Inter Press Service » Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 09:04:56 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133556 It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest. But Zondo is not a […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133534 For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources. “We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

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

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

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

Biofortification on a Global Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tanzania’s Farming Cooperatives Struggle to Bear Fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tanzanias-farming-cooperatives-struggle-bear-fruit/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:32:27 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133419 John Daffi climbs to the top of a hill overlooking a scenic Rift Valley wall and the Ngorongoro forest, where wildlife migrates between the world famous Ngorongoro crater and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. Daffi, 59, looks down upon his family’s farm below and reminisces about the time his father first brought him here as a boy. […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Organic Farmers Fight the Elements in Brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/organic-farmers-fight-elements-brazil/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 14:16:28 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133292 Brazilian farmer Isabel Michi’s day starts before dawn, when she goes out to the organic garden on her small five-hectare farm that she runs with help from her husband and occasionally their children. Starting at 5 AM, the 42-year-old farmer of Japanese descent plows the soil, plants seeds and seedlings, fertilises, harvests, and carefully tends […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But threats loom on all sides.

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

In other words, the neighbourhood endangers her ecological production.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brazilian Innovation for Under-financed Mozambican Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:15:41 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132711 Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector. Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings […]

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

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

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kenya’s Empty Bread Basket http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/kenyas-empty-bread-basket/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-empty-bread-basket http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/kenyas-empty-bread-basket/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 08:48:10 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131321 Jane Njeri from the semi-arid lower Mukurweini district in Kenya’s Central Province has taken to boiling wild roots to feed her five children. Her children, all of whom are under the age of 10, are too young to understand why there is no food on the table. “At night they refuse to sleep on an […]

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

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Resistance Over GMOs as South Africa Pushes Biotechnology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/resistance-gmos-south-africa-pushes-biotechnology/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 17:17:43 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130807 On a family farm tucked between the rolling hills of Masopane, 40 km outside of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, 35-year-old Sophie Mabhena is dreaming big about her crop of genetically modified (GM) maize. “This is my dream and I know that I am contributing to food security in South Africa,” she told IPS. Debate is […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small-scale Organic Farming Gets a Boost in Peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/small-scale-organic-farming-peru-gets-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-scale-organic-farming-peru-gets-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/small-scale-organic-farming-peru-gets-boost/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 19:44:01 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130038 A new institution set up in Peru will strengthen small-scale organic farming, providing support to some 43,000 exporters of ecological products and another 350,000 who supply the domestic market with environmentally-friendly products. The National Council for Organic Products (CONAPO) was formed to support the weakest link in the food chain, small-scale agriculture, the very year […]

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

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

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Jan 9 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kenya’s Excess of Policies Can’t Deal With Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/kenyas-excess-policies-cant-deal-climate-change/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:43:46 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129800 Kenya is facing its greatest challenge as weather patterns are starting to significantly affect food production. And experts are blaming the low adaptive capacity of the farming sector on an excess of policy and institutional frameworks that are silent on both climate change and agriculture. Joshua Kosgei, an agricultural extension officer in Elburgon, Rift Valley […]

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

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 31 2013 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Home Gardens, Income and Food for Urban Poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/home-gardens-income-food-urban-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=home-gardens-income-food-urban-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/home-gardens-income-food-urban-poor/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:24:20 +0000 Elizabeth Whitman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129478 Flowers burst out of old tires and rows of pepper plants fill recycled plastic tubs as herbs pop out of old pipes. As utilitarian as it is cheery, this rooftop array is one of several urban agriculture projects that are significantly improving livelihoods for the urban poor in this sprawling city. A slowly but steadily […]

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

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

By Elizabeth Whitman
AMMAN, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

An ideal environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling challenges

