Inter Press ServiceFarming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 23 Oct 2018 00:54:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Kenyan Women Turning the Tables on Traditional Banking and Land Ownershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2018 15:58:12 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158133 This article is part of a series of stories to mark World Food Day October 16.

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Mary Auma feeding one of the cows she bought with credit from her table banking group. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 12 2018 (IPS)

It was less than eight months ago that Mary Auma and her three children, from Ahero in Kenya’s Nyanza region, were living in a one-room house in an informal settlement. Ahero is largely agricultural and each day Auma would go and purchase large quantities of milk and resell it – earning only a 10 percent profit.

But in February life for the single mother and her children changed for the better when she raised the USD 1,500 required to purchase an acre of land and two cows. The money did not just buy her assets, but financial security and a sustainable income. And she has moved her kids to a nicer neighbourhood. “Eight years ago, none of us had land to call their own. Today, all 24 of us have been able to acquire land through loans received from the group’s savings." --Irene Tuwei, a member of the Chamgaa table banking group.

This is all because two years ago Ahero joined a table banking group. Table banking is a group saving strategy in which members place their savings, loan repayments and other contributions. They can also borrow funds immediately. Table banking groups are growing in popularity across Africa, and can be found in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In some places they are called  table banks and in others they are known as village banks.

Auma always wanted to own land so she could become self-sufficient.
“With a piece of land, I could live on it, keep cows, chicken and grow vegetables behind my kitchen. This is what I have always wanted but I had no money to start these projects,” she tells IPS.

When you can’t bank on land, bank on the table

While women can freely own and buy land in Kenya, less than seven percent of them have title deeds, according to the non-governmental organisation Kenya Land Alliance.

“You need collateral to secure a loan from a commercial bank and women generally do not have property. They are therefore unable to access credit to buy land. The concept of table banking is highly attractive to women because they loan each other the capital needed to acquire property,” Francis Kiragu, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, tells IPS.

Auma says that the loans from her table banking group are attractive since the only collateral women need to provide are household assets. “It is rare for members to default on loans as members are mainly neighbours and fellow church [goers] who come together in good faith,” she explains.

As more women take over control of their farmlands, this will not only become their source of food but also income. Having an income is important as it increases their purchasing power. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Increased access to loans means increased access to land

Farming on lands they do not own has made it difficult for women to make transformative decisions and to contribute to sustainable food security. But as informal banking takes on a new form among rural women in Africa, there is a chance that women will start having increased access to land.

“Women are no longer hoarding pennies to share amongst themselves. We meet once a week and in just one sitting, 24 of us can now contribute up to 5,000 dollars,” Irene Tuwei, a member of the Chamgaa table banking group in Turbo, Rift Valley region, tells IPS.

Tuwei says that unlike in the past, women do not have to wait months to receive their savings. Table banking is an improved version of traditional merry-go-rounds where women would save a little from their household budgets and the lump sum would be handed over to one person at a time. This would sometimes mean that if there were 15 members in a merry-go-round it could take 15 months for each member to have their turn in accessing the funds.

Things have, however, evolved from this to a revolving fund.

“In table banks, not a single coin is banked, which gives us instant loans without providing the kind of security banks ask for,” Tuwei says.

Table banking still guided by rules

One of the most visible table banking movements in Kenya is the Joyful Women Table Banking movement that has 200,000 members in all 47 counties, and which claims to have a revolving fund estimated at 27 million dollars. This is said to be currently in the hands and pockets of women across the country in form of loans.

Tuwei’s Chamgaa group is one of 12,000 under this movement.

“These groups are so successful that we now have banks reaching out to us offering special accounts where we can borrow money at very friendly terms. Before, these banks would never accept our loan applications because we did not have assets to attach while applying for them,” Tuwei tells IPS.

Table banking is guided by rules and regulations designed and agreed upon by members. They include how often to meet, with some groups meeting weekly and others monthly.

The rules also include loan repayment periods and also touch on how members should conduct themselves during meetings. Tuwei says that across table banking groups, small misdemeanours such as being late for a meeting can attract a fine of between USD 2 to USD 5. Loans given to members are also charged interest.

Land and independence to call their own 

“Eight years ago, none of us had land to call their own. Today, all 24 of us have been able to acquire land through loans received from the group’s savings,” Tuwei says of her group.

Tuwei was struck by polio at an early age which affected her legs. So she could not move around freely and required assistance to plough her fields.
Since joining the group, she owns three motorbike taxis, some cows, chickens, pigs and an ox plough. She also has plans to open a petrol station near a busy highway soon.

She now also harvests approximately 80 bags of maize cobs, which translate to about 40 bags of grains once shelled. From this, she makes approximately USD 2,300 every harvest season and puts some of this money into her table banking group to boost her savings.

“At the end of the year we share all the money that has been revolving among us for 12 months based on what each member has contributed, additional money gathered from penalties and interest from loans is shared equally,” says Tuwei.

Women need land to combat world hunger

This year’s World Food Day comes on the heels of alarming reports that after a period of decline, world hunger is now on the rise, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

According to FAO, while rural women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture and contribute significantly to the farm labour force and to day-to-day family subsistence, they have great difficulty in accessing land and credit.

Kiragu is emphatic that while the face of farming is still very much female, it will take more women accessing loans, land and information on better farming practices to end hunger, achieve food security as well as improved nutrition.

“To begin with, the agricultural sector is not receiving sufficient financial support. In Kenya, only four percent of private sector credit is going to the agricultural sector,” Allan Moshi, a land policy expert on sub-Saharan Africa, tells IPS.

Women in Kasungu, a farming district in Central Malawi, select dried tobacco leaves to sell at the market. According to FAO, rural women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture and contribute significantly to the farm labour force. Credit: Mabvuto Banda/IPS

Women understand land better

According to FAO, women in forestry, fishing and agriculture receive a paltry seven percent of the total agricultural investment.
Even more worrisome is that while women in Africa contribute 60 to 80 percent of food, only an estimated five percent of women have access to agricultural extension services.

“Women understand land even better than men because they interact with the soil much more closely. We are now seeing more women taking charge of the land and not just as laborers, but also as land owners,” says Charles Kiprop, an agricultural extension officer in Turbo. He says that the number of women who own land as well as those who hire acres of land during the planting season is slowly on the rise.

Kiprop tells IPS that women have also become more proactive in accessing key information on better farming practices. “I have been invited by women’s groups to speak to them on farming practices on many occasions. Women no longer wait and hope that we will pass by their farms, they are now coming to us either as land owners or those who have hired land,” he explains.

The worst is yet to come

Participation of women in harnessing food production cannot be overemphasised, particularly in light of the Global Report on Food Crises 2018, which says that the worst is yet to come. The report was co-sponsored by FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

It predicted that dry weather conditions would aggravate food insecurity in a number of countries, including those in the horn of Africa’s pastoral areas in Somalia, parts of Ethiopia and Kenya.

“The March-May rainy season in Kenya was below average, this has affected food production and spiked food prices,” Kiprop adds.

According to the food security report, in the absence of conflict and displacement, climate change shocks were the main drivers of acute food insecurity in 23 out of the 65 countries and territories analysed in the previous 2017 on food crises. African countries were particularly affected.

The report indicates that at least 10 percent of the population in Ethiopia, 25 percent in Kenya, 27 percent in Malawi and 42 percent in Zimbabwe are food insecure. Other affected African countries include Madagascar, Senegal, Lesotho, Swaziland and Djibouti.

According to the report, “the global prevalence of childhood wasting (low weight for height) is around eight percent, higher than the internationally agreed nutrition target to reduce and maintain childhood wasting to below five percent by 2025.”

Women with an income and purchasing power

Moshi tells IPS that as more women take ownership of farmlands, “this will not only become their source of food but also income. Having an income is important as it increases their purchasing power.”

“Rural women will then be able to buy foods that they do not have therefore ensuring that their households are food secure,” he adds.

He notes that the women will also be able to purchase farm inputs.

Tuwei confirms that having an income has had a direct impact on her capacity to adhere to better farming practices.

“Five years ago, I could not afford to hire an Ox plough and would rely on the goodwill of neighbours who would first plough their lands and then come to my rescue. Many times they would come when it was too late to plough and plant in time,” she explains.

Tuwei further says that she and others in her group can now afford to use quality seeds, unlike before when they relied on seeds saved from previous harvests and those borrowed from neighbours.

“With the right tools, women can overhaul the agricultural sector because they have always been the ones involved in the day to day farm activities,” says Kiragu.

And thanks to the success of her milk business, Auma is ultimately glad that not only can she feed her children, but she can provide for their education and thereby their future also.

“Our table banking group is slightly different because we also contribute 20 dollars each week towards the welfare of our children. If a child needs school fees the mother is given a loan specifically from this part of our saving and at the same time she can take the usual loans from the general contribution so that she can keep her other projects going.”

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Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories to mark World Food Day October 16.

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Over and Under Nutrition: Two Sides of an Unhealthy Coinhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/nutrition-two-sides-unhealthy-coin/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nutrition-two-sides-unhealthy-coin http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/nutrition-two-sides-unhealthy-coin/#respond Thu, 04 Oct 2018 03:39:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157966 A dramatic shift in the way we eat and think about food is more urgent than ever to prevent further environmental degradation and an even larger health epidemic.    A diverse group of experts from academia, civil society, and United Nations agencies convened at the sidelines of the General Assembly to discuss the pervasive issue […]

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Poor dietary intake and lack of food varieties affect huge numbers of children, who mostly hail from large, impoverished families in Nepal. Malnutrition is a significant concern in Nepal as around one million children under 5 years suffer from chronic malnutrition and 10 percent suffer from acute malnutrition. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2018 (IPS)

A dramatic shift in the way we eat and think about food is more urgent than ever to prevent further environmental degradation and an even larger health epidemic.   

A diverse group of experts from academia, civil society, and United Nations agencies convened at the sidelines of the General Assembly to discuss the pervasive issue of food insecurity and malnutrition and potential solutions to overhaul the system.“Sustainable food choices is starting to both look good and taste good which hasn’t been the story of the past.” -- founder of EAT Gunhild Stordalen

“It’s striking that we are still, despite all the advances we have seen in science and technology, we still have this big gap between those who eat too much and those who don’t have enough food to eat,” Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition Foundation’s head of media relations Luca Di Leo told IPS.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, the number of hungry people increased to over 820 million in 2017 from approximately 804 million in 2016, levels unseen for almost a decade.

At the same time, and perhaps paradoxically, obesity rates have rapidly increased over the last decade from 11.7 percent in 2012 to 13.2 percent in 2016. This means that in 2017, more than one in eight adults, or over 670 million people, in the world were obese.

