Inter Press Service » Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 26 Dec 2014 17:02:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137787 School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Uganda Still Grapples with Inadequate Funds to Tackle Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:50:52 +0000 Prossy Nandudu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137507 A grieving Michael Kusolo and his wife Mary lost all their four children in the 2012 landslides on Uganda’s Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda’s Bududa District. Continuous rains in the eastern district of Bulambuli has left authorities fearing it could lead to mudslides and possibly deaths. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

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

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists like Bagoora.

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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Sustaining Africa’s Development by Leveraging on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:13:27 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137336 By leveraging knowledge on climate change, like adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march to sustainable development. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By leveraging knowledge on climate change, like adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march to sustainable development. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

By leveraging knowledge about climate change, through adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march towards sustainable development.

Policy and development practitioners say Africa is at a development cross roads and argue that the continent — increasingly an attractive destination for economic and agriculture investment — should use the window of opportunity presented by a low carbon economy to implement new knowledge and information to transform the challenges posed by climate change into opportunities for social development.

“Climate change is not just a challenge for Africa but also an opportunity to trigger innovation and the adoption of better technologies that save on water and energy,” Fatima Denton, director of the special initiatives division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS.

“At the core of the climate change debate is human security and we can achieve sustainability by using climate data and information services and feeding that knowledge into critical sectors and influence policy making.”

Africa, while enjoying a mining-driven economic boom, should look at revitalising the agriculture sector to drive economic development and growth under the framework of the new sustainable development goals, she said.

Denton said that for too long the climate change narrative in Africa has been about agriculture as a vulnerable sector. But this sector, she said, can be a game changer for the African continent through sustainable agriculture. In Africa, agriculture employs more than 70 percent of population and remains a major contributor to the GDP of many countries.

Climate-smart agriculture is being touted as one of the mechanisms for climate-proofing Africa’s agriculture. CGIAR — a global consortium of 15 agricultural research centres — has dedicated approximately half its one-billion-dollar annual budget towards researching how to support smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa through climate-smart agriculture.

When announcing the research funding in September, Frank Rijsberman, chief executive officer of CGIAR, said there can be no sustainable development or halting of the effects of climate change without paying attention to billions of farmers who feed the world and manage its natural resources.

Although Africa has vast land, energy, water and people, it was not able to feed itself despite having the capacity to.

The inability of Africa’s agriculture to match the needs of a growing population has left around 300 million people frequently hungry, forcing the continent to spend billions of dollars importing food annually.

Climate change is expected to disrupt current agricultural production systems, the environment, and the biodiversity in Africa unless there is a major cut in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report has warned that surpassing a 20C temperature rise could worsen the existing food deficit challenge of the continent and thereby hinder most African countries from attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) of reducing extreme poverty and ending hunger by 2015.

Economic and population growth in Africa have fuelled agricultural imports faster than exports of agriculture products from Africa, says the 2013 Africa Wide Annual Trends and Outlook Report (ATOR) published by the African Union Commission.

The report shows that the agriculture deficit in Africa rose from less than one billion dollars to nearly 40 billion  in the last five years, highlighting the need for major agriculture transformation to increase production.

Francis Johnson, a senior research fellow with the Swedish-based Stockholm Environment Institute, told IPS that renewable energy like wind, solar and hydro-power, are vital components in Africa’s sustainable development toolkit given its unmet energy demands and dependence on fossil fuels.

He added that developing countries should embrace clean energy as they cannot afford to follow the dirty emissions path of developed countries.

“In Africa competition is more about water than about land. And right decisions must be made. And when it comes to bio energy, it is the issue of choosing the right crops to cope with climate change,” Johnson said.

According to research by the Ethiopia-based Africa Climate Policy Centre, the cost of adaptation and putting Africa on a carbon-growth path is 31 billion dollars a year and could add 40 percent to the cost of meeting the MGDs.

Adaptation costs could in time be met from Africa’s own resources, argues Abdalla Hamdok, the deputy executive secretary of the ECA. He said that Africa could do this by saving money lost to illicit financial flows estimated to be more than 50 billion dollars a year.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Ethiopia Moves in Right Direction with Climate Change Response But Challenges Remainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:04:16 +0000 James Hassam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137290 Ethiopia has an estimated 70 million smallholder farmers, many of whom only grow sufficient amounts of crops like grain and coffee to support their families like those in Lalibela, Amhara Region. Climate change will inevitably have an impact on people’s lives. Credit: James Hassam/IPS

Ethiopia has an estimated 70 million smallholder farmers, many of whom only grow sufficient amounts of crops like grain and coffee to support their families like those in Lalibela, Amhara Region. Climate change will inevitably have an impact on people’s lives. Credit: James Hassam/IPS

By James Hassam
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Ethiopia is widely regarded as an African success story when it comes to economic growth. According to the International Monetary Fund, the country’s economy is growing by seven percent annually. But there are concerns that climate change could jeopardise this growth.

At a recent meeting at the United Nations conference centre in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the world’s foremost climate change experts sent a clear message: the impacts of global warming, rising surface temperatures and extreme weather will be felt as acutely in Africa as anywhere in the world.

For the last 18 months, more than 800 climate scientists have been compiling the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, which is being released in four parts until November, is according to the IPCC the most comprehensive, authoritative, objective assessment ever produced on the way climate change is affecting our planet.

Its findings are unequivocal – climate change is real and there is more evidence than ever before that it is being driven by human activity.

In Ethiopia, the IPCC says, climate change will inevitably have an impact on people’s lives. Dr Katie Mach, a climate scientist at Stanford University and lead author on the AR5, gave a stark assessment of the impacts climate change could have on Africa’s second-most populous country.

“[Climate change] will increase risk associated with extremes, such as extreme heat, heavy rain and drought. It will also make poverty reduction more difficult and decrease food security,” she told IPS.

