dollars a year.

Up to now, the measures applied, such as the distribution of idle state land to farmers in usufruct, have brought modest growth in agriculture – 3.1 percent in 2015 – considered insufficient to meet domestic demand and to bring down the high, steadily rising prices of food.

Farmers complain about a lack of inputs like fertiliser, machinery and irrigation systems, a shortage of labour power, limited access to complementary services, red tape, and weak industrialisation, to preserve and sell surplus crops, for example.

Ecological farms struggle against these difficulties common to the entire agricultural industry, and others particular to green-friendly farming.

“It is very hard for small (organic) farmers to attend to all of their responsibilities and to also find time to produce the necessary ecological inputs,” Yoan Rodríguez, PIAL coordinator in La Palma, told IPS.

To boost yields, “some people must specialise in obtaining only inputs such as efficient microorganisms, compost and earthworm humus,” said the researcher, who is pushing for an improvement in agroecological services in the area, to support and attract farmers.

“Cuba has started to open up to the world, and even more so as a result of the negotiations with the United States. The chemical inputs that saturate the global agricultural market will also arrive. It’s going to be very difficult to maintain what we have achieved through our efforts over so many years,” he said.

Other factors that discourage the movement in the country is the virtual absence of certification of agroecological products, and a lack of differentiated and competitive prices for organic products in state enterprises, to which cooperatives and independent farmers are required to sell a large part of their production.

But PIAL and other initiatives are coming up with new strategies to take advantage of the opportunities opening up with the country’s economic reforms and reinsertion into the international markets.

The Marta farm, located in a privileged position between the capital and the special economic development zone of Mariel, in the western province of Artemisa, produces fresh vegetables without using chemicals, and its clients include 25 upscale restaurants in Havana.

Members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, supported by more than 30 agricultural organisations and companies, visit the Primero de Mayo Cooperative in Güira de Melena, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, supported by more than 30 agricultural organisations and companies, visit the Primero de Mayo Cooperative in Güira de Melena, in the western Cuban province of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“We have a good connection with the markets and we sell enough,” said Fernando Funes-Monzote, another founder of the agroecological movement in the country, who in 2011 launched this farm, where 16 people currently work.

“The idea was to show that an ecologically sustainable, socially just and economically feasible family farming project was possible here,” he told IPS.

Push for openness from interests in the U.S.

Meanwhile, interest in Cuba’s ecological agriculture has been reiterated during visits to this Caribbean island nation by U.S. businesspersons and agriculture officials, who are among the most active proponents of a total normalisation of relations between these two countries separated by just 90 miles of ocean.

The foremost example is the 30 companies forming part of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), which emerged in January 2015 to help push for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba in place since 1962.

The U.S. Agriculture Department even asked Congress for financing for five officials to work full-time in Cuba, to pave the way for trade and investment to take off as soon as the current restrictions are lifted.

It is also significant that the first U.S. factory to set up shop in Cuba in over half a century, after getting the green light from the U.S. government in February, will be a plant for assembling 1,000 tractors a year, to be used by independent farmers. The plant will operate in the Mariel special economic development zone.

A loophole to the embargo dating back to the year 2000 permits direct sales of food and medicine to Cuba by U.S. producers, but strictly on a cash basis. However, in the past few years these sales have dropped because Cuba found credit facilities in other markets.

In 2015 food purchases by the United States amounted to just 120 million dollars, down from 291 million dollars in 2014, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

With reporting by Patricia Grogg in Havana.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Rural Costa Rican Families Flourish in the Shadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/rural-costa-rican-families-flourish-in-the-shade/#comments Tue, 15 Mar 2016 19:35:00 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144190 Xinia Solano and Luis Diego Murillo are one of the families working with the shade house programme in Los Reyes, in the southeastern Costa Rican municipality of Coto Brus. This model of agriculture is being promoted by the FAO, in conjunction with various government institutions. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Xinia Solano and Luis Diego Murillo are one of the families working with the shade house programme in Los Reyes, in the southeastern Costa Rican municipality of Coto Brus. This model of agriculture is being promoted by the FAO, in conjunction with various government institutions. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LOS REYES, Costa Rica, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

Before they got involved in farming, Luis Diego Murillo and Xinia Solano paid their bills and put food on their table with Luis’s salary as a foreman on construction sites, an unstable job that kept him on the move.