Adult obesity and the rate of its increase is highest in North America, and increasing trends can now also be seen across Africa and Asia.

Participants at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition stressed the need to deal with both forms of malnutrition, and pointed to the lack of access to healthy food as the culprit.

“It’s not just what’s in the food, it’s what’s in the discourse about food…there is more than one way to eat badly,” said director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Centre David Katz.

However, many noted that there is a lack of a unified, factual consensus on what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system.

“Without goals to mobilise collective action, and also no mechanisms to either coordinate nor monitor progress, it is really hard to achieve large-scale system change,” said founder of EAT Foundation, a science-based global platform for food system transformation, Gunhild Stordalen.

Katz echoed similar sentiments, stating: “You will never get there if you can’t agree where there is…we must rally around a set of fundamental truths.”

Fighting the System

Among these truths is the need to overhaul the entire food and agricultural system.

Despite the notorious and shocking findings from the 2004 ‘Supersize Me’ documentary, the consumption of unhealthy processed foods and sugar has only increased.

According to the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Food Sustainability Index (FSI) 2017, the United States had the highest sugar consumption out of 34 countries in 2017.

The average person in the U.S. consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, twice the amount that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for daily intake.

This not only leads to increasing obesity rates, but it has also contributed to a rise in levels of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

“The number of lost years to nutritional deficiencies and cardiovascular diseases has been going up very sharply in the United States,” said Leo Abruzzese from the Economist Intelligence Unit, which develops the index.

“One of the U.S.’ less impressive exports has been bad nutrition…people aren’t necessarily dying but they are living pretty miserable lives. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t you think there has to be something done?” he told IPS.

The FSI also found that the U.S.’ consumption of meat and saturated fat is among the highest in the world, contributing to unhealthy diets and even climate change.

According to U.N. University, emissions from livestock account for almost 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Beef and dairy alone make up 65 percent of all livestock emissions.

In fact, meat and dairy companies are on track to become the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, surpassing the fossil fuel industry.

However, Stordalen noted that delivering healthy and sustainable diets is within our reach.

Alternatives to meat have taken many countries by storm, and could slowly transform the fast food and meat industries. Consumers can now find the ‘impossible burger,’ a meatless plant-based burger, in many restaurants and fast food chains such as White Castle.

Recently, the U.S.-based vegan meat companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods was recently honoured by U.N. Environment with the Champions of the Earth award.

“Sustainable food choices is starting to both look good and taste good which hasn’t been the story of the past,” Stordalen said.

“Once people get the taste of better solutions, they not only start craving but even demanding  a better future. They come together to make it happen,” she added.

The FSI is also a crucial tool to guide governments and policymakers to pay attention to progress and weaknesses in their own country’s food systems.

“By collecting all of these [indicators] together, we essentially have a framework for what we think a good food system would look like,” Abruzzese said.

In some African countries even though there is enough food, it is the type of food that is available that counts. In Malawi, for instance, even though families had increased access to maize, nearly half the children are malnourished. In this dated picture, these children from south Madagascar are malnourished. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A Problem of Power

The lack of access to healthy food and its consequences can also be seen at the other end of the food value chain: producers.

Women account for up to 60 percent of agricultural labour across Africa, yet still have poor access to quality seeds, fertiliser, and mechanical equipment. At the same time, they often look after the household, taking care of children and cooking meals.

Such gender inequality has been found to contribute to poorer household nutrition, including increases in stunting among children.

Forum participants highlighted the need to empower women farmers and address the gender inequalities in agriculture in order to advance food and nutrition security as well as establish sustainable societies.

“The opposite of hunger is power,” said University of Texas’ research professor Raj Patel, pointing to the case of Malawi.

In Malawi, more than half of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The harvesting of corn, which is the southeastern African country’s main staple, is designated to women who are also tasked with care work.

“Even when there was more food, there was more malnutrition,” said Patel.

One northern Malawian village tackled the issue through the Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities Project and achieved extraordinary results.

Alongside actions to diversify crop, the project brought men and women together to share the workload such as cooking together and involving men in care work.

Not only did they achieve gender equality in agriculture, the village also saw dramatic decreases in infant malnutrition.

“We need to value women’s work,” Patel said.

Future of Food

Fixing the food and agricultural system is no easy task, but it has to be done, attendees said.

“We know what the problems are, we’ve also identified the potential solutions…and the main solution is each and every one of us,” Di Leo told IPS.

One of the key solutions is education and empowering people to be agents of change.

“Healthy production will come if the consumer ask for the healthy eating. And healthy eating will come if the consumer has the right education and information,” Di Leo said.

For instance, many do not see or know the link between food and climate change, he added.

In fact, a 2016 study found that there was a lack of awareness of the association between meat consumption and climate change and a resistance to the idea of reducing personal meat consumption.

“It’s a kind of change that needs a bottom-up approach,” Di Leo said.

Stordalen echoed Di Leo’s comments, calling for a global ‘dugnad’—a Norwegian word describing the act of a community uniting and working together to achieve a goal that will serve them all.

“The state of the global food system calls for new collaborative action,” she said.

“It’s time to officially ditch the saying that ‘the more cooks, the worse soup’ because we need everybody involved to serve our people and planet the right future.”

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More Women Owning Agricultural Land in Africa Means Increased Food Security and Nutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/women-owning-agricultural-land-africa-means-increased-food-security-nutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-owning-agricultural-land-africa-means-increased-food-security-nutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/women-owning-agricultural-land-africa-means-increased-food-security-nutrition/#respond Sun, 30 Sep 2018 12:01:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157894 Despite women being key figures in agriculture and food security, gender inequality is holding back progress towards ending hunger, poverty, and creating sustainable food systems.  During a high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the African Union (AU) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) reviewed the persistent […]

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Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2018 (IPS)

Despite women being key figures in agriculture and food security, gender inequality is holding back progress towards ending hunger, poverty, and creating sustainable food systems. 

During a high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the African Union (AU) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) reviewed the persistent gender gaps in agri-food systems in Africa and highlighted the need for urgent action. “It is therefore economically rewarding to invest in women’s education and economic empowerment since women often use a large portion of their income on children and family welfare.” -- AU commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Leonel Correa Sacko.

“There is a strong momentum to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in agri-food systems because women constitute the majority of agricultural labour,” said AU commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Leonel Correa Sacko.

However, despite women’s crucial role in such systems, there are persistent gender gaps.

“We need to better recognise and harness the fundamental contribution of women to food security and nutrition. For that, we must close persisting gender gaps in agriculture in Africa,” said FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva.

“Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure,” he added.

While women account for up to 60 percent of agricultural labour, approximately 32 percent of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both.

Only 13 percent of women, compared to 40 percent of men, have sole ownership on all or part of the land they own, according to the Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems, a joint report by the FAO and AU that was presented during the event.

In 2016, thousands of rural women across Africa gathered at Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to protest and demand the right to land and natural resources.

Some even climbed to the peak of Africa’s highest mountain, showcasing their determination for change.

Even when women are able to own their own land, many still lack access to productive resources and technologies such as fertiliser, agricultural input, mechanical equipment, and finance.

This poses numerous challenges along the food value chain, including food loss.

Globally, approximately one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Food loss and waste is a major contributor to climate change and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the economic cost of such losses amount up to USD4 billion every year, FAO found.

Closing productivity gaps could increase food production and consumption by up to 10 percent and reduce poverty by up to 13 percent.

While women account for up to 60 percent of agricultural labour, approximately 32 percent of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

The FAO-AU assessment also estimated that agricultural output could more than triple if farmers had access to the finance needed to expand quality and quantity of their produce.

Panellists noted that addressing the agricultural gender gaps in Africa could additionally boost food security and nutrition in the region.

Globally, hunger is on the rise and it is worsening in most parts of Africa. Out of 821 million hungry people in the world in 2017, over 250 million are in Africa.

Many African nations are also seeing a rapid rise in obesity, which could soon become the continent’s biggest public health crisis.

“It is therefore economically rewarding to invest in women’s education and economic empowerment since women often use a large portion of their income on children and family welfare,” Sacko said.

Graziano da Silva noted that among the key issues is the lack of women in governance systems and decision-making processes. 

Between five and 30 percent of field officers from ministries and rural institutions are women while only 12 to 20 percent of staff in ministries of agriculture are female.

This coincides with the lack of gender targeting and analysis mechanisms, resulting in services that target male-dominated sectors.

If such trends continue, Africa will not be close to achieving many of the ambitious development goals including the Malabo Declaration, which aims to achieve inclusive growth, sustainable agriculture, and improved livelihoods.

There has been some positive trends as many African countries have started to recognise the importance of putting women at the heart of the transformation of rural food systems.

Botswana’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme provides grants to women, enabling them to start their own enterprises and advance their economic well-being.

First Lady of Botswana Neo Jane Massi attended the high-level event and stressed the “importance of inclusive growth in our national development agendas in order to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Similarly, the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Women, implemented by various U.N. agencies including FAO and U.N. Women, has provided more than 40,000 women with training on improved agricultural technologies and increased access to financial services and markets.

While women’s participation in decision making has increased from 17 to 30 percent, Graziano da Silva stressed the need for better and more balanced representation of women at all levels.

Presenting the recommendations from the AU-FAO outlook report, Sacko called for an “enabling environment,” reinforcement of accountability mechanisms for gender equality and women’s empowerment, and a “gender data revolution” to better inform gender-sensitive policies and programs.

“Let us be ambitious, and let us all put our wings together,” Massi concluded.

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How Filling in the Agricultural Data Gap Will Fill Empty Plateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/filling-agricultural-data-gap-will-fill-empty-plates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filling-agricultural-data-gap-will-fill-empty-plates http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/filling-agricultural-data-gap-will-fill-empty-plates/#respond Wed, 26 Sep 2018 14:47:26 +0000 Matthew L. Norman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157774 Each year as hundreds of billions of dollars are invested and critical decisions are made in agriculture, there is often little evidence or research to back these choices.  According to experts, this lack of data “leads to less than optimal decisions, causing losses in productivity, lost agricultural income, and ultimately more hunger and poverty.” “The […]

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In Cameroon, a nutritionist assesses the health of a child: red indicates severe malnutrition. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Matthew L. Norman
NEW YORK, United States, Sep 26 2018 (IPS)

Each year as hundreds of billions of dollars are invested and critical decisions are made in agriculture, there is often little evidence or research to back these choices. 

According to experts, this lack of data “leads to less than optimal decisions, causing losses in productivity, lost agricultural income, and ultimately more hunger and poverty.”