The IPCC says the economic impacts of climate change will be most severe in developing countries. This is because the economies of poorer nations are less able to adapt to changes affecting industry and jobs.

Many of Ethiopia’s 90 million people are still reliant on agriculture to earn a living. The country has an estimated 70 million smallholder farmers, many of whom only grow sufficient amounts of crops like the staples of grain and coffee to support their families.

It is these smallholder farmers who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly if temperatures rise sufficiently to damage crops like coffee.

“Coffee’s worth about 800 million dollars at the moment and under the government’s plan for economic growth it’s set to grow to 1.6 billion dollars by 2025,” Adam Ward, acting country representative for the Global Green Growth Institute, an intergovernmental organisation that works as a partner with Ethiopia’s government on its Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy, told IPS.

The government of Ethiopia created a Climate Resilient Green Fund, which has already leveraged 25 million dollars from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), as well as 10 million dollars from Norway.

“If we’re at the top end of the spectrum of climate change impacts, we’re looking at potential annihilation of the coffee crop, so that’s 1.6 billion dollars being lost to the economy if the most serious impacts of climate change become a reality,” Ward said.

For governments – at whose behest the AR5 has been put together – the question is no longer “is climate change happening?” but “what can we do about it?”

The report sets out several options for policymakers, ranging from doing nothing, the so-called “business as usual” course of action, to aggressive measures to tackle climate change, under which governments across the world would take urgent, rapid steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Ethiopia is taking steps in the right direction, but huge challenges remain. The country’s climate change strategy calls for annual spending of 7.5 billion dollars to combat the effects of climate change, but the actual funding available falls well short of this. According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the government is only able to afford an estimated 440 million dollars per year.

This is something Ethiopia has in common with other East African countries. In Tanzania, an estimated 650 million dollars is needed annually to tackle climate change, while actual yearly spending is 383 million dollars. Uganda’s climate change policy sets out required annual spending of 258 million dollars, while current public spending only amounts to 25 million dollars per year, according to the ODI.

Even so, the IPCC believes there are opportunities for Ethiopia to protect its citizens from the most damaging effects of climate change, typically by adapting to changes that are already taking place.

“An important starting point is reducing vulnerability to the current climate, learning from our experiences with extreme heat, heavy rain or drought,” said Mach.

This is a process that is already underway in Ethiopia, according to the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), a government body set up to help make the country’s agriculture industry more resilient to challenges like climate change.

“Climate change and the ensuing higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather… has already led to visible shifts in the cropping calendar of Ethiopia and significantly increases the risks related to agricultural production, exposing smallholder farmers to vulnerability,” Dr Wagayehu Bekele, director of climate and environment at the ATA, told IPS.

“Climate change not only risks exacerbating the food security problem, for those whose livelihoods directly or indirectly depend on agriculture, but also exerts pressure on overall economic development, as agriculture is the basis for the economic development of the country,” said Wagayehu.

The message from the IPCC is clear – this is a problem that is real and that governments across Africa need to deal with. How they do this and who covers the substantial cost will be up to the politicians.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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Measuring How Climate Change Affects Africa’s Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:30:28 +0000 Xavi Fernández de Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137154 A young girl digs a 'zai pit' in order to improve the productivity of her family farm in Kitui County, eastern Kenya. Credit: Xavi Fernández de Castro/IPS

A young girl digs a 'zai pit' in order to improve the productivity of her family farm in Kitui County, eastern Kenya. Credit: Xavi Fernández de Castro/IPS

By Xavi Fernández de Castro
NAIROBI, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

For the past 40 years Josephine Kakiyi, 55, has been cultivating maize, beans and vegetables on her small plot of land in the remote area of Kwa Vonza, in Kitui County, eastern Kenya.

Even though this has always been a hot and semi-arid region, over the last 15 years Kakiyi has noticed that the rainfall has reduced and become increasingly unpredictable.

She doesn’t exactly know why this is happening. The only thing she knows for sure is that “now it’s harder to say when it will rain.”

But farmers all over Kenya, and in most African countries, are facing similar problems.

Experts from around the world are certain that climate change is playing a major role in the difficulties Kakiyi and hundreds of thousands of other farmers are experiencing on the continent.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “there is strong consensus that climate change will negatively impact food security in Africa.”

The report also states that “floods, drought, shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall, and high temperatures associated with climate change could directly affect crop and livestock productivity.”

All of these phenomena, when combined, may easily create numerous crises on a continent that is expected to double its population to 2.4 billion by 2050.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World report, published this year by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. (FAO) and  International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), estimates that there is around 227 million undernourished people in Africa – a fifth of the continent’s’ population.

Even so, the prevalence of undernourishment in Africa has declined from 27.7 percent in 1990 to 20.5 percent currently.

In Kenya, food security is a great concern for at least 10.8 million people, although the prevalence has also shrunk from 33 percent to 24.3 percent over the last 25 years.

But what experts still don’t agree on is the extent to which climate change is affecting food security.

“Climate change is an exacerbating driver, not the primary cause, of food insecurity and hunger,” Randall Purcell, a senior advisor to the Recovery Unit of WFP in Kenya, tells IPS.

“The weather has always been hot and dry in large parts of Kenya, which makes the country more prone to droughts.”

However, the latest scientific data show that over the last 15 years “droughts [are] coming sooner and in a more unpredictable way,” Purcell adds. “Before, one could predict that a severe drought [would occur] every five to seven years, now it’s every three years.”

And the same applies to rainfall.

The IPCC has forecast a slight increase of rainfall in East Africa, but it also expects it to be more erratic and sporadic.

So it’s getting harder to tell when, where, and how much it will rain, as farmers like Kakiyi have noticed.

