Inter Press Service » Africa’s Young Farmers Seeding the Future Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 29 Aug 2014 21:21:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 Fabiola 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 Fabiola 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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Protecting Tanzania’s Farmers from Weather Extremes Thu, 14 Nov 2013 09:22:12 +0000 Kizito Makoye Local farmers from Kiroka village receive instruction from the Morogoro district agriculture field officer Edith Kija (in light blue shirt) instructs farmers on how to detect Yellow Mottle virus disease on rice paddies. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Local farmers from Kiroka village receive instruction from the Morogoro district agriculture field officer Edith Kija (in light blue shirt) instructs farmers on how to detect Yellow Mottle virus disease on rice paddies. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
MOROGORO, Tanzania, Nov 14 2013 (IPS)

When Habiba Msoga from Kiroka village, in Tanzania’s Morogoro Region, first began applying a method of rice cultivation that was different from what her fellow farmers traditionally used, they laughed at her.

But now three years later, as she falls asleep each night in her newly built brick home that will soon have electricity, she could not be happier.

“When I started some people were laughing at me because they thought it was impossible to grow rice without flooding the field. But I have proved them wrong. My harvests now are just too much,” the 37-year-old mother of three told IPS.“Despite the bad weather, my income has increased a lot since I started practicing these techniques. I can now pay for my children fees and foot their medical bills.” -- Muhidini Kigadu, a farmer from Kiroka village

In this remote village, which is located about 218 km from Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam, people knew little of alternative farming techniques until the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the local Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) started a project to introduce climate smart agricultural techniques three years ago.

Only Msoga and 267 others – a fraction of the village’s almost 3,000 farmers – joined the project as not everyone was keen to embrace the System of Rice Intensification or SRI. It is a cultivation technique that involves transplanting eight- to 10-day-old paddy seedlings instead of waiting the usual 20 days to do so. Because of the reduced water supply here, the new technique was a godsend to Msoga.

The Mahembe Mwaya and Kiroka Rivers are the main sources of water for Kiroka village. And in the past they used to flow throughout the year. But because of reduced rainfall over the years, these rivers became seasonal, and the dwindling water supply has affected the farmers here.

So SRI eliminated the necessity of Msoga having to submerge her paddy fields underwater as people here traditionally do.

Tanzania has a complex climate with wide variations of temperature and rainfall distribution. But according to the Economics of Climate Change study commissioned this year by the government, the minimum and maximum temperatures in Tanzania have increased over the last 30 years. And rainfall patterns have become erratic, with most areas receiving less than 500 mm a year compared to 1,000 mm a year previously.

This has impacted this East African nation’s farmers who constitute 80 to 90 percent of the population of almost 48 million, as they largely depend on rainfed agriculture. Tanzania’s agriculture sector accounts for 30 percent of its GDP of 28 billion dollars.

The government estimates that average maize yields could decrease by 16 percent by 2030 — a loss of around one million tonnes per year — and by 25 to 35 percent by 2050.

But farmers like Msoga know that they can now survive amid the reduce rainfall. Soon after applying SRI, Msoga began harvesting more than triple her usual yield, increasing it from two bags of rice to seven. Now she sells the surplus and uses the money she makes to improve her quality of life.

“I have built my own house using the money I got from selling rice,” said Msoga, who is in the final stages of installing electricity in her new home.

“It cost me about 1,935 dollars to finish this house,” she added.

“We are aiming to work together with local populations in Tanzania on how best they can identify crop varieties, which are suitable for drier circumstances,” FAO’s Tanzania representative Diana Tempelman told IPS.

She explained that FAO was also promoting conservation agriculture in Tanzania in order to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration in the soil.

“Conservation agriculture is a very important technique to reduce the impact of climate change since it reduces the need for weeding and breeding,” she observed.

Conservation agriculture is a resource-efficient crop production practice involving minimum or even zero mechanical disturbance of the soil, keeping the soil covered at all times and using diversified crop rotation. In addition, the use of pesticides is reduced or avoided and biological control is encouraged.

The FAO project has, according to Henry Mahoo, a professor of agricultural engineering majoring in soil and water conservation at SUA, helped farmers in this village to adapt to changing conditions. A baseline survey conducted by SUA in February 2012 indicated that 95.5 percent of 2,688 farmers in Kiroka were aware of the changes in climate.

