Inter Press Service » Africa’s Young Farmers Seeding the Future News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 00:48:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Uganda Still Grapples with Inadequate Funds to Tackle Climate Change Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:50:52 +0000 Prossy Nandudu A grieving Michael Kusolo and his wife Mary lost all their four children in the 2012 landslides on Uganda’s Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda’s Bududa District. Continuous rains in the eastern district of Bulambuli has left authorities fearing it could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A grieving Michael Kusolo and his wife Mary lost all their four children in the 2012 landslides on Uganda’s Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda’s Bududa District. Continuous rains in the eastern district of Bulambuli has left authorities fearing it could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

Until last month, Allen Nambozo’s only source of income was the cabbages, carrots and bananas she grew along the slopes of Uganda’s Mount Elgon in the eastern district of Bulambuli. 

But weeks ago her little vegetable farm was washed away by ongoing rains in the region. And now she’s not sure how she will earn a living.

The rains did not only destroy crops. The road network that connects Bulambuli to the neighbouring districts of Mbale and Kapchorwa was washed away. Nambozo, and her neighbours, sell their crop at the local markets in these neighbouring districts.

“I have nowhere to grow food. I have to wait for the rain to stop so that I can start afresh,” Nambozo told IPS. Bulambuli is located near the slopes of the fertile Mount Elgon, which is a dormant volcanic mountain. Despite the risks of farming on the Mount Elgon, many of Nambozo’s neighbours have opted to farm on the mountain because of its soil.

But district authorities have asked residents to move to safer places fearing that the continuous rains could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Currently, about 500 households are in danger if they are not relocated because of the continuous rains, Sam Wamukota, a member of the local disaster committee, told IPS.

But many are reluctant because there aren’t adequate facilitates to house them and because they want to remain near their fertile gardens.

“Even if we go to the school for shelter, [we will be] without bedding and food. It is useless, I think they should leave [us in] our homes because there we have some items to use instead of suffering in a group,” Nambozo’s husband, Mugonyi, told IPS.

Festus Bagoora, a natural resource management specialist at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) says efforts by the authority to get people to relocate to safer places have been frustrated by politicians who want to keep voters in their district.

Continuous farming on Mount Elgon and its surrounding areas has lead to the clearing of trees on its slopes.

“The vegetation meant to reduce the speed of the runoff from the mountain is has been cleared that is why whenever there is a land slide, especially on Mount Elgon, it is severe because the runoff carries a lot of material, including rocks that are dangerous to the communities,” Bagoora said.

He said NEMA has been monitoring the area and has advised the government and communities in the disaster prone areas in vain.

He added that this was likely that mudslides would continue because of climate change. Uganda is one of the East African countries likely to experience increased rainfall and droughts in the coming years and proper environment management practices need to be put in place.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which was launched in Kampala in September, some parts of Southern and East Africa will experience an increase in average annual rainfall of five to 50mm each decade.

Some assessments suggest that wet seasons will be more intense, as is currently the case in Uganda.

The report adds that most of the countries experiencing these climate changes lack sufficient data to plan adequately for them.

This has been the case in Uganda. And currently, this East African nation does not have the adequate resources to respond to emergencies that come along with a changing climate.

Chairman of Bulambuli district, Simon Peter Wananzofu, blames the government for taking too long to respond to the disaster.

“We have been pleading with the government to set up a relocation camp so that as we wait for them to [implement] improved infrastructure plans, we are safe somewhere. But they have failed to respond to our plea,” Wananzofu told IPS in a telephone interview.

“As I talk to you now, there are two big cracks on the mountain, which have been here for some time. These are likely to affect five sub-counties in Upper Bulambuli. Lower Bulambuli’s road network has been cut off by floods as well. So the situation is getting pathetic,” he said.

But the Ministry of Water and Environment, through its climate change policy, has developed guidelines for mainstreaming climate change activities in their budget, according to the ministry’s permanent secretary David Ebong.

“Our position is that starting in the 2015/16 budget processes, we want these guidelines to be integrated into the budget cycle so that each sector is compelled to create a budget line item for climate change so collectively we can mobilise resources from all sectors,” Ebong told IPS.

According to Ebong, the country still faces a challenge of inadequate finances to tackle climate change issues. He added that climate new was still a new entrant in Uganda’s budget planning processes.

“Apart from national financing we must look at other financing options like bilateral financing, financing under United Nations —  like the Green Climate Fund, among others — so  that there can be other financing options,” he said.

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists like Bagoora.

“Creating a fund for climate change is a welcome move, the way we react is too inefficient … we should be prepared rather than reacting. When a disaster happens, you start looking for money from left and right instead of acting immediately. And when [there are] money delays, people suffer and the problem increases,” said Bagoora.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisers Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:54:12 +0000 Busani Bafana Eherculano Thomas Rice (left) from Chimoio, Mozambique shows the pigeon pea he uses to improve soil fertility in his field. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
CHIMOIO, Mozambique, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique’s Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent’s food.

“For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity,” Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

“Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost.”

Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel’s 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique’s GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

“There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge,” Ogang says.

“Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use.”

According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

“Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006,” says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa’s fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent’s production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

“Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes,” Hebebrand tells IPS.

“Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product.”

Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will “kill Africa’s hopes for a food-secure future.”

AGRA’s Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at or on twitter @Kibet_88

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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farming Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 As Uganda Heats Up, Pests and Disease Flourish to Attack its Top Export Crop Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:34:38 +0000 Prossy Nandudu Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

When Abudu Zikusoka was a small boy his father would bring people to their home in Ndesse village in Central Uganda’s Mukono district. He would watch as they packed the family’s harvested coffee into sacks and then loaded it onto their bicycles.

“I used to see one of them giving daddy money from which he took out some coins to give my sister,” Zikusoka tells IPS.

“When my brother started going to school, daddy continued with the practice until one day I asked my sister where she was taking the money,” he remembers. 

His sister explained that the money was meant for school fees that had to be paid at the beginning of each term. This is why Zikusoka decided to embrace coffee farming after his father gave him a half hectare piece of land when he married in 2005 — he wanted to be able to support his family too.

On his piece of land, also in Ndesse village, Zikusoka was able to plant coffee trees and crops such as bananas, cassava and maize which became the main source of income for his family. Thanks to the profit from his farming Zikusoka was also able to buy an additional hectare of land.

Coffee is Uganda’s single-largest export earner. This East African nation is the largest exporter of coffee on the continent as Ethiopia consumes more than half of what it produces.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) estimates that 85 percent of all coffee produced in Uganda is mostly from smallholder farmers, the majority of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people.

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

But now it seems as if the good times are at risk from a changing climate.

“The yields are so poor, they are affected by diseases and pests almost all the time and when the rains take a long to fall, it becomes hard… The worst is that we were hit by the coffee wilt last year and I lost everything,” Zikusoka says in frustration.

“I haven’t been able to harvest much coffee like it was in 2006 when I had just started focusing on coffee as a commercial crop,” Zikusoka explains.

He is one of the many farmers who have recently been affected the black coffee twig borer and coffee wilt diseases in Mukono district, one of Uganda’s commercial coffee-growing districts. Wilt first attacked Uganda’s Robusta coffee in 1993 and has destroyed over 12 million plants since then. However, it is believed this figure is underreported.

“Before the coffee wilt attacked my crop, I used to earn between 700 to 1,000 dollars in a good season but the remaining trees [not affected by the wilt] have earned me only 250 dollars, and now I don’t know if I will be able to earn more,” he adds.

Zikusoka has come to the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) in Kituuza, Mukono district, to find out if he can access the improved varieties developed here that are resistant to coffee diseases, which have now become tolerant to high temperatures.

Last month, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, scientists noted that incidences of pests and diseases appear to have increased here because of climate change.

According to Dr. Africano Kangire from NaCORI, it appears that the warmer than usual weather is creating a breeding ground for pests and disease. The report attributes the rise in temperature to increased global warming, fuelled mainly by human activities such as clearing forests for settlement and charcoal burning, among others, which has seen increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“High temperatures provide favourable conditions for the breeding of pests and diseases, which are affecting coffee production. We have seen incidences where diseases like malaria are now rampant in the highlands which weren’t the case before, although this is for the medical professional to elucidate,” says Kangire.

According to Kangire, Uganda’s temperatures have been erratic and increasing over the years. He says if temperatures hit the two degrees Celsius level, as predicted, it could render Robusta coffee cultivation in Uganda’s lowlands very difficult while limiting it to few locations in the much cooler highlands.