Luigi Luminari, a technical advisor to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), a parastatal organisation set up in 2011 to coordinate a more effective response to periodic drought episodes and dry spells in Kenya, is convinced that “climate change is affecting weather patterns, but we still need more evidence.”

A representative of FAO in Kenya, Luca Alinovi, also prefers to be cautious and explains to IPS the difficulties scientists encounter when linking climate change to its consequences.

“In most African countries the amount of solid data on weather is very [limited], so it’s very difficult to say for sure if a specific event entails a structural change or it’s only a cycle that repeats itself every few decades. Furthermore, a lot of measurements are not done with ground stations but with estimates,” Alinovi says.

Regardless of what the data may prove, the fact is that Kenya has suffered three major droughts since 2001 and the Kenyan government, in collaboration with the World Bank, the European Union and relevant stakeholders, is trying to implement a new approach to address the situation.

“The NDMA has established an early warning system at a county level to facilitate the collection of environmental and socioeconomic data so we can activate our contingency plans before the worst effects of drought have even appeared,” Luminari explains.

But detection is only half of the solution. The other half is based on prevention. “Climate change can also be an opportunity and not only a threat,” Alinovi asserts.

“Innovative agriculture offers a lot of solutions to farmers. For example, if rainfall is more erratic, you can find ways to harvest the water and use it when it suits you better; or as maize is not drought tolerant you can start planting other heat-resistant crops like sorghum or millet, which can provide good revenue as well.”

On her plot of roughly 0.3 hectares, Kakiyi has started using zai pits, an agricultural technique exported from West Africa that consists of digging holes that are two feet by two feet. In the pits she puts a mixture of soil and manure to help improve the infiltration of the run-off water from rainy seasons.

Using this technique, which is labour-intensive but cheap, Kakiyi has been able to increase the productivity of her plot by 10 times.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

 

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Family Farmers Don’t Need Climate-Smart Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 23:36:57 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137092 The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Small farmers can look to options like agroecological intensification and innovation, without necessarily turning to climate-smart agriculture, which is promoted by the United Nations but has awakened doubts among global experts meeting in this Italian city.

Alison Power, a professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Cornell University in New York state, said the concept is an umbrella that can encompass too many different factors.

“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren’t solved only with that,” Power told IPS.“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren't solved only with that.” -- Alison Power

“So what is needed then is adaptation by small farmers with innovations based on agroecology,” said the expert, one of the participants in the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature organised Oct. 8-11 by the Italian NGO Greenaccord in the southwestern Italian city of Naples.

Family farmers produce nearly 80 percent of the world’s food. And although more food is being produced worldwide than at any other time in history, the United Nations estimates that over 800 million people are hungry.

The United Nations launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture on Sept. 24 in New York, during the U.N. Climate Summit. The alliance brings together governments, non-governmental organisations and large corporations.

The initiative includes techniques such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, improved extreme weather forecasting, integrated crop-livestock management and improved water management. The aim is to increase the ecological production of food in order to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue forms part of the agenda of this week’s forum, whose theme is: “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”. Other topics are the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations and adapting agriculture to climate change.

Some 200 reporters, academics, activists and students from 47 countries are taking part in the event organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions.

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Family farmers don’t need climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture has been questioned by academics and civil society organisations who say it could foment the use of genetically modified seeds, which they see as a threat to sustainable production.

Stefano Padulosi, with the Nutrition and Marketing Programme of Bioversity International, said the changing climate and loss of natural wealth requires a cocktail of actions.

“It is necessary to strengthen the resilience of food and production systems and adaptation to climate change. It’s urgent to intervene in local farms and strengthen community seed banks,” the expert, who took part in this week’s global meeting, told IPS.

“It’s possible to build local capital, to confront and resolve problems from the communities and improve local stakeholder networks,” he added.

Bioversity International is a global research-for-development organisation that delivers scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain global food and nutrition security, based on the assumption that agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation in developing nations.

Climate change, Padulosi said, can affect agriculture because of the reduction of the availability of water, rising global temperatures, the flooding of agricultural areas, or an increase in pests.

By the year 2050, demand for food will grow 65 percent, while the global population will reach nine billion.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that net agricultural yields could shrink by between 0.2 and two percent per decade, as demand grows 14 percent per decade.

Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, said the measures to be adopted must take peasant farmers into account, because a failure to do so would not make sense.

“Major efforts are needed for conservation of resources and becoming more efficient in their use. But huge gains in efficiency are available for producers, processors, business and consumers,” he told IPS.

Gardner is preparing a chapter on hidden threats to sustainability for Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2015 report.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that 11 percent of the world’s land is highly degraded and 25 percent is moderately degraded.

The U.N. agency estimates that global emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land uses have surpassed 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

At the same time, some two billion tons of CO2 per year were removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks.
FAO projects that CO2 emissions could increase 30 percent by 2050.

Agriculture provides ecosystem services such as food, fiber, forage, bioenergy and natural habitats, while it benefits from them at the same time – another reason to promote sustainable practices.

“The services have the potential of growing production and sustainability. Practices like improving genetics of crops, integrated management of plagues and nutrients, development of precision agriculture and the management of soil and water can be optimised,” Power said.

For his part, Gardner calls for preserving the extension and quality of farmland and faster progress in promoting the conservation of farming techniques, as well as incentives to remove marginal land from cultivation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:54:12 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136865 Eherculano Thomas Rice (left) from Chimoio, Mozambique shows the pigeon pea he uses to improve soil fertility in his field. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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The Time Has Come for Agroecologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-time-has-come-for-agroecology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-has-come-for-agroecology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-time-has-come-for-agroecology/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 10:04:38 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136852 Agroecology is a different way of seeing the food system because it deals with issues related to who gets access to resources and the processes that determine this access. Photo credit: UN Photo

Agroecology is a different way of seeing the food system because it deals with issues related to who gets access to resources and the processes that determine this access. Photo credit: UN Photo

By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

“It is time for a new agricultural model that ensures that enough quality food is produced where it is most needed, that preserves nature and that delivers ecosystem services of local and global relevance” – in a word, it is time for agroecology.