“With SRI production [a farmer’s yield] can increase by four times. Last year, we had a farmer who produced 11.6 tonnes per hectare,” Mahoo told IPS.

Mahoo, who is also the soil and water management coordinator on this project, explained that areas in central and southern Tanzania that now receive rainfall would be arid within 50 years.

“We need to prepare for this future scenario,” said Mahoo.

Muhidini Kigadu, 48, a veteran farmer from Kiroka, feels equipped to deal with the future.

Kigadu is using multiple methods to deter soil degradation that he learned through the training, which include the digging of contour ridges and terraces to protect crops from soil erosion. This season he harvested over 50 bags of rice per hectare after using SRI.

“Despite the bad weather, my income has increased a lot since I started practicing these techniques. I can now pay for my children’s fees and foot their medical bills,” the father of four told IPS.

And Msoga appears confident that despite the reduced rainfall she will be able to care for her family.

“I am now planning to start a poultry farm to diversify my income,” she said.

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Seeding Ethiopia’s Future Food Security Mon, 07 Oct 2013 07:49:50 +0000 Ed McKenna A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

A farmer in Woliyta area of Ethiopia experiences higher yields of taro since adopting disease-resistant and drought-tolerant seed varieties. Agricultural research centres in Ethiopia are cross-pollinating root and tuber seeds to produce higher yielding plant material. Credit: Ed McKenna/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 7 2013 (IPS)

Datta Dudettu and his seven children know what is like to go hungry. They live in Woliyta, a drought-prone area in southern Ethiopia that has experienced chronic food shortages. But hopefully, thanks to the successful use of hybrid seed, that is now firmly in the past.

“It was common to experience chronic food shortages due to drought or crop disease. My children were even too weak to go to school,” Datta told IPS.

Datta and a number of other farmers in this Horn of Africa nation are experiencing improving food and livelihood security since the introduction of hybrid seed here.

In 2013 hybrid seed trials became long-term strategies to reduce hunger for major agricultural organisations here including NGO Self Help Africa and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Improved seed varieties are produced by cross-breeding seeds from open pollinated varieties [self-producing] to obtain the best traits to create a high-yielding seed; whereas Genetically Modified seeds require the introduction of an organism’s genes into a plant’s genome to achieve desired traits,” John Moffett, director of policy at Self Help Africa, told IPS.

Improved hybrid seeds deliver benefits to smallholder farmers without the dangers that come with GM, said Moffett. “We are concerned that the introduction of GM crops could have an impact on the genetic integrity of open pollinated varieties with negative impacts on farmers reliant on saved seed,” he said.

Ethiopia currently prohibits the use of GM crops.

“The old seeds gave us a small crop. But the new seeds consistently provide us with a much better harvest every year … Since our increased yield they have more energy to attend and get an education,” said Datta who produces tuber crops.

In 2010, the FAO initially gave him 100 kgs of improved taro seeds from which he was able to harvest 800 kgs.

Three out of every four Ethiopians are engaged in agriculture, mainly in subsistence and rain-fed farming. Despite this, more than 31 million out of a total population of 91 million do not have adequate nutritious food in their diet according to the FAO.

The Ethiopian government is trying to transform the country’s agricultural sector through the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA).

ATA believes “not all seeds are created equal” and has been investing in improved, higher-quality, higher-yielding seeds as a strategy to raise productivity on many Ethiopian smallholder farms.

“High-potential seed varieties can double or even triple a farmer’s yield, which would certainly translate into increased food security on a regional and national scale. It would also lead to savings on foreign exchange – if Ethiopia can grow a higher volume of its own food, there’s less need to import goods at higher costs,” Yonas Sahelu, director of ATA’s Seed Programme, told IPS.

FAO has been working to help farmers in remote villages access the latest scientific research into improved crop varieties by collaborating with Ethiopia’s agricultural research centers for the multiplication and distribution of improved varieties of seeds.

Between 2009 and 2012, the organisation pioneered a three-year trial of improved seed varieties in 12 food insecure districts throughout the country in a bid to boost food security and the household income of small farmers.

The project replaced seeds that farmers normally used with improved seed varieties. According to FAO, 144,000 targeted rural households benefited from the improved high yielding and drought- and disease-resistant seeds. This year, the intervention was established as a leading programme.