He further explains that coffee leaf rust disease, which has long been known to affect coffee at altitudes lower than 1,400m above sea level, has now surfaced at 1,800m above sea level. This, he explains, is evidence of rising temperatures in the country, since logic shows that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

He adds that the coffee berry disease, which is known to affect Arabica coffee, has also shifted to higher altitudes to attack crop cultivated 1,800m above sea level — it previously only appeared at 1,600m above sea level.

Dr. Revocatus Twinomuhangi, is one of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report and is also the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) country engagement leader and a lecturer at Makerere University Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovations.

“We are witnessing a shift in production of crops such as coffee, tea. Maize, for example, coffee was mainly for highland areas. But because people have cut down trees and cleared part of the highlands for cultivation, the crop failing and if the temperature could rise to even 1.5 degrees Celsius there will be dramatic shift from highlands to low lands like the central regions in Uganda,” he tells IPS.

However, the latest UCDA report shows that Uganda’s July coffee exports earned the country revenue of 37.9 million dollars up from June’s value of 31.04 million.

According to the managing director of UDCA, Henry Ngabirano, the authority has succeeded in recording some profits from the coffee sector despite the presence of coffee wilt diseases.

“We are getting clonal coffee varieties resistant to the wilt because these were the most-affected while Arabic coffee, which was less affected, has remained at 10 percent production.

“So the 10 percent Arabic and the other percentage of clonal coffee are keeping us in the market but we are confident that since researchers ad government have taken it up, we shall be able to adjust to effects of climate change,” Ngabirano tells IPS.

While scientists at NaCORI are breeding improved coffee varieties, which include those resistant to coffee wilt, Paul Isabirye, assistant commissioner from the Department of Meteorology cautions that temperatures could have risen since the IPCC report was issued.

He points out that rain is now falling at the wrong times, and the coffee beans have less time to mature.

“If the coffee beans face a lot of sunshine and less rain, the beans will continue to be smaller and of lower yields,” he tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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Africa’s Dividing Farmlands A Threat To Food Security Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:56:03 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

When Kiprui Kibet pictures his future as a maize farmer in the fertile Uasin Gishu county in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, all he sees is the ever-decreasing plot of land that he has to farm on.

“I used to farm on 40 hectares but now I only have 0.8 hectares. My father had 10 sons and we all wanted to own a piece of the farmland. Subdivision … ate into the actual farmland,” Kibet tells IPS. “From 3,200 bags a harvest, now I only produce 20 bags, at times even less.”

Experts say that Africa’s extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security.

Statistics by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) show that a majority of Africa’s farmers now farm on less than one hectare of land.

According to FAO, in the last 10 years the land/person in agriculture ratio in Kenya declined from 0.264 to the current 0.219. Explained as a percentage, this means that the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land in Kenya decreased by 17 percent over the last decade.

Within the same period, the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land declined by 13 percent in Zambia and by 16 percent in Uganda.

Allan Moshi, a land policy expert on sub-Saharan Africa based in Zambia, tells IPS that while investors are rushing to East and southern Africa and making large-scale planned land acquisitions, “large-scale land acquisition not only reduces available land for locals, but what is available to the locals still has to be subdivided [because of] land inheritance.”

He explains that land subdivision has been driven by growth in population, land inheritance “as well as a shift from customary land tenures to land owned by individuals based on the belief that individuals can exploit the productive potential of land more effectively.”

According to a 2012 USAID report titled “Emerging Land Issues in Africa”, 25 percent of young adults who grew up in rural areas did not inherit land because there was no land to inherit.

“[People] just want to have a title deed even if it means subdividing the land to economically non-viable portions, while big investors are interested in high-value crops, particularly in horticulture, limiting available land for food crops,” Moshi says.

Smallholder farmers across Africa account for at least 75 percent of agricultural outputs, according to FAO.

“Small-scale farmers still produce more than big farms. Big farms often lie idle, investors hoard them for speculative purposes, they rarely grow food on this land,” Isaac Maiyo from Schemers, an agricultural community-based organisation in Kenya, tells IPS, explaining that 93 percent of farmers in Botswana are smallholders.

“They [smallholder farmers in Botswana] have less than eight percent percent of the agricultural land and they still account for nearly 100 percent of the country’s maize production,” he says.

  • In the southern African nation of Zambia, 41.9 percent of farms comprise of less than one hectare of land, with at least 75 percent of small-scale farmers farming on less than two hectares.
  • In Zambia, 616,867 farms, which are on average less than a hectare, produce about 300,000 metric tonnes of maize.
  • In contrast there are 6,626 Zambian farms of between 10 to 20 hectares that produce 145,000 metric tonnes of maize.

Anthony Mokaya, of local NGO Kenya Lands Alliance, tells IPS that many countries on the continent are yet to establish laws that govern subdivision of agricultural land.

And while South Africa and Kenya have legislation on the subdivision of land, Mokaya says “the laws remain largely ineffective.”

While the Agriculture Act (Chapter 318) in Kenya categorically states that agricultural land should not be subdivided below 0.8 hectares, smallholder farmer Kibet says that “many farmers do not know that the law exists.”

“We subdivide not based on what the law says, but based on the number of dependents who want a share of available land, particularly where land inheritance is concerned,” Kibet explains.

South Africa’s Agricultural Land Act prevents the “subdivision of agricultural land to the extent where the new portions created are so small that farming will no longer be economically viable.”

South African land owners are prohibited by the act from subdividing agricultural land without consent from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

But as is the case with many African countries, Moshi says that subdivision of agricultural land has not been guided by the law.

“The problem is not the act itself, but the implementation of it. Many land owners are not aware that there is a law that prohibits subdivision of agricultural land below a certain threshold.”

Amos Thiong’o from Agri-ProFocus Kenya, a network of organisations working in agribusiness, tells IPS that extensive land subdivision is also affecting mechanisation of agriculture.

“Smaller farmlands will require very intensive production technologies, such as the hydroponic production where plants are grown in a mineral solution rather than in the soil,” he says, adding that some flower farms in Naivasha, Rift Valley were already using this technology “but it requires a lot of water.”

Titus Rotich, an agricultural extension officer in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, says “farmlands are becoming so small that with time, farming will no longer be economically viable.”

“Most families who, 10 to 20 years ago, had over 40 hectares now have to contend with less than a hectare. Meaning that the land is only used to set up a homestead, and to grow a few backyard vegetables and rear a few chickens,” Rotich tells IPS, explaining that previously a farmer could produce 28 to 38 90-kilogram maize bags on just 0.4 hectares of land.

“One such bag is sold at a significant amount of 35 to 50 dollars depending on the region. But many farmers are now lucky if they produce 20 bags because they have their homestead, their cows, chickens and so on the 0.4 hectares [and it is not solely used for farming],” he says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudan Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma


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How Farming is Making Côte d’Ivoire’s Prisoners ‘Feel Like Being Human Again’ Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:11:39 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
SALIAKRO/ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

François Kouamé, prisoner Number 67, proudly shows off a sow and her four piglets. Dressed in his rubber boots, he passes by two new tractors as he happily makes his way to a field where pretty soon cassava and corn plants will start growing. “Look at those sprouts. It is a lot of work!”

Being imprisoned in one of the world’s most impoverished country’s is far from an easy ride. But Ivorian authorities are searching for alternatives to the overcrowded prisons and malnourished prisoners here. And they just may have found the answer — in a farm.

The Saliakro Prison Farm, where Kouamé is currently serving out the remainder of his one-year prison sentence, is the first of its kind in Côte d’Ivoire. He was one of the first detainees to be sent here in December 2013.

The 21 buildings on the farm, built on a former summer camp, are to provide accommodation for 150 prisoners who have been sentenced for less than three years for non-violent crimes. Here they will learn new skills in farming.“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life.” -- Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders

For Kouamé, being on a farm is a relief compared to the six months he spent in Soubré State Prison for cutting trees in a neighbouring cocoa plantation.

“We were sleeping four persons in a space that could contain only one person. And we were granted only a bowl of rice per day,” says the young man.

Now he eats three meals a day, and stays in a clean room with 16 other prisoners. Each man has his own bunk bed, a closet and plenty of space to move about in.

Mamadou Doumbia, 32, is serving a two-year sentence for stealing computers. The quiet and articulate man is relieved to be on the farm. He spent 11 months in Agboville prison, in Agnéby Region close to Abidjan, the country’s economic capital.