The call came from Pablo Tittonell of Wageningen University, one of the world’s leading institutions in the field of agriculture science, speaking at the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, organised by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The symposium, held at FAO headquarters in Rome on Sep. 18-19, gathered experts from many backgrounds, including scientists, scholars, policy-makers and farmers.In times of climate change, food insecurity and poverty, “agroecology, especially when paired with principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems" – open letter in support of the International Symposium on Agroecology

In an open letter ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Summit on Sep. 23 in New York, some 70 scientists and scholars said that in times of climate change, food insecurity and poverty, “agroecology, especially when paired with principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems.”

“The FAO symposium contributes to building momentum for agroecology in Rome,” Gaëtan Vanloqueren, an agro-economist and one of the speakers, told IPS. Since 2008, there has been a renewed debate on agricultural models and the food system in general, he explained, but this symposium is, up to now, the most significant effort made by FAO.

Vanloqueren, who was adviser to former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, has a positive view of recent interest by a number of organisations in Europe and elsewhere to talk, research and promote agroecology, but “the danger”, he told IPS, “is that it becomes the new ‘sustainable development’, a new buzzword and catch-all phrase that can mean just about anything.”

“There remains a large amount of misunderstanding related to agroecology,” said Luca Chinotti, Oxfam’s GROW campaign adviser. For example, “a lot of people think that organic agriculture is the same as agroecology” and “sustainable agriculture is used by different people, meaning very different things,” the Oxfam spokesperson told IPS.

The expression ‘sustainable agriculture’, for example, is used by both Monsanto, the ag-biotech giant, and Greenpeace, the environmental organisation which strongly opposes the use of genetically modified seeds.

There is much work that needs to be done with respect to informing people about what agroecology really is, Chinotti told IPS.

According to Vanloqueren, agroecology includes a set of practices, such as the diversifying of species and genetic resources and the recycling of nutrients and organic matter. But it is also more than the scientific study of ecology applied to agriculture. It encompasses a set of socio-economic and political principals that questions the basis of the current dominant agricultural system.

“Agroecology should not be seen as a model or a technological package that can be replicated anywhere at any time. There are very few practices that can be applied to a great number of situations,” explained Celso Marcatto, technical officer on sustainable agriculture at ActionAid International.

This is why, he said, agroecology “has more to do with introducing new ways of thinking, rather than distributing ready-made solutions.”

Agroecology is a different way of seeing the food system because it deals with issues related to who gets access to resources and the processes that determine this access. That is why agroecology is also considered a social movement.

“The principals of autonomy, the importance of the combination of traditional knowledge and economic knowledge, the co-construction of solutions by peasants’ organisations, researchers and citizens are key in defining agroecology and are the basis of what distinguishes the movement from the so-called ‘sustainable ecological intensification’,” Vanloqueren told IPS.

At the centre of agroecology is the “role of farmers that needs to be scaled out and scaled across,” said Vanloqueren.

Agroeology is also about substituting inputs with knowledge, he added, and it is about fostering autonomy through both knowledge and independence from global markets. Finally, agroecology is about social equity and about democracy.

However, many obstacles remain in the way of convincing policy-makers and donors to advocate and promote the adoption of agroecology.

Quentin Delachapelle, a French farmer and vice-president of the Federation Nationale des Centres d’Initiatives pour Valoriser l’Agriculture et le Milieu rural (FNCIVAM), told the FAO symposium that one of the main obstacles to the larger adoption of agroecology is that it is based on a longer term vision.

“Unfortunately”, he said, “current public and market policies are based solely on a short-term perspective.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:16:31 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136786 Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at kibetesq@gmail.com or on twitter @Kibet_88

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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136714 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/feed/ 0 Africa’s Dividing Farmlands A Threat To Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:56:03 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136566 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:47:48 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136384 Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

“What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means “Work Hard” in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm.  The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 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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Zambia’s Cash Transfer Schemes Cushion Needy Against Climate Shockshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:30:59 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136248 Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

“Last season, I lost an entire hectare of groundnuts because of a prolonged drought. Groundnuts are my hope for income,” says Josephine Chaaba, 60, from Pemba district in southern Zambia.

A widow since 2002, Chaaba’s story is not unique in this part of Zambia.

Here, in what the Zambia Meteorological Department classifies as a region characterised by low rainfall, most families are entirely dependent on agriculture and have gone through similar hardships.

But when these disasters strike, families have proven resilient and are finding ways to cope.

“The rainfall pattern has been getting erratic with each passing season, and as a widow I decided to start a small business of selling tomatoes and vegetables to sustain my family,” Chaaba, who looks after her 17-year-old son and two grandchildren, tells IPS.

But with only a working capital of 200 Zambian Kwacha (about 35 dollars), Chaaba had to seek assistance from the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme.

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Stella Kapumo of the Social Welfare Department in Pemba district explains that “there are three schemes under which our department gives support to the vulnerable in the community.”

“The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme is where material support such as shelter and food aid are given, and there are two cash protection schemes – a social cash transfer and a social protection fund,” Kapumo tells IPS.

According to Kapumo, the cash transfer is a bi-monthly cash allowance of 25 and 50 dollars respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities. The social protection fund is a once-off grant of up to 670 dollars for viable business proposals.

“The cash schemes are the most popular and have proven to be a powerful relief to the socio-economic challenges of the vulnerable communities where they are being implemented.

“However, here in Pemba we are implementing the ‘social protection fund’  where we give cash grants targeting vulnerable families to either boost and/or venture into viable businesses,” Kapumo says.