“Seed security is food security,” project leader and FAO agricultural expert, Wondimagegne Shiferaw, told IPS.

“We are targeting large poor farming families who don’t have access to improved seeds to grow cassava, sweet potato and enset. Our aim has been to help farmers overcome barriers to access these seeds to increase their productivity and resilience when faced with drought and poor soil,” Wondimagegne said.

He added that the organisation was also providing training to local farmers.

“Improved seeds and improved knowledge,” he said.

Knowledge sharing between farmers plays a major role in community food security. Wondimagegne says that the initiative’s targeted farmers have shared their new seeds, which has increased knowledge transfer exponentially and created “a multiplication effect”.

“There is a good cultural practice of farmers sharing with friends and relatives. We have observed that farmers share the knowledge and the planting material without any imposition.”

Self Help Africa has established 15 improved seed-producing cooperatives in Ethiopia this year with a current membership of 625 smallholder farmers in Ethiopia’s third-largest state, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

The cooperatives are now responsible for meeting 15 percent of the region’s wheat seed  demand – Ethiopia is currently a net importer of the cereal grain.

“Typically, farmers repeatedly use saved seeds from one season to the next, which tends to reduce the genetic quality of the seed resulting in diminishing yields over time. By giving farmers control of quality assured seed production they have greater confidence of a sustainable supply chain that will lead to improved yields and improved food security,” Moffett said.

The NGO One Acre Fund distributes improved seeds to over 130,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. Stephanie Hanson, director of policy at the fund, told IPS that their farmers have doubled their income per planted half hectare.

“Distributing improved seed varieties to smallholder farmers, when paired with training on how to use them, is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase a farmer’s productivity,” she said.


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Africa’s Farmers Seek Private Money Sun, 08 Sep 2013 07:09:16 +0000 Busani Bafana Sweetpotato breeder Jose Ricardo in Maputo Mozambique. Africa currently imports almost 40 billion dollars worth of food, and experts say that the continent needs to become more self-reliant. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Sweetpotato breeder Jose Ricardo in Maputo Mozambique. Africa currently imports almost 40 billion dollars worth of food, and experts say that the continent needs to become more self-reliant. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MAPUTO, Sep 8 2013 (IPS)

Africa currently imports almost 40 billion dollars worth of food a year, but it should implement measures to attract private sector investment in agriculture in order to reduce its food import bill and increase its self-reliance, experts in the sector tell IPS.
“In the next 10 years, African countries should not rely on food aid, but should produce their own food and buy from within Africa when they run out of food,” agriculture researcher and director of the Barefoot Education for Africa Trust, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, told IPS."The biggest trick is the private sector putting more money into agriculture. There is nowhere in the world today where you can get the government or industry moving if government and the private sector are not working together." -- agriculture researcher, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni

“Food self-reliance means wealth creation and farmers should be directly linked to markets. More people will have more money in their pockets if more smallholder farmers are farming profitably, and this can be done,” Rukuni said.

African countries, according to an Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) African Agriculture Stats Report launched in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, on Sep. 4, produced 157 million tonnes of cereals and imported 66 million tonnes in 2010. In August, the Forum for Africa Research in Africa put the continent’s current food import bill at more than 40 billion dollars, money it said would be better spent enabling African farmers to become self-sufficient.

African heads of state and government committed themselves to improving agricultural and rural development in Africa in the Maputo Declaration of 2003. It includes the ambitious goal of governments allocating at least 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture and rural development.

But in the last 10 years, only a few of the 54 African Union (AU) member states have made this investment. These include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal. A further 27 have developed formal national agriculture and food security investment plans under compacts. Compacts are a result of country roundtables that bring together key players in agriculture to agree on investment priorities.

Currently one of the few countries prioritising investment in agriculture is Nigeria. In that West African nation, the government developed the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), which seeks to reduce the risk in the agricultural finance value chain by building long-term capacity and institutionalising incentives for agricultural lending. The goal of NIRSAL is to expand bank lending in the agricultural value chain.

Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development Akinwumi Adesina told IPS that Nigeria was leveraging 3.5 billion dollars for agriculture from local banks. The government is shouldering the risk in a bid to attract the participation of the private sector.

