Inter Press Service » Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate Journalism and Communication for Global Change Fri, 01 Aug 2014 00:56:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Production Sat, 26 Jul 2014 09:07:35 +0000 Cam McGrath 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 Seeds Sat, 05 Jul 2014 14:49:53 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Cruz Esmeralda Mejía, Maybelyne Palacios and Rosa María Rivera growing plants from improved maize seed in the La Maroma cooperative, in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of a better life  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Farmers’ Loss of Land Increases World Hunger Thu, 29 May 2014 23:54:53 +0000 Stephen Leahy 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 Security Wed, 21 May 2014 09:52:14 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero 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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Q&A: Investment and Research Key to Resilient African Agriculture Fri, 25 Apr 2014 17:11:21 +0000 Busani Bafana Agronomist Davison Masendeke shows a farmer in Bulawayo a variety of white sorghum, which is an ideal crop for arid areas. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts of the interview follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How successful have these initiatives been? 

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

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

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

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

Q: What of the challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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

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

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

Biofortification on a Global Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Organic Farmers Fight the Elements in Brazil Sat, 29 Mar 2014 14:16:28 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Isabel Michi carefully tends seedlings in the greenhouse on her small organic farm in the settlement of Mutirão Eldorado in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
SEROPÉDICA, Brazil , Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

Brazilian farmer Isabel Michi’s day starts before dawn, when she goes out to the organic garden on her small five-hectare farm that she runs with help from her husband and occasionally their children.

Starting at 5 AM, the 42-year-old farmer of Japanese descent plows the soil, plants seeds and seedlings, fertilises, harvests, and carefully tends the plants in her greenhouse.

She acquired the farm in 2002 thanks to a swap in a settlement that emerged 10 years earlier as part of the government’s agrarian reform programme.

The settlement, Mutirão Eldorado, is in the rural municipality of Seropédica, an area with 80,000 inhabitants located 70 km from Rio de Janeiro, a city that is home to agricultural research institutions and organisations that provide support to small farmers.

Six years ago, Michi took a radical step and decided to go 100 percent organic, abandoning all chemical products.

On average, chemical fertilisers and pesticides absorb 70 percent of the income of small farmers in Brazil, according to experts.

Michi is a cofounder of the group Serorgânico, made up of 15 small farmers, which has become a local leader in supplies of chemical-free seeds and seedlings.

The farmer, who is a Nisei – the term used for second-generation Japanese immigrants – said she was deeply affected by the death of one of her brothers at the age of 37. He died of lung cancer, even though he had never smoked. Michi blames his death on the intensive use of agrochemicals on the farm of their parents, who came to Brazil in the 1960s.

“In my family we worked the land with many pesticides. We were young and the damages they caused were not well-known then,” Michi told IPS during a visit to her farm.

She was one of the youngest of eight siblings, from a family who settled in another part of the state of Rio de Janeiro. “We were very poor; we managed to harvest a truckload of food, but we didn’t have money,” she said.

“It was a really hard life,” said Michi, who has worked in the countryside since the age of 13.

Michi stopped using agrochemicals on her crops when she married Augusto Batista Xavier, 51, who she met in 1992, the first time she visited an organic farm in a neighbouring state.

“When we moved to this land, I was already thinking about agroecology, because for me, it’s the future,” she said.

The land in Seropédica is good for growing mandioc, okra, maize, pumpkin, sweet potato and banana.

Besides these vegetables and fruits, Michi is also growing 25,600 organic seedlings in her new greenhouse, to supply Serorgânico.

Her husband’s job managing a cattle farm ensures them a steady income. But he helps her with the heaviest tasks in his free time. Their three children, between the ages of 14 and 16, also lend a hand when school is out.

On average, Serorgânico produces three tonnes of food a month, most of which is sold in the circuit of organic farmers markets in wealthy neighbourhoods in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

For Michi, chemical-free farming is part of a holistic philosophy, which also takes into account the social and economic welfare of farmers and of consumers of fresh farm products.

But many organic farmers find it hard to survive in the face of competition from those who use more conventional farming methods at a much lower cost.

Although ecological products in Brazil cost between 30 and 50 percent more than food produced with agrochemicals, demand has grown approximately 30 percent in recent years.

José Antônio Azevedo Espíndola, a researcher with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, pointed out to IPS that the number of organic farmers is still limited.