Now the 33-year-old Costa Rican walks along the rows where he and his wife grow bright green coriander and lettuce, and where stalks indicate a handful of radishes under the soil. They share the land with another family, but they are their own boss.

Over Murillo’s head is an enormous roof of black shade cloth which is crucial to his new life because it protects his crops in the community of Los Reyes, in the rural municipality of Coto Brus, Puntarenas province, in the foothills of Costa Rica’s Talamanca mountain range.

“We’re together now, I’m no longer away from my family,” he told IPS, explaining why they decided to dedicate themselves to farming full-time. “You don’t want to be working away from home, far away from your children and wife. You want to be with your family, no?”

Murillo and his wife, the 34-year-old Solano, are among the 74 families who have benefited from the Shade House programme that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is carrying out in southeast Costa Rica. “One of the big advantages is that they can produce year round. Before, in the dry season (November to May), the crops would be burnt by the sun. Besides, the popular idea that only a few things can be grown here has been laid to rest, and a greater diversity of crops is now produced.” -- Guillermo Murillo

In the protected shaded areas, 700 square metres in size, the farmers can manage the quantity and quality of sunlight, the percentage of shade and the impact on the crops of rainfall, which can be heavy in this area.

The families are thus able to grow fresh vegetables year-round, have boosted the quality and productivity of their crops and have even managed to grow vegetables that were unthinkable before, given the normal conditions in this area, such as broccoli and cabbage.

With this system, which began to be implemented in late 2013 on just six farms, the families produce food for their own consumption and earn an income selling the surplus.

“We’re very happy because thanks to the shade houses we don’t have to go out and buy food anymore. If you want coriander or a head of lettuce, you just come out and pick it,” said Solano, whose house is in a village next to Los Reyes, which is a six-hour drive from San José, although it is only 280 km away.

Another of the advantages of the programme is that it improves and helps diversify the diet of rural families in the socioeconomic region of Brunca, the area with the highest poverty level in this Central American nation of 4.8 million people.

FAO expert Guillermo Murillo (wearing a hat) talks to family farmers in the settlement of Los Reyes in southeast Costa Rica about techniques for improving production in their shade houses. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

FAO expert Guillermo Murillo (wearing a hat) talks to family farmers in the settlement of Los Reyes in southeast Costa Rica about techniques for improving production in their shade houses. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Poverty affects 34.6 percent of households in this region of 300,000 people, compared to a national average of 20.6 percent, and only 51 percent of the economically population is employed, according to statistics that FAO provided to IPS.

This region only produces 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruit and vegetables consumed here, and the rest is brought in from other parts of the country.

The families with shade houses are now eating better.

“We eat salad every day. We used to buy stuff for salad if we had the money, but now we don’t have to buy it,” said Solano.

The shade houses are also looking at larger-scale production and marketing of their crops, to boost family incomes.

The families participating in the programme already grow more than 25 different kinds of fresh vegetables.

“Some of the farmers have cars and lend them to others so they can sell their produce in nearby towns,” said Solano. “But we’re doing the paperwork to create a cooperative, to get a truck.”

Each shade house costs around 3,200 dollars, and the funds are provided by the Costa Rican government institutions working with FAO on the project, such as the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) or the Rural Development Institute (INDER).

The programme, which also has the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, is focused on the entire family, and considers women’s contribution as key.

“The women here are very brave, most of them even pick up the shovel and plant. It was my wife who planted all of those plants (that provide shade for the coffee bushes),” Florentino Amador, a 54-year-old farmer, told IPS with pride in his voice.

Ligia Ruiz, 53, one of the most enthusiastic farmers in the four shade houses in Los Reyes, coordinates sales with her neighbours.

The shade house system makes it possible to diversify the production of fresh vegetables in the southern Costa Rican region of Brunca. Some fresh produce, like lettuce, was already grown in the region, but others, like broccoli and cabbage, are only now being produced, thanks to this farming technique promoted by the FAO. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The shade house system makes it possible to diversify the production of fresh vegetables in the southern Costa Rican region of Brunca. Some fresh produce, like lettuce, was already grown in the region, but others, like broccoli and cabbage, are only now being produced, thanks to this farming technique promoted by the FAO. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

“On Wednesdays and Saturdays we harvest what we’re going to sell, just here in the community for now. I get the orders and we deliver the produce,” she told IPS.