“We are developing an approach for the private sector to have access to finance because without finance you cannot do much,” Adesina told IPS. “We are working on new financing instruments that will allow our capital markets to work for agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 44 percent of our GDP and 70 percent of all employment but it has only two percent of all bank lending in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, Rukuni told IPS that while most African countries have not been able to commit 10 percent, they have seen the wisdom of doing so.

“Although 10 percent is a nice figure to talk about, it is not a magic figure. What is more important moving forward is catalytic public financing, where government, its experts, farmers and private sector work together and really understand here it is important for government to invest to trigger private sector investment,” Rukuni said.

Citing China, India and Brazil as examples of public-private partnerships at work, Rukuni said it was time for Africans to understand that there is no competiveness in agriculture without governments and the private sector setting joint targets in infrastructural development, for instance.

“The biggest trick is the private sector putting more money into agriculture,” he said. “There is nowhere in the world today where you can get the government or industry moving if government and the private sector are not working together.”

The AGRA report notes that despite having over 70 percent of prime uncultivated land, land holdings in Africa continue to shrink. This shrinkage has impacted on the productivity of the 33 million smallholder farmers responsible for up to 90 percent of the continent’s agricultural output.

The alliance estimates that a one percent growth in agriculture will increase the income of the poor by more than 2.5 percent, yet only 0.25 percent of bank lending in the Common Market for the Eastern and Southern Africa region goes to smallholder farmers.

AU Commissioner responsible for agriculture and rural development, Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, told IPS that investment in African agriculture has become more urgent than before and this was reflected in the political movement towards the development of national agriculture plans as proposed under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) framework of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty.

“The 70 percent of the population who depend on agriculture is a big figure, so if we focus on improving the situation of this 70 percent, poverty will be eradicated. We do not want a situation where the economies are growing but agriculture is not,” she said.

In a March 2013 report, “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness”, the World Bank projected African agriculture would top a trillion dollars in 2030 on the back of increased domestic and international demand for food. The bank also urged African governments to improve their agriculture policies and promote agribusiness as a driver of growth.

Abraham Sarfo, agriculture, technical and vocational education advisor at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, told IPS that agriculture used to be part of dual development planning but was now on the continental agenda through the Africa-driven CAADP agenda of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty through agriculture.

“A sector that contributes over 30 percent of the economy of a country and is still at subsistence level shows how it is underdeveloped compared to mining or ICT that attract the private sector,” Sarfo told IPS. He called for the increase of innovative financing models that will remove risk in agriculture investment to attract the private sector.

Phillip Kiriro, president of the East Africa Farmers Federation, which represents about 200 farmer bodies told IPS that access to critical inputs and better technologies has slightly improved in the last 10 years but governments still need to help farmers live off their land.

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Slum Farmers Rise Above the Sewers Fri, 09 Aug 2013 08:40:33 +0000 Miriam Gathigah Alice Atieno attends to her vegetables, right on the doorstep of her shanty in Kibera slum. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Alice Atieno attends to her vegetables, right on the doorstep of her shanty in Kibera slum. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 9 2013 (IPS)

Tucked deep in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera slum is the shanty that Alice Atieno calls home. It is just one among many small, badly-lit shacks built close together in this crowded slum where an estimated one million people live on about 400 hectares.

But right on her doorstep stalks of green leafy vegetables grow in soil-filled sacks. For the mother of six, these kale plants are the source of her livelihood.

Her children have learnt to go about their play without knocking the plants over. “Children in the slum understand hunger, they stay clear of the plants. They know that it’s where their food comes from,” Atieno tells IPS.

This is urban farming for slum dwellers. “I grow seedlings in sacks filled with soil. I usually grow vegetables like kales, spinach, sweet pepper and spring onions,” Atieno says.

According to Map Kibera Trust, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to improve the participation of Kiberan residents in policy processes by providing them with information, sack farming increases weekly household income by at least five dollars and can produce two or three meals per week.

“This is significant since the average household earns between 50 and 100 dollars per month,” economist Arthur Kimani tells IPS.

Statistics from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute show that more than 10 million of this East African nation’s total population of 40 million are food-insecure – the majority of whom live on food relief. For these, sack farming is proving to be a much-needed solution.