“There is potential for growth, but there is also a long road ahead,” he told IPS. “In the last few years, society’s concern about food quality has grown, from the point of view of the environment and of more sustainable, healthy production.”

Espíndola is a researcher in EMBRAPA’s agrobiological unit, which is dedicated to developing ecological farming techniques and methods.

Organic farmers represent a mere one percent of agricultural producers in Brazil. In 2006, when the last agricultural census was carried out, there were 5,000 certified ecological farmers, most of them small-scale family producers.

Espíndola estimates that there are now around 12,000 organic producers, who farm a combined total of 1.75 million hectares.

But threats loom on all sides.

Michi’s small farm is one illustration of the problems organic farmers face. It scrapes along, surrounded by quarries, cattle ranches, a sanitary landfill and a projected orbital motorway to be built just two km away.

In other words, the neighbourhood endangers her ecological production.

Trucks hauling rocks and gravel rumble up and down the dirt road in front of her farm, trailing clouds of dust, while the dump gives off a terrible stench and brings swarms of flies. Chemicals used at the dump are also in the air, causing skin ailments among her family.

Given these difficulties, Michi’s family constantly debates whether to move away.

“Besides the bad smell, there is the danger of water pollution,” Michi says. “There are days when I can’t stand working in the garden because of the odours and the flies. We’re an organic community directly affected by developments that arrived here after us.”

Family famers in Seropédica are worried about being hemmed in by industrial endeavours, while they put up with pressure from companies interested in setting up shop in the area.

“They made me an offer to buy my land, but I turned it down,” Michi said. “I’ll only leave here if I can buy the same thing elsewhere, where I can farm. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Besides the challenges of using green-friendly farming methods, small-scale organic farmers have to overcome other obstacles, Michi said, like difficulties in access to credit and technical assistance from institutions dedicated to agricultural research and development.

The solution, according to Espíndola, is for the different parties involved to be brought together by a public policy specifically providing support for the organic farming sector.

“If that doesn’t happen, there will always be a bottleneck limiting production levels,” he said.

Another EMBRAPA technician, Nilton Cesar Silva dos Santos, told IPS that organic farming was undergoing a major restructuring.

“The conditions still don’t exist in Brazil for a 100 percent organic chain of food production,” said Santos, who is earning a graduate degree in sustainable development in rural settlements that emerge from the government’s land reform programme.

Not only the ecological farming sector but family agriculture as a whole is suffering from a scarcity of resources, said Santos, who is behind the first project to set up greenhouses on family farms in the state, with support from EMBRAPA.

Michi’s farm was one of the first four to have a greenhouse installed.

Santos said it is possible to improve working conditions for organic farmers while at the same time getting the city “to look to the countryside once again.”

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

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

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small-scale Organic Farming Gets a Boost in Peru Thu, 09 Jan 2014 19:44:01 +0000 Milagros Salazar Peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andes highlands department of Huancavelica in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andes highlands department of Huancavelica in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Jan 9 2014 (IPS)

A new institution set up in Peru will strengthen small-scale organic farming, providing support to some 43,000 exporters of ecological products and another 350,000 who supply the domestic market with environmentally-friendly products.

The National Council for Organic Products (CONAPO) was formed to support the weakest link in the food chain, small-scale agriculture, the very year that the United Nations dedicated to family farming worldwide because of its social and productive importance.

“There is no public spending that puts the priority on small-scale farmers,” Moisés Quispe, a Peruvian farmer, told IPS. “The budget for agriculture is reduced year by year, even though over 70 percent of the food that Peruvians consume comes from small farms.”

According to the last agricultural census, carried out in 2012, 72 percent of farms in this Andean country are smaller than six hectares, and they mainly supply the domestic market.

Quispe is executive director of the National Association of Ecological Producers of Peru (ANPE), which groups 21,000 organic farmers, 60 percent of whom are smallholders.

For the members of ANPE, the new council represents an opportunity to reach agreements with the state that were never possible before, said Quispe, who has been farming for four decades in the southern department or region of Cuzco.

Agriculture represents 25 percent of all jobs in Peru, around 7.5 percent of GDP and nine percent of exports, according to official figures.

The technical secretary of CONAPO, José Muro, told IPS that Jan. 24 is the date set for the first meeting of its members, who include representatives of key sectors of the executive branch, the regional organic production councils and civil society.