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

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

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

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

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

Going national

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

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

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

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

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Reaching Quietly for the ‘Solidarity Basket’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/reaching-quietly-solidarity-basket/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reaching-quietly-solidarity-basket http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/reaching-quietly-solidarity-basket/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:22:47 +0000 Vesna Peric Zimonjic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129483 In the early morning hours, as hundreds of people grab their breakfast at a busy bakery in Beogradska Street in the Serbian capital, a very special basket quickly fills up with croissants, rolls and breads. It is the ‘solidarity basket’. It’s a concept that around 60 bakeries all over Serbia have introduced. While ordering something […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GM Crop Could Migrate Dangerously http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/gm-crop-migrate-dangerously/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gm-crop-migrate-dangerously http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/gm-crop-migrate-dangerously/#comments Thu, 28 Nov 2013 07:51:56 +0000 Ranjit Devraj http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129121 Food security activists who secured a moratorium on introducing genetically modified brinjal (aubergine) into India fear that their efforts are being undermined by the release of GM brinjal in neighbouring Bangladesh. “India and Bangladesh share a long and porous border and it is easy for GM  brinjal varieties to be brought over,” says Suman Sahai, […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Malawi’s Failed Subsidy Programme Left Millions to Starve http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/malawis-failed-subsidy-programme-left-millions-to-starve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawis-failed-subsidy-programme-left-millions-to-starve http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/malawis-failed-subsidy-programme-left-millions-to-starve/#comments Wed, 20 Nov 2013 11:47:43 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128946 Gogo Munthali, from Rumphi, a village over 400 km north of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, dissolves into tears every morning as she worries about what to feed her five orphaned grandchildren, the youngest of whom has full blown AIDS. “Samson may not be with me for long; he is on treatment and I can’t give him […]

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

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

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 20 2013 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jordan’s Farmers Struggle to Weather Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:04:41 +0000 Elizabeth Whitman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128588 Abu Waleed isn’t quite sure where to begin his litany of grievances. Bugs that chomp their way through the mint he grows, or the dry well that forces him to pump water from a half kilometre away? Or perhaps the 160 dinars he spent on spinach seeds only to see scant growth after planting. For […]

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Abu Waleed says climate change has increased temperatures, bringing pests and diseases. Credit: Elizabeth Whitman/IPS.

Abu Waleed says climate change has increased temperatures, bringing pests and diseases. Credit: Elizabeth Whitman/IPS.

By Elizabeth Whitman
AMMAN, Jordan, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

Abu Waleed isn’t quite sure where to begin his litany of grievances. Bugs that chomp their way through the mint he grows, or the dry well that forces him to pump water from a half kilometre away? Or perhaps the 160 dinars he spent on spinach seeds only to see scant growth after planting.

For the small community of farmers in the Zarqa river basin east of the capital Amman, industrial development, poor resource management and climate change have converged to create a perfect storm of problems that damage farmers’ produce and livelihoods and ultimately threaten food security in Jordan.

The Jordanian government and organisations from local NGOs to U.N. agencies are taking baby steps to mitigate the effects of climate change, but Abu Waleed and other farmers say these efforts are not enough.

Others suggest that while climate change exacerbates existing environmental problems in Jordan, the core of mitigation lies not in tackling climate change but in improving how Jordan consumes and manages the scant resources it does have.Between 1975 and 2007 grain-cultivating areas decreased by 65 percent and vegetable-cultivating areas by 91 percent.

Among the driest countries in the world, Jordan has an average of 145 cubic metres of water available per person annually (the water poverty line is 500 cubic metres). Its average annual precipitation is 111 millimetres.

Prime areas for agricultural cultivation, such as rain-fed areas, are shrinking, in part because of urbanisation and development. Between 1975 and 2007, according to research by Dr. Awni Taimeh from the University of Jordan, grain-cultivating areas decreased by 65 percent and vegetable-cultivating areas by 91 percent.

Farmers in Abu Waleed’s area have meanwhile noticed changes in weather in recent years. Along with a decrease in rainfall, temperatures have risen, leading to more pests and bugs and shifting growing seasons. They are calling on the government to help mitigate these effects. Some in the government too admit that it needs to do more.

Hussein Badarin from Jordan’s Ministry of Environment has worked in climate change policy for nearly two decades. He told IPS “there’s not enough coordination” among individuals and institutions working on climate change, A government ministry may for example need data that a university researcher has been compiling, yet neither knows the other exists.

Today, what remains of the Zarqa river could pass for a watery landfill. Plastic bottles, plates and trash bags float atop a green surface, and there’s no telling what lies beneath. The water itself is so polluted that farmers cannot use it for agriculture.

Instead, they must pump groundwater to water crops, says Suheib Khamaiseh, field coordinator for the Arab Women Organisation, a local partner for a project run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that enhances the ability of local communities in the basin to adapt to climate change.

But underground aquifers from which these farmers pump are being depleted at twice the rate at which they recharge, according to the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme in Jordan.