“The data gaps in agriculture are widespread, affecting 800 million, or 78 percent of the world’s poorest. The problem is especially dire in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half of countries have incomplete information about the [agriculture] sector and farmers,” Emily Hogue, a senior advisor with Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), explains to IPS.

“Assessments have shown that those countries are able to meet half or less of their basic data needs, largely due to a lack of [agriculture] surveys.”

Citing the foundational role data plays in directing development efforts and monitoring progress towards the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Gates Foundation, World Bank, FAO and others have launched a partnership aimed at investing in the agricultural data capabilities of low and middle-income countries. 

Dubbed the 50 x 2030 Initiative, the plan aims to invest USD 500 million in data gathering and analysis across 50 developing nations by 2030.

On Monday, the governments of Ghana, Kenya and Sierra Leone joined the coalition in hosting an event at the U.N. General Assembly to announce the initiative. Panellists representing several of the initiative’s key partners shared the impetus behind their involvement.

Rodger Voorhies, executive director for Global Growth and Opportunity at the Gates Foundation, noted that “almost no country has come out of poverty in an inclusive way without agricultural transformation being at the centre of it.” 

However, the panellists noted, the data needed to design evidence-based agricultural policy and target agricultural investments is severely deficient in many developing nations. This data gap represents a “critical obstacle to agricultural development,” according to Beth Dunford of USAID.

“There is no efficient path to meeting SDG2 or other [agriculture] development goals without improved agricultural data. Improved data will promote more effective targeting of interventions, improved national [agriculture] policies, and increased resources for the sector. As FAO is the organisation that is at the forefront of the activities to promote [agriculture] development and reduce hunger and malnutrition, we see filling in the agricultural data gap as a prerequisite to achieving agricultural development goals,” Hogue says. SDG2 is the goal to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

The 50 x 2030 Initiative’s announcement comes in the wake of the FAO’s recent revelation that world hunger has risen for a third straight year, with 821 million people worldwide facing chronic food deprivation. 

Panellists emphasised that the data gap limits the ability of many nations to direct resources towards populations most in need, including smallholders affected by gender inequality or climate change. 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) president Gilbert Houngbo, formerly the prime minister of Togo, observed that granular data could reveal regional, ethnic or gender disparities that are obscured by aggregate data. He recalled that during his time as Togo’s leader, progress in achieving inclusive poverty reduction was made more challenging because the country “did not have the disaggregated data to better adjust the implementation of our policies.”

In addition to driving better policy design and implementation, improved agricultural data will make it possible to better monitor progress in achieving the SDGs. 

Claire Melamed, CEO of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, noted that many countries lack any data for several of the most critical SDG indicators, making it impossible to set a baseline and monitor progress towards the goals.

José Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO, explained that the initiative would initially focus on scaling up existing surveys of farming households. The FAO’s AGRISurvey is expected to expand to nineteen nations by 2021, and Graziano da Silva noted that this initiative would allow it to eventually expand to 50 or more. The initiative will also build upon the World Bank’s Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (ISA), part of the Bank’s Living Standards and Measurement Study (LSMS).

“The goal of this initiative is to have 50 low and lower-middle income countries (LMICs) with strong national data systems that produce and use high-quality and timely agricultural data for evidence-based decision-making. The survey programs are the vehicle through which we will build capacities and strengthen the institutions in those systems. We also aim to include the private sector, especially agribusinesses, as users and supports of these data,” Hogue adds.

Over time the initiative should allow more countries to take advantage of advances in data gathering and analytics. Laura Tuck, vice president of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, suggested that new tools for “real-time, high-definition data” would lead to smarter policies that increase sustainable food production. Tuck also noted that the structure of the 50 x 2030 initiative would allow countries the autonomy to drive their own use of data.

*Additional reporting by Carmen Arroyo in New York.

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Development of ICT Innovation Expected to Help in Fight Against Banana Disease in Rwandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/development-ict-innovation-expected-help-fight-banana-disease-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-ict-innovation-expected-help-fight-banana-disease-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/development-ict-innovation-expected-help-fight-banana-disease-rwanda/#respond Tue, 25 Sep 2018 16:46:29 +0000 Aimable Twahirwa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157764 When Telesphore Ruzigamanzi, a smallholder banana farmer from a remote village in Eastern Rwanda, discovered a peculiar yellowish hue on his crop before it started to dry up, he did not give it the due consideration it deserved. “I was thinking that it was the unusually dry weather causing damage to my crop,” Ruzigamanzi, who […]

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In Rwanda the banana disease BXW is detrimental to a crop and has far-reaching consequences not only for farmers but for the food and nutritional security of their families and those dependent on the crop as a source of food. Credit: Alejandro Arigón/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Sep 25 2018 (IPS)

When Telesphore Ruzigamanzi, a smallholder banana farmer from a remote village in Eastern Rwanda, discovered a peculiar yellowish hue on his crop before it started to dry up, he did not give it the due consideration it deserved.

“I was thinking that it was the unusually dry weather causing damage to my crop,” Ruzigamanzi, who lives in Rwimishinya, a remote village in Kayonza district in Eastern Rwanda, tells IPS.

But in fact, it was a bacterial disease.

Ruzigamanzi’s crop was infected with Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), a bacterial disease that affects all types of bananas and is known locally as Kirabiranya. "Our ongoing effort to develop, test, and deploy smart or normal mobile applications is a critical step towards cost-effective monitoring and control of the disease spread." -- Julius Adewopo, lead of the BXW project at IITA.

Here, in this East African nation, BXW is detrimental to a crop and has far-reaching consequences not only for farmers but for the food and nutritional security of their families and those dependent on the crop as a source of food.

Banana is an important crop in East and Central Africa, with a number of countries in the region being among the world’s top-10 producers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database.

According to a household survey of districts in Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, banana accounts for about 50 percent of the household diet in a third of Rwanda’s homes.

But the top factor affecting banana production in all three countries, according to the survey, was BXW.

Researchers have indicated that BXW can result in 100 percent loss of banana stands, if not properly controlled.

Complacency and lack of information contribute to spread of the disease

The BXW disease is not new to the country. It was first reported in 2002. Since then, there have been numerous, rigorous educational campaigns by agricultural authorities and other stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations.

Farmers in Ruzigamanzi’s region have been trained by a team of researchers from the Rwanda Agriculture Board and local agronomists about BXW. But Ruzigamanzi, a father of six, was one of the farmers missed by the awareness campaign and therefore lacked the knowledge to diagnose the disease.

Had he known what the disease was, and depending on its state of progress on the plant, Ruzigamanzi would have had to remove the symptomatic plants, cutting them at soil level immediately after first observation of the symptoms. If the infection is uncontrolled for a long time, he would have had to remove the entire plant from the root.

And it is what he ended up doing two weeks later when a visiting local agronomist came to look at the plant.

By then it was too late to save the banana stands and Ruzigamanzi had to uproot all the affected mats, including the rhizome and all its attached stems, the parent plant and its suckers.

Ruzigamanzi’s story is not unique. In fact, a great number of smallholder farmers in remote rural regions have been ignoring or are unaware of the symptoms of this bacterial banana infection. And it has increased the risk of spreading of the disease to new regions and of resurgence in areas where it had previously been under control. Several districts in eastern Rwanda have been affected by the disease in recent years.

An enumerator for the ICT4BXW project conducting a baseline assessment of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), a bacterial disease, status in Muhanga district, Rwanda. Courtesy: Julius Adewopo/ International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

Using technology to strengthen rural farmers and control spread of BXW

Early 2018, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in partnership with Bioversity International, the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies and the Rwanda Agriculture Board, commenced a collaborative effort to tackle the disease through the use of digital technology. IITA scientists are exploring alternative ways of engaging farmers in monitoring and collecting data about the disease. The institute is renowned for transforming African agriculture through science and innovations, and was recently announced as the Africa Food Prize winner for 2018.

The new three-year project (named ICT4BXW), which launched with a total investment of 1.2 million Euros from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, seeks to explore the use of mobile phones as tools to generate and exchange up-to-date knowledge and information about BXW.

The project builds on the increasing accessibility of mobile phones in Rwanda. According to data from the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, this country’s mobile telephone penetration is currently estimated at 79 percent in a country of about 12 million people, with a large majority of the rural population currently owning mobile phones.

“Our ongoing effort to develop, test, and deploy smart or normal mobile applications is a critical step towards cost-effective monitoring and control of the disease spread,” says Julius Adewopo, who is leading the BXW project at IITA. He further explained that, “Banana farmers in Rwanda could be supported with innovations that leverages on the existing IT infrastructure and the rapidly increasing mobile phone penetration in the country.”

Central to the project is the citizen science approach, which means that local stakeholders, such as banana farmers and farmer extensionists (also called farmer promoters), play leading roles in collecting and submitting data on BXW presence, severity, and transmission. Moreover, stakeholders will participate in the development of the mobile application and platform, through which data and information will be exchanged.

About 70 farmer promoters from eight different districts in Northern, Western, Southern, and Eastern province will be trained to use the mobile phone application. They will participate in collecting and submitting data for the project—about incidence and severity of BXW in their village—via the platform. The project expects to reach up to 5,000 farmers through engagement with farmer promoters and mobile phones.

Further, data from the project will be translated into information for researchers, NGOs and policy makers to develop effective and efficient support systems. Similarly, data generated will feed into an early warning system that should inform farmers about disease outbreaks and the best management options available to them.

A real-time reporting system on the disease

While the existing National Banana Research Programme in Rwanda has long focused on five key areas of interventions with strategies used in the control or management of plant diseases, the proposed mobile-based solution is described as an innovative tool that it is easily scalable and flexible for application or integration with other information and communications technology (ICT) platforms or application interfaces.

“We observe limitations in the availability of reliable and up-to-date data and information about disease transmission patterns, severity of outbreaks, and effect of control measures,” Mariette McCampbell, a research fellow who studies ICT-enabled innovation and scaling on the ICT4BXW project, tells IPS. “We also have lack good socio-economic and socio-cultural data that could feed into farmer decision-making tools and an early warning system.”

The new reporting system intends to develop into an early warning system that will allow the Rwandan government to target efforts to mitigate the spread of BXW, it also aims to serve as a catalyst for partnerships among stakeholders to strengthen Banana production systems in the country.

“This [ICT] innovation could enable [near-]real-time assessment of the severity of the disease and support interventions for targeted control,” explains Adewopo.

The project team is currently working hard to co-develop the ICT platform, with farmer promoters and consultants. By the second quarter of 2019, tests with a pilot version of the platform will start in the eight districts where the project is active.

The project team have already identified a variety of scaling opportunities for a successful platform.“Problems with Banana Xanthomonas Wilt are not limited to Rwanda, neither is it the only crop disease that challenges farmers. Therefore, our long-term goal is to adapt the platform such that it can be scaled and used in other countries or for other diseases or other crops,” McCampbell explains.