He reveals a dark portrait of life in Agboville prison. Rape, malnutrition and pests are some of the many things he says he witnessed.

“I feel like being human again,” he tells IPS.

Though life on the farm is no vacation. Inmates must wake up at 5:30 am and be ready for work no later than 7am. They work till 3pm, only taking a short break for lunch. Evenings are their own to do with as they will, but they have to be in their dormitories by 9pm.

Through the Saliakro project, Ivorian authorities and backers hope to improve inmate conditions, reduce costs and help reintegration.

Overpopulation and malnutrition

Côte d’Ivoire has relatively modern prison facilities compared to the rest of West Africa, where most countries have not invested in new prisons since the 1970s. In neighbouring Ghana, the Jamestown Colonial fort only ceased to be used as a penitential facility in 2008.

In Guinea-Bissau, the country had to wait for the United Nations to build a prison in order to stop cramming prisoners into what is now a beautiful colonial house, renamed Casa dos Direitos or the House of Human rights. Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia all have overcrowded prisons dating back to the 1960s.

Still, Ivorian prisons were planned for another era. In the Abidjan Detention and Correction Centre, known by its French acronym MACA, overpopulation is an understatement. The building, conceived in the 1980s for 1,500 prisoners now has a population of over 5,000.

“Hygiene is very difficult. There are frequent water disruptions,” Jean a prisoner at MACA, who prefers to remain anonymous as prisoners are not allowed to speak to journalists, tells IPS over the phone.

And now, even if the government and international donors start to reopen detention centres in the north, closed by a decade of de facto separation with the south, congestion in state prisons remain dire.

The prison in Man, a town in west Côte d’Ivoire, holds several perpetrators of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis that resulted in over 3,000 deaths.

While it has been renovated in the last year, newer does not mean less crowded. It was built to hold only 300 inmates but it currently holds twice as many. Didier, who is awaiting trial in Man Prison, says the basic meals of rice have left him hungry. “We don’t [get to] eat three meals. Most of the time we eat only once,” he tells IPS over the phone.

In May, five prisoners from Man died and several others were hospitalised. Dr. Viviane Lawson Kiniffo, the prison’s doctor, told Ivorian media that promiscuity, malnutrition and hygiene were big issues.

Self-sufficiency and reintegration

Back in Saliakro, Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly inaugurates Côte d’Ivoire’s first prison farm in front a selected group of VIPs. “More farm prisons will soon be open,” he says.

Coulibaly has several reasons to be satisfied. Aside from improving inmate’s living conditions, once fully functional, Saliakro Prison Farm will relieve prison budgets by several hundred dollars as, besides feeding its own prisoners, it will produce enough to make a profit from selling produce on local markets.

But the 450 hectares of are not only there to deliver a relief to state budget.

“It is more than about feeding themselves. It is also about getting those prisoners back to a normal life. It is about learning new skills and being able to reintegrate and participate fully in society,” Saliakro’s superintendent, Pinguissie Ouattara, tells IPS. “This is about bringing an alternative to crime, and decreasing the crime rate.”

Saliakro is not on any map: this town does not exist. But it is the contraction of Kro, which means “village” in the local Baoule language and “Salia”, the first name of former superintendent Salia Ouattara who died in 2007.

“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life,” Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders, a French NGO, tells IPS.

He explains that the 150 prisoners are backed by trained agronomists. Participants in the project will deepen their agricultural knowledge and will be paid 300 CFA (about 70 cents) per day for work.

“This will allow them to collect money to grow their own crops once they leave. It is also about reinsertion into real life. And getting confidence.”

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Kouamé is more realistic. He was a farmer before, but tells IPS that he has learned much from the agronomists here. “I have learnt here many things that will make my farm more profitable, notably by diversifying production.”

But the road is still bumpy. Funding, which has been provided by the European Union, now needs to be secured for a longer term. And still, a better selection process of prisoners needs to be found as, so far, selection of participants was not based on any clear criteria.

But prison superintendent Ouattara, who also manages the Dimbokro Prison a few kilometres from Saliakro, is positive.

“It is the beginning. We will need to adjust. But we strongly believe that there will be a positive outcome for those men. Much more than leaving them by themselves doing nothing.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Zimbabwe’s Emerging Tobacco Queens Sun, 11 May 2014 08:51:23 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Madeline Murambwi's tobacco crops on her 32-hectare farm in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland East province. She is one of this southern African nation's emerging female tobacco tycoons. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Madeline Murambwi's tobacco crops on her 32-hectare farm in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland East province. She is one of this southern African nation's emerging female tobacco tycoons. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 11 2014 (IPS)

Madeline Murambwi sits behind the wheel of her brand new Toyota Land Cruiser, threading her way through the traffic in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. She’s on her way back from the tobacco auction floors where she just pocketed thousands of dollars.

“Tobacco farming is a brisk business here. Before joining it, I didn’t realise men were making lots of money out of this leaf. I have made great economic strides in my life,” Murambwi tells IPS, adding that she now also invests in property.“Women here are fast becoming tobacco tycoons, holding their heads high in the midst of male tobacco farmers..." -- Zimbabwe Association of Women Tobacco Farmers chairperson Grace Mapuranga

“So far I have made 42,000 dollars through tobacco sales, with more sales to come,” says Murambwi, 47, who has a 32-hectare tobacco farm in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province.

In 2012, Murambwi ventured into tobacco farming and her business continues to grow each season.

“Faced with responsibilities I couldn’t avoid as a single parent, I turned to tobacco farming as a way to generate a more reliable income,” Murambwi says.

On the Zimbabwean market, a kilogram of tobacco can sell from between 2,67 and 2,91 dollars, depending on the quality.

According to independent statistics from the Zimbabwe Association of Women Tobacco Farmers (ZAWTF), 85,006 farmers, 32 percent of whom are women, registered to grow tobacco during the 2013 to 2014 season.

The government’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, however, estimates that there are currently 110,000 small-scale tobacco farmers, of which 39,5 percent are women.

“The increase in women tobacco farmers here is actuated by an increase in the number of single mothers, either widowed or divorced, pressed hard with financial responsibilities of looking after their children … they are fast finding tobacco growing a panacea to turning around their fortunes,” ZAWTF chairperson Grace Mapuranga tells IPS.

“Women here are fast becoming tobacco tycoons, holding their heads high in the midst of male tobacco farmers, who traditionally dominate the field of tobacco farming,” adds Mapuranga.

Elsie Msipa, 38, is one of Zimbabwe's farmers who has seen her fortunes turned around by tobacco farming. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Elsie Msipa, 38, is one of Zimbabwe’s farmers who has seen her fortunes turned around by tobacco farming. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Elsie Msipa, 38, is one of those farmers who has seen her fortunes turned around by tobacco farming.

“Tobacco has changed my economic fortunes for the better. I now own clothing shops around Harare,” Msipa tells IPS.

She says her success if partly in thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, which has provided ”expert knowledge concerning growing tobacco and assistance from different tobacco experts.”

According to the agriculture ministry, the tobacco industry accounts for 40 percent of exports.

The ZAWTF estimates Zimbabwe’s 2013 tobacco exports at 771 million dollars, with women farmers contributing 25 percent of the total exported leaf. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations ranks the country as one of the major tobacco exporters in the world. The leaf is exported to countries like China, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Russia, Hong Kong, Sudan and Malaysia.

Behind the success of these new tobacco barons are civic organisations.

“We provide support networks to these women, ensuring they have access to resources and skills training and development,” Phides Mazhawidza, director of Women Farmers, Land and Agricultural Trust, tells IPS.

“More often women lack support networks to assist them effectively utilise the land and market their produce. We create collaborations between women farmers and other organisations, government and private partners to enable them get the best out of their land,” adds Mazhawidza.

Independent economist Artwell Jamela tells IPS: “Women tobacco farmers are bearing positive results on the country’s struggling economy, where tobacco accounts for 10.7 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP.”

Jamela says as the number of economically-active women in the informal sector increases, it could result in female tobacco farmers overtaking their male counterparts as more Zimbabwean men are formally employed than women.

However, the Gender Links 2013 Barometer on Zimbabwe reported that although Zimbabwe’s economic framework calls for women’s participation in key sectors of the economy, there are no gender-responsive policies in the agriculture and mining sectors.