Although each shade house was originally designed for one family, in Los Reyes the four shaded areas are worked by 10 families, who farm together in a very horizontal process; for example, the income from the sales goes into a joint fund, where they hope to save up for the cooperative.

“If there’s a lot to clean on one lot, one family helps the other, and then they in turn receive support,” said Ruíz with regard to the revival of the rural tradition of communal work.

The FAO’s aim is for the beneficiaries to be organised groups of farmers with access to a collective storage and trading centre, although the families are selected by the Costa Rican institutions involved in the project.

In Brazil and Mexico there are small-scale initiatives similar to the shade house project, said Guillermo Murillo, a FAO consultant who has worked in those countries and suggested the shade house model for Costa Rica.

“One of the big advantages is that they can produce year round,” Murillo told IPS. “Before, in the dry season (November to May), the crops would be burnt by the sun. Besides, the popular idea that only a few things can be grown here has been laid to rest, and a greater diversity of crops is now produced.”

Besides the support for setting up shade houses, the team of representatives of the FAO and the public institutions involved in the initiative give advice on farming techniques, tools, and marketing.

“The seeds that used to come here were the ones used in colder parts of Costa Rica, even though there were ‘tropicalised’ ones in the market,” said Murillo. “We looked for them, and the families started to use them.”

The programme is now being expanded to the northwest province of Guanacaste, where the installation of the first shade houses outside of the Brunca region has been approved.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Clean Clothes – Fashion Free of Slave Labour in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 22:45:46 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144149 Fidel Daza and Susana Chiura (behind) in the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative in Buenos Aires, where the two Bolivian immigrants work after being freed from slave labour in garment industry sweatshops. The cooperative forms part of the Clean Clothes network fighting for decent working conditions, which already includes 20 brand names in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Fidel Daza and Susana Chiura (behind) in the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative in Buenos Aires, where the two Bolivian immigrants work after being freed from slave labour in garment industry sweatshops. The cooperative forms part of the Clean Clothes network fighting for decent working conditions, which already includes 20 brand names in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 10 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, there are now 20 brand names that guarantee that their garments are produced by workers in decent working conditions, thanks to the Clean Clothes network, aimed at eradicating slave labour in the garment industry, which illegally employs some 30,000 people in sweatshops around the country.

The members of the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative stop for lunch, and leave work on time after a seven-hour workday, to go and pick up their children at school.

These rights are supposedly guaranteed by local laws. But they are not respected in around 3,000 sweatshops in Greater Buenos Aires, which account for 80 percent of the local garment industry’s output, according to statistics from the La Alameda Foundation, which was behind the creation of the cooperative.“We started to receive a lot of phone calls from people who were indignant about what had happened, and concerned because we denounced many brand names of clothing for using sweatshops, and people asked us: so what are we supposed to wear?” -- Tamara Rosenberg

“They only gave us one plate of food, which we had to share with our kids. And the food wasn’t good,” Susana Chiura, a member of the cooperative who came to Argentina from Bolivia seven years ago, told IPS.

Like many other South American immigrants in Argentina, many of whom are from Bolivia, Chiura was brought in by the owner of a textile workshop, who in this case was from Peru.

“He promised me a good job, and housing,” she said. “But when we got here we found it wasn’t true. They didn’t let us out; we could only go out on Saturday afternoon. Even if we just wanted to go to the supermarket, he would take us there and bring us back to the house.”

She shared a tiny room with poor ventilation with her oldest son. She earned five times less than the minimum wage required by law, working from 6:00 in the morning to midnight. And the cost of the trip from Bolivia, meals and lodging were docked from her pay.

Another Bolivian member of the cooperative, Fidel Daza, said: “I worked from 7:00 to 21:00, with just one half-hour break. There were entire families working even longer hours, because they needed the money to be able to eat.”

“Now I have more time to play with my kids. Before, they’d be sleeping when I left in the morning and they’d already be asleep when I got home,” he told IPS.