According to the law for the promotion of organic and ecological production, in effect since 2008, regional and local governments are to put a priority on providing support for organic agriculture in their plans, programmes and projects.

The law also requires Peru’s agriculture development bank, Agrobanco, to grant loans to certified farmers during the period of conversion to organic production. In addition, the government must provide incentives to promote the production and commercialisation of organic products.

“Organic production is extremely important for Peru,” Agriculture Minister Milton von Hesse said at the installation of CONAPO on Dec. 22.

Von Hesse stressed that the council recognised “the key role that small farmers play in rural development” – one of the arguments cited by the United Nations for naming 2014 the International Year of Family Farming.

Quispe said full enforcement of the 2008 law is urgently needed, in order to expand agricultural frontiers for small farmers, who face challenges from all sides: lack of access to credit; water scarcity; low prices due to dependence on middlemen; and a lack of state investment in infrastructure.

Muro said the Agriculture Ministry has made progress in support policies, thanks to which exports of organic products, principally cocoa, bananas and coffee, have surpassed 350 million dollars a year.

Some 43,000 small farmers are registered with Peru’s agricultural health service, SENASA. But that number only includes farmers who are certified to export their products.

The head of the Organic Agriculture Network (RAE), Alejandra Farfán, told IPS that there is another large segment of farmers who supply the domestic market, estimated at around 350,000. “We don’t have official figures, but the challenge is to see how to bring them visibility through the Council, so they can also benefit,” she said.

Farfán described the creation of CONAPO as a “milestone,” after years of waiting.

She is a representative of civil society on the council, and also presides over the Peruvian Agroecological Consortium.

“We know that small farmers are steeped in poverty,” she told IPS. “So the hope is that in 2014 they will be included on the agenda of policies for productive infrastructure.”

She said it was necessary to incorporate them in existing government agriculture programmes, and to bolster organic production, with an emphasis on the poorest rural families.

Because of the lack of support, campesinos or peasant farmers have been abandoning their small plots of land to find seasonal or temporary work, in order to feed and clothe their families, Quispe said.

Rural migration to mining areas is one of the most visible and painful consequences of the lack of attention to small farmers, he said.

But even those who are exclusively dedicated to producing and exporting organic products year-round face a major challenge: commercialisation.

On average, 30 percent of the organic coffee produced in the country is sold as regular beans due to the lack of markets, said Miguel Paz, sales manager for the Central Association of Farmers from Pichanaki, in the Amazon jungle department of Junín in central Peru.

Farmers in the valleys of Junín produce 25 percent of the coffee consumed in the country, Paz told IPS.

In his view, it is time to look for new markets and turn to other countries, like Japan or Australia. Today, exports of Peru’s organic coffee mainly go to Germany and the United States.

“The government should make headway into new markets for organic products by means of different strategies, ranging from printing a good pamphlet in several languages to encouraging and teaching producers to participate in business rounds, to learn who’s who,” said Paz, who has taken part in several international negotiations.

In February he will travel to Germany, Belgium and France along with representatives of a dozen cooperatives from different parts of the country.

The task of opening up new markets falls to the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, which is also represented in CONAPO, along with the Ministry of Production and the National Institute for the Defence of Competition and Intellectual Property.

Farfán said the Environment Ministry should also be included, because climate change has a huge impact on organic production.

The new council will now draw up a National Plan for Organic Production, internal rules for the plan, and regulations for the regional councils. Based on that, the government is to earmark the necessary budget funds to carry out the plans.

“The idea is to guarantee that the population has healthy food. Clean agriculture won’t only benefit the people of Peru, but humanity as a whole,” Quispe said with conviction.

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Kenya’s Excess of Policies Can’t Deal With Climate Change Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:43:46 +0000 Miriam Gathigah The long rains stopped earlier than expected in Kenya this year and in some areas taps have run dry and rain-fed agriculture has been affected. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The long rains stopped earlier than expected in Kenya this year and in some areas taps have run dry and rain-fed agriculture has been affected. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 31 2013 (IPS)

Kenya is facing its greatest challenge as weather patterns are starting to significantly affect food production. And experts are blaming the low adaptive capacity of the farming sector on an excess of policy and institutional frameworks that are silent on both climate change and agriculture.