But a government official from the Ministry of Gender and Women Affairs and Community Development told IPS on the condition of anonymity that this would soon change.

“Plans are at an advanced stage for the government to align legal frameworks that would ensure equal opportunities between men and women in agriculture and mining ahead of the looming deadline of the 2015 U.N. Millennium Development Goals,” the official said.

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Q&A: Investment and Research Key to Resilient African Agriculture Fri, 25 Apr 2014 17:11:21 +0000 Busani Bafana Agronomist Davison Masendeke shows a farmer in Bulawayo a variety of white sorghum, which is an ideal crop for arid areas. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Agronomist Davison Masendeke shows a farmer in Bulawayo a variety of white sorghum, which is an ideal crop for arid areas. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Apr 25 2014 (IPS)

There is urgent need to increase the proportion of climate finance for adaptation in Africa by increasing public sector budgets for agriculture and exploring partnerships with the private sector.

This is according to Sonja Vermeulen, head of research for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), a research programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

CGIAR is set to spend close to one billion dollars in agriculture research in 2014. But Vermeulen says African agriculture needs more financing to help smallholder farmers, who produce most of the continent’s food, adapt to climate change.The focus should be on increasing public sector budgets for agriculture and exploring partnerships with the private sector, beyond development finance, for countries that are now at the investment stage.

Financing for climate action and adaptation by developing countries has dogged the agenda of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences and remains a hurdle to a binding climate change treaty.

According to CCAFS’s “Big Facts” website, total costs for adaptation in agriculture have been estimated at seven billion dollars per year up to 2050. However, of the total flows of climate finance across all sectors, estimated at 364 billion dollars in 2011, only five percent went to adaptation activities.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Climate change has huge implications for agriculture in Africa. What is the best way forward as Africa seems to have failed to secure concrete actions from the UNFCCC process?

A: In spite of the stalled UNFCCC talks, several African governments are collaborating with research institutions and development partners to explore options for tackling the climate change challenge.

These early actions revolve around pilots and testing of climate-smart agriculture or climate-resilient agriculture such as trailing market-based mechanisms for reducing emissions … and improving climate forecasting that helps farmers deal with climate extremes. The larger the scale of piloting, the more convincing it will be.

Q: Climate finance seems a bankrupt concept from the start. Now with the collapse of the European carbon markets, can agriculture in Africa succeed without funding? 

A: Financing is critical for the success of agriculture in Africa. However, carbon markets are not yet a significant source of funding for African agriculture. Instead, public sector funding and development support are significant financing options for agriculture in Africa.

For instance, since 2003 the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme has been supporting countries with the implementation of their respective agricultural investment plans, and the importance of strengthening agricultural finance services to support the transformation of African agriculture has been noted.

In order to strengthen the performance and competitiveness of the continent’s agriculture sector, the focus should be on increasing public sector budgets for agriculture and exploring partnerships with the private sector, beyond development finance, for countries that are now at the investment stage.

Q: What concrete programmes has CGIAR implemented in Africa to help farmers become resilient in the face of climate change?

A: Recognising that drought is one of the major challenges facing Africa, CGIAR focuses on developing crop technologies that are suitable for drought conditions and tolerant to insect damage.

There are several initiatives, for example, the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) project launched in 1999 by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. The other is the Water Efficient Maize for Africa being undertaken by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, whose main objective is to make drought-tolerant maize available royalty free to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: How successful have these initiatives been? 

A: The IRMA project has resulted in the release of more than 50 new cultivars, which are now grown on at least one million hectares in southern Africa.

By working in partnership with local communities and by replicating the poor conditions found in farmers’ fields, the approach was tailored to meet the needs of poor farmers who had not previously benefited from conventional breeding programmes.

At the same time, insect-resistant maize greatly increases farming efficiency since insect control is available for the cost of only the seed. In addition, research on developing resistant varieties provides 100- to 300-fold greater returns on investment than research to develop insecticides.

Another successful project is the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement for Sorghum and Millets project … [which] seeks to improve the livelihoods of at least 60,000 smallholder farm households in West and Central Africa and 50,000 in East and southern Africa, who depend on sorghum and millet for food and income.

Q: What of the challenges?

A: These projects have faced several challenges. The private sector has little incentive to provide seeds to smallholder farmers due to high transaction costs, and systems for the certification and distribution of seeds are poorly developed.

There is lack of access to the improved technologies and insufficient knowledge regarding the technologies, high costs associated with the improved seeds, and poor linkage to markets.

Furthermore, [government and non-government] extension has failed due to inadequate human resources…, while government and NGO [extension officers] stress lack of resources to mobilise communities, and poor communication with researchers leads to information distortion.

Q: What about CGIAR’s financial commitment to innovations in agriculture? 

A: Investment in agricultural research must increase substantially if it is to have a sizeable impact on global poverty and hunger. The implicit budget request in the existing portfolio of 15 of the CGIARs’ research programmes was around 790 million dollars for the first year [2011], with an annual increase of around 100 million dollars for the first three years. Following this trend, close to one billion dollars will perhaps be committed in 2014.

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Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal Thu, 10 Apr 2014 09:04:56 +0000 Ignatius Banda Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest.

But Zondo is not a communal farmer somewhere deep in the rural areas. She is one of the many residents in Bulawayo’s high-density urban suburbs who have taken to farming vacant plots of land here after last year’s unexpected rains filled rivers, destroyed dams and claimed lives.

In the residential suburbs of Tshabalala, Sizinda and Nkulumane, here in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, vacant plots of land are flourishing with maize. "It's a self-regulating mechanism, and for the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal." -- Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher

Like many here, Zondo had always dabbled in farming. But her maize crop always failed because of successive poor rains. Last year’s heavy, unexpected rains provided the right conditions for planting.

“I have never harvested this much maize crop,” Zondo, who is from Nkulumane, told IPS.

“I expect to produce more than 100 kilograms of mealie meal [course flour made from maize] from my maize field,” Zondo estimated.

Other residents farming on vacant plots also expect to harvest a bountiful crop this season. But there are no guarantees that Zondo, or any of the other residents who have taken to farming, will be tilling the same piece of land next season.

This is because the land is owned by the local municipality. And Zimbabwe’s bylaws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

“We are aware people are farming on undesignated areas but we also must make humanitarian considerations. People need food and we know not everyone can afford mealie meal,” a Bulawayo city councillor, who himself planted maize on a vacant municipal plot, told IPS.

“Most of the land is reserved for residential homes, which means these farming activities are not permanent,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), while acknowledging that urban agriculture is illegal in many countries, estimates that more than 800 million people around the world practice urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity.

FAO says the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion, with the “urban poor particularly being vulnerable.”

Under its Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture Growing Greener Cities project, FAO is working with governments in developing countries on “integrating horticulture into urban master development plans,” and this is what residents like Zondo could benefit from.

“We are always in constant fear of our crop being chopped down by the municipality. I am in a rush to harvest before anything like that happens,” Zondo said.

Regina Pritchett, global organiser for land and housing, and community resilience at the U.S.-based Huairou Commission, a global coalition of women in development and policy advocacy, says that while women are at the forefront of sustainable development, they are still bogged down by bureaucracy in accessing land.

“You need local solutions for women and access to land,” Pritchett told IPS.

However, experts note that this lack of formal ownership of small pieces of land could threaten livelihoods and food security in the long term in developing countries.

As increasing numbers of urban residents grow their own food, it could help cushion them against food shortages in Zimbabwe’s cities, says Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher at the University of Zimbabwe.

This southern African nation is already facing a food crisis. Last year it imported 150,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia in what experts say is a sign that local farmers are once again not going to meet demand.

According to the agriculture ministry, the country requires 2.2 million tonnes to meet its annual maize requirements.

“At the end of the day it’s simple arithmetic. Make urban farming totally illegal and people fail to plant their maize, which means [they will] starve. Or you can let them plant their own crop and you help reduce the number of people who need food assistance,” Mlilo told IPS.

“Residents already know which piece of land is theirs even without having titles to it. I am yet to hear residents fighting over land they allocated to themselves without municipality approval. It’s a self-regulating mechanism. For the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal,” he explained.

If globally women were given title deeds to land, it will help contribute to the sustainability of farming projects as owning resources provides some “incentive” for  women to continue farming, said Karol Boudreaux, a land expert with the Cloudburst Group, a U.S.-based think tank.

“Securing land rights can help deal with issues that range from food security and women’s economic empowerment,” Boudreaux told IPS.