According to La Alameda, workers like Chiura or Daza are the last link in a chain that starts out with large, medium and small clothing companies which, due to omission, complicity or ignorance, use sweatshops to manufacture the garments they sell.

Verónica Virasoro, the owner of Vero Vira, a women’s clothing store, said “I wanted to see the workshop, but I was told they probably wouldn’t let me in. That smelled fishy to me: when there’s a locked door, something is being hidden behind it.”

Her firm is one of the cooperative’s clients and forms part of the Clean Clothes network, which also groups garment factories and consumers.

She said many designers turn to sweatshops to cut costs or because they don’t really understand what’s going on.

“Besides, they are not all clandestine sweatshops that use slave labour,” she said. “There are also family workshops that have a dynamic of charging less, but to do that they work extremely long hours, and sleep in the factory. And they’re not aware that accidents can be caused by bad installations.”

This Buenos Aires sweatshop was destroyed in April 2015 by a fire that claimed the lives of two Bolivian boys who were living there. The Clean Clothes network emerged in response to the indignation caused by the tragedy in this country, where 30,000 people work in sweatshops. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This Buenos Aires sweatshop was destroyed in April 2015 by a fire that claimed the lives of two Bolivian boys who were living there. The Clean Clothes network emerged in response to the indignation caused by the tragedy in this country, where 30,000 people work in sweatshops. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Ropa Limpia or Clean Clothes network emerged in 2015, with a successful fashion show held to demonstrate that it is possible to produce clothing without slave and child labour.

On Apr. 27, 2015, two Bolivian children died in a sweatshop fire.

“We started to receive a lot of phone calls from people who were indignant about what had happened, and concerned because we denounced many brand names of clothing for using sweatshops, and people asked us: so what are we supposed to wear?” said Tamara Rosenberg, the head of the cooperative.

“That’s when the idea came up to suggest to our customers that it is possible to produce in decent working conditions…it’s not the same thing to show that there’s a cooperative as to show that there are a number of designers who respect people’s rights, and charge appropriate prices.”

The very same clothing produced in sweatshops, which is sold at low prices in the city’s street markets, is sometimes sold by famous brand names at a higher mark-up.

The Argentine network was inspired by the global Clean Clothes Campaign, whose aim is to improve working conditions in the global garment and sportswear industries.

“The idea is to approach the sweatshops to raise awareness about the risks of not having their installations in proper working order, or of having children in the workshop, because the dust in the air hurts their respiratory system,” said Virasoro.

The members of the network also give advice to designers “who want to do things in a responsible manner,” she said.

“It’s not easy because they’re scared they’ll be reported,” she added. “The problem is that even though it’s not a clandestine workshop or a sweatshop using slave labour, they might not pay all their taxes, or their installations might not all be in order.”

Daza said: “You know you’re being mistreated, but the owner of the workshop tells you, ‘look, if you go, we have 10 others who want to work’. Since it’s hard to find a job, you bow your head and keep working.”

Others are worried about reporting the situation because the police themselves often “tell the owner, who fires (the whistle-blower),” he said.

Laura Méndez, who owns the Clara A brand name, decided to produce her accessories in the cooperative, after seeing “how they all worked crowded into a place with no exit” in a footwear factory, as well as other irregularities.

“The most important thing for me is to show clients that clothing can be produced in an ethical manner,” she told IPS. “I want the products to have a social impact.”

The 20 de Diciembre Cooperative employs 12 workers.

“In a sweatshop, people work 16 hours and earn 5,000 or 6,000 pesos (312 to 375 dollars) a month,” said Rosenberg. Here, most of the members of the cooperative work seven hours, earning 7,000 to 8,000 pesos a month (437 to 500 dollars), which is even higher than the wage agreed on with the industry.”

María Reina’s story is dramatic, like those of many of her fellow workers. Six years ago, when she was travelling from Bolivia to Argentina, where she had been hired to work in a garment workshop, the bus rolled and in the accident her boyfriend and brother-in-law were killed, and she lost a leg.

“When I got out of the hospital they took me to the workshop,” she told IPS. “I was in a wheelchair and they told me I had to work. I said I couldn’t, that I had to heal, that I was ordered to rest. They didn’t understand, and finally they threw me out on the street.”