According to an assessment carried out as part of the IUCN project, illegal “underground water pumping, rainfall shortage and high temperatures” all directly affect “underground water levels, water production quality, and soil quality.”

“Pests, weeds, chemical use, and irrigation all have increased,” the report added. Climate change impacts have also decreased “production area, output quality, and amount produced per cultivated area.”

Abu Yazan, a soft-spoken farmer in Ruseifa in the Zarqa river basin, has installed a drip irrigation system that he says uses water more efficiently and increases production. He estimates that two dunams (.49 acres) of land with drip irrigation yield three tonnes of carrots, whereas the same amount of land with traditional watering techniques yields half that.

Rainfall has decreased, he says, and he has to filter pumped water before using it for irrigation. “We never used electric pumps like this in the past,” he adds as he turns on a pump that shoots water into a holding pool. He believes the government, or the municipality, should come every season and help clean up the area, yet neither does.

“The biggest problem is the water,” Abu Waleed, the farmer from neighbouring Khirbet al-Hadeed, declares. Not only is the quantity insufficient for agriculture, he says, but it also needs some pH (acidity/alkalinity level) adjustments. “You can’t taste it, but you can tell when you grow with it.”

Leading a tour through plots of vegetables, Abu Waleed points out the garlic with which he is experimenting. Certain plants have reacted poorly to rising temperatures, so he wants to test if the garlic can handle the heat.

Fifty years ago, garlic plants grew so high that “you could not walk,” he recalls. Now, they don’t reach past his thigh. From a separate plot he yanks a small radish the size of his pinkie finger out of the ground. Bugs have been eating the leaves of the radish plants, which then die, he says.

The bugs and pests “appear because of the heat,” says Abu Waleed, and they ruin both plants and produce. He has yet to find a way to successfully wipe out the bugs, even with pesticides. “The Ministry of Agriculture needs to do something.”

Beyond the direct impact of climate change on farmers like Abu Yazan and Abu Waleed is the issue of food security. About five percent of Jordan’s land is arable, according to Jordan’s first National Climate Change Policy,released earlier this year, but that amount is shrinking because of urbanisation, development and decreased precipitation.

As a result, Jordan’s self-sufficiency in certain foods is shrinking too. Although it grows enough of certain staple vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers to cover what the country consumes, it imports wheat, rice and barley. From growing 4.6 percent of the wheat consumed in 2005, it grew just 1.8 percent in 2011, according to the Department of Statistics.

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Women Find a Green Midas Touch http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/women-find-a-green-midas-touch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-find-a-green-midas-touch http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/women-find-a-green-midas-touch/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:03:35 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128583 On a hot and humid day in northwestern Bangladesh, Anisa Begum sits with a group of 25 homemakers, explaining how to use natural fertilisers to increase grain yield. The 47-year-old mother of two tells them if men can grow crops and make money, so can women. She is a leader of the Common Interest Group […]

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Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

On a hot and humid day in northwestern Bangladesh, Anisa Begum sits with a group of 25 homemakers, explaining how to use natural fertilisers to increase grain yield.

The 47-year-old mother of two tells them if men can grow crops and make money, so can women. She is a leader of the Common Interest Group (CIG) that brings together women who want to take up farming in this South Asian nation.

Begum has got hands-on training from the local agriculture office on how to maximise crop yield from natural fertilisers. She and nine other successful women farmers last year visited Vietnam, a country known for its efficient grain harvest.“More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

“This is a wonderful feeling,” a smiling Begum tells IPS, standing at the courtyard of her home in Islampur village in Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh.

This year she has trained a dozen or so fellow CIG members in the Pairabond area of Rangpur, 255 km from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and says an increasing number of women have been showing interest in new and improved farm practices.

The CIGs, formed with the help of local agriculture offices, are part of a programme to enhance farm productivity for food security in Bangladesh – the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

“It is absolutely incredible,” says NATP monitoring and evaluation officer Mizanur Rahman. “More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

The areas in greater Rangpur region are known for good quality grains and vegetables, thanks to the soil quality. The nation depends on the farmers of this region for high quality grains and other farm produce.

But traditionally women have been more involved in household work than agriculture. A study titled ‘Economic contribution of women in Bangladesh’ reveals that just about 21 percent of women in rural areas are directly engaged in agriculture compared to 78 percent of men. The study was carried out in 2008 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with several partners.