For Zondo, however, the assurance that the her crop will not be destroyed by municipality’s police is enough.

“I have worked hard for this, imagine losing it,” Zondo said.

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Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

By Noor Ali
ISIOLO COUNTY, Kenya, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources.

“We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks and raids, lost almost all my animals to raids for them to only be wiped out by drought four years ago,” Wario told IPS.

Merti division lies in Isiolo County, in Kenya’s Eastern Province which stretches all the way to the country’s northern border with Ethiopia.

Kenya’s underdeveloped, vast and semi-arid north is plagued by prolonged and recurrent violent conflicts over resources, deadly cattle raids, and increased incidents of natural disasters like droughts and floods.“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house.” -- farmer Amina Wario

The African Development Bank’s Kenya’s Country Strategy Paper 2014 to 2018 indicates the region is the poorest in the country, with more than 74 percent of the population living in a desperate state of poverty.

“First we believed the El Niño phenomenon, flash floods, Rift valley fever and severe droughts [from the 1980s through to 2009] were a curse. Our people conducted rituals to prevent similar phenomena but it became more rampant,” Wario said. Emergency food aid offered little relief.

Although traditionally communities in Kenya’s arid regions have been pastoralists, over the years “the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalised households,” says a report by CARE International.

But Wario and his household can no longer be classified as vulnerable. He’s moved away from the livelihood of his forefathers and is currently one of a new generation of successful crop farmers in this far-flung, remote village in Merti division some 300 km north of the nearest established town of Isiolo.

His only regret is that he took so long to switch from pastoralism.

His first wife, Amina Wario, told IPS this change was thanks to the Merti Integrated Development Programme (MIDP), an NGO in the region which educates pastoralists and livestock owners on climate change resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

“We grow enough food for our family, relatives, traders and local residents. This farm produces watermelons, paw paws, onions, tomatoes, maize, and tobacco for us for sell to those with livestock and earn an average profit of Ksh 50,000 [581 dollars] a month,” Amina Wario told IPS.

The Wario family farm is partitioned by trenches of flowing water from the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is drawn by a pump.

Five years ago, the MIDP began teaching 200 families who had lost all their livestock to drought about alternative livelihoods.

Now, more than 2,000 families across Merti division, a region where people are predominantly pastoralists, are part of the programme.

At Bisan Biliku, a settlement 20km from Merti town, many wealthy former livestock owners are now farmers.

Khadija Shade, chairperson of the Bismillahi Women’s self-help group, said the community’s departure from pastoralism has empowered and emancipated people in Bisan Biliku.

Women are now innovators and the main breadwinners in their families, she said. The women’s group grows a wide variety of crops and also purchases livestock from locals, all of which is sold to a chain of clients in Isiolo County, central Kenya and the country’s capital, Nairobi.

She also runs an exclusive shop that sells women’s and children’s clothes, and perfumes.

“[Now] we have enough money but nowhere to keep the money safe. We need banking facilities. At the moment we travel far to use mobile phone banking,” she added. This is because there is no mobile network coverage in Bisan Biliku and locals are forced to travel to an area with coverage.

A respected clan elder in Bisan Biliku, who requested not to be identified, told IPS that after attending a series of seminars by the MIDP a few years ago, he sold some of his livestock, bought a truck and built two house in Isiolo town, the capital of Isiolo County. He rents out the houses and earns an additional income.

“From the seminars I learnt how to reduce risks and increase my income and lead a better life. Now I am obviously not at risk of being a poor man,” he said.

Abdullahi Jillo Shade from the MIDP told IPS that the project “has been embraced by many families in Merti [town], and the neighbouring settlements of Bisan Bilku, Mrara and Bulesa and Korbesa.”

“Our people are proud farmers and traders. They have changed the tidal wave. These days we have more trucks transporting food to the market in Isiolo town than trucks with relief food…” he said.

Others too are adapting to the changing climate in their own way.

Isiolo legislator Abdullahi Tadicha says decades of deliberate marginalisation and punitive policies have denied those in northern Kenya development funding and subjected communities to displacement, massive losses of wealth, and severe poverty.

However, money has now been set aside to assist communities.

“The Isiolo south constituency development fund committee has identified, prioritised and allocated funds to address food insecurity and disaster management, and to support families rendered poor by past drought, floods and conflicts,” he told IPS.

The constituency fund, he said, helped start the Malkadaka irrigation scheme on 400 hectares of land in Isiolo south in August. It supports 200 families whose livestock were wiped out by successive droughts and floods.

Yussuf Godana from the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform, a community-based organisation, told IPS that locals suffered the most during the recurrent droughts but said education has helped people accept that erratic and harsh weather trends are not a curse but a global crisis.

He said thanks to the community diversifying its livelihood and the reduced conflicts over resources, “this whole place is now covered with a green carpet of crops – it’s an oasis.”

Partners For Resilience (PFR) is an alliance of various associations including Netherlands Red Cross (lead agency) and CARE Netherlands. It is working in partnership with Kenya to empower communities, with a focus on educating people about disaster prevention and management, and strengthening the resilience of at-risk communities.

Abdi Malik, a PFR official working with the Kenya Red Cross, told IPS that the various adaptation programmes in the region have created relief-free food zones and recorded significant decreases in families seeking food and assistance with school fees.

These programmes, said Malik, have also changed how the Kenya Red Cross engages with the local communities. Now people only visit their office to seek support for various projects, unlike in the past when they camped outside for days waiting for relief food.

Amina Wario is optimistic that her family will never need aid again.

“Our family is now respected, from the proceeds from this farm we have constructed a house … and educated our children.

“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house,” she said happily.

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

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Africa’s Youth Not Lured by Unglamorous Farming Wed, 02 Apr 2014 10:10:17 +0000 Matthew Newsome A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia. Concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s youth - it’s largest workforce - in food production Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Matthew Newsome

Ketsela Negatu is the son of an Ethiopian goat farmer living close to the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 19-year-old has negative perceptions about the family profession after seeing the dim prospects a farming livelihood has offered his father. 

“I will go to the city and try and find work. I don’t know what I will do but I want to find a job that pays more money so I can live a good life,” he told IPS."We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs [for reliable power] are not met.” -- Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference

But Ketsela’s thinking is just like that of other young people on the continent as poor financial returns and unglamorous prospects of Africa’s rural economy are spurring young people to leave the fields and migrate to urban centres.

And concern is growing that not enough is being done to engage Africa’s largest workforce – its youth – in food production as they are key to safeguarding food security on the continent, eliminating hunger and accessing global food markets.

“There is not enough stimulus for young people to participate in agriculture in African countries. The young farmers need good prices for good products, otherwise we will lose them to the urban areas. Why should they do the hard work and stay poor,” Gebremedhine Birega, Ethiopian representative of the NGO East and South African Food Security Network told IPS.

The share of youth in Africa’s labour force is the highest in the world with approximately 35 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 40 percent in North Africa, compared to 30 percent in India, 25 percent in China and 20 percent in Europe. World Bank projections indicate that 60 percent of the world’s labour force growth will be in Africa between 2010 and 2050.

Although economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 6.3 percent in 2014, well above the global average, agricultural leaders at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) regional conference held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 29 agreed that prodigious growth is not translating fast enough into employment for Africa’s youth.

Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security, told IPS that increased commercialisation of agriculture will harness unemployed youth in rural Africa and create a productive and profitable agricultural sector. It will thus bolster food security and create decent income and employment opportunities for young people.

“We have to try and reverse the rural mentality that says farming is a last option. To prevent this loss of labour we need to look at how to improve the financial prospects of those who work in the agricultural sector.

“Private sector finance and agri-industries are helping to modernise agriculture by creating value adding chains that will pay a farmer more for his labour than the local market,” she said.

Economic growth on the continent, and the changing dietary trends of Africa’s emerging middle class, are also providing attractive and lucrative value chains for young agricultural producers to participate in, FAO director general José Graziano da Silva told IPS.

“There are emerging markets such as aquaculture where we are seeing good potential for growth. More investment in these growing markets will provide greater opportunities for youth employment,” he said.

Greater electrification of rural Africa is also expected to help retain the youth population in the countryside and satisfy an aspiration for a modern lifestyle that features telecommunication and Internet connectivity. Currently, less than 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural households have access to electricity.