Joshua Kosgei, an agricultural extension officer in Elburgon, Rift Valley province, told IPS that at least 300,000 maize farmers in the province are affected by climate change as the region has become too warm for maize farming. Production of this East African nation’s staple crop is expected to fall by at least 25 percent.

The country’s food security outlook covering June to December shows that a gradual increase in maize prices is expected. “Currently, wholesale maize prices are about 10 percent above the five year average and by December, maize prices are likely to be higher,” the outlook report said.

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, a regional research body, predicts that as temperatures become too high for maize production, the country’s granary will shift from the Rift Valley province to parts of lower Eastern province.

“Maize has done well in Rift Valley, but the region is receiving less and less rainfall, so maize farming must move to other regions that were hotter but are now receiving adequate rainfall,” Kosgei told IPS.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, five million out of a total eight million households in the country depend directly on agriculture. In addition, small-scale farmers here account for at least 75 percent of the total agricultural output and 70 percent of marketed agricultural produce.

Judith Gicharu, a scientist and environment expert, told IPS that “there are various options to cushion the agricultural sector and consumers from crippling effects of severe climate change, including adapting to new technologies and expanding crop varieties. But these options are not backed by policy.”

She explained that discussion on climate change as a policy issue is still new in this East African nation as the government’s first tangible commitment to climate change was in the form of a 2010 document titled the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS).

In March this year the government launched the National Climate Change Plan to operationalise the existing NCCRS, but Gicharu pointed out that it was not a policy document.

“There is no specific policy on climate change and agriculture,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, there are at least 90 national policies and laws relevant to climate change, including the Natural Resource Information Management policy, Energy policy, and the Water Act. But Gicharu said that most of these policies had no provisions on how to address climate change.

“Reading these laws, you do not get a sense of what needs to be done to mitigate or adapt to climate change,” she said. “All of them have significant implications on the environment and climate change, but they are yet to be harmonised. All of them have competing goals and interests. So policy challenges exist within policies and also across policies.”

She said the government’s ambitious plan to place half a million hectares under modern irrigation, which is part of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme in Kilifi County in southern Kenya, as a climate change adaptation method to boost production would be difficult to implement because of conflicting policies. The government also plans to place an additional 1.25 million hectares in arid and semi-arid areas of the country under irrigation.

“The National Land policy and the Water Act lack clear coordination guidelines which will certainly interfere with these kind of priority climate adaptation plans.”

Gathuru Mburu, coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network, told IPS that if the government failed to meet its financial obligation to combat climate change, other stakeholders would fill the vacuum, sometimes to the detriment of the people.

“Multinationals are behind various policies which they claim are to combat climate change, but these policies have nothing to do with climate change and are targeting to edge out vulnerable farmers. They [multinationals] intend to criminalise the informal sector, in other words, the small-scale farmers,” he said.

He was referring to a proposed seed and anti-counterfeiting law that, if passed, will require farmers to only used certified seeds.

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In Home Gardens, Income and Food for Urban Poor Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:24:20 +0000 Elizabeth Whitman Urban agriculture is catching on in Jordan. Credit: Qtea/CC BY 2.0

Urban agriculture is catching on in Jordan. Credit: Qtea/CC BY 2.0

By Elizabeth Whitman
AMMAN, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

Flowers burst out of old tires and rows of pepper plants fill recycled plastic tubs as herbs pop out of old pipes. As utilitarian as it is cheery, this rooftop array is one of several urban agriculture projects that are significantly improving livelihoods for the urban poor in this sprawling city.

A slowly but steadily growing phenomenon in Jordan, urban agriculture has vast potential for reducing poverty and improving food security, and it has the added benefit of greening and cleaning up more rundown sections of cities.

But the success of urban agriculture depends on key components that are increasingly difficult to secure: land and water. Space for planting is growing ever slimmer in Jordan, and the country suffers froma perpetual shortage of water. While such problems are major, they have also forced those involved in urban agriculture in Amman to devise innovative and efficient ways to work around them.

The more successful they are, the more valuable urban agriculture becomes in Jordan, where two-thirds of the 160,000 people who are food insecure live in cities and 13 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. For them, urban agriculture is not a complete solution, but it does alleviate poverty, and in the long term, its indirect benefits can be even more widespread.