So the idea behind the free training to women was also to encourage small entrepreneurship in agriculture. The local agriculture office has been very supportive.

Sarwarul Haque, agriculture officer in Mithapukur sub-district, tells IPS: “Initially we had a hard time convincing women to invest more time in agriculture. We demonstrated how they could adopt new technologies and reap benefits.”

Through the CIGs, women learn new technologies such as cultivating drought-resistant and high yielding aromatic rice, vermicomposting and planting all-season tomato seeds that keep the crop free of the leaf curl disease.

Rowshan Ara, a successful woman agriculturist in Pairabond, tells IPS: “When the demonstrations began in Islampur village, there were hardly any women who showed an interest in agriculture.

“Today out of about 5,500 people in Islampur, 1,200 are farmers, and over 40 percent of them are women involved in farming.”

Before joining the CIGs, many of the women used to be farm labourers, earning as little as Taka 70 (88 cents) a day for 10 hours of physical labour, cultivating and harvesting rice.

A woman farm labourer, depending on the season and the size of the cropland, can make a maximum of Taka 1,500 or 20 dollars a month.

Increasing participation in agriculture has changed things. A woman can now earn anything between Taka 5,000 and 8,000 (64 dollars and 100 dollars) a month by growing fine quality grain that is in great demand abroad.

Momena Begum, 42, says, “I chose vermicomposting and by the end of last year I sold vermin [red earthworms] worth 4,500 dollars. I made a nearly 30 percent profit.”

Vermicomposting has become very popular as farmers reap rich benefits from a healthy soil. It is cheaper than chemicals (less than 25 cents a kg). Producing pest free seeds at home is another popular practice.

Parul Sarkar, Momena Begum’s neighbour in Pairabond, says: “I learnt how to produce natural fertiliser from decomposed water hyacinth. The plants are available in plenty, so there is hardly any need for big investment. The fertiliser gives one and a half times the yield compared to chemical fertilisers in vegetables. With a small investment I started supplying the local market.”

Sarkar made over 380 dollars from the sale of natural fertilisers in the first quarter of this year. The income was in addition to the 90 dollars her husband earned from hard labour harvesting crops.

A growing number of women have been joining the CIGs. From less than 20 such groups in Mithapukur in 2009, the number has now gone up to more than 240.

Such efforts to boost national food production are designed and jointly funded by the World Bank, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the government in a 82.6 million dollar project known as the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

Adopting new technology in agriculture has had tremendous impact. Retailers, brokers and wholesalers prefer to market natural fertiliser-based vegetables and grains as they are cheaper compared to crops grown with chemical fertilisers.

“The potatoes and tomatoes grown using natural fertilisers show a healthy and glazed look,” says Raja Miah, a wholesaler in Bogra district. ”One can tell the difference.”

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Refugees Eating Dogs to Beat Starvation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/refugees-eating-dogs-to-beat-starvation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-eating-dogs-to-beat-starvation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/refugees-eating-dogs-to-beat-starvation/#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 07:48:38 +0000 Mutawalli Abou Nasser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128357 Acute food shortages have reached desperate levels in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. Leading religious figures in the camps have issued a fatwa permitting the killing and consumption of cats, dogs, mice, rats and donkeys. “We have been under siege for three months. There is nothing left to eat. This is what has become […]

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A resident in the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus prepares to slaughter a dog to feed his family as food supplies run out under siege. Credit: Mutawalli Abou Nasser/IPS.

A resident in the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus prepares to slaughter a dog to feed his family as food supplies run out under siege. Credit: Mutawalli Abou Nasser/IPS.

By Mutawalli Abou Nasser
DAMASCUS, Oct 25 2013 (IPS)

Acute food shortages have reached desperate levels in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. Leading religious figures in the camps have issued a fatwa permitting the killing and consumption of cats, dogs, mice, rats and donkeys.

“We have been under siege for three months. There is nothing left to eat. This is what has become of us,” said a resident of Yarmouk as he prepared to kill a dog for his family following the fatwa (religious ruling).

Residents are struggling to keep children from dying.“We have been under siege for three months. There is nothing left to eat. This is what has become of us."

Jana Ahmad Hassan is less than three months old. She is severely malnourished and faces starvation. She was born in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, Yarmouk. For more than three months the camp has been under siege from the Syrian armed forces. In the face of scarcities this has brought, Jana’s life now hangs in the balance.

