Inter Press Service » Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 22 Sep 2014 09:41:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:16:31 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136786 Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And social protection may be the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on fphiri200@gmail.com 

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

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

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How Farming is Making Côte d’Ivoire’s Prisoners ‘Feel Like Being Human Again’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:11:39 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135863 Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
SALIAKRO/ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

François Kouamé, prisoner Number 67, proudly shows off a sow and her four piglets. Dressed in his rubber boots, he passes by two new tractors as he happily makes his way to a field where pretty soon cassava and corn plants will start growing. “Look at those sprouts. It is a lot of work!”

Being imprisoned in one of the world’s most impoverished country’s is far from an easy ride. But Ivorian authorities are searching for alternatives to the overcrowded prisons and malnourished prisoners here. And they just may have found the answer — in a farm.

The Saliakro Prison Farm, where Kouamé is currently serving out the remainder of his one-year prison sentence, is the first of its kind in Côte d’Ivoire. He was one of the first detainees to be sent here in December 2013.

The 21 buildings on the farm, built on a former summer camp, are to provide accommodation for 150 prisoners who have been sentenced for less than three years for non-violent crimes. Here they will learn new skills in farming.“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life.” -- Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders

For Kouamé, being on a farm is a relief compared to the six months he spent in Soubré State Prison for cutting trees in a neighbouring cocoa plantation.

“We were sleeping four persons in a space that could contain only one person. And we were granted only a bowl of rice per day,” says the young man.

Now he eats three meals a day, and stays in a clean room with 16 other prisoners. Each man has his own bunk bed, a closet and plenty of space to move about in.

Mamadou Doumbia, 32, is serving a two-year sentence for stealing computers. The quiet and articulate man is relieved to be on the farm. He spent 11 months in Agboville prison, in Agnéby Region close to Abidjan, the country’s economic capital.

He reveals a dark portrait of life in Agboville prison. Rape, malnutrition and pests are some of the many things he says he witnessed.

“I feel like being human again,” he tells IPS.

Though life on the farm is no vacation. Inmates must wake up at 5:30 am and be ready for work no later than 7am. They work till 3pm, only taking a short break for lunch. Evenings are their own to do with as they will, but they have to be in their dormitories by 9pm.

Through the Saliakro project, Ivorian authorities and backers hope to improve inmate conditions, reduce costs and help reintegration.

Overpopulation and malnutrition

Côte d’Ivoire has relatively modern prison facilities compared to the rest of West Africa, where most countries have not invested in new prisons since the 1970s. In neighbouring Ghana, the Jamestown Colonial fort only ceased to be used as a penitential facility in 2008.

In Guinea-Bissau, the country had to wait for the United Nations to build a prison in order to stop cramming prisoners into what is now a beautiful colonial house, renamed Casa dos Direitos or the House of Human rights. Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia all have overcrowded prisons dating back to the 1960s.

Still, Ivorian prisons were planned for another era. In the Abidjan Detention and Correction Centre, known by its French acronym MACA, overpopulation is an understatement. The building, conceived in the 1980s for 1,500 prisoners now has a population of over 5,000.

“Hygiene is very difficult. There are frequent water disruptions,” Jean a prisoner at MACA, who prefers to remain anonymous as prisoners are not allowed to speak to journalists, tells IPS over the phone.

And now, even if the government and international donors start to reopen detention centres in the north, closed by a decade of de facto separation with the south, congestion in state prisons remain dire.

The prison in Man, a town in west Côte d’Ivoire, holds several perpetrators of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis that resulted in over 3,000 deaths.

While it has been renovated in the last year, newer does not mean less crowded. It was built to hold only 300 inmates but it currently holds twice as many. Didier, who is awaiting trial in Man Prison, says the basic meals of rice have left him hungry. “We don’t [get to] eat three meals. Most of the time we eat only once,” he tells IPS over the phone.

In May, five prisoners from Man died and several others were hospitalised. Dr. Viviane Lawson Kiniffo, the prison’s doctor, told Ivorian media that promiscuity, malnutrition and hygiene were big issues.

Self-sufficiency and reintegration

Back in Saliakro, Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly inaugurates Côte d’Ivoire’s first prison farm in front a selected group of VIPs. “More farm prisons will soon be open,” he says.

Coulibaly has several reasons to be satisfied. Aside from improving inmate’s living conditions, once fully functional, Saliakro Prison Farm will relieve prison budgets by several hundred dollars as, besides feeding its own prisoners, it will produce enough to make a profit from selling produce on local markets.

But the 450 hectares of are not only there to deliver a relief to state budget.

“It is more than about feeding themselves. It is also about getting those prisoners back to a normal life. It is about learning new skills and being able to reintegrate and participate fully in society,” Saliakro’s superintendent, Pinguissie Ouattara, tells IPS. “This is about bringing an alternative to crime, and decreasing the crime rate.”

Saliakro is not on any map: this town does not exist. But it is the contraction of Kro, which means “village” in the local Baoule language and “Salia”, the first name of former superintendent Salia Ouattara who died in 2007.

“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life,” Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders, a French NGO, tells IPS.

He explains that the 150 prisoners are backed by trained agronomists. Participants in the project will deepen their agricultural knowledge and will be paid 300 CFA (about 70 cents) per day for work.

“This will allow them to collect money to grow their own crops once they leave. It is also about reinsertion into real life. And getting confidence.”

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Kouamé is more realistic. He was a farmer before, but tells IPS that he has learned much from the agronomists here. “I have learnt here many things that will make my farm more profitable, notably by diversifying production.”

But the road is still bumpy. Funding, which has been provided by the European Union, now needs to be secured for a longer term. And still, a better selection process of prisoners needs to be found as, so far, selection of participants was not based on any clear criteria.

But prison superintendent Ouattara, who also manages the Dimbokro Prison a few kilometres from Saliakro, is positive.

“It is the beginning. We will need to adjust. But we strongly believe that there will be a positive outcome for those men. Much more than leaving them by themselves doing nothing.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 09:07:35 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135752 Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit:  Cam Mcgrath/IPS

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

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of a better life  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q&A: Investment and Research Key to Resilient African Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-investment-research-key-resilient-african-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-investment-research-key-resilient-african-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-investment-research-key-resilient-african-agriculture/#comments Fri, 25 Apr 2014 17:11:21 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133897 Agronomist Davison Masendeke shows a farmer in Bulawayo a variety of white sorghum, which is an ideal crop for arid areas. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts of the interview follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How successful have these initiatives been? 

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

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

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

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

Q: What of the challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegalhttp://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 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 Thumbshttp://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 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 Tradehttp://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 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 Rwandahttp://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, 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 Fruithttp://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 on his piece of land that is part of a cooperative that began in 1963 in Upper Kitete. However, recent attempts by the government to revive cooperatives have been a failure. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Organic Farmers Fight the Elements in Brazilhttp://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 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 Agriculturehttp://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 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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