Piloted in 2003 in Kalomo district, southern Zambia, the social cash transfer has expanded to 50 districts currently providing social protection to about 60,000 vulnerable households.

“I benefited from a grant of 1,500 Zambian Kwacha [250 dollars] to boost my business. I have since added fish to selling tomatoes and vegetables.

“I just have to work extra hard to grow my capital and then school fees will no longer be a problem. I am thankful to the government for this scheme,” Chaaba says cheerfully, adding that she would not be too worried if she were to suffer another crop failure in the near future as she now has an alternative livelihood.

Communities in Zambia that rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are already suffering the consequences of climate change due to their limited resource capacity to adapt.

But stakeholders here are still searching for adaptation options that can be brought within reach of the rural poor.

And social protection may be the key.

Mutale Wakunuma, Zambia coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, who has witnessed the positive impact of the Social Cash Protection Scheme across the country, believes the strategy is a key step towards transformation and climate change adaptation.

“We believe cash transfers offer flexibility to beneficiaries as compared to food aid or agricultural inputs, and we are encouraging people working on climate change adaptation to consider cash transfers as a coping strategy,” Wakunuma tells IPS.

As government targets to reach over 390,000 households by 2015 through its social cash transfer schemes, it is expected that social protection could become a major socio-economic intervention for the most vulnerable communities in Zambia.

Wakunuma, however, cautions that the social cash transfer is not a holistic social protection strategy when it comes climate change adaptation, although it plays a “significant role in cushioning climate shocks.”

Robson Nyirenda, the training and extension coordinator at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, argues for a knowledge-based approach in the fight against socio-economic challenges.

Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, a Catholic institute run by the Society of Jesus, promotes sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers in the surrounding community.

“We believe knowledge is sustainable and lasts a lifetime. However, we cannot run away from the fact that some people are more vulnerable and require assistance in form of cash or food aid for them to survive,” Nyirenda tells IPS.

“On our part, we have continued teaching farmers climate change adaptation through sustainable farming methods in our role to compliment government efforts in empowering vulnerable communities.”

Wakunuma tells IPS, “the role of social protection cannot be overemphasised but it has to be implemented with the seriousness it deserves.”

And 22-year-old Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba and a beneficiary of the social protection grant, agrees.

“For the past two seasons, we have had poor yields due to poor rainfall and it has been a struggle for me and my six siblings,” Malambo tells IPS.

“At 64, grandma has no energy to sustain us. But with this money, I am determined to achieve my dream of getting into college and I urge the government to invest more and help more young people, the majority of whom are unemployed,” he says of the 420 dollars he was awarded to support his poultry business.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on fphiri200@gmail.com 

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Going Back to the Farm in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/going-back-to-the-farm-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 18:17:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135990 Hortensia Martínez, who along with her husband Guillermo García decided to dedicate herself to farming on the La China farm on the outskirts of Havana, after a long career as a mechanical engineer. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Hortensia Martínez, who along with her husband Guillermo García decided to dedicate herself to farming on the La China farm on the outskirts of Havana, after a long career as a mechanical engineer. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Scattered houses amidst small fields of vegetables and other crops line the road to the La China farm on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. This is where Hortensia Martínez works – a mechanical engineer who has been called crazy by many for deciding to become a small farmer.

“Our story isn’t common,” Martínez, 48, told Tierramérica at the entrance to the six-hectare farm that was granted “in usufruct” to her husband Guillermo García in May 2009 in Punta Brava, in the municipality of La Lisa, a semi-urban suburb west of Havana.

Since Cuba adopted economic reforms in 2008, land has begun to be granted to people “in usufruct”, to stimulate agriculture.

From one edge of La China, scrubland can be seen stretching all the way to the horizon. In 2013, according to official figures, 1,046,100 of the 6,342,400 arable hectares in this Caribbean island nation were idle.

A scarcity of people not only interested in farming but who also have the skills and resources to produce more food is one of the hurdles to making headway towards the goal set as part of the broader economic reforms that put a priority on the agricultural sector in a country in dire need of boosting production and reducing food prices.

Among the factors standing in the way of improvements in agriculture are realities that are rarely talked about, such as the rural exodus decades ago, which left the Cuban countryside much emptier.

Of the country’s 11.2 million inhabitants, just 2.5 million now live in rural areas, according to 2013 data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

Although half of the rural population is female, women do not generally work the land themselves directly, due to a culture of sexism and machismo. To begin to change that, the authorities have stepped up strategies aimed at drawing more women into the rural workforce, although it is widely recognized that progress in that direction has been slow.

In April there were a total of 65,993 women in the country’s farming cooperatives – not a major increase from 64,063 in February 2011.“My experience, from driving around the countryside for many years, has shown me that there is little social activity, and that life is full of limitations and unmet needs. With what they earn, farmers cannot cover their basic needs.” -- Agroecologist Fernando Funes-Monzote

The Cuban population is irreversibly ageing, and is doing so fast. It is estimated that by 2025, people over 60 will make up 30 percent of the population.

“The farm was a way to return to our roots,” said Martínez who, like his wife, comes from a farming family in Granma, 730 km east of Havana.

For decades, farmers proudly hung on their walls the university degrees earned by their children, who gained broad access to tuition-free education after the 1959 revolution.

But the newly educated generations migrated to the cities to work in their new professions.

And in the 1980s the idea was that it was cheaper to import food than to develop the agricultural sector, thanks to the subsidised trade with the now defunct Soviet Union. The collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 tipped the Cuban economy over the edge, into a crisis that has dragged on to this day.

One of the results of the crisis was that professionals began to earn less than those who produced goods with their work.

“We joined the agricultural workforce to support our family,” Martínez said, explaining that both his and his wife’s nephews and nieces work on the farm with them.

“Now we eat healthier food and we are earning more money,” he said. The family raises rabbits, lambs, pigs and 18 species of birds. They also grow fruit and vegetables.