She is now undergoing rehabilitation. And she has learned that South American immigrants like her have labour rights, and have the right to an identity card and to free healthcare and education.

“La Alameda has long been denouncing these practices by the sweatshops, which are also linked to other criminal activity,” said Rosenberg.

“We’re even talking about organised crime because many of the brand names that outsource work to sweatshops have ties to other crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking, car smuggling, or ‘narco-brothels’,” she said.

The challenge is to pass laws that guarantee inspections of the garment industry and the legal registration of private workshops.

“One of our working groups is focused on finding workshops that, while they might not have the best conditions for production, they at least offer good conditions or are interested in improving them,” she said. “We don’t want them to close down; what we want is to offer them options, such as joining together, in an adequate space.”

One alternative is the Polo Textil Barracas, which employs former sweatshop workers and uses machinery that in many cases had been confiscated.

But they dream about going further. For example, creating a label that identifies the origin of the clothing, and a slave labour-free system of sales – to guarantee, in Rosenberg’s words, that the clothes we use “aren’t stained with blood.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Seeds Help Weather Climate Change in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:34:40 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143159 Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO /SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador , Nov 30 2015 (IPS)

Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador.

Reyes is taking part in the “tapisca” – derived from “pixca” in the Nahat indigenous tongue, which means harvesting the field-dried corn.

The process will end, weeks later, with the selection of the best quality seeds, in order to ensure food sovereignty and security for poor peasant farmers in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers, and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on small farms averaging 2.5 hectares in size, the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding reports.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households are poor, compared to 29.9 percent in urban areas, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of Economy.

“I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain was causing problems,” Reyes, 25, told IPS. She earns 10 dollars a day “tapiscando” or harvesting corn.

Climate change has modified the production cycles in this country, which is experiencing lengthy droughts in the May to October wet season and heavy rain in the November to April dry season. The erratic weather has ruined corn and bean crops.“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change.” -- Alan González

But Reyes, covered head to toe to protect herself from the sun in jeans, a long-sleeved blouse and a hat, is relieved that the high-quality or “improved” seeds have managed to resist the effects of the changing climate.

“This corn has withstood it better…the rain hurt it but not very much. Other seeds wouldn’t have survived the blow,” she told IPS in the middle of the cornfield.

Reyes is one of the nearly two dozen workers who, under the burning sun, are harvesting corn on this seven-hectare field, one of several that belong to the Mangrove Association in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as Bajo Lempa, named after the river that crosses El Salvador from the north, before running into the Pacific Ocean. In that region there are 86 communities, with a total population of 23,000 people.

Many of the inhabitants are former guerrilla fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the country’s right-wing governments in the 1980-1992 armed conflict that left a death toll of around 75,000, mainly civilians.

The Mangrove Association is one of the two producers of open-pollinated (the opposite of hybrid) native seeds in El Salvador. The other is the Nancuchiname Cooperative, also in the Bajo Lempa region.

They sell their annual output of 500,000 kilos of seeds to the government for distribution to 400,000 small farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kg of seeds of corn and beans, as well as fertiliser.

“One achievement by our organisation is that the government has accepted us as a supplier of native seeds to the PAF,” said Juan Luna, coordinator of the Mangrove Association’s Agriculture Programme.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Luna told IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran small farmers are better prepared to confront the effects of climate change and ensure food security and sovereignty.

In this country, 12.4 percent of the population – around 700,000 people – are undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mangrove Association and another three cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the improved seeds purchased by the PAF, whether native or the H59 hybrid variety developed by the government’s Enrique Álvarez Córdova National Centre for Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA).

The rest are produced by cooperatives in other regions of the country.

“The seeds produced by CENTA are high quality genetic material adapted to growing everywhere from sea level to 700 metres altitude,” FAO resident coordinator in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

He added that the effort to promote this kind of seeds as a tool to weather the effects of climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty are part of the Hunger Free Mesoamerica programme launched by FAO in 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change,” said González.

Up to 2009, PAF purchased seeds from only five companies. But that year the FMLN, which became a political party after the 1992 peace deal, was voted into office and modified the rules of the game in order for small farmers to participate in the business, through cooperatives.