An ideal environment

Unchecked population growth and relatively unplanned development transformed Amman from a village in the 1940s to a vast, 1,000-square-kilometre metropolis in the 21st century. With a population of 2.3 million, the capital has 312 people per square kilometre, more than four times the national population density.

While willy-nilly urbanisation has not created the most functional of cities, the resulting urban sprawl actually jibes quite nicely with the concept of urban agriculture – using empty spaces between houses and on windowsills, balconies, and roofs to plant vegetables, herbs and other plants that families can consume or sell to boost their income.

Amman started its official urban farming programme in 2006, according to Hesham al Omari, the engineer who heads the urban agriculture office at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), as part of an initiative by the Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF), an international network of resource centres.

Although gardening at home was not new in Jordan, GAM’s programme aimed at making it more widespread and efficient by helping people start gardens in their homes – even giving them the materials to do so – and holding trainings to teach them how to grow as much as possible at a minimal cost.

“We choose inexpensive materials for people,” Omari said. Trainings teach people how to reuse materials like metal tins, plastic bags, and old wood for planting. Early projects ranged from planting carob and olive trees in an impoverished area of East Amman to prevent desertification to teaching women in another district to raise drought-resistant and aromatic herbs. The office is currently holding trainings in schools and women’s organisations.

“Fruits and vegetables in the markets are expensive, so if people can produce these things in their home, it’ll save them money,” Omari noted. He estimated that there are at least 400 rooftops gardens in Amman, though he hopes to see that number someday surpass 1,000.

In Arab countries, which import the majority of their food and are expected to import even more in coming decades, food security is linked to food prices, which are steadily rising. As a result, urban agriculture is one way to improve food security, noted a paper for the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM).

“Although it is a longstanding practice, urban agriculture receives poor recognition from agricultural scientists, policymakers, researchers, and even its practitioners,” said the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which funded research for the CIHEAM paper, pointing out how undervalued urban agriculture can be.

Tackling challenges

In the third most water-scarce country in the world, expending precious water on household plants may seem like a luxury Jordanians cannot afford. So GAM has also been teaching urban agriculturalists efficient water usage through grey water recycling systems, irrigation techniques, and rainwater catchment.

Khawla al-Amayra, who lives in the village of Iraq al-Amir on the western outskirts of Amman, where GAM held one of its training projects, said that a lack of water is the biggest challenge and that “in the summer, we have very little water.”

Land fragmentation and urbanisation also significantly affect agriculture. In governorates where the drop in cultivated land has been most severe, including Amman, between 1975 and 2007 land for growing grains decreased by 65 percent and for vegetables 91 percent, according to research by the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme.

Land prices have also been on the rise, so if people own empty plots, the incentive to sell is much stronger than the incentive to work the land, Omari added.

Despite these challenges, the IDRC praised Amman, where “strong municipal support has encouraged development [of urban agriculture].” Furthermore, once participants have gone through the training with GAM, they spread their knowledge to neighbours and friends outside the programme, Omari said.

Going national

The success in Amman has paved the way for other cities to take up similar projects. Eighty-two percent of Jordan’s population is urban, which means the vast majority of the population could become involved in urban agriculture and reap the same benefits -extra income, better food security and access to fresh produce.

A final report from RUAF on one of the GAM projects it funded was optimistic about urban agriculture’s prospects not just in Amman but also throughout the rest of Jordan, noting that urban agriculture “has become an integral part of the agenda of the municipality” and that “legislation has become more UA [urban agriculture] friendly.”

Thanks to the municipality, it noted, urban agriculture has garnered support from higher levels of government. Last week, the Jordanian ministry of agriculture decided to start selling fruit saplings to the public at bargain prices, “to increase green spaces in Jordan, especially with crops and trees which are economically feasible,” said Nimer Haddadin, the ministry’s spokesperson.

From Omari’s perspective, however, the government can’t do everything to spread urban agriculture, even as new projects have begun in Jerash, north of Amman, and Ain Al-Basha, northwest of the city. “They need help from the people,” he said with a smile.

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Reaching Quietly for the ‘Solidarity Basket’ Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:22:47 +0000 Vesna Peric Zimonjic A breadbasket left in a Belgrade store for the needy to dip into. Credit: Vesna Peric Zimonjic/IPS.

A breadbasket left in a Belgrade store for the needy to dip into. Credit: Vesna Peric Zimonjic/IPS.