According to Adewopo, “the vision of success is to co-develop and deploy a fully functional tool and platform, in alignment with the needs of target users and with keen focus on strengthening relevant institutions, such as the Rwanda Agricultural Board, to efficiently allocate resources for BXW control and prevention through democratised ICT-based extension targeting and delivery.”

There is increasing need for smarter and faster management of risks that have limited production in agricultural systems.

In recognition of BXW’s terminal threat to banana crops, there is no doubt that the use of ICT tools brings a new hope for banana farmers, and can equitably  empower them through improved extension/advisory access, irrespective of gender, age, or social status – as long as they have access to a mobile phone.

*Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams in Johannesburg

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In the Race to Achieve Zero Hunger and Mitigate Climate Change, We Must Look Down — to the Soilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/race-achieve-zero-hunger-mitigate-climate-change-must-look-soil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=race-achieve-zero-hunger-mitigate-climate-change-must-look-soil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/race-achieve-zero-hunger-mitigate-climate-change-must-look-soil/#respond Tue, 18 Sep 2018 09:41:57 +0000 Esther Ngumbi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157654 Esther Ngumbi is Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois. She was the 2015 Clinton Global University (CGI U) Mentor for Agriculture and 2015 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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John Daffi on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete, Tanzania. Experts says the importance of soil cannot be overstated as healthy soils underpin agriculture and sustainable food systems. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Esther Ngumbi
ILLINOIS, United States, Sep 18 2018 (IPS)

Recently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva urged countries, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders invested in building an equitable, sustainable, and thriving planet to pay attention to the soil. He further noted that the future of the planet depends on how healthy the soils of today are.

I agree. In the race to beat food insecurity, achieve zero hunger, and address climate change, we must pay attention to the soil. The importance of soil cannot be overstated. Healthy soils underpin agriculture and sustainable food systems.

But there is more to healthy soils. They can deliver many other benefits.

First, healthy soils can help address and mitigate climate change through storing soil carbon. Research studies have shown that healthy soils hold more carbon and these reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80 percent.

At the same time, research studies and reports have shown that soils that are rich in organic carbon can deliver many benefits, including increasing crop yields,  soil water holding capacity and storage. Plants can use stored water in periods when water is scarce.

Secondly, healthy soils make it possible for the inhabitants of the soils —soil microorganisms — to continue playing their roles. Unseen to the naked eye, tiny soil microorganisms that include bacteria and fungi are hard at work, helping plants to grow better while keeping our soils healthy, which ultimately allows farmers to grow food amidst a changing climate.

Further, these microorganisms deliver other benefits including helping plants to tolerate climate change induced extremities including drought. These microbes can also help plants to fend off and suppress insect pests, including invasive pests and other that have become a force to reckon with in the developing countries. Thriving and functioning soil microbes can be key to revolutionising agriculture.

Thirdly, taking care of the soil and keeping them healthy, ensures that farmers around the word build resilient ecosystems that can bounce back from extremities that come along with a changing climate.

Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University in Alabama. Courtesy: Esther Ngumbi

However, even with all these benefits that come along when soils healthy, around the world, a third of our soils are degraded.

In 2015, the U.N. launched the International Year of Soils and highlighted the extent with which soils were degraded worldwide. Since then, countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and many other stakeholders have stepped up to the challenge. They are paying attention to soils.

Ethiopia launched a countrywide initiative to map the health and status of Ethiopian soils which has allowed farmers to reap the many benefits that can come when soils are healthy including increased crop yields. Because of paying attention to soil health, Ethiopia is slowly transforming agriculture, and paving way for its citizens to become food secure.

In addition, in early June, the FAO together with the Global Soil Partnership launched the Afrisoils programme, with a goal to reduce soil degradation by 25 percent in the coming decade in 47 African countries.

Moreover, because soil health is not only an African problem, developed countries are stepping up.

In the United States, the Soil Health Institute continues to coordinate and support soil stewardship and the advancement of soil health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips, guidelines and many resources that can be useful to stakeholders and governments and farmers that want to help restore the health of their soils. Advocacy groups like Soil4Climate continue to advocate for soil restoration as a climate solution.

This must continue.

But, as Africa and the many stakeholders look to the future and pay attention to soils, what are some of the areas and innovations surrounding soils that are likely going to pay off?

Innovations surrounding beneficial soil microbes. When beneficial soil microbes are happy, healthy, and plentiful in the soils, the nutrients are available to roots, plants grow big, insects are repelled and farmers ultimately reap the benefits—a plentiful harvest.

We must ensure that products and solutions that spin off from beneficial soils microbes are affordable, especially so to the over 500 million smallholder farmers, who live on less than a dollar a day.

Innovations surrounding soil heath diagnostic kits that help farmers to rapidly and precisely determine the health of the soils will be a win-win for all.

As shown in Ethiopia, where knowing the status of the heath of the soils has resulted into the doubling of farmer’s productivity and improving soil health these innovations can be a game changer in the race to beat food insecurity across Africa.

Translating innovations into products and solutions requires funding. Luckily, innovators, researchers, NGO’s and for profit companies thinking of making this happen can apply for funding through FoodShot Global’s Innovating Soil 3.0 challenge.

This unique investment platform catalysing groundbreaking innovation to cultivate a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system will be offering a combination of equity and debt funding to innovative businesses and a groundbreaker prize of more than USD500,000 to researchers, social entrepreneurs and advocates taking bold “moonshots for better food”.

These cash prizes will allow winners to translate bold ideas that utilise the latest in technology, science and engineering into solutions that address the soil health crisis.

To reap the many benefits that come along with healthy soils, the right interventions and innovations to improve soil health must be funded, rolled out and scaled up. Healthy soils are the foundational base that will enable countries to achieve the U.N. sustainable development goals. In the race to achieve these goals, we must pay attention to the soil. Time is ripe.

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Excerpt:

Esther Ngumbi is Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois. She was the 2015 Clinton Global University (CGI U) Mentor for Agriculture and 2015 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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Africa Needs Strong Political Will to Transform Agriculture and Spur Economic Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/africa-needs-strong-political-will-transform-agriculture-spur-economic-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-needs-strong-political-will-transform-agriculture-spur-economic-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/africa-needs-strong-political-will-transform-agriculture-spur-economic-growth/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 15:11:05 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157640 Africa needs strong political commitment to accelerate the transformation of its agricultural sector. According to the 2018 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), Catalyzing State Capacity to Drive Agriculture Transformation, released this September by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), African states need political will to boost production and income on the millions […]

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Ndomi Magareth, sows bean seeds on her small piece of land in Njombe, Cameroon. Africa currently spends over USD 35 billion annually on food imports, money that could make a big difference if invested in agriculture development. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2018 (IPS)

Africa needs strong political commitment to accelerate the transformation of its agricultural sector.

According to the 2018 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), Catalyzing State Capacity to Drive Agriculture Transformation, released this September by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), African states need political will to boost production and income on the millions of small, family farms that grow most of Africa’s food.

The continent currently spends over USD 35 billion annually on food imports, money that could make a big difference if invested in agricultural development. AGRA has said Africa could require up to USD 400 billion over the next 10 years in public and private sector investments in food production, processing, marketing and transport.

Government is ultimately responsible for transforming agriculture by creating a conducive environment and addressing inherent governance challenges, Daudi Sumba, one of the report’s authors and head of Monitoring and Evaluation at AGRA, told IPS in an interview. “This requires vision and leadership to create political will among high-level political leaders to implement effective policies for agricultural transformation.”

Citing the example of the late prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, Sumba said the former Ethiopian leader understood rural farmers as well as how important scientific knowledge was to progress and that contributed to his political will to implement effective policies.

As a result, Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has achieved the highest agricultural growth rates over an extended period of time.

Most African countries struggle to realise economic growth for agriculture because of lack of political leadership, the report found.

However, the report notes some exceptions of countries whose agricultural development provides an example for others. In addition to Ethiopia, the report says Rwanda has marshalled political support for agriculture and integrated detailed action plans within its broader economic development strategies. Progress in the agricultural sector is credited with lifting over one million Rwandans out of extreme poverty in a relatively short period.


Furthermore, the report finds that  economic output in Ghana’s agricultural sector—driven in part by the government’s new “Planting for Food and Jobs” programme—grew 8.4 percent in 2017 after posting only three percent growth in 2016. Similarly, AGRA experts point to countries such as Kenya, Burkina Faso, Mali and Zambia as places where political momentum and government capabilities are growing.

Jundi Hajji, a wheat farmer from Ethiopia, shows his crop. In Ethiopia, 25 years of steady growth in the farm sector has cut rural poverty rates in half. Credit:Omer Redi/IPS

The increasing willingness of African governments to openly discuss where they are advancing in agriculture and where they are struggling is a reason for optimism, the report says. For example, 47 countries have signed on to the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a master plan to achieve economic growth through growing agriculture by at least six percent annually.

Ethiopia, for the past 25 years, has consistently exceeded the CAADP target of six percent growth in the agricultural sector. The government consistently made CAADP the core of its agricultural plan.

Available evidence suggests that political will to support agricultural transformation has remained limited in most African countries. This implies that political will must be raised for agriculture to drive economic development, Sumba said.

“Existing data suggest that the political will to support agriculture transformation is likely lower in Africa than in other regions of the developing world,” the report states, adding that it “has not substantially increased during the past decade.”

The report, which was released at the annual African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda, notes that countries like China, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Morocco have seen the economic benefits of intensifying commercial production on small farms.

For example, China’s agricultural transformation is credited with kick starting a rapid decline in rural poverty, from 53 percent in 1981 to eight percent in 2001. In Ethiopia, 25 years of steady growth in the farm sector has cut rural poverty rates in half and in rural Rwanda, over the same period, poverty has reduced by 25 percent, the report notes.

AGRA president Dr. Agnes Kalibata says governments are central to driving an inclusive agriculture transformation agenda. The report highlights the value of strengthening country planning, coordination and implementation capacity while supporting the development of an effective private sector and an enabling regulatory environment to boost agricultural productivity.

“Our experience and lessons have shown that impact can be achieved faster by supporting countries to deliver on their own transformation; driving scale through a well-planned and coordinated approach to resources in the public domain to build systems and institutions,” said Kalibata.

“Governments are definitely central to driving an inclusive agriculture transformation agenda. This body of work recognises their role and aims to highlight the value of strengthening country planning, coordination and implementation capacity while supporting the development of an effective private sector and enabling regulatory environment,” she added.