In La China, there is a large shed for rabbits, several corrals, and even a ‘ranchón’, the name given in Cuba to a traditional open-side palm-thatched wooden structure that serves as a social space, decorated with hanging flower pots.

But “we still don’t have a house here yet. I wish they would approve that,” lamented Martínez, who every day makes the five-km trek back and forth to the farm, where she leaves a guard on duty at night.

Decree-law 259, passed in 2008, stipulated that people could apply for idle land to farm in usufruct for an extendable period of 10 years. But it was not until 2012 that decree-law 300 was approved, allowing people to also build homes on the land.

“The red tape surrounding that is really bad,” Martínez complained.

Bureaucracy is a chronic problem in Cuba’s agricultural sector, which is tightly controlled by the state, even the portion that is in private hands.

During a Jul. 5 parliamentary session it was reported that the Agriculture Ministry staff and its provincial and municipal delegations were being cut 41 percent, as part of economic adjustments and an attempt to reduce bureaucracy.

Of the land farmed in Cuba today, 26.6 percent is in private hands, 21.7 percent has been granted in usufruct, and the rest is state-owned or belongs to cooperatives.

“It’s really hard to return to the countryside if you don’t have the know-how, skills and economic resources,” said 44-year-old Mireya Ramírez (no relation), who left her job in computers to take charge of the family farm when her father-in-law injured his hand.

Until five years ago, she told Tierramérica, she knew nothing about farming, even though she lived ever since she got married on the Los Solos farm in Campo Florida, another area on the outskirts of Havana.

“If the land is far away, you need transportation to get there,” she said. “Producing at some scale requires a significant investment of capital. For me it was hard to juggle the capital to diversify production, even though I received a farm that was already up and running.”

But “I finally have a level of liquidity that I never had before,” she said with a smile on her face.

The authorities also opened up lines of microcredit for farmers, and stores selling some farming tools and seeds, while increasing the prices paid by the government for agricultural products (farmers must sell a majority of their production to the state). In addition, tourist establishments are now allowed to directly purchase from farmers.

But farmers and experts told Tierramérica that the measures have fallen short.

“Policies must be broader and more generous, ranging from more credit for buying seeds and baby animals to facilities to rent or buy vehicles and buy houses, sheds, corrals and access roads to fields,” journalist Roberto Molina said in an interactive online conversation organised by Tierramérica in Cuba.

The faces of Cuba’s farmers vary depending on how far from the cities they are and the level of economic development of each province.

On the outskirts of the capital and in the western provinces like Mayabeque, Artemisa and Matanzas, there are prosperous farming families with cars and comfortable homes.

But in the mountains and other remote parts of the country many people live in bohíos – dirt-floored wooden shacks typical of poorer parts of the Cuban countryside – with pit latrines and no electricity or running water.

“My experience, from driving around the countryside for many years, has shown me that there is little social activity, and that life is full of limitations and unmet needs. With what they earn, farmers cannot cover their basic needs,” agroecologist Fernando Funes-Monzote told Tierrámerica.

The 43-year-old professional has also started running a farm with his family: the Finca Marta in Artemisa, the province adjacent to Havana.
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How Farming is Making Côte d’Ivoire’s Prisoners ‘Feel Like Being Human Again’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:11:39 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135863 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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Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 09:07:35 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135752 Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit:  Cam Mcgrath/IPS

Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit: Cam Mcgrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

Less than four percent of Egypt’s land mass is suitable for agriculture, and most of it confined to the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta. With the nation’s population of 85 million expected to double by 2050, government officials are grappling with ways of ensuring food security and raising nutritional standards.

“With the drive toward increasing food production and efficiency, Egypt is going to have to become smarter in how it uses water and land for food production,” says aquaculture expert Malcolm Beveridge. “It would make sense to bring aquaculture together with agriculture in order to increase food production per unit of land and water.”“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields” – Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office

One possibility under study is to adopt integrated aquaculture, a holistic approach to food production in which the wastes of one commercially cultured species are recycled as food or fertiliser for another. Projects typically co-culture several aquatic species, but the synergistic approach also encourages the broader integration of fish production, livestock rearing and agriculture.

“An integrated approach would seem the logical next step for Egypt’s aquaculture industry in that it can significantly reduce water requirements while increasing fish farmers’ revenues,” Beveridge told IPS.

Egypt’s aquaculture sector has witnessed explosive growth in recent decades. Annual production of farmed fish climbed from 50,000 tonnes in the late 1990s to over one million tonnes last year – exceeding the combined output of all other Middle East and African nations.

But fish farming as it is predominantly practised in Egypt – by simply digging a pit and filling it with water and fish – has a major drawback. A decades-old government decree requires that drinking water and crop irrigation be given first call on Nile water, leaving aquaculture projects to operate in downstream filth, contaminating fish and limiting productivity.

“Over 90 percent of the aquaculture in Egypt is based on agricultural drainage water, with plenty of pesticides, sewage and industrial effluents,” says Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office.

“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields.”

Integrated aquaculture reverses the water-use paradigm, with tangible benefits to both fish farms and farmers’ crops. While the practice is still in its infancy in Egypt, several projects have demonstrated its commercial viability.

At the El Keram farm in the desert northwest of Cairo, farmers use pumped water for tilapia culture, recycling the water into ponds where catfish are raised. The drainage from the catfish ponds, rich in organic nutrients, is then used to irrigate and fertilise clover fields. Sheep and goats that graze on these fields generate manure that is used to produce biogas to heat the tanks where fish fry are raised, or to warm the fish ponds in the winter.

“The project has demonstrated how farmers who switched to aquaculture after salinity rendered their fields infertile can increase their productivity and profits using the same volume of water,” says Sadek.