Cheikh Ly, secretary of the FAO regional conference, told IPS that a major contributing factor behind the decision taken by young people to migrate to urban areas was the lack of electricity in rural Africa.

“Electrification is a key need for Africa’s rural economy. Modern agricultural production is not possible without reliable access to power. We will also lose the young who want to be connected and communicate via phones and the Internet if these needs are not met,” he told IPS.

Greater investment in African agriculture seemed a fait accompli when African leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique in 2003 to commit a minimum of 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and to lifting agricultural growth to six percent of GDP per annum by 2008.

However, of Africa’s 54 countries, only nine – Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, Cape Verde and Guinea – managed to uphold these commitments.

Low investment is causing low productivity and thwarting Africa’s agricultural sector, which employs close to 60 percent of Africa’s labour force but accounts for only 25 percent of the continent’s GDP. A deficit of political willpower from African leaders is delaying agricultural expansion on the continent, says Action Aid International’s David Adama.

“Empty words won’t feed empty stomachs. African governments must follow through on their promises and provide more money for agriculture and ensure it is better targeted to help the millions of smallholder farmers who make up most of their citizens and produce most of Africa’s food,” he told IPS.

The potential for the lucrative engagement of Africa’s youth in agriculture should be within grasp. Africa boasts over 50 percent of the world’s fertile and unused land, while foreign investment in African agriculture is expected to exceed 45 billion dollars in 2020, according to World Bank statistics.

However, Africa’s youth are yet to feel the pull of any new “agricultural renaissance” on the continent.

“I would stay and work in the countryside but only if things got better here; unless they do, I will leave for the city and see if there is something better,” Ketsela said.

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Brazilian Innovation for Under-financed Mozambican Agriculture Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:15:41 +0000 Amos Zacarias Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector.

Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings of Festival, a new strawberry variety originated in the United States.

Laldás produced seven tonnes of strawberries, employing eight workers. He sold all his produce in Maputo, and in January was the lead vendor in that market, because there was already a shortage of the fruit in South Africa, his main competitor.Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

“The fruit is very good quality, it does not require as many chemical products as the South African strawberries and its harvesting season is longer than the native variety that I was growing before,” he told IPS.

Laldás is the first Mozambican producer to benefit from Brazilian and U.S. aid through technical support to the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme (PSAL).

Created in 2012, the project brings together the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to expand production and distribution capabioities for fruit and vegetables in this African country.

First of all, studies were needed to adapt seeds to the local climate.

IIAM received more than 90 varieties of tomato, cabbage, lettuce, carrot and pepper, which are being tested at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, 25 kilometres from Maputo.

“The results of the trials are encouraging; we identified 17 varieties that have the desired phytosanitary characteristics, and are ready to be distributed to farmers.

“We are waiting for them to be registered and approved under the seal of Mozambique,” IIAM researcher Carvalho Ecole told IPS, regretting that his country has not registered new fruit and vegetable varieties for the past 50 years.

Fruit and vegetable growing is a key sector for generating employment and income among small farmers, as this produce represents 20 percent of family expenditure, according to Ecole.

“For a long time, horticulture was neglected. When talking about food security the government thought only about maize, sorghum and cassava,” Ecole said. Moreover, “our producers still do not have credit or financing,” he complained.

South Africa is the largest supplier of fruit and vegetables for southern Mozambique. IIAM figures show that prior to 2010, nearly all the onions, 65 percent of tomatoes and 57 percent of cabbages consumed in the cities of Maputo and Matola were South African. And those proportions have been maintained.

As a result, prices are high. A kilo of tomatoes costs between 50 and 60 meticals (between 1.60 and 2 dollars) and onions a little less. When the new varieties that have been tested are available for national small farmers, prices will be lower, Ecole said.

Mozambique also imports mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, strawberries and other fruit from South Africa.

“We need to train and empower local small farmers so that in the years to come they can produce enough to supply the domestic market,” José Bellini, EMBRAPA’s coordinator in Mozambique, told IPS.

Agricultural cooperation is the path chosen by Brazil, ever since the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government (2003-2011), to consolidate its development aid policy, especially in Africa.

Embrapa, a state body made up of 47 research centres located throughout Brazil and several agencies abroad, has worked to transfer part of the knowledge of tropical agriculture accumulated over its 41 years of existence to other countries of the developing South. Its office for Africa was installed in Ghana.

But Brazil’s presence in Mozambique became unequalled with the creation of ProSAVANA, the Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique, supported by the Brazilian and Japanese cooperation agencies (ABC and JICA, respectively), inspired by the experience that made the South American power a granary for the world and the largest exporter of soya.

The goal in the next two decades is to benefit directly 400,000 small and medium farmers and indirectly another 3.6 million, strengthening production and productivity in the northern Nacala Corridor.

Brazil is to build a laboratory for soil and plant analysis in the city of Lichinga. Embrapa is training IIAM researchers and modernising two local research centres.

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

Small farmers and activists are afraid that it will reproduce Brazilian problems, such as the predominance of agribusiness, monoculture, the concentration of land tenure and production by only a few transnational companies, in a country like Mozambique where 80 percent of the population is engaged in family agriculture.

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Supporting the PSAL makes sense in a very different way. It focuses on vegetable growing, and is clearly aimed at small producers and improving local nutrition. But it suffers from limitations of scale and resources.

“We cannot improve our production system without investment. We have taken a giant step, there is more research and technology transfer, but large investments are needed as well,” said Ecole.

Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

Thirty percent of the country’s population are hungry, according to 2012 figures from the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security. And nearly 80,000 children under the age of five die every year from malnutrition, according to Save the Children, an NGO.

There is no justification for these figures in Mozambique, which has a favourable climate and plentiful labour for large-scale agricultural production, Ecole said.

Namaacha illustrates the contradiction. It is the only district in the country that produces strawberries. It was able to supply the entire Maputo market, but many producers were bankrupted by lack of credit, said Cecília Ruth Bila, the head of the fruits section in IIAM.

“The small farmers find it difficult to get financing, and our banks do not help much, so producers give up,” she complained.

Nearly 150 strawberry farmers in Namaacha gave up growing them in the last five years because they lacked access to credit, according to information from the section.

Laldás is one of the few to continue. Perhaps that is why his dreams are so ambitious. This year he has asked for 150,000 seedlings to expand his growing area to three hectares, and meanwhile he is seeking financing to put in electricity, three greenhouses, an irrigation system and a small improvement industry.

“It will cost me a total of nearly six million meticals [nearly 200,000 dollars],” he said with optimism.

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

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Kenya’s Empty Bread Basket Mon, 10 Feb 2014 08:48:10 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Jane Njeri, from the semi-arid lower Mukurweini district in Kenya’s Central Province, and her five children have very little to eat because of the country’s current maize shortage. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Jane Njeri, from the semi-arid lower Mukurweini district in Kenya’s Central Province, and her five children have very little to eat because of the country’s current maize shortage. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

Jane Njeri from the semi-arid lower Mukurweini district in Kenya’s Central Province has taken to boiling wild roots to feed her five children.

Her children, all of whom are under the age of 10, are too young to understand why there is no food on the table.

“At night they refuse to sleep on an empty stomach so I tell them that I am boiling arrowroots. They know that arrowroots take a long time to cook, so they wait patiently until they eventually fall asleep beside the fading fire,” she told IPS.

According to the regional Drought Management Authority, lower Mukurweini has only been receiving 200 mm of annual rainfall, which has resulted in a dire food shortage.

But Mukurweini is not the only region in the midst of drought and food shortages. Arid areas are the most affected, particularly Turkana County in Rift Valley Province, where half of the residents – about 400,000 people – are facing starvation.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) says that in total at least one quarter of the 41 million people in this East African nation lack sufficient food and 1.7 million are under threat of hunger and starvation.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, aside from a few areas, no part of the country is food secure as this season’s harvest of maize – the country’s staple food – was not enough to feed the nation. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations says the country is short of about 10 million bags of maize and warned that the drought is expected to reach its peak in August.

But agricultural researchers like Professor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango have blamed an over reliance on rain-fed agriculture for the shortage.

According to the ministry of agriculture, less than seven percent of cropped land here is under irrigation and the government’s plan to place half a million hectares under irrigation, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas, has not made sufficient progress.

Abukutsa-Onyango, professor of horticulture at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, told IPS that in the arid Turkana County for instance, “the Todonyang irrigation scheme project, which was launched in 2009 and was meant to put 12,000 hectares of land under irrigation for agricultural production to solve food insecurity in the arid North Eastern Province, seems to have stalled.”