Kiama Njoroge, an agricultural extension officer in Central Kenya, says that sack farming is healthy and costs little, since the materials are readily available and the low-labour way of producing wholesome foods is simple.

“Foods grown in a sack are also free of chemicals,” he tells IPS.“Children in the slum understand hunger, they stay clear of the plants. They know that it’s where their food comes from.” -- Kibera sack farmer Alice Atieno

Peris Muriuki, a sack farmer, agrees. “One sack costs about 12 cents, some farmers buy the soil for close to a dollar but most of us just collect it from where we live. Stones are readily available, on the roads, and can even [be found on] construction sites,” Muriuki tells IPS.

Courtney Gallaher is an assistant professor at Michigan State University researching food systems and sustainable agriculture. Her research on urban agriculture in Kibera reveals that “most households in Kibera spend 50 to 75 percent of their total income on food. Sack farming can generate about 20 to 30 dollars in revenue per month for farmers that sell some of their vegetables, excluding water expenses.”

“Urban slum areas have become notorious for sewer farming, placing unsuspecting consumers at great risk for diseases such as cholera, amoeba, typhoid and even cancer,” Patrick Mutua, a public health expert with the Ministry of Health tells IPS.

According to the Ministry of Health, Kenya’s under-five mortality rate is about 77 deaths per 1,000 live births. In local urban slums, however, it is 151 per 1,000 live births. Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of these deaths.

“The sewers that these farmers use comes from industries and contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury, placing consumers at risk of cancer and kidney failure,” Patricia Mwangi, another public health expert, tells IPS.

“Not only does exposure to lead interfere with the development of the nervous system, it can also lead to permanent learning and behaviour disorders,” Mwangi says.

But unsuspecting Kenyans have been consuming foods rich in such heavy metals. Some of these foods have been grown by Kibera resident Fenice Oyiela.

Showing great tolerance for the stinging stench of open sewers, and oblivious to the health implications, Oyiela uses her bare hands to direct sewer water through the narrow troughs she has dug in her land.

Oyiela, who has been growing vegetables such as kale, African amaranth and arrowroot at a sewer line adjacent to the Kiberana slums, says that her market base is overwhelming.

“There are days I sell up to 10 bags of vegetables. Lorries collect them from me to take to Nairobi’s leading food markets such as Marikiti, Gikomba and Muthurwa,” Oyiela tells IPS.

The Ministry of Agriculture statistics for 2010 show that of the 30 percent of Nairobi residents engaged in urban farming, the majority use sewer water.

Consequently, sack farming is emerging as a solution, especially among those with no land on which to farm.

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Smallholders Feed a Nation as Land Reform Fails Tue, 23 Jul 2013 18:47:26 +0000 Misheck Rusere Zimbabwe’s national grain reserves are filled with maize grown by smallholder farmers as the country’s commercial farmers produce way below expectation. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Zimbabwe’s national grain reserves are filled with maize grown by smallholder farmers as the country’s commercial farmers produce way below expectation. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

By Misheck Rusere
HARARE , Jul 23 2013 (IPS)

Moses Chiengerere is one of the Zimbabwe’s hundreds of thousands of smallholder maize farmers keeping this southern African nation’s granaries stocked with the grain.

“I make it a point that anything over 24 bags (about two tonnes) goes to the (government) Grain Marketing Board, so that I can get some cash. The prices are poor but the only advantage is that if you sell to them, you will get first preference to buy grain in the event of a drought,” he tells IPS, attributing his successful harvest to the use of cow dung as a compound fertiliser.

Small-scale farmers – who previously contributed slightly less than half of the 1.8 million tonnes of grain to the Grain Marketing Board’s national reserve annually – have been left to fill it almost entirely.

This is because Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers, most of whom are beneficiaries of the country’s controversial and violent land reform programme of 2000, are producing way below expectation, despite occupying the most productive land.

Under the programme more than 300,000 people forcefully occupied land previously owned and occupied by an estimated 4,000 white commercial farmers. They were also awarded the title deeds to the land.

But according to a report released in July by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, titled “National Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey”, commercial farmers contributed a paltry 15,6 percent to the national reserve last year.

In 1994, commercial famers, who farm plots of land ranging from six to 20 hectares, contributed 2.1 million tonnes of maize to the national reserve.