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

In the early morning hours, as hundreds of people grab their breakfast at a busy bakery in Beogradska Street in the Serbian capital, a very special basket quickly fills up with croissants, rolls and breads. It is the ‘solidarity basket’.

It’s a concept that around 60 bakeries all over Serbia have introduced. While ordering something for themselves, customers buy an additional bread, croissant or bun and place it in the basket – for the needy.

“Approximately one in 10 customers buys an extra item and leaves it in the solidarity basket,” said baker Veljko Antic."Those who rely on these bits come much later. They usually sneak in and hurriedly walk away."

“Those who rely on these bits come much later. They usually sneak in and hurriedly walk away. They are ashamed, sad and grim…That is why we’ve placed the basket close to the entrance of our bakery so as not to add to their shame,” Antic told IPS.

This is the first initiative of its kind as poverty hits Serbia hard. Similar campaigns are unfolding in neighbouring countries too, mostly nations born out of erstwhile Yugoslavia.

Latest statistics show that 700,000 people in Serbia, which has a population of 7.2 million, live below the poverty line. As defined by the World Bank, this means they survive on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Out of 1.02 million children aged 0-14 in Serbia, 12 percent are poor and 6.6 percent suffer from malnutrition, according to official data.

The ‘solidarity meal’ was introduced by a group of young internet enthusiasts from the portal that promotes online shopping. The inspiration for their initiative – “Express solidarity, buy food for those who need it” – came from Italy, where people leave small change for coffee for those who cannot afford it.

“We liked the idea, but decided to focus on food,” Nina Milos, 24, from Kioskpages told IPS. “People in Serbia are in greater need of food than coffee.”

Serbia has a total of 68 Red Cross-run soup kitchens, but some are facing closure due to lack of funds. Red Cross officials have for long said their efforts are not enough to feed the needy.

“We were worried about the logistics of reaching out to different sets of people – who would introduce the solidarity meal, who would support it, who would use it, as the latter certainly have no access to the internet,” Milos said.

“That’s why we opted for posters at bakeries and ads in free newspapers, and we also networked with NGOs that work with the homeless or the poor,” she added.

According to her, the campaign has worked best in the capital, Belgrade, and the northern city of Novi Sad.

And that’s not all, she said. Many greengrocers have started offering for free the fruits and vegetables they haven’t sold during the day. “Several takeaways have joined in,” Milos said.

A similar campaign is being introduced in neighbouring Macedonia too. According to Milos, 10 bakeries in the capital, Skopje, and in the town of Kumanovo have joined the initiative.

“Solidarity had become a forgotten word in Serbia,” psychologist Miljana Radojevic told IPS.

“People are impoverished and hardly think about others,” she said. “However, there are those who are well to do or even those who are not so well off but can spend some extra money for those who need it,” she said.

The transition into a market economy after the Yugoslav civil wars of the 1990s and the economic crisis of 2008 has battered Serbia. Unemployment stands at 24.1 percent, affecting more than a third of the workforce.

The situation is a bit better in the other nations of erstwhile Yugoslavia, but poverty is knocking on the doors of many in the region.

Slovenia, with an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent, is still holding up well. But there too, a catering service,, has introduced a similar initiative called ‘an afterwards meal’.

“Such meals are given away to [the Catholic church humanitarian organisation] Caritas for further distribution,” said Peter Bostjancic of Minestra. “They are consumed by the poor and also by employed people whose incomes are too small for them to get by on,” Bostjancic told IPS.

In Croatia, where unemployment stands at 19 percent, the “urban poor” phenomenon is growing. “These are mostly well-educated people who have been left jobless after the companies they worked for closed down,” a source from Croatian Caritas told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“These are people who, until recently, were above the poverty line, but loss of jobs, rising prices and the burden of mortgages have put them in difficulties,” the source said.

And so, the idea behind the solidarity basket is catching on.

Belgrade bakeries work until late evening. Some people who depend on the solidarity basket come to Beogradska Street only when there are not many passersby.

One of them is 43-year-old Zorana Savovic, a single mother with two children who works for a meagre salary at a newspaper stand near a bakery.

“I’m ashamed to have to do this,” Savovic told IPS.

“But it provides the evening meal for me and my children. I eat nothing during the day and keep an eye on the basket across the street. I go in just before they close and then hurry home to my kids with food.”