While Africa needs urgent agricultural transformation, it should attend to the challenges of rapid urbanisation, climate, significant unemployment (one third of Africans aged 15 to 35 are jobless), and chronic malnutrition, which has left 58 million children stunted.

With over 800 million people worldwide suffering from hunger and more than two billion affected by malnutrition, food insecurity remains a real threat to global development and more so in Africa.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that an additional 38 million Africans will be hungry by 2050. This is despite the fact that the continent has sufficient land, water and manpower to produce more food than it imports. The AfDB projects that food imports will grow to USD 110 billion annually by 2025 if the current trend continues without the urgency to invest in agriculture production and value addition.

“Lack of democratisation looms large when it comes to explaining (and hence diagnosing implementation needs) lack of political will to pursue agricultural transformation, the report says. “Political competition increases the attention to agricultural growth and hence to the extent of discrimination against agriculture on such items as taxation,” the Africa Agriculture Status Report states.

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How Ghana’s Rapid Population Growth Could Become an Emergency and Outpace Both Food Production and Economic Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/ghanas-rapid-population-growth-become-emergency-outpace-food-production-economic-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghanas-rapid-population-growth-become-emergency-outpace-food-production-economic-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/ghanas-rapid-population-growth-become-emergency-outpace-food-production-economic-growth/#respond Fri, 17 Aug 2018 09:27:15 +0000 Jamila Akweley Okertchiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157229 Paul Ayormah and his fellow farmers make their way home after hours spent manually weeding a friend’s one-acre maize farm in Ghana’s Eastern Region. “Tomorrow it will be the turn of my maize farm,” he tells IPS. This year, Ayormah and his colleagues who live in Donkorkrom in the Kwahu Afram Plains District of the […]

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Paul Ayormah and his friends on his maize farm in Donkorkrom in the Kwahu Afram Plains District of Ghana’s Eastern Region. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri
ACCRA and DONKORKROM, Ghana, Aug 17 2018 (IPS)

Paul Ayormah and his fellow farmers make their way home after hours spent manually weeding a friend’s one-acre maize farm in Ghana’s Eastern Region.

“Tomorrow it will be the turn of my maize farm,” he tells IPS.

This year, Ayormah and his colleagues who live in Donkorkrom in the Kwahu Afram Plains District of the Eastern Region, have resorted to alternative means of cultivating their farms. The farmers group together and travel to each other’s farms, where they work to prepare and weed the farmland, taking turns to do the same for everyone else in the group. They have also resorted to using cattle dung to fertilise their crop.

“We are doing this to cut down on the cost involved in preparing our land for planting our maize,” Ayormah tells IPS.

Ayormah, a father of five, inherited his two-acre maize farm from his late father. And as the breadwinner in his family, Ayormah relies solely on his produce as a source of income.

Ayormah says that in a good season he is able to harvest 40 bags of maize, which he then sells in Koforidua, the capital of the Eastern Region, for an average of USD27 per bag.

“The money I make is what I use to take care of my family. Two of my children are in tertiary [education], one is in high school, and the other two are in junior high and primary school [respectively]. So there is hardly enough money at home,” he explains.

Ayormah believes he will have a good enough harvest this season, but says “I cannot promise a bumper harvest.”

Food Security

Ghana’s economy is predominately dependent on agriculture, particularly cocoa, though the government has taken steps to ensure that the cultivation of staples such as rice, maize and soya is also enhanced.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says that 52 percent of the country’s labour force is engaged in agriculture, which contributes 54 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. However, it notes that the country’s agricultural sector is driven predominately by smallholder farmers, and about 60 percent of all farms are less than 1.2 hectares in size and are largely rain-fed.“Already our economy is not developing at the level we want it to and then we have this huge number of people depending on a small population for survival. So the little income or food must be shared among many people and this retards our economic growth and development.” -- Dr. Leticia Appiah, National Population Council director

Last April, president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched Ghana’s flagship agricultural policy, Planting for Food and Jobs, a five-year plan geared towards increasing food productivity and ensuring food security for the country. The policy’s long-term goal is to reduce food import bills to the barest minimum.

The programme also provides farmers who own two to three acres of land with a 50 percent subsidy of fertiliser and other farm inputs, such as improved seedlings.

Farmers who enrol in the programme enjoy a flexible repayment method where they pay their 50 percent towards the fertiliser cost in two instalments of 25 percent prior to and after harvest. Each payment is estimated to cost USD12.

Ayormah benefited from the programme last year, and had hoped that the use of chemical fertiliser would increase his farming yield and income. However, delayed rains and an armyworm infestation caused him to lose almost half of his produce.

He says although the programme was helpful, he cannot afford to pay the final USD12 he owes the government.

“With the little I will get from my farm produce this year, I will pay the money I owe the government so I can benefit [from the fertiliser] next year and get a bumper harvest,” he explains.

“If all goes well I hope to [harvest] my 40 bags. But this year is going to be a little difficult for my family because I am not getting the government fertiliser,” Ayormah laments.

A report by the ministry of food and agriculture assessing the one-year implementation of the Planting for Food and Jobs policy, notes the negative impact of delayed rains and armyworm infestation on maize production in the country. So far, government interventions such as the routine pesticide spraying on farms is bringing the armyworm infestation under control. But 20,000 hectares of land have already been affected.

Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Ghana’s minister of food and agriculture, tells IPS the situation faced by farmers in other parts of the country, particularly the Northern Region, poses a potential threat to food security for this west African nation.

Agenda 2030

Hiroyuki Nagahama, vice chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) at the Asian and African Parliamentarians, spoke with IPS during a three-day visit this August to learn the opportunities and challenges that Ghana faces.

Nagahama says that if the current grown rate on the continent, in excess of two percent, is not checked, U.N. Population estimates and projections put Africa at a risk of contributing 90 percent to the increase in the world’s population between 2020 to 2100.

He further notes that the population growth rate does not correspond with the food produced on the continent and this poses a threat to food security.

“According to calculations by the FAO, food security can be possible through cutting down on losses from food and engaging appropriately in farm management and production. But, economic principles compels us to ask difficult questions about how the population of Africa will have access to food supply,” Nagahama says.

A new project by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the JPFP, which focuses on enhancing national and global awareness of parliamentarians’ role as a pivotal pillar for achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, was launched this year. The project also supports parliamentarians as they implement necessary policy, legislative changes and mobilise resources for population-related issues.

It is a platform to examine the ways in which both developed and developing countries can, in equal partnership, serve as the driving force to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and create a world where no one is left behind.

Rashid Pelpou, chair of Ghana’s Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development, tells IPS it is estimated that 1.2 million of Ghana’s 29.46 million people are currently food insecure.

And that a further two million Ghanaians are vulnerable to food insecurity nationwide. In the event of an unexpected natural or man-made shock, their pattern of food consumption can be greatly impacted.

He says that as representatives of the people, parliamentarians’ priorities are to ensure that laws and budget allocations translates into constituents having physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

Reproductive Health

In Ghana, the National Population Council (NPC) stated last August that the country’s current 2.5 percent population growth rate was high above the global rate of 1.5 percent, calling it a disturbing trend.

Dr. Leticia Appiah, NPC director, tells IPS that population management is an emergency that requires urgent action. She previously said that the “annual population increase is 700,000 to 800,000, which is quite alarming.”

Appiah tells IPS that when people give birth to more children than they can afford, not only does the family suffer in terms of its ability to care for these children, but the government becomes burdened as it provides social services.

“Already our economy is not developing at the level we want it to and then we have this huge number of people depending on a small population for survival. So the little income or food must be shared among many people and this retards our economic growth and development,” Appiah explains.

African Development Bank Group data shows that “economic growth fell from 14 percent in 2011 at the onset of oil production to 3.5 percent in 2016, the lowest in two decades.” In April the Ghana Statistical Service announced an 8.5 percent expansion in gross domestic product.

“We have to really focus on reproductive health otherwise we will miss the investment we have made in immunisation and create more problems for ourselves,” Appiah says.

Nagahama addresses the issue of Africa’s population growth: “It is an individual’s right to choose how many children they will have and at what interval. But in reality there are many children who are born from unwanted pregnancies and births.”

“To remove such plight, it is important for us parliamentarians to legislate, allocate funding and implement programmes for universal access to reproductive health services in ways that are culturally acceptable,”Nagahama says.

Niyi Ojoalape, the U.N. Population Fund’s Ghana representative, tells IPS that strong government coordination is the way to harness demographic dividend—the growth in an economy that is the resultant effect of a change in the age structure of a country’s population.

Ghana currently has a national population policy with strategies to manage the country’s population for long term benefit, but implementation of this has lacked political will over the years.

Ojoalape notes that without sustainable implementation over the long term, Ghana will not be able to reap the benefits.

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Forests and Marine Resources Continue to Shrinkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/forests-marine-resources-continue-shrink/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 20:28:56 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156681 Deforestation and unsustainable farming are depriving the planet of forests, while destructive practices in fishing are limiting the chance to sustainably manage our oceans. According to United Nations estimates, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The global demand for food is estimated […]

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About 80 percent of Guyana’s forests, some 15 million hectares, have remained untouched over time. Time is running as the total area of the world’s forests shrink by the day. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

Deforestation and unsustainable farming are depriving the planet of forests, while destructive practices in fishing are limiting the chance to sustainably manage our oceans.

According to United Nations estimates, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7.6 billion today to close to 10 billion people by 2050. The global demand for food is estimated to grow by 50 percent,  placing productive land and seas under huge pressure.

It ultimately means that the way we manage our forests and oceans now is crucial in addressing our future needs, warn two biennial reports released this July by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

The two reports titled The State of the World’s Forests(SOFO) and on The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), aim to highlight key facts over the state of our planet’s forests and waters and shed light on the need to address forestry, fisheries and aquaculture issues.

Time is running out for the world’s forests

“Time is running out for the world’s forests, whose total area is shrinking by the day,” says the SOFO report. In addition, deforestation is a leading cause of climate change as forests’ ability to sequester carbon decreases as they are lost.

The report warns that by halting deforestation, restoring degraded forests, and managing forests sustainably, damaging consequences for the planet and its dwellers can be avoided. The international community needs to promote an all-inclusive approach that fosters the benefits of forests and trees, engaging all stakeholders.

The SOFO report highlights that forests and trees are vital both to people and the planet, as they bolster livelihoods, provide clean air and water, conserve biodiversity and respond to climate change. It also refers to the greening of urban areas too.

“Making cities greener is critical to ensure the sustainable future of cities health and wellbeing of city dwellers,” Simone Borelli, agroforestry and urban/peri-urban forestry officer at FAO, told IPS. “Adding vegetation in urban areas has been shown to reduce urban temperatures and is regularly cited as a key mechanism for the Urban Heat Island Effect.”