While there are no official figures about the number of smallholder maize farmers here, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU) estimates that there are six million smallholders farming on six hectares or less. Aside from maize, these smallholder farmers also harvest crops such as sorghum and millet.

Several reasons have been given by experts for the increased contribution by smallholder famers to the country’s grain reserves.

According to agricultural expert and executive director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Professor Sam Moyo, it is a direct result of the commercialisation of grain production by smallholder farmers who previously only grew the crop for survival.

And it has resulted in commercial farmers concentrating on other cash crops that give higher returns, he tells IPS.

“With new policies encouraging technology, extension services, new seeds and fertiliser to small-scale farmers, their production started growing.

“Since they also eat the crop, they have very high incentive to grow it. They are now competing very well with commercial famers,” says Moyo, adding that smallholder farmers occupy 65 to 70 percent of the country’s agricultural land.

Ted Mandizha from Mashonaland West Province is one of those farmers who grows the crop for his family’s survival and then sells any excess. He tells IPS that he keeps aside about 1.5 tonnes of his maize harvest for his family’s consumption, but usually sells two tonnes of his annual maize crop to the Grain Marketing Board.

Despite the ever-shortening seasons of rainfall, he is able to produce a bountiful crop. Mandizha believes that the use of seed designed for short seasons offers him an advantage.

“It is matter of using short-season variety seed and also drought-resistant seed. They all contribute to a better yield in this day and age of climate change,” says Mandizha, who has been farming for more than 20 years.

Planting his crop earlier in the season also makes a difference, he says.

“One of the tricks in ensuring that you get a better yield is to plant your crops earlier. That’s what I do, so that by the time the rains come, your crop is already advanced and sometimes it will use the underground moisture to mature. It is different from the old days when we used to have some longer rainfall seasons,” he says.

But while smallholder farmers like Mandizha are receiving support and subsidies, Moyo points out that government policies are unsupportive of commercial famers and fail to help them adapt to the changing trends in agriculture.

Moyo gave the example of Zambia, where a 50-kg bag of fertiliser that would normally cost around 40 dollars is sold at a subsidised price of about 10 dollars. However, in Zimbabwe, the same bag of fertiliser is sold at the market price of between 35 and 50 dollars. Moyo says these high prices make grain production unviable, and hence commercial farmers are moving to other crops like tobacco and horticulture.

ZFU director Paul Zakaria tells IPS that the gap between commercial and communal output is due to the commercial farmers’ inability to practise large-scale agriculture without proper resources.

“If you want to irrigate, you should have a pump that is working, you should have power, either diesel or hydro-electricity, you should have the financial capacity to do that. We all know that most of the people that were resettled on commercial farms (do not have these resources),” Zakaria says.


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Insuring Ghana’s Smallholder Farmers Against the Weather Thu, 18 Jul 2013 06:10:33 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah Large-scale farmer, Alhaji Alhassan Gunda Zakaria of the Gunda Producing Company in Tamale, northern Ghana holds up an agriculture insurance certificate from the Ghana Agriculture Insurance Programme. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

Large-scale farmer, Alhaji Alhassan Gunda Zakaria of the Gunda Producing Company in Tamale, northern Ghana holds up an agriculture insurance certificate from the Ghana Agriculture Insurance Programme. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
TAMALE, Ghana, Jul 18 2013 (IPS)

Smallholder farmer Suleman Mustapha Simbia, 40, is pleased with the introduction of an insurance initiative called the Ghana Agriculture Insurance Programme. The programme is being implemented in this West African nation to help farmers who had been suffering from loss of income as a result of the bad weather conditions that affect their yields. 

“I no longer think of losing my yield due to the low or high rainfall. My confidence and love for farming has grown. And this year, I have increased the number of acreages I cultivate from 1.2 to 2.4 hectares,” he told IPS.

The system is fairly straightforward. A farmer pays one-tenth of the total cost of their crops at the beginning of the farming season to GAIP. And if there is no rain for 12 consecutive days, the system triggers a payout.

This is the second year of its operation, and to date a total of 136 smallholder farmers received payouts on claims from the Ghana Agriculture Insurance Programme (GAIP) because of the drought in northern Ghana. While no exact figures are available for how much was paid out, the programme pays farmers depending on the size of their land and the amount they invested in inputs. On average, farmers who invest 150 dollars in inputs for half a hectare of land could be paid out between 200 to 300 dollars, depending on how severely they were affected by the weather.