Other integrated projects on reclaimed desert land culture marine aquatic species such as sea bass and sea bream, directing the downstream wastewater to pools of red tilapia, a table fish able to tolerate high salinity. According to Sadek, the brine from these ponds can be used to grow salicornia, a halophyte in demand as a biofuel input, livestock fodder and as a gourmet salad ingredient.

“Salicornia can be irrigated with extremely salty water and produces seeds and oil, as well as fodder for camels and sheep,” says Sadek.

According to development experts, integrated aquaculture delivers greater efficiencies, requiring up to 70 percent less water than comparable non-integrated production systems. It is also a cost-effective method of disposing of wastes and saves resource-poor farmers from having to purchase fertilisers.

Beveridge says small-scale Egyptian aquaculture ventures unable to afford the complex closed-loop system employed at El Keram could still benefit from integrated practices that would allow them to harvest commercial food products year-round.

“Egypt’s aquaculture industry has a problem in that the growing season is relatively short,” he notes. “During the months of December to February temperatures are too low to sustain much (fish) growth. And during that period, farmers who try to overwinter their fish often lose substantial numbers to stress and disease.”

Pilot studies have shown that fish farmers are able to capitalise on the nutrients locked up in the mud at the bottom of their earthen fish ponds.

“The idea is that you drain down your ponds in November, harvest your fish, then plant a crop of wheat in your pond bottom that you would harvest in March before flooding the stubble area with water and reintroducing young fish,” Beveridge explains.

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Salvadoran Peasant Farmers Clash With U.S. Over Seedshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/salvadoran-peasant-farmers-clash-with-u-s-over-seeds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-peasant-farmers-clash-with-u-s-over-seeds http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/salvadoran-peasant-farmers-clash-with-u-s-over-seeds/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 14:49:53 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135383 Cruz Esmeralda Mejía, Maybelyne Palacios and Rosa María Rivera growing plants from improved maize seed in the La Maroma cooperative, in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of a better life  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Farmers’ Loss of Land Increases World Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/small-farmers-loss-land-increases-world-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-farmers-loss-land-increases-world-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/small-farmers-loss-land-increases-world-hunger/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 23:54:53 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134648 Small farmers - like Ndomi Magareth, planting beans here on her land in Cameroon - “are losing land at a tremendous rate. It’s a land reform movement in reverse,” says GRAIN’s Henk Hobbelink. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Small farmers - like Ndomi Magareth, planting beans here on her land in Cameroon - “are losing land at a tremendous rate. It’s a land reform movement in reverse,” says GRAIN’s Henk Hobbelink. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 29 2014 (IPS)

The world is increasingly hungry because small farmers are losing access to farmland. Small farmers produce most of the world’s food but are now squeezed onto less than 25 percent of the world’s farmland, a new report reveals. Corporate and commercial farms, big biofuel operations and land speculators are pushing millions off their land.

“Small farmers are losing land at a tremendous rate. It’s a land reform movement in reverse,” said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, an international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers, which released the report Thursday.

“The overwhelming majority of farming families today have less than two hectares to cultivate and that share is shrinking,” Hobbelink told IPS.

“If we do nothing to reverse this trend, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself.”

GRAIN’s Hungry for Land report provides new data to show small farms occupy less than 25 percent of the world’s farmland today – just 17 percent, if farms in India and China are excluded. Despite this they still provide most of the world’s food because they are often much more productive than large corporate farms.

If all farms in Central America matched the output of small farms the region would produce three times as much food, the report said.

“Every day we are exposed to the systematic expulsion from our land,” said Marina Dos Santos of the National Coordination of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

“We want the land in order to live and to produce, as these are our basic rights against land-grabbing corporations who seek only speculation and profit,” she said.

With the launch of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and many agriculture experts acknowledged how important small farms are for feeding the world. However, they wildly overestimate how much land is being farmed by smallholders.

“I couldn’t believe it when the FAO said family farms manage 70 percent of all farmland. This contradicts all of our experience with small farms around the world,” said Hobbelink.

Researchers at GRAIN dug into mountains of data from every country as well as FAO statistics and information to find out who owns what. In many countries farmland ownership is very difficult to determine and there are varying definitions of what is a small farm or a family farm. Some giant corporate farms are family-owned.

“Our report outlines how we did our analysis. We checked our findings with other sources and this is closer to reality than the FAO number,” he said.

“It’s an important report and corresponds to our own research,” agreed Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based policy think tank focused on global land and food issues.

Small farmers can feed the future nine billion people on the planet if they have the land, Mousseau told IPS.

“The current global food system is set up to provide fuels and food for western markets,” he said. “It’s not about feeding the most people.”

Zimbabwe was harshly criticised by the international community for redistributing farmland to smallholders in 2000. They now produce over 90 percent of the nation’s food crops, compared to 60 to70 percent before 2000.

“More [Zimbabwean] women own land in their own right, which is key to food sovereignty everywhere”, said Elizabeth Mpofu, general coordinator of La Via Campesina.

Since the 2008-2009 food crisis there has been a rush to buy up farmland all around the world by Wall St and financial institutions, said Mousseau.

In developing countries an estimated 250 million hectares worth of land investment, also known as ‘land grabbing’, has occurred between 2000 and 2011. The same thing is happening in the U.S.

In many areas the price of land has shot upwards pushing many farmers off their land. “U.S. farms are increasingly run by corporate farm managers who hire farm workers not farmers,” he said.

Investors see farmland as a safe and secure investment, especially in the U.S., with its multi-billion dollar farm subsidies. As a result, an estimated 10 billion dollars in capital is already looking for access to U.S. farmland, according to the Oakland Institute’s Down on the Farm report.

Over the next 20 years, 400 million acres, or nearly half of all U.S. farmland, is set to change hands as the current generation retires. Institutional investors are eagerly waiting to buy, the report said.