Making cities greener is critical to ensure the sustainable future of cities health and wellbeing of city dwellers. Pictured here is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“Measures such as shading and judicious use of vegetation are of special importance in hot-arid regions, where intense solar radiation and high air temperatures may have detrimental impacts on even the most basic human activities,” he said.

Borelli said that research in Dubai has shown that trees in urban areas “can reduce temperatures by up to 8°Celsius” and similar studies conducted in Amman have shown that trees “can reduce the cooling load of building by up to 35 percent.”

Furthermore, “by absorbing excess water and increasing soil infiltration and stability, urban and peri-urban trees can mitigate the occurrence and impact of flooding events.”

These issues will also be discussed in November during the first World Forum on Urban Forests, which will take place in Mantova, Italy, to discuss possible long-term collaboration on the development of urban forestry strategies.

The importance of sustaining fisheries

Meanwhile, 60 million people are engaged in the primary sector of fisheries and aquaculture, according to the SOFIA report.

“Including those engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture value chain, their families and dependents, we estimate that 10 to 12 percent of the world’s population relies on the sector for their livelihood. This demonstrates how important it is to sustain fisheries,” Manuel Barange, director of the fisheries and aquaculture policy and resources division at FAO, told IPS.

The 2018 edition of the SOFIA report is an updated analysis illustrating the major trends in global capture fisheries and aquaculture. It also highlights emerging issues, such as the increase in fish consumption (which has doubled due to population growth since 1961) and climate change, that “will affect humanity’s ability to sustainably manage global aquatic resources in the future.” 

The SOFIA report includes future projections of fish production, aquaculture production, prices and food fish supply. 

Fishermen carry their boat in from the sea in Doring Bay, 350km North of Cape Town. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

The report highlights that too many people around the world rely on fish for their livelihoods and survival and therefore it is important to enact sustainable fishing and tackle worst practices such as the enormous food waste that occurs in the fish sector.

“While the sustainability of fisheries is improving in developed countries, this is not the case in developing countries,” said Barange. “Unless we change this trend, we will challenge the food and nutrition security of places where fish is needed most.”

One example of an unsustainable fishing practice is dynamite fishing. The practice, which is illegal, involves the use of explosives to kill fish. This, however, harms the ecosystem and has contributed to the destruction, for example, of Southeast Asian coral reefs for the past 20 years.

Another key aspect to address, according to the report, is that of illegal, unreported and unregulated or IUU fishing. IUU fishing often occurs, undermining national, regional and global efforts to manage fisheries sustainably. “[IUU fishing] is threatening the sustainability of fisheries. Implementing the Port States Measures Agreement, which came into force in 2016, is crucial to make IUU history,” said Barange.

“Countries need to do more than recognise the risk of IUU fishing – they must act decisively, and act now.”

IUU fleets have largely targeted valuable species such as the ‘Antarctic krill’ (Euphasia superba) and the ‘Patagonian toothfish’ (Dissostichus eleginoides). However, through management measures implemented by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the situation is slowly improving.

Moving forward to the 2030 agenda

Food and agriculture are key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and, as the two reports note, “many of the SDGs are directly relevant to fisheries and aquaculture as well as to forestries.”

The SOFO report suggests that the contributions of forests and trees to SDGs might be “complex and context-specific”, and “more work is needed to understand some of the relationships that underlie these contributions.”

SDGs are directly linked to fisheries and aquaculture, too, as the SOFIA report highlights the critical importance of these activities for the food, nutrition and employment of millions of people, many of whom struggle to maintain reasonable livelihoods.

Forest, seas, lakes and waterways are crucial environments for our healthy lives and, for millions of people, for their subsistence and survival. Underestimating the importance of preserving them and regulating their management in a more sustainable way, would be an enormous mistake.

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Fertilizer Access Grows Farmers, Food and Financehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fertilizer-access-grows-farmers-food-and-finance/#respond Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:07:24 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146220 Brightly coloured cans, bags of fertilizer and packets containing all types of seeds catch the eye upon entering Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop tucked at the corner of a roadside service station. But her seeds and fertilizers have not exactly been flying off the shelves since Khorommbi opened the fledging shop six years ago. Her […]

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Smallholder farmers prosper if they have access to knowledge and use of inputs such as fertilizers and credit. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Smallholder farmers prosper if they have access to knowledge and use of inputs such as fertilizers and credit. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LOUIS TRICHARDT, South Africa, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

Brightly coloured cans, bags of fertilizer and packets containing all types of seeds catch the eye upon entering Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop tucked at the corner of a roadside service station.

But her seeds and fertilizers have not exactly been flying off the shelves since Khorommbi opened the fledging shop six years ago. Her customers: smallholder farmers in the laid back town of Sibasa, 72 kilometers northeast of Louis Trichardt in Limpopo, one of South Africa’s provinces hard hit by drought this year. The reason for the slow business is that smallholder farmers cannot access, let alone effectively use plant-nourishing fertilizers to improve their low productivity.

“Some of the farmers who walk into my shop have never heard about fertilizers and those who have, do not know how to use them effectively,” Khorommbi told IPS said on the sidelines of a training workshop organised by the International Fertilizer Association (IFA)-supported African Fertilizer Volunteers Program (AFVP) to teach smallholders farmers and agro dealers like her about fertilizers in Limpopo.

Khorommbi, describing information as power, says fledging agro-dealer businesses are a critical link in the food production chain. Agro-dealers, who work at the village level, better understand and are more accessible to smallholder farmers, who in many cases rely on the often poorly resourced government extension service for information on improving productivity.

“Smallholder farmers can make the change in food security through better production, one of whose key elements is fertilizer,” said Khrorommbi, one of more than 100 agro-dealers in the Vhembe District of Limpopo.

An assistant checks stock in Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop in Vhembe District, Limpopo, South Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

An assistant checks stock in Nancy Khorommbi’s agro dealer shop in Vhembe District, Limpopo, South Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Growing knowledge, growing farmers

Noting the knowledge gap on fertilizers, the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and private sector partners, launched Agribusiness Support to the Limpopo Province (ASLP) in 2015 which has trained over 100 agro-dealers in the Province.

The project promotes the development of the agro dealer hub model, where established commercial agro dealers service smaller agro dealers and agents in the rural areas, who in turn better serve smallholder farmers by putting agricultural inputs within easy reach and at reasonable cost. The AFVP aims to attract the private sector in South Africa – a net fertilizer importer – to developing the SMEs sector in the fertilizer value chain focusing on smallholder farmers and agro dealers.

Smallholder farmers hold the key to feeding Africa, including South Africa, but their productivity is stymied by poor access to inputs and even effective markets for their produce, an issue the FAO believes private and public sector partnerships can solve.

AFAP and a private company, Kynoch Fertilizer, have embarked on an entrepreneurship development program for smallholder farmers and agro dealers in the Limpopo province, one of the country’s bread baskets, in an effort to help close the ‘yield gap’ among smallholder farmers.  Smallholder farmers and agro dealers have been trained on fertilisers, soils, plant nutrients, safe storage of fertilizers, environmental safety and business management skills.

“By using more fertilisers correctly, South Africa’s smallholder farmers can grow more and nutritious food, achieve household food security, create jobs, increase incomes and boost rural development,” AFAP’s Vice-President, Prof. Richard Mkandawire, told IPS. “To grow and support SMEs in Africa is the pathway if we are to reduce hunger and poverty. The future of South Africa is about growing those rural enterprises that will support smallholder farmers and employment creation.’

In 2006, African Heads of State and Government signed the Abuja Declaration at a Fertilizer Summit in Nigeria committing to increase the use of fertilizer in Africa from the then-average 8kg per hectare to 50kg per hectare by 2015 to boost productivity. Ten years later, only a few countries have attained this goal.

Mkandawire said research has established that for every kilogram of nutrients smallholder farmers apply to their soils, they can realize up to 30kg in additional products.

Research has shown that smallholder farmers in South Africa in general do not apply optimum levels of fertilizers owing to high cost, poor access and low awareness about the benefits of providing nutrition for the soil.

Fertilizer Registrar and Director in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests (DAFF) in Limpopo Province Jonathan Mudzunga says smallholder farmers have structural difficulties in getting much needed fertilizers, a critical input in raising crop yields and providing business and employment creation opportunities for agro dealers.

“Commercial farmers are successful because they have access to inputs such as fertilizers and knowledge and it does not mean smallholder farmers are having challenges because they do not know how to farm but the biggest issue is knowledge and access to affordable inputs,” Mudzunga said.

Agriculturalist at Kynoch, Schalk Grobbelaar, says smallholder agricultural production in Limpopo is hampered by, amongst other things, low use of productivity-enhancing inputs such as fertilizers, seeds and crop protection products; animal feeds and veterinary medicines for livestock.

“Fertilizer increase yields. We fertilize what crops will take away and we put back into the soil but farmers lack knowledge on the balancing fertilizers according to what crops need,” said Grobbelaar.

Agriculture support is food business

The South African government is promoting SME development and growth of smallholder farmers who are key to tackling food insecurity at household level.

Despite their high contribution to economic growth and job creation, SME’s are challenged by among other factors, funding and access to finance, according to the 2015/16 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report. Lack of finance is a major reason for SMEs – which contribute 45 percent to South Africa’s GDP- leaving a business in addition to the poor management skills which are a result of lack of adequate training and education.

While the country produces more than enough food for all, many South Africans do not access the right amount and type of food, says a 2014 report by the Southern Africa Food Lab, an organisation promoting food security in the region.

“Poor South Africans are not able to spend money on a diverse diet. Instead the only option to facilitate satiety and alleviate hunger is to feed family members large portions of maize meal porridge that do not address nutritional needs,” according to Laura Pereira, author of the Food Lab report.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, bemoaning underinvestment in Africa’s agriculture, said innovation from farm to market was one solution to turning the sector – employing half of the continent’s population – into a thriving business.

“African farmers need better tools to avoid disasters and grow a surplus – things like seeds that can tolerate droughts, floods, pests, and disease, affordable fertilizer that includes the right mix of nutrients to replenish the soil,” Gates said when he presented the 14th Nelson Mandela Lecture in Pretoria, South Africa last week.

Gates said farmers need to be connected to markets where they can buy inputs, sell their surplus and earn a profit and for them to reinvest in into the farm. That in turn provides on and off the farm employment opportunities and supports a range of local agribusinesses.