It’s a sad development as last September, the government discovered an estimated 250 billion cubic metres of freshwater – enough to supply the country for 70 years – in Turkana County.

Abukutsa-Onyango added that there was also too much focus on maize as a staple crop.

“We are not growing other crops such as sorghum, finger millet, arrow roots, yams and bambara nuts as well as indigenous fruits and vegetables which can grow easily in many parts of the country, creating alternative sources of food,” she said.

Food security expert Winnie Mapenzi told IPS that small-scale farmers, who produce three-quarters of the country’s food, have been unable to produce enough to feed the nation due to various challenges.

“They have little access to inputs and financial services, and poor infrastructure,” she said, explaining that this meant that smallholder farmers were unable to access markets to sell any surplus harvest. It also meant, she said, that they had “poor storage facilities which result in after-harvest losses.”

Limited financing to the agricultural sector has also been blamed for the poor food production. In 2003, Kenya was among the 53 African countries who signed the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme to accelerate growth and reduce mass poverty, food insecurity and hunger in Africa by allocating at least 10 percent of their national budget to agriculture. Oxfam International statistics show that only nine countries have met this threshold.

“Ten years later [since the 2003 agreement] Kenya has not managed to allocate at least 10 percent of its national budget to the ministry of agriculture,” Abukutsa-Onyango said.

In the 2012/13 financial year, the agricultural budget was 3.6 percent of the national budget, far below the 10 percent threshold. To bridge the gap, there has been an increased donor participation in the agricultural sector, according to ActionAid International Kenya.

Yet the ministry of agriculture has been unable to utilise the funds; only 61 percent of its budget from the previous financial year was spent.

Although KARI received less than one percent of the national budget, the research institute has continued to release a variety of drought-resistant crops. But these have had low adoptive rates among farmers because, Abukutsa-Onyango said, “the cost of hybrid seeds is beyond the reach of most farmers.”

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Resistance Over GMOs as South Africa Pushes Biotechnology Mon, 27 Jan 2014 17:17:43 +0000 Busani Bafana While Sophie Mabhena may be embracing the South African government’s policy to implement biotechnology in farming by growing genetically modified maize, anti-GM experts caution that this does not necessarily lead to food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

While Sophie Mabhena may be embracing the South African government’s policy to implement biotechnology in farming by growing genetically modified maize, anti-GM experts caution that this does not necessarily lead to food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MASOPANE, South Africa, Jan 27 2014 (IPS)

On a family farm tucked between the rolling hills of Masopane, 40 km outside of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, 35-year-old Sophie Mabhena is dreaming big about her crop of genetically modified (GM) maize.

“This is my dream and I know that I am contributing to food security in South Africa,” she told IPS.

Debate is raging here over the government’s policy to promote the cultivation of GM crops.

This month, South Africa launched a new bio-economy strategy, which the government says will boost public access to food security, better health care, jobs and environmental protection.

The new policy promotes multi-sector partnerships and increased public awareness on the benefits of biotechnology – including the use of GM crops.

Mabhena is growing GM maize on part of her family’s 385-hectare Onverwaght Farm because she says the transgenic maize has saved her 218 dollars a season in dealing with pests and weeds.

“Growing stack maize has reduced my costs in terms of pesticides and labour, but the major benefits are the good yields and income from growing this improved variety of maize,” Mabhena said from Onverwaght Farm where, this season, she expects to harvest up to seven tonnes of maize per hectare.

In-built insect resistance (Bt) maize has been grown in South Africa for the last 15 years, but not without opposition from anti-GM activists.

The benefits of GM maize that Mabhena speaks of are not shared by Haidee Swanby, research and outreach officer at the Africa Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which has been on the forefront of spirited campaigns against GM food in South Africa.

Swanby said that GM technology fits into a concentrated farming system, which requires large volumes based on economies of scale, but does not provide livelihoods or healthy, accessible food for ordinary South Africans.

“We need to take a step back and look at our food system in its entirety and decide what system is equitable, environmentally sound and will provide nutritious food for all,” Swanby told IPS.

“The system in which genetically modified organisms [GMOs] fit can’t do that. Apart from the technological failure – for example, the development of resistant and super weeds – adopting this technology leads to the concentration of power, money, land in the hands of the very few and does not necessarily lead to food security.”

Swanby said it was deeply ironic that controversial research on GM maize by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini from France’s University of Caen was ripped apart by regulators, while approvals to allow GMOs in the South African food system have been based on what she calls “un-peer reviewed science that is very scant on detail.”

A 2012 study by Seralini and his research team linked GM maize to cancer. The study has since been dismissed for failing to meet scientific standards by the European Food Safety Authority, a body responsible for reviewing the use and authorisation of GMOs.

“Very rarely do we see information on how many animals were used, for how long, what they were fed and a full analysis of the results. Why has Monsanto’s [an agricultural company and manufacturer of GM maize] research not been submitted to the same kind of scrutiny as Seralini?”

ACB’s recent report, “Africa Bullied to Grow Defective Bt Maize: The Failure of Monsanto’s MON810 Maize in South Africa”, states that Monsanto’s Bt maize failed hopelessly in South Africa as a result of massive insect resistance only 15 years after its introduction into commercial agriculture.

“Today, 24 percent of South Africans go to bed hungry … but the biotech industry has habitually used yield as an indicator of success and this is too narrow and very misleading,” Swanby said.

The ACB argues that the safety of stacking genes is a new area of science whose long-term sustainability remained questionable and states that Bt technology was approved in South Africa before regulatory authorities had the capacity to properly regulate it.

But Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh, chief executive officer of AfricaBio, a biotechnology association based in Pretoria, told IPS that the GMO Act was passed in 1997 and before then GM crops were regulated under the Agricultural Pests Act.

“Farmers are business people. If it is so difficult or unprofitable to grow Bt maize why is almost 90 percent of our maize based on biotechnology? Surely, if South African farmers found GM maize so difficult to manage why haven’t they rushed back to the old maize varieties of the past?” asked Obokoh.

In 2011 and 2012, 2.3 million hectares and 2.9 million hectares, respectively, of GM crops were grown in South Africa by both small-scale and commercial farmers.

“Food security is a prime right and biotechnology offers one of the many available solutions,” Obokoh said. “While South Africa is without doubt food secure as a country, we still suffer from food insecurity at household level because of high costs of food and poor incomes. This is where biotechnology is complementing and not competing against conventional farming.”

Anti-GM activist and the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, Jeffrey Smith, told IPS via email that bundling herbicide-tolerant GM crops with herbicide use was in conflict with farming. He cited the diversion of much-needed research dollars into development of expensive GMOs and away from more appropriate technologies

“The GMO advocates have also promoted the myth that crop productivity, by itself, can eradicate hunger,” said Smith, arguing that key international reports over the last 15 years describe how economics and distribution are more fundamental to solving this problem.

However, in November the African Science Academies urged African governments to invest heavily on biotechnology, declaring that biotechnology-enhanced tools and products can help Africa break the cycle of hunger, malnutrition and underdevelopment.

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Restoring Sight to Africa’s Gender-Blind Rice Sector Tue, 03 Dec 2013 06:53:43 +0000 Busani Bafana Throughout Africa, female rice farmers do not have access to improved technology like threshing machines and weeding tools. Credit Wambi Michael/IPS

Throughout Africa, female rice farmers do not have access to improved technology like threshing machines and weeding tools. Credit Wambi Michael/IPS

By Busani Bafana
NDOP, Cameroon, Dec 3 2013 (IPS)

For more than 20 years, Anastasia Ngwakun from Bamunkumbit village in central Cameroon has been farming rice the hard way – using only hand tools. But Ngwakun knows that if she were a man, she would have access to the technology that would not require her to work so hard.

“Rice farming is hard work, especially for a woman, because I am involved in the planting and processing using limited or no resources and tools, unlike the men folk in my village, who can easily get credit or have access to a tractor,” Ngwakun, who grows rice on a 1.5-hectare plot, told IPS.

“Women do not have access to land, and many times we farm plots that are owned by men, and they dictate where tractors are available, which plots are ploughed first, and that we can only plough after [they have first done so],” she added.

Ngwakun also does not have access to the use of threshing machines, which would save her from the labourious task of removing the rice husks by hand.