That will be bad news for food production, farmland, the environment and the economy. The U.S. and far too many other countries have bought into agribusiness propaganda and financial lobbying that commercial, large-scale agriculture is how to feed the world, create jobs and grow the economy, said Mousseau.

“Instead government policies need to be aligned to favour small farmers, not corporations,” he added.

The hard evidence from many studies shows that small farmers practicing agroecological farming produce more food, protect soil and water, have far lower CO2 emissions and provide better livelihoods, said Hobbelink.

“Small farmers give each hectare of their precious land far more attention and care,” he stressed.

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Agroecology Movement Addresses Challenges of Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/agroecology-movement-addresses-challenges-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-movement-addresses-challenges-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/agroecology-movement-addresses-challenges-food-security/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 09:52:14 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134440 Vendors at the organic farmers' market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy: Tillie Castellano.

Vendors at the organic farmers' market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy: Tillie Castellano.

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 21 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in this Caribbean island is going through its worst moment. Whereas this sector accounted for 71 percent of its gross domestic product in 1914, now it amounts to no more than one percent. 

A century ago, local agriculture employed over 260,000 workers, nowadays it employs 19,000. Over three billion dollars leaves the island through food imports, according to data published in the local press.

Puerto Rican Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas, who has been in office since last year, is widely regarded as the island’s top food security scholar. Prior to directing the agriculture department, she conducted extensive research into local food security issues as professor at the University of Puerto Rico.“We want to double the farmers that we buy from on a weekly basis, from 10 to 20. And we also aim at setting up drop off points for our produce all over Puerto Rico.” -- Departamento owner Tara Rodriguez

According to her research, Puerto Rico imports over half of its dairy products, around 70 percent of its coffee, over 80 percent of its meat, over 90 percent of its fruit, and all of its sugar and cereal grains. The island’s food insecurity is further compounded by the fact that 76 percent of these food imports come from one single country: the United States. Almost all of this food comes from the ports of New Jersey and Florida, with 75 percent of all the food coming from the latter. Food imported from the U.S. travels an average of 1,310 miles.

But Comas found that Puerto Rico imports food from 57 other countries. Imports also come from China (four percent of total food imports), Canada (three percent) and the Dominican Republic (two percent). Food is also imported from other distant countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Poland. Food from Asia to Puerto Rico has traveled over 16,000 kms, and can take up to 47 days to arrive as it is unloaded on the U.S. west coast, trucked across to the east coast, sent through distribution centres, and finally loaded into ships headed to Puerto Rico.

The agriculture secretary has made it her business to increase agricultural production in order to reduce reliance on imports and thus assure Puerto Rico’s food security. But the island’s budding organic farming movement faults Comas for not questioning the prevailing industrial agriculture model, which critics claim poisons the environment with toxic agrochemicals, contributes to climate change, is harmful to the health of both agricultural workers and consumers, and cannot insure food security.

The United Nations International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) found that the dominant model of modern agriculture is undermining the planet’s ecological and social systems and endangering the future of humanity. The report was written by over 400 scientists and went through two peer reviews.

“Modern agriculture, as currently practised, is devouring our capital. It is mining the soil, our natural resource base, and it is unsustainable, because it is both fossil energy- and capital-intensive and because it is not based on a full accounting of the externalities,” said IAASTD co-chairman Hans Herren. “Continuing with current trends would exhaust our resources and put our children’s future in jeopardy.”

The report endorses small-scale sustainable agriculture as an alternative. The U.N. Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, and a recent report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, both reached similar conclusions.

Ian C. Pagán, a young agronomist, farmer, writer, activist and educator, runs the El Josco Bravo Agroecology Project in the municipality of Toa Alta. Pagán, who has a Master’s Degree in soil restoration and sustainable agricultural practices, is a passionate advocate of agroecology and is not afraid to debate advocates of industrial agriculture.

“There are many myths about alternative agricultural production systems,” Pagán told IPS. “These myths are propagated precisely by multinational agribusinesses that profit from farming systems that are highly dependent on external inputs.”

“Science itself has demonstrated the productive potential of agroecology versus conventional agriculture. For starters, over half of world food production is in the hands of small campesino farmers, most of whom are practicing agroecologically based farming.”

Pagan’s farm produces tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, yautia, fruits and cabbage, among many other crops.

“Furthermore, agroecological production has greater resilience to climate change and is more energy efficient. These two aspects are ever more important in a world that is now facing environmental and energy crises.”

Local organic farmers get their produce to consumers through various innovative ventures, such as El Departamento de la Comida (The Food Department), an alternative retailer located in the working class urban neighborhood of Tras Talleres in San Juan.

The Departamento is switching to non-profit status. To fund this transition, it is raising money through Antrocket, a Puerto Rican online crowdfunding platform.

“We aim at creating Puerto Rico’s first ecological food hub,” said Departamento owner Tara Rodriguez in an interview. “We will work with the entire food production cycle, and that includes consumer education, services for farmers, and various aspects of sustainability.”

“The money we are raising will go into improvements in our equipment that will make it possible to scale up our operations and become an NGO [non-governmental organisation] with a business model, a community non-profit corporation,” said Rodríguez, whose mother, Silka Besosa, quit her lucrative job managing a shopping mall to become an organic farmer. Besosa died of cancer in 2011.

“We want to double the farmers that we buy from on a weekly basis, from 10 to 20. And we also aim at setting up drop off points for our produce all over Puerto Rico.”

The Departamento’s offerings include kale, squash, avocados, eggplant, arugula, bananas, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers and tangerine oranges, as well as seeds, seedlings and artisanal locally made marmalade, bread and soap. It also delivers weekly boxes of produce to restaurants and residential customers.

Rodriguez emphasises that education is very important. “We educate consumers as to why everything we sell is organic and local, and and explain to them the importance of paying our farmers a fair price for their product.”

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