Another of the advantages of these improved seeds, besides their resistance to drought and heavy rains, is their high yields. FAO estimates that productivity has increased by 40 percent in the case of beans and 30 percent in the case of corn, which has boosted the food and nutritional security of the poorest families.

“We produce more, and we earn a bit more income,” said Ivania Siliézar, 55, who produces an improved variety of bean in the village of El Amate in the department of San Miguel, 135 km east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that she took the time to count how many bean pods one single plant produces: “More than 35 pods; that’s why the yield is so high,” she said proudly.

The variety of bean grown by her and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative is called chaparrastique, and was also developed by the CENTA technicians. The name comes from the volcano at whose feet this and six other cooperatives grow the bean, which they sell in local markets, as well as to the PAF.

Siliézar grows her crops on her farm that is just over three hectares in size, and in the last harvest of the year, she picked 1,250 kg of beans, a very high yield.

Similar excellent results were obtained by all 255 members of the seven cooperatives, who founded a company, Productores y Comercializadores Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and have managed to mechanise their production with the installation of a plant that has processing equipment such as driers.

The plant was built with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish development aid and support from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the San Miguel city government, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Cooperatives grouping another 700 families from the departments of San Miguel and Usulután also set up three similar companies.

“We have had pests, but thanks to God and the quality of the seeds, here is our harvest,” Siliézar said happily.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Improved Post-Harvest Fish Handling Brings Hope to Western Zambiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/improved-post-harvest-fish-handling-brings-hope-to-western-zambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=improved-post-harvest-fish-handling-brings-hope-to-western-zambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/improved-post-harvest-fish-handling-brings-hope-to-western-zambia/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 11:45:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142981 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/improved-post-harvest-fish-handling-brings-hope-to-western-zambia/feed/ 0 Cuban Agroecological Project Foments Local Innovationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation/#comments Wed, 16 Sep 2015 02:39:13 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142376 Armando Marcelino Pi and members of his family who work together on the La Carmelina agroecological family farm in La Palma in the mountains of the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Armando Marcelino Pi and members of his family who work together on the La Carmelina agroecological family farm in La Palma in the mountains of the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
LA PALMA, Cuba, Sep 16 2015 (IPS)

Armando Marcelino Pi divides his day between the university, where he teaches philosophy, work on his family farm, and coordinating a group of 33 agroecological farmers, in this mountainous rural municipality in western Cuba.

“There is a need for a greater application of science and technology in agriculture; farmers must have access to the knowledge available in research centres,” Pi told Tierramérica. He and 12 members of his extended family grow fruit and raise pigs, barnyard fowl and bees using environmentally-friendly techniques at La Carmelina, a seven-hectare farm.

Thanks to the use of good practices, the professor said the farm feeds the four families that work it. Although yields are not high, 90 percent of the farm is under production, with “complete independence from state inputs.”

“Many small farmers have not yet joined the agroecological movement,” said Pi, who blames this on a lack of knowledge of these practices, resistance to change, scarce available services for ecological farms, and low prices for organic foods, which are harder to produce.

La Carmelina produces everything from its own organic fertiliser to swine feed based on palm fruits, cornmeal and sugarcane flour.

In the search for greater and more sustainable growth in Cuban agriculture, researchers and ecological producers like Pi are working – in 45 of Cuba’s 168 municipalities so far – to establish a system of innovation in order to support local governments in boosting socioeconomic development.

“We are trying to organise municipal groups with a diverse range of actors, to create a Local Agricultural Innovation System (SIAL) which would be the first of its kind in the country,” said Iván Paneque, the coordinator of the Local Agricultural Innovation Programme (PIAL) in the western province of Pinar del Río, where La Palma is located.

The new initiative is promoted in a pamphlet with the slogan “towards a participative focus in development practices.”

The leaflet states that the SIAL expands the work of the PIALs, which in 2000 began to teach rural families to obtain their own seeds, while promoting greater participation by women and young people in agriculture, a pending task in rural Cuba.

The PIALs also help to create networks among farmers and assist them in marketing and selling their produce more effectively, while strengthening climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The rural mountainous municipality of La Palma in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The rural mountainous municipality of La Palma in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

This training programme, coordinated by the government’s National Institute of Agricultural Sciences with the support of international development aid, has improved the lives of 50,000 people in the 45 municipalities in 10 provinces where it is operating.