“For god’s sake my son, I have a starving baby girl in the camp,” her mother pleaded with one of the soldiers at a checkpoint. “I need to get some milk for her and food for me or she will die.”

Her pleas were violently rebuked. “You think you are a mother? If you understood anything, you wouldn’t have gone out of the camp and left her at home,” the soldier said. She was sent empty-handed back into the camp.

With Jana’s mother failing to produce milk, her father has searched tirelessly for formula for the child but he has repeatedly been told that there isn’t a single box to be had in the south of Syria. Many rebel-held areas such as Yarmouk are suffering from acute shortages of food under the siege.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) aims to bring food assistance to up to 6.5 million Syrians between now and the end of the year. The challenges in doing so are monumental.

The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yarmouk and some of the other Palestinian camps in the south, such as Sabina and Sayeda Zeinab, has resulted in a severe breakdown in relations between the residents of the camps and the bodies traditionally charged with their welfare – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

In mid-July residents of all three camps addressed a letter to the PLO and UNRWA requesting they exert all their efforts to have the siege lifted. They also said that if UNRWA could not fulfill its responsibility, it should transfer the refugee camps file to the United Nations General Assembly.

The residents asked for the International Red Cross to be given access to Palestinian refugees. They warned of an impending state of famine.

Months later no meaningful changes have come. The areas under siege in the south continue to expand, engulfing more than half a million civilians in the southern region, including tens of thousands in the Yarmouk Camp.

“Not so long ago people were allowed to bring in a bit of food. Now they have closed the refugee camp with checkpoints and there is a total siege,” Prof. Abu Salma, an official from the Charity Commission for the Relief of the Palestinian People, told IPS.

Since early August there have been a number of demonstrations outside UNRWA buildings, where the organisation’s flag has been burnt. The feelings of discontent among camp residents have been exacerbated by perceptions of corruption and neglect among UNRWA staff.

“We tried as employees to strike against the practices of the director of UNRWA, so he sent us letters stating that all who strike will be fired,” said a senior employee at the agency, speaking on condition of anonymity. Due to some recent revelations about the practices at UNRWA, a director has been arrested and accused of corruption.

The Charity Commission for the Relief of the Palestinian People has succeeded in providing at least some humanitarian relief to the Palestinian camps. But of late it has come under attack from the Syrian armed forces. Protestations that the organisation is politically unaffiliated and purely humanitarian have not spared it the government’s crackdown.

“They have started arresting our cadres, and arrested the general coordinator of the commission, Ali Shihabi. The situation is worse than bad in the camps, it has actually become a matter of collective murder,” Prof. Abu Salma told IPS.

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The Hurricanes Didn’t Bring the Hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-hurricanes-didnt-bring-the-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hurricanes-didnt-bring-the-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-hurricanes-didnt-bring-the-hunger/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 16:46:59 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128161 A month after Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel caused the worst destruction from a natural catastrophe in Mexico in 30 years, another disaster has come to light: hunger in communities that are supposedly served by a rural food supply programme. The stories repeat themselves in 14 municipalities in the mountains of the impoverished southwestern state of […]

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Local maize production has gone down in several parts of Mexico. Cobs in a crib in Yaluma, Chiapas. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Local maize production has gone down in several parts of Mexico. Cobs in a crib in Yaluma, Chiapas. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 15 2013 (IPS)

A month after Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel caused the worst destruction from a natural catastrophe in Mexico in 30 years, another disaster has come to light: hunger in communities that are supposedly served by a rural food supply programme.

The stories repeat themselves in 14 municipalities in the mountains of the impoverished southwestern state of Guerrero, as indicated by the people who have come to the municipal seats to ask for assistance, like three men from the village of Los Laureles who walked three days and crossed rivers using ropes to reach the town of Coyuca.

“We need food, everything has run out, we don’t have anything to eat,” one of them, Gregorio Angulo, told IPS. He came to ask for a helicopter to fly out the elderly and pregnant women.

Guerrero was the state that was hit hardest by the combined impact of the two nearly simultaneous hurricanes: Ingrid, which swept through the Gulf of Mexico Sept. 12-17, and Manuel, which formed in the Pacific Sept. 13-20.

But “hunger was already here,” the president of the National Confederation of Community Councils of Abasto, Porfirio González Cortés, told a newspaper in the southern state of Oaxaca, the second-most damaged state.