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Can Better Technology Lure Asia’s Youth Back to Farming?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/#respond Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:38:29 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145811 Farming and agriculture may not seem cool to young people, but if they can learn the thrill of nurturing plants to produce food, and are provided with their favorite apps and communications software on agriculture, food insecurity will not be an issue, food and agriculture experts said during the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Food Security […]

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ADB president Takehiko Nakao speak at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

ADB president Takehiko Nakao speaks at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jun 25 2016 (IPS)

Farming and agriculture may not seem cool to young people, but if they can learn the thrill of nurturing plants to produce food, and are provided with their favorite apps and communications software on agriculture, food insecurity will not be an issue, food and agriculture experts said during the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Food Security Forum from June 22 to 24 at the ADB headquarters here.

The prospect of attracting youth and tapping technology were raised by Hoonae Kim, director for Asia and the Pacific Region of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Nichola Dyer, program manager of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), two of many forum panelists who shared ideas on how to feed 3.74 billion people in the region while taking care of the environment.

“There are 700 million young people in Asia Pacific. If we empower them, give them voice and provide them access to credit, they can be interested in all areas related to agriculture,” Kim said. “Many young people today are educated and if they continue to be so, they will appreciate the future of food as that of safe, affordable and nutritious produce that, during growth and production, reduces if not eliminate harm to the environment.”

Dyer, citing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year worldwide, said, “We have to look at scaling up the involvement of the private sector and civil societies to ensure that the policy gaps are given the best technologies that can be applied.”

Dyer also said using technology includes the attendant issues of gathering and using data related to agriculture policies of individual countries, especially those that have recognized the need to lessen harm to the environment while looking for ways to ensure that there is enough food for everyone.

“There is a strong need to support countries that promote climate-smart agriculture, both financially and technically as a way to introduce new technologies,” she said.

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. - Credit: ADB

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. – Credit: ADB

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific estimated in 2014 that the region has 750 million young people aged 15 to 24, comprising 60 percent of the world’s youth. Large proportions live in socially and economically developed areas, with 78 percent of them achieving secondary education and 40 percent reaching tertiary education.

A regional paper prepared by the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) in 2015, titled “A Viable Future: Attracting the Youth Back to Agriculture,” noted that many young people in Asia choose to migrate to seek better lives and are reluctant to go into farming, as they prefer the cities where life is more convenient.

“In the Philippines, most rural families want their children to pursue more gainful jobs in the cities or overseas, as farming is largely associated with poverty,” the paper stated.

Along with the recognition of the role of young people in agriculture, the forum also resonated with calls to look at the plight of farmers, who are mostly older in age, dwindling in numbers and with little hope of finding their replacement from among the younger generations, even from among their children. Farmers, especially those who do not own land but work only for landowners or are small-scale tillers, also remain one of the most marginalised sectors in every society.

Estrella Penunia, secretary-general of the AFA, said that while it is essential to rethink how to better produce, distribute and consume food, she said it is also crucial to “consider small-scale farmers as real partners for sustainable technologies. They must be granted incentives and be given improved rental conditions.” Globally, she said “farmers have been neglected, and in the Asia Pacific region, they are the poorest.”

The AFA paper noted that lack of youth policies in most countries as detrimental to the engagement of young people. They also have limited role in decision-making processes due to a lack of structured and institutionalized opportunities.

But the paper noted a silver lining through social media. Through “access to information and other new networking tools, young people across the region can have better opportunities to become more politically active and find space for the realization of their aspirations.”

Calls for nonstop innovation in communications software development in the field of agriculture, continuing instruction on agriculture and agriculture research to educate young people, improving research and technology development, adopting measures such as ecological agriculture and innovative irrigation and fertilisation techniques were echoed by panelists from agriculture-related organizations and academicians.

Professor David Morrison of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia said now is the time to focus on what data and technology can bring to agriculture. “Technology is used to develop data and data is a great way of changing behaviors. Data needs to be analyzed,” he said, adding that political leaders also have to understand data to help them implement evidence-based policies that will benefit farmers and consumers.

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao - Credit: ADB

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao – Credit: ADB

ADB president Takehiko Nakao said the ADB is heartened to see that “the world is again paying attention to food.” While the institution sees continuing efforts in improving food-related technologies in other fields such as forestry and fisheries, he said it is agriculture that needs urgent improvements, citing such technologies as remote sensing, diversifying fertilisers and using insecticides that are of organic or natural-made substances.

Nakao said the ADB has provided loans and assistance since two years after its establishment in 1966 to the agriculture sector, where 30 percent of loans and grants were given out. The ADB will mark its 50th year of development partnership in the region in December 2016. Headquartered in Manila, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled 27.2 billion dollars, including cofinancing of 10.7 billion dollars.

In its newest partnership is with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is based in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines, Nakao and IRRI director general Matthew Morell signed an agreement during the food security forum to promote food security in Asia Pacific by increasing collaboration on disseminating research and other knowledge on the role of advanced agricultural technologies in providing affordable food for all.

The partnership agreement will entail the two institutions to undertake annual consultations to review and ensure alignment of ongoing collaborative activities, and to develop a joint work program that will expand the use of climate-smart agriculture and water-saving technologies to increase productivity and boost the resilience of rice cultivation systems, and to minimize the carbon footprint of rice production.

Nakao said the ADB collaboration with IRRI is another step toward ensuring good food and nutrition for all citizens of the region. “We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation in this area to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, as well as to combat climate change.” Morell of the IRRI said the institution “looks forward to deepening our already strong partnership as we jointly develop and disseminate useful agricultural technologies throughout Asia.”

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman - Credit: ADB

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman – Credit: ADB

The ADB’s earlier agreements on agriculture was with Cambodia in 2013 with a 70-million-dollar climate-smart agriculture initiative called the Climate-Resilient Rice Commercialization Sector Development Program that will include generating seeds that are better adapted to Cambodia’s climate.

ADB has committed two billion dollars annually to meet the rising demand for nutritious, safe, and affordable food in Asia and the Pacific, with future support to agriculture and natural resources to emphasize investing in innovative and high-level technologies.

By 2025, the institution said Asia Pacific will have a population of 4.4 billion, and with the rest of Asia experiencing unabated rising populations and migration from countryside to urban areas, the trends will also be shifting towards better food and nutritional options while confronting a changing environment of rising temperatures and increasing disasters that are harmful to agricultural yields.

ADB president Nakao said Asia will face climate change and calamity risks in trying to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals. The institution has reported that post-harvest losses have accounted for 30 percent of total harvests in Asia Pacific; 42 percent of fruits and vegetables and up to 30 percent of grains produced across the region are lost between the farm and the market caused by inadequate infrastructure such as roads, water, power, market facilities and transport systems.

Gathering about 250 participants from governments and intergovernmental bodies in the region that include multilateral and bilateral development institutions, private firms engaged in the agriculture and food business, research and development centers, think tanks, centers of excellence and civil society and advocacy organizations, the ADB held the food security summit with inclusiveness in mind and future directions from food production to consumption.

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Drought Dries Up Money from Honeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/drought-dries-up-money-from-honey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-dries-up-money-from-honey http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/drought-dries-up-money-from-honey/#comments Wed, 15 Jun 2016 13:14:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145631 “It is everything” is how smallholder farmer Nyovane Ndlovu describes beekeeping, which has long been an alternative sweet source of income for drought-beaten farmers in Zimbabwe. A drought worsened by the El Nino phenomenon – which has now eased – led to a write-off of crops in many parts of Zimbabwe and across the Southern […]

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Zimbabwean farmer and beekeeper Nyovane Ndlovu with some of the honey produced under his own label. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Zimbabwean farmer and beekeeper Nyovane Ndlovu with some of the honey produced under his own label. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jun 15 2016 (IPS)

“It is everything” is how smallholder farmer Nyovane Ndlovu describes beekeeping, which has long been an alternative sweet source of income for drought-beaten farmers in Zimbabwe.

A drought worsened by the El Nino phenomenon – which has now eased – led to a write-off of crops in many parts of Zimbabwe and across the Southern Africa region where more than 28 million people will need food aid this year. More than four million people need assistance in Zimbabwe, which has made an international appeal for 1.6 billion dollars to cover grain and other food needs. The drought, the worst in 30 years, has destroyed crops and livestock.

Ndlovu, 57, from a village in the Lupane District, a dry area prone to drought and hunger, is one of the country’s growing number of honey heroes, using forest resources to cope with a changing climate and complement his farming income.

But even beekeeping has not been immune to the latest severe drought , and many farmers who have depended on honey to make ends meet are reporting major losses this year.“Last year I got three 25-litre buckets of honey and this year not even one bucket. The weather changed so that the bees lacked enough flowers for food." -- Nyovane Ndlovu

“Honey is my food and my children love it because they know each time I harvest they never go hungry,” says Ndlovu, who trained in beekeeping more than 10 years ago.

Beekeeping, practiced by more than 16,000 farmers in Zimbabwe, generally complements maize and grain crops. Last season, Ndlovu harvested a tonne of maize and 0.5 tonnes of sorghum, low numbers even for a drought year.

“Even in times of drought I have realized something from the field, especially small grains, but this past season has been terrible for many farmers,” says Ndlovu, who won a scotch cart and a plough in 2012 for emerging as the top farmer in an agriculture competition. “I turned to beekeeping when I realized the benefits. The proceeds from my honey sales have allowed me to pay school fees for my children and cover other household needs. I am getting more from honey than I do from cropping.”

Lupane District located 172km North West of Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo is home to more than 90,000 people, many who get by through limited cropping and extensive cattle rearing. The area is also home to state-owned indigenous hardwood forests, on which communities depend for fuel and food.

More honey, more money

Ndlovu has more than 20 Kenya Top Bar hives and two Langstroth hives – considered the best technology for apiculture because they give a higher production and quality honey. In a good season Ndlovu earns more than 500 dollars from honey sales. He even has his own label, Maguswini Honey, which he plans to commercialize once his honey has received a standard mark. A 375ml bottle of honey sells for four dollars in the village but five dollars when he delivers it to customers in Bulawayo and beyond.

Last year, Ndlovu and his neighbours, who belong to Bumbanani, a 30-member local beekeepers association, sold 900 dollars worth of honey within three days of exhibiting at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, an annual business showcase hosted in the city of Bulawayo. This year, they did not even make half the amount because they harvested less honey because of the drought.

“Last year I got three 25-litre buckets of honey and this year not even one bucket. The weather changed so that the bees lacked enough flowers for food and the water was also scarce and the hives did not have a lot of honey,” Ndlovu told IPS.

Another farmer, Nqobani Sibanda from Gomoza village in Ward 12 in Lupane, this year harvested one 20-litre bucket of honey compared to 60 litres last year.

“This year the flowers withered early and we think the bees did not have enough food, hence the honey harvest was low. I have four hives and each hive can give me up to 20 litres of honey on a good season and I can get 300 dollars or more, but not this year,” Sibanda said.