The plan is to reach an additional 30 municipalities by 2017.

The mission of the new SIAL platform is to provide people with alternatives for producing more with the limited resources available in this socialist island nation, which has been attempting to overcome an economic crisis for more than 20 years without dismantling all of the existing controls or throwing the economy open to the global market.

But experts say the government’s agricultural innovation system is barely functioning because of the economic depression and decades of excessive centralisation. Among the many hurdles faced in the quest to boost agricultural production they cite farmers’ limited access to necessary technologies and know-how.

In the meantime, Cuba cut public spending on research and development in half in the last four years, from 651.5 million dollars in 2010 to 380.5 million in 2014, according to the latest figures reported by the national statistics office, ONEI.

Advocates of agroecology told Tierramérica that it is time to take better advantage of the opportunities presented by the decentralisation of agriculture and the empowerment of local governments that have formed part of the economic reforms ushered in by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008.

As Paneque told Tierramérica, “many projects and people are working on local agricultural innovation, but not as a system.

“It’s not enough to only reach the cooperatives, we have to go beyond that, to the municipal governments and the municipal agriculture offices (the local representative of the agriculture ministry) among others, to work together and join forces and pool resources,” he said.

“We have already presented the SIAL to the La Palma municipal government and we are waiting for it to be approved,” said Paneque, who is also studying the progress made in this municipality, where initiatives undertaken by several specialists gave rise to the PIAL and its special biodiversity fairs, where farmers exchange seeds, seedlings, techniques and know-how.

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, where hog raising is one of the activities on the seven-hectare La Carmelina ecological farm run by the Pi family in the municipality of La Palma in the mountains of the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, where hog raising is one of the activities on the seven-hectare La Carmelina ecological farm run by the Pi family in the municipality of La Palma in the mountains of the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The group includes farmers who have adopted innovative techniques, researchers from different disciplines, representatives of the municipal branch of the Agriculture Ministry, the president of the local government, and activists from rural organisations and associations of agricultural technicians and agronomists.

In his view, the system will enable “wider dissemination of the good practices we are implementing at a local level, which can be an example for everyone to follow.”

He also said it would provide a platform for dealing with burning issues with local authorities, such as the need to certify agroecological products, obtain competitive prices for organic foods, support the creation of small canning companies, and extend the use of techniques to preserve the soil.

Paneque said that with support from the authorities, all farmers in La Palma could cover their own supplies of bean seeds. Farmers trained in techniques for seed conservation and improvement now have “a local bank of seeds, of 285 varieties of beans,” he said.

The main economic activity in this mountainous municipality of just under 35,000 people spread out over 636 sq km is agriculture, including tobacco farming, stockbreeding, and forestry.

University professor Bárbara Mosquera said the system “will establish connections between the government and the agencies and institutions that can facilitate innovative processes for development.

“There have been many good experiences among the cooperatives and individual farmers, to be replicated,” she said.

The SIALS, which so far have emerged in 45 municipalities that now have networks of farmers, still have to be approved by the local governments. Representatives of the project’s national leadership told Tierramérica that 26 municipalities have signed agreements with a view to giving the new collectives institutional status.

“Know-how and the creativity of individuals play a key role in Cuban agriculture, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and where inputs are scarce,” said Rodobaldo Ortiz, general coordinator of the PIAL, in a meeting with journalists in Havana.

“People should produce ecologically and adapt these techniques to their land,” he proposed, referring to the 500,000 farms in this Caribbean island nation.

Family farms, backyard gardens and urban agriculture have led the agroecology trend, although it is also present in all forms of agriculture in the country, where cooperatives are dominant.

Agriculture, led by tobacco, sugarcane, and vegetables, grew 4.8 percent in the first half of the year – one-tenth more than overall economic growth. In 2014, the sector represented 3.8 percent of GDP.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Stop Food Waste – Cook It and Eat Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:39:32 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142201 Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
LEEDS, England, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

A new grassroots initiative born in the northern England city of Leeds has set itself the ambitious goal of ending food waste, once and for all.

Founded in December 2013, ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP), is the brainchild of chef Adam Smith.