Rice production and processing would be easier for Ngwakun if she used improved technology like threshing machines, weeding tools and parboiling vessels, which can boil up to twice the amount of rice normal pots can. But Ngwakun, like many women in Cameroon and in the rest of Africa, does not have access to this.

Research by Africa Rice Centre, a pan-African rice research organisation, shows that compared to women, who statistically form the bulk of rice farmers in Africa, male rice farmers have greater and unequal access to resources, such as farming land, inputs, capital, equipment and knowledge.

These entrenched differences between female and male rice farmers are partially fuelled by local culture and economic considerations.

Afiavi Agbhor-Noameshie, a socio-agronomist and gender specialist at Africa Rice Centre, told IPS that there is a glaring absence of gender mainstreaming in the rice sector.

“Women are in all the activities of rice farming from seed to market, yet the available technologies are not made with them in mind,” she told IPS.

“There is need for drudgery reduction in the rice value chain by building awareness and getting the buy-in from men that when we talk about gender we are not talking about how to gather women or how to work with women but about equalisation of opportunities,” she added.

Currently, Africa is a net rice importer and consumes more than it produces. Last year, the continent spent five billion dollars importing 12 million tonnes of rice, the same amount it consumed, according to statistics from Africa Rice Centre.

Agbhor-Noameshie, Abdoulaye Kabore and Michael Misiko are co-authors of a reference book on rice in Africa titled “Realising Africa’s Rice Promise”.

In the book, the scientists say that despite the active involvement of both men and women in rice farming, processing and marketing, the gender perspective has not been appreciated or considered in development research.

Currently, Africa is a net rice importer and consumes more than it produces, however, there is a glaring absence of gender mainstreaming in the lcoal rice sector. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Currently, Africa is a net rice importer and consumes more than it produces. However, there is a glaring absence of gender mainstreaming in the local rice sector. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

But women should be consulted and considered in the development of rice farming in Africa, according to Nathalie Me-Nsope, an agricultural economist and gender specialist at the Global Centre for Food Systems and Innovations at Michigan State University.

“We cannot continue talking about farmers when we know that women are not a homogenous group because they face specific challenges that limit their production and the marketing of their produce, challenges which men do not face,” Me-Nsope told IPS.

“There are serious gender inequalities in the rice sector in Africa and specific efforts must be made to address these gender-based constraints as a result of roles, responsibilities and division of labour by doing a detailed analysis of what happening.”

Cisse Peinda Gueye, a rice seed grower from Senegal, says science research should help make rice farming less of a burden and more of an opportunity for women to be able to balance both farming and caring for their families.

“Rice quality is important for rice farmers and for customers who buy it. Science researchers should help in improving quality so that women meet the expectation of the market where they sell the rice,” Gueye told IPS.

Ngwakun agreed that women need to be given better access to resources.

“I would be a happy farmer, like male farmers, if I had the same access to resources such as better seed to produce more and better quality rice that will earn me more income. But for a woman farming rice, the struggle does not seem to end,” said Ngwakun.

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Malawi’s Failed Subsidy Programme Left Millions to Starve Wed, 20 Nov 2013 11:47:43 +0000 Mabvuto Banda This is one of the many farming families from Rumphi, Malawi that complained about the late arrival of subsidy fertilisers. Courtesy: Mabvuto Banda

This is one of the many farming families from Rumphi, Malawi that complained about the late arrival of subsidy fertilisers. Courtesy: Mabvuto Banda

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 20 2013 (IPS)

Gogo Munthali, from Rumphi, a village over 400 km north of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, dissolves into tears every morning as she worries about what to feed her five orphaned grandchildren, the youngest of whom has full blown AIDS.

“Samson may not be with me for long; he is on treatment and I can’t give him the food he needs,” she tells IPS of her HIV-positive grandchild who is four years old.

Munthali was among the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) when it was introduced some eight years ago by late President Bingu wa Mutharika.

About 1.6 million poor farmers were targeted and provided with two 50-kilogramme bags of inorganic fertilisers, hybrid and open pollinating maize seed at 50 percent less the standard price. The local village headman identified beneficiary families, and priority was given to households headed by children and women.

Nationwide, the results were phenomenal. Maize output more than doubled in the first two years from an average of 1.06 tonnes per hectare from 2000 to 2005, to 2.27 tonnes per hectare from 2009 to 2010. This pushed GDP growth to an average 7.4 percent, higher than the World Bank recommended rate of six percent for sub-Saharan Africa.

Inflation slid into single digits and food security at household level also improved.

But today, the 65-year-old widow is desperately poor. She is unable to produce the crop yields she previously did.

“Fertiliser, for the last four years, has been arriving late after the first rains … I have had to plant my crop three weeks late and this has reduced my harvest drastically,” she says.

Rumphi, in Northern Region, is one of the country’s biggest producers of maize and tobacco. But this year, it is one of the 21 districts out of 28 nationwide that are affected by hunger. According to the government, 14.3 percent of the population of about 16 million will need food aid. Delayed arrival of subsidy fertilisers, poor access to financial services and markets, and unfavourable weather has compromised yields in Rumphi.

Mary Juma’s story is no different. “We got so used to waiting for cheap fertilisers every year but now things have changed. [One day] we are beneficiaries, the next day we are not,” she says from Dedza district hospital in Malawi’s Central Region. When the FISP fertiliser was delivered to her area, it was well below the required amount and many families who qualified for the subsidy did not receive any.

Her husband decided to borrow money from a revolving fund to purchase fertilisers at the full price. But a prolonged dry spell destroyed their crop, leaving them 400 dollars in debt. Tensions between Juma and her husband worsened when she gave birth to their third daughter and she says she left her abusive husband shortly thereafter.

The untold stories of Munthali and Juma offer a glimpse into how FISP has failed to change the status of most poor farmers in this southern African nation, 70 percent of whom are women.

This is a failure that very few here want to talk about because FISP has always been reported as having a positive impact.

“The story of FISP since it was launched has always been about how it has helped reduce poverty … no one has bothered to find out what has really happened to the poor farmers being targeted. Are they well-off or life has become unbearable for them?” says Chris Chisoni, national secretary for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which conducted a study in 19 districts to find out the impact that corruption in the FISP had on poor farmers last year.

“We discovered that those entrusted with the responsibility of selling the inputs are asking the poor farmers to pay more than the K500 (two dollars), which is the recommended subsidy price, forcing many who cannot afford to do without,” Chisoni tells IPS

Wide scale corruption within FISP has played a huge part in the failure to change the lives of many farmers.

An investigation into the programme by Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), conducted in 2007, which has not been publicly released but was seen by IPS, shows that the FISP nearly collapsed in 2005 after a preferred supplier from Saudi Arabia failed to deliver 70,000 mega tonnes of fertilisers on time.

ACB found former Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe abused his office when he disregarded advice not to award the contract to supply fertilisers to a Saudi Arabian firm.

Gondwe, according to ACB findings, went ahead and awarded the contract to the company, which only managed to supply half of contracted fertiliser and which resulted in a loss of 6.8 million dollars for the country.

Gondwe, a former International Monetary Fund vice president for Africa, denies the allegations of wrongdoing.

“The recommendation was that I abused my office but [the ACB] never proved if I had received any kickbacks as claimed. I dared them to take me to court if they had anything that could hold in the courts but they failed and therefore I was cleared,” he tells IPS.

“President Mutharika dropped me from cabinet to allow for the investigations to take place and he was not convinced with what they [the ACB] found and he reappointed me to his cabinet.”

However, since no one was punished from the alleged misconduct, delays in the delivery of fertilisers have now become the norm.

The report shows that the initial late delivery of fertilisers set the trend for how this southern African nation was to procure fertilisers over the next eight years.

Overall, during the course of the FISP, many targeted farmers began receiving their fertilisers much later in the season, resulting in low yields.

In many cases contracts are awarded to companies with links to the ruling elite and have no capacity fulfil their contracts.

Early this year, current President Joyce Banda, promised to act and she did. The Ministry of Agriculture disqualified suppliers, both local and international, who were delivering the inputs late. This year, many companies have been disqualified and removed as prequalified bidders to supply fertilisers because they failed to pass the due diligence and other new stringent measures recently put in place.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Jeffrey Luhanga blames the former government for fuelling corruption that in the end affected the poor farmers.

“This is a good programme with good intentions but failure to rid corruption has ended up in some bad results for the programme and punished farmers and made others rich,” he tells IPS.

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