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GM Crop Could Migrate Dangerously Thu, 28 Nov 2013 07:51:56 +0000 Ranjit Devraj A court-appointed committee in India has called for a ten-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops. Credit: F Delventhal/CC-BY-2.0

A court-appointed committee in India has called for a ten-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops. Credit: F Delventhal/CC-BY-2.0

By Ranjit Devraj
NEW DELHI, Nov 28 2013 (IPS)

Food security activists who secured a moratorium on introducing genetically modified brinjal (aubergine) into India fear that their efforts are being undermined by the release of GM brinjal in neighbouring Bangladesh.

“India and Bangladesh share a long and porous border and it is easy for GM  brinjal varieties to be brought over,” says Suman Sahai, director of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based research and advocacy group devoted to the conservation of genetic resources and indigenous knowledge.

GM brinjal is spliced with a gene derived from a soil bacterium to confer inbuilt resistance against the fruit and shoot borer pest, and reduce dependence on pesticide spraying. The U.S.-based Monsanto Corp., which owns the patents for GM brinjal, markets the seeds through Mahyco, an Indian subsidiary."India and Bangladesh share a long and porous border and it is easy for GM brinjal varieties to be brought over."

Sahai tells IPS that although Bangladeshi authorities have prescribed strict sequestration of its GM brinjal crops, there is real danger of genetic contamination of Indian brinjal varieties through natural cross-pollination in the long run.

According to an Oct. 31 announcement by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), cultivation of GM brinjal would be carried out under official supervision. Farmers would first be trained to take bio-safety measures, and the produce would be clearly labelled at the markets.

However, such measures are considered inadequate by the Coalition for a GM-Free India which has called on the Indian government to ensure that there is no illegal or unintentional transfer of seeds or of the crop across the common border.

“Since the India-Bangladesh border is porous, we demand a ban on the import or  transfer of crops, fruits, seeds and food of brinjal and related species, genus or family, which have remotest possibility of contamination directly or indirectly through Bt Brinjal,” the coalition members said in an open letter to India’s Minister for Environment and Forests in October.

According to Chitra Devi, a scientist with India’s National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the structure of the brinjal flower favours rapid cross-pollination. “Contamination with the bacterial genes spliced into GM brinjal would be rapid and  irreversible,” she tells IPS.

Such concerns guided the 2010 Indian moratorium on the cultivation of GM brinjal that was supposed to have become India’s s first GM food crop.

Prospects for cultivating GM food crops in India further receded in July when a technical advisory committee (TEC) appointed by India’s Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM food crops.

“Based on the examination of the safety dossiers, it is apparent that there are major gaps in the regulatory system,” the TEC informed the apex court which is continuing to hear arguments for and against the recommended moratorium.

The TEC had also recommended a ban on the “release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity,” which rice, brinjal, and mustard.

Earlier in August 2012, the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture had called in a report for a complete ban on GM food crops in the country. Provincial governments in states like Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have also opposed GM food crops.

Devinder Sharma, chair of the independent collective Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security in New Delhi, believes that it is no accident that the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute resorted to GM brinjal technology from Mahyco, the Indian subsidiary of Monsanto.

“Similar strategies have been used in Latin America to achieve a fait accompli by illegally releasing GM crop varieties into the environment,” Sharma tells IPS. “In fact this route was used to foist GM cotton on India and get around opposition by farmers and activists trying to protect biodiversity.”

Leading food security specialists in Bangladesh have also questioned the rush to release GM brinjal. Farida Akhtar, founder of UBINIG, a Bangladeshi NGO which runs one of the biggest community seed banks in the world, says the research on GM brinjal “was not done on the basis of need.”

In an emailed interview with IPS, Akhtar said “neither farmers nor officials have adequate knowledge of biosafety measures around GM brinjal or that there could be potential impacts on health and environment.”

Akhtar said the threat was not only to the Indian sub-continent but to Bangladesh itself with its over 100 varieties of brinjal that now stand to get contaminated through cross-pollination. “UBINIG alone has a collection of 41 different varieities,” she said.

“Subsistence farmers who account for 84 percent of farming households in the country are the custodians of local varieties of brinjal which are now going to be hit by  biological pollution caused by GM brinjal,” Akhtar said. “It is also possible that pests would now begin to selectively attack the natural varieties and finish them off.”

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

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

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 20 2013 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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