It consists of a network of ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafés where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals that people can enjoy and give back what they can and wish, be it money, time or surplus food.

TRJFP is run on a volunteer basis through customers’, crowdfunding and private donations and with only a handful of paid positions at living wage level.

Sitting at a table in the first café opened by TRJFP, The Armley Junk-Tion in the struggling suburb of Armley, Leeds, 29-year-old Smith is still infectiously enthusiastic about it all.

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s something that has a positive impact,” he told IPS. “We believe that we can empower people and communities and inspire change across the whole system through the organic growth of these cafés.”

In under two years, TRJFP has grown into a worldwide network of 110 cafés: 14 in Leeds, one of which in a primary school, 40 across the United Kingdom and the rest in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, South Africa or France.

“So far,” explained Smith, “the Armley Junk-Tion alone has cooked 12,000 meals for 10,000 people using food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.” As a network, in 18 months it has fed 90,000 people 60,000 meals and saved 107,000 tonnes of food from needless destruction.

TRJFP volunteers are out every day and at all hours intercepting food from households, food businesses, allotments, food banks, wholesalers, supermarkets and supermarket bins.“The [U.K.] government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people. We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money“ – Adam Smith, founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’

TRJFP has also been able to secure surplus chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain and part of the food ”waste” generated by local Morrisons supermarket branches.

“We ignore expiry dates or damage and use our own judgment on whether we think the food is fit or safe for human consumption,” said Smith.

The number of tonnes of food intercepted, though, pales in comparison with the amount of food that is still wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food wastage globally at one-third of all food produced – that is 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This means that one in four calories produced is never consumed. On the other hand, FAO also reports that 795 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.

‘Food waste’ is often described as a “scandal” and yet top-down actions seeking to put an end to it still treat the above statistics as two separate problems requiring two separate solutions – recycle more in rich countries and produce more food in and for developing countries – that effectively leave a faulty system intact and the interests of a multi-billion dollar industry unchallenged.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’, “all the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  

But our short-sightedness and unwillingness to change our habits are laid bare in laws such as the one approved last May by the French parliament. In France, large supermarkets will be forbidden from throwing away unsold food and forced to give it to charity or farmers.

Although hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against food waste, critics such as food waste activists ‘Les Gars’pilleurs’ say that such laws only circle around the problem, offering a quick fix. For starters, supermarkets are hardly the only culprits. For example, as the U.K. charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, they produce less than two percent of U.K. food waste, while private households are responsible for roughly 47 percent of it and producers 27 percent.

“The government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people,” Smith cut short. “We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money.“

As a grassroots and independent initiative, TRJFP does not categorise food waste as an environmental, economic or social malaise. It tackles it holistically and works to educate the public but also lobbies ministers and parliamentarians to develop relevant policies.

“We have been to Westminster (seat of the U.K. parliament) a few times already to talk about this problem. There are many interests at stake but we will keep working until there is no more waste,” Smith said, adding that he hopes to prepare a waste-food lunch for members of parliament.

In Armley, the café fills up for lunch. On the menu are delicacies such as meat stew, steak and lentil soup. The clientele represents a cross-section of society that normally travels on parallel paths. Hipsters, homeless, professionals or unemployed all eat the same food, sit at the same tables and enjoy the same service. No referrals needed, no stigma attached, as often happens with other such services.

Richard, a recovering alcoholic, has been having lunch at The Armley Junk-Tion for a few months. “The café has been a real focus point for the community to come and eat together irrespective of background,” he told IPS. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat. There’s always something on the menu for everybody.”

For 36-year-old Paul, with a history of mental illness, TRJFP offers an important safety net not guaranteed by social services. “Where I stay, my cooking facilities are restricted to a microwave. Due to cut backs and lack of support services, the only help I get is coming to places like this,” he told IPS.

Nigel Stone, one of the café’s volunteer co-directors, had no doubt the idea would catch on. “It is such an unbelievably common sense solution and the best part of it is how it brings the community together, especially in times of need.”

Slowly but steadily, TRJFP is changing norms around food waste and hopes to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to waste food. First off, though, they are proving that we must stop calling it waste, it just isn’t, it’s perfectly good food that every day we decide to throw away.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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