Development researcher with the Institute of Development Studies at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Everson Ndlovu, told IPS that income-generating projects such as beekeeping are an easy way for farmers to earn extra income in times of poor or no harvests and these projects can be up scaled into viable commercial enterprises.

“There is need for more training in business management, linking such small scale businesses to the market and business associations to get them properly registered and empowered,” said Ndlovu adding that, “the impact of drought has made it strategic for smallholder farmers to diversity their livelihoods but they need to receive weather information on time and in a manner they understand for them to make right decisions.”

Honey is traded globally and last year’s sales of natural honey were worth 2.3 billion dollars, according the World Top Exports website that tracks key exports. The sales were led by Europe with 35.2 percent of international honey sales, with Africa accounting for just 0.4 percent of the exports.

Bees which provide honey, propolis, Queen Jelly and beeswax among other products, help boost food security for some two billion smallholder farmers worldwide at no cost, a February 2016 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found. The FAO has called for the protection of bees and insects that play a vital role of pollination thereby sustainably increasing food supply. However, climate change is affecting global bee colonies.

A drought of many things

“Farmers have been affected by the drought and beekeeping was not spared, as seen by the low amount of honey they realized this year compared to last year in Lupane, a dry area,” said Clifford Maunze, a beekeeping trainer and Project Officer with Environment Africa under the Forestry Forces Programme supported by the FAO.

“We have trained farmers on beekeeping and helped them counteract the effects of the drought by planting more trees that bees like such as Moringa Oleifera, commonly known as the drumstick tree, which flowers constantly and have promoted the development of homestead orchard where they can have citrus trees to provide forage for the bees,” Maunze said.

Environment Africa, working with the Department of Agriculture Extension Services (Agritex), has trained 1,382 farmers in Lupane District and over 800 in Hwange District on beekeeping under a programme started in 2011. Lupane was chosen for apiculture projects because of its indigenous forests, some of which are threatened by expanding agricultural land, veld fires and deforestation.

“While the drought has affected farmers in Lupane, apiculture is the way to go providing income and jobs because it is cost-effective,” Maunze said.

In drier regions like Matabeleland North Province, farmers can harvest honey twice a season and with at least five hives a farmer can get 100 litres of honey. This can be even more in regions with higher rainfall and forage, where farmers can harvest up to four times a season.

Figures from the national statistical agency Zimstats and Agritex show that Zimbabwe produces over 427,000 kg of honey annually against a local demand of 447,000 kg. The deficit of nearly 20,000 metric tonnes is made up through imports, a situation that farmers like Ndlovu are seeking to change through intensive investment in apiculture.

Zimbabwe is aiming to raise honey production to a target 500,000 litres by 2018, according to Zim-Asset, a national strategy to revive the country’s battered economy, currently facing a cash crisis.

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No More Dumping of Milk in Laikipiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/no-more-dumping-of-milk-in-laikipia/#respond Tue, 07 Jun 2016 12:22:06 +0000 Daniel Sitole http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145479 Daniel Mithamo, 28, grew up knowing that dairy farming is about producing milk in large quantities. You sell a few litres, consume some with your family, and dump the rest for lack of cold storage and decent roads to access markets. Mithamo little knew that one day he would manage a successful dairy farmers’ co-operative, […]

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

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

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

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

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

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

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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Good Harvest Fails to Dent Rising Hunger in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/#respond Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:41:39 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138912 With agriculture as one of the drivers of economic growth, Zimbabwe needs to invest in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who keep the country fed, experts say. Agriculture currently contributes nearly 20 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP), due largely to export earnings from tobacco production. More than 80,000 farmers have registered to grow […]

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Markets are critical to the success of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

With agriculture as one of the drivers of economic growth, Zimbabwe needs to invest in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who keep the country fed, experts say.

Agriculture currently contributes nearly 20 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP), due largely to export earnings from tobacco production. More than 80,000 farmers have registered to grow the plant this season.

But, even as tobacco harvests expand, food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.Food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans

Depressed production has been blamed on droughts, but poor support to farmers has also contributed to food deficits and the need to import the staple maize grain annually.

Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that “hunger is at a five-year high in Zimbabwe with one-quarter of the rural population, equivalent to 2.2 million people, estimated to be facing food shortages …”

The report was dismissed by Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, Paddington Zhanda, who said that “the numbers [of those in need] are exaggerated. There is no crisis. If there was a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

WFP had planned to reach 1.8 million people out of the 2.2 million hungry people during the current period, but funding shortages meant that only 1.2 million were helped.

Last year, the government stepped in with maize bought from neighbouring countries. That year, Zimbabwe topped the list of maize meal importers, with imports from South Africa at 482 metric tons between July and September 2014. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo imported more maize meal during that time.

Agricultural economist Peter Gambara, who spoke with IPS, estimated that over one billion dollars is required to reach a target of two million hectares planted with maize.

“It costs about 800 dollars to produce a hectare of maize, so two million hectares will require about 1.6 billion dollars,” he said.

“However, the government only sponsors part of the inputs required, through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, the rest of the inputs come from private contractors, the farmers themselves, as well as from remittances from children and relatives in towns and in the diaspora.”

These inputs include fertilizer and maize seed. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said he was worried that many farmers could fail to purchase inputs on the open market due to liquidity problems. Totally free inputs were ended in 2013.

Linking agriculture to the reduction of poverty was one of the first Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a target of cutting poverty in half by 2015. In fact, all MDGs have direct or indirect linkages with agriculture. Agriculture contributes to the first MDG through agriculture-led economic growth and through improved nutrition.

In low-income countries economic growth, which enables increased employment and rising wages, is the only means by which the poor will be able to satisfy their needs sustainably.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate input to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate inputs to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“Government should invest in irrigation, infrastructure like roads and storage facilities,” Gambara told IPS. “By supplying inputs through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, Government has done more than it should for small-scale farmers. This scheme resulted in the country achieving a surplus 1.4 million tonnes of maize last year.”

The surplus was linked, explained Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, to good rainfall.

Marketing of their produce is the biggest challenge facing farmers, said Gambara, who recommended the regulation of public produce markets like Mbare Musika in Harare through the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA).

Gambara maintains that the government should provide free inputs to the elderly, orphaned and other disadvantaged in society and consider loaning the rest of the small-scale farmers inputs that they will repay after marketing their crops.

“That will help the country rebuild the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), managed by the Grain Marketing Board,” he said. “However, the government has not been able to pay farmers on time for delivered produce and this is an area that it should improve on. It does not make sense to make farmers produce maize if those farmers fail to sell the maize.”

In the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa of 2003, African heads of state and governments pledged to improve agricultural and rural development through investments. The Maputo Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years”.

Only a few of the 54 African Union (AU) member states have made this investment in the last 10 years. These include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Malawi and Senegal.

According to Gambara, as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, Zimbabwe should have done more to channel resources to agriculture since 2000 when the country embarked on the second phase of land reform.

“Most of these (new) black farmers did not have the resources and knowledge to farm like the previous white farmers and such a scenario would demand that the government invests in research and extension to impart knowledge to the new farmers as well as provide schemes that empower these farmers, for example through farm mechanisation and provision of inputs,” he said.

Everson Ndlovu, development researcher with the Institute of Development Studies at Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology, told IPS that government should invest in dam construction, research in water harvesting technologies, livestock development, education and training, land audits and restoration of infrastructure.

Ndlovu said there were signs that European and other international financial institutions were ready to assist Zimbabwe but a poor political and economic environment has kept many at a distance.

“The political environment has to change to facilitate proper business transactions, we need to create a conducive environment for business to play its part,” said Ndlovu. “Government should give farmers title deeds if farmers are to unlock resources and funding from local banks.”

Economic analyst John Robertson asked why the government should finance farmers which would be unnecessary if it had allowed land to have a market value and ordinary people to be land owners in order to use their land as bank security to finance themselves.

“Ever since the land reform, we have had to import most of our food,” Robertson told IPS. “Government should be spending money on infrastructural development that would help agriculture and other industries.”

Before the land reform, continued Robertson, Zimbabwe had nearly one million communal farmers, a number that increased by about 150,000 under Land Reform A1 and A2 allocations.

‘A1’ farms handed out about 150,000 plots of six hectares to smallholders by dividing up large white farms, while the ‘A2’ component sought to create large black commercial farms by handing over much larger areas of land to about 23,000 farmers.

“Only a few farms are being run on a scale that would encompass larger hectarage and that is basically because the farmers cannot employ the labour needed if they cannot borrow money,” Robertson said.

“Loans are needed to pay staff for the many months that work is needed but the farm has no income, so most smallholders work to the limits of their families’ labour input. That keeps them small and relatively poor.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137787 The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals.  Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting […]

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

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Uganda Still Grapples with Inadequate Funds to Tackle Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/uganda-still-grapples-with-inadequate-funds-to-tackle-climate-change/#respond Mon, 03 Nov 2014 13:50:52 +0000 Prossy Nandudu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137507 Until last month, Allen Nambozo’s only source of income was the cabbages, carrots and bananas she grew along the slopes of Uganda’s Mount Elgon in the eastern district of Bulambuli.  But weeks ago her little vegetable farm was washed away by ongoing rains in the region. And now she’s not sure how she will earn […]

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

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists like Bagoora.

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

The post Uganda Still Grapples with Inadequate Funds to Tackle Climate Change appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Sustaining Africa’s Development by Leveraging on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-africas-development-by-leveraging-on-climate-change/#respond Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:13:27 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137336 By leveraging knowledge about climate change, through adopting improved agriculture technologies and using water and energy more effectively, Africa can accelerate its march towards sustainable development. Policy and development practitioners say Africa is at a development cross roads and argue that the continent — increasingly an attractive destination for economic and agriculture investment — should use the […]

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

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Ethiopia Moves in Right Direction with Climate Change Response But Challenges Remainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-moves-in-right-direction-with-climate-change-response-but-challenges-remain/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:04:16 +0000 James Hassam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137290 Ethiopia is widely regarded as an African success story when it comes to economic growth. According to the International Monetary Fund, the country’s economy is growing by seven percent annually. But there are concerns that climate change could jeopardise this growth. At a recent meeting at the United Nations conference centre in the Ethiopian capital, […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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Measuring How Climate Change Affects Africa’s Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:30:28 +0000 Xavi Fernández de Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137154 For the past 40 years Josephine Kakiyi, 55, has been cultivating maize, beans and vegetables on her small plot of land in the remote area of Kwa Vonza, in Kitui County, eastern Kenya. Even though this has always been a hot and semi-arid region, over the last 15 years Kakiyi has noticed that the rainfall has […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the same applies to rainfall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

 

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