With dozens of federal highways cut off by the hurricanes, availability of low-cost locally-grown foods is key in rural areas of this country of 118 million people. The state food distributor Diconsa – the acronym for Distribuidora Conasupo Sociedad Anónima – was created to that end in the 1970s.

Through a network of slightly over 25,000 stores that serve poor communities of fewer than 2,500 people, Diconsa has a mandate to offer 22 staple foods, including maize, beans, rice, sugar, oil and pasta, at subsidised prices.

For years, the system regulated the market in the poorest regions of the country. During the 1999 floods, for example, it guranteed supplies for isolated communities.

But in the last 15 years, it has lost operational capacity and budget.

An assessment of Diconsa’s performance, carried out this year by Conejal, an autonomous public agency, found “problems in ensuring constant, regular supplies in the stores.”

In addition, in 10 percent of the rural communities served by the programme, the Diconsa stores were the only place to buy food, but only one-third of all of the stores had all of the 22 products they were supposed to sell.

From 1998 to 1999, the federal budget for all food aid programmes was cut in half – including Diconsa, Liconsa (a milk distribution system) and Fidelist (a now-defunct programme that provided corn tortillas at subsidised prices).

In 2000, the authorities wanted to completely eliminate the subsidies for Diconsa, but a major mobilisation by the community councils kept them from doing so.

It was reported at the time that the budget assigned, 41 million dollars, barely covered the operating costs. This year, only 14 million dollars were earmarked for the programme, according to the government’s Federal Expenditures Budget 2013.

The basic basket of 22 subsidised staple products costs some 220 pesos (just under 20 dollars), while in a regular grocery store or supermarket the price goes up to between 230 and 330 pesos.

But there have been numerous complaints that the Diconsa stores sell other products, including junk food, at the same, or even higher, prices as other stores.

And the system draws very little on small-scale local agricultural production but depends instead on a costly centralised distribution system in this vast country chequered with remote, hard-to-reach places. In fact, many of the food products are imported.

Mexico is one of the world’s biggest importer of food, according to the National Association of Rural Producers’ Enterprises (ANEC).

In this country, which belongs to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), known as the “rich countries club”, there were 27.4 million people who did not have enough food in 2012, according to official figures.

Nearly 14 of every 100 preschool children are stunted – low height-for-age – a sign of chronic malnutrition. And among the country’s sizeable indigenous minority, stunting affects 33 out of every 100 children in that age group.

In Guerrero, María Natividad saved up every last cent in July and August. She had saved up enough to buy, as she does every year, enough meat, beer and Coca-Cola to fill up two refrigerators. But none of it was for herself.

With luck, sales on the long Independence Day weekend (Sept. 16) would bring her enough income to last through Christmas. Her shop, which is in her small two-story home, is on the banks of the Azul river that borders Santa Fe, a leading tourist town in the state of Guerrero.

But in the wee hours of the morning of Sept. 15, the Azul river overflowed in a question of minutes, flooding 100 metres beyond its banks. Natividad’s house was nearly completely submerged, and when the water receded, a mixture of mud and garbage completely filled the lower floor.

A month later, her only source of income is gone. And although tourism is the main source of livelihood for the entire town, the authorities have dragged their feet on the local residents’ requests, because as a town that normally draws tourists it is towards the end of the list in terms of urgency.

Natividad is one of the thousands of people in Guerrero who have not received any help, neither cash nor food. “No one has come to Santa Fe,” she told IPS.

The floods, which killed 157 people, damaged half a million hectares of crops. The devastation drove up prices of lemons, onions, beans, maize and tomatoes.

In addition, several dozen people are still missing, half a million people lost their homes and businesses, and 1.2 million homes were damaged.

With additional reporting by Ximena Natera (Coyuca y Santa Fe, Guerrero).

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Seeding Ethiopia’s Future Food Security http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/seeding-ethiopias-future-food-security/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 07:49:50 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127923 Datta Dudettu and his seven children know what is like to go hungry. They live in Woliyta, a drought-prone area in southern Ethiopia that has experienced chronic food shortages. But hopefully, thanks to the successful use of hybrid seed, that is now firmly in the past. “It was common to experience chronic food shortages due to drought or […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethiopia currently prohibits the use of GM crops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Improved seeds and improved knowledge,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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