But the scheme is dependent on automatic weather stations (AWS). AWS is a map-based system that records daily climatic data including wind, rainfall, relative humidity and temperature. The insurance programme uses data from AWS to ascertain when farmers are affected by the weather, and payouts are made based on this data.

Agro meteorologist at GAIP Evelyn Debrah told IPS that the programme benefits farmers by protecting them from the cost of production during extreme weather patterns and allows them to remain in production following the disaster.

“For example, if there are more than 12 consecutive dry days (less than 2.5 mm of rain) within 20 km of a GMet weather station, it will automatically trigger a payout to policy holders,” she said.

The initiative is funded by the German government under the Innovative Insurance Products for the Adaptation to Climate Change project. It is implemented through a public private partnership between the National Insurance Commission, the Ghana Insurance Association and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

But Simbia is concerned that not enough farmers are able to sign up to the insurance scheme as only those who cultivate crops within the vicinity of 18 existing AWS in the country’s Northern Upper West and Upper East Regions can do so.

“It is my fear that many farmers in the country, especially in Ghana’s north, who are vulnerable are not benefiting from the initiative due the challenge of limited weather stations,” he said.

For the past four years smallholder farmers in Ghana’s Northern, Upper West and Upper East Regions have been affected by low rains, which resulted in their most-cultivated crops like maize, rice and yams withering before they could mature.

Statistics from the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) indicate that across the country there has been a decline below the long-term mean of 6,550 mm, which was the normal rainfall pattern at the beginning of the 2000s.

Mathias Fosu, principal research scientist at the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute, told IPS that studies conducted by the institute indicate that climate change has impacted on rainfall patterns in the northern part of the country.

The amount of rainfall recorded annually varies between 800 mm and 1,600 mm. However, the rainfall trend for Tamale from the period 1960 to 2010 suggests a slight decrease in rainfall over the six decades, he said.

A 2012 survey conducted in 38 districts in the Northern, Upper West and Upper East Regions by the United Nations World Food Programme, with Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ghana Statistical Service, showed that food insecurity was rife in those areas.

The survey, titled the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, revealed that 140,000 people out of 680,000 interviewed were experiencing severe food insecurity, and women, mainly widows, headed the majority of these households.

The situation was attributed to general poverty and poor agriculture performance. A decline in crop production, low soil fertility and limited pesticide use and the lack of irrigation are some of the factors affecting this. The report recommended increased investment in adaptation measures to sustain agricultural production and make households resilient to climate change.

Simbia thinks GAIP and the government should do this by expanding the scope of the initiative from the current 18 automatic weather stations to cover a total of 50 districts in the three northern provinces.

But Debrah pointed out that the number of AWS had increased countrywide.

“In the last two years GIZ purchased and installed a total of 36 automatic weather stations for GMet … with the aim of helping GAIP improve and expand their service to famers,” Debrah said. She added that five additional AWS were purchased and installed by the Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement Programme, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, bringing the total to 41 AWS nationwide.

One large-scale farmer, Alhaji Alhassan Gunda Zakaria who owns and runs the Gunda Producing Company in Tamale, thinks that the insurance is a good thing.

Aside from farming himself, he provides farming inputs like seeds and fertiliser to smallholders on credit, which they pay back in produce at the end of the harvest season. Last year, he paid for the insurance for 20 of the smallholder farmers he works with, and this year he added 50 more.

Zakaria said he manages about 3,000 smallholder farmers in the region and he was one of the first beneficiaries of the insurance.

“I think I will have peace of mind to work because I will not need to worry much about low rains. I want to insure most of my farmers, but the worry now is the limited coverage of the weather stations in the region,” he told IPS.

Debrah said GAIP plans to develop and roll out a broad range of agriculture insurance products starting with Weather Index Insurance, whereby payouts are determined by rainfall levels during key phases of crop development.

“Banks are likely to expand their agriculture leading portfolios once the risk of default is reduced via locally relevant insurance products increasing their profitability in the process,” Debrah said.

“Insurance coverage will allow greater access to credit and inputs for more farmers and encourage greater investment in agriculture as farmers increase in confidence and aim to further commercialise their farming activities access to broader and even international markets,” she added.


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