Inter Press ServiceFood Sustainability – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Oct 2018 12:32:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Rural Migration: An Opportunity, Not A Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/rural-migration-opportunity-not-challenge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-migration-opportunity-not-challenge http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/rural-migration-opportunity-not-challenge/#respond Mon, 15 Oct 2018 11:03:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158170 While it can be a challenging issue, migration must be seen as an opportunity and be met with sound, coherent policies that neither stem nor promote the phenomenon. A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) examines rural migration and urges countries to maximise the contribution of such migrants […]

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Women and children caught in a dust-laden gust at an IDP settlement 60km south of the town of Gode, reachable only along a dirt track through the desiccated landscape. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Women and children caught in a dust-laden gust at an IDP settlement 60km south of the town of Gode, reachable only along a dirt track through the desiccated landscape. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 15 2018 (IPS)

While it can be a challenging issue, migration must be seen as an opportunity and be met with sound, coherent policies that neither stem nor promote the phenomenon.

A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) examines rural migration and urges countries to maximise the contribution of such migrants to economic and social development.

“We cannot ignore the challenges and costs associated with migration,” FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva said.

“The objective must be to make migration a choice, not a necessity, and to maximise the positive impacts while minimising the negative ones,” he added.

FAO’s senior economist and author of the report Andrea Cattaneo echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating; “Migration, despite all the challenges that it may pose, really represents the core of economic, social, and human development.”

Though international migration often dominates headlines, the report shows that internal migration is a far larger phenomenon.

More than one billion people living in developing countries have moved internally, with 80 percent of moves involving rural areas.

Migration between developing countries is also larger than those to developed countries. For instance, approximately 85 percent of refugees globally are hosted by developing countries, and at least one-third in rural areas.

Cattaneo additionally highlighted the link between internal and international migrants, noting that in low-income countries, internal migrants are five times more likely to migrate internationally than people who have not moved.

A significant portion of international migrants are also found to have come from rural areas. FAO found that almost 75 percent of rural households from Malawi migrate internationally.

Abdul Aziz stands with his child in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came to Bangladesh’s capital a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but only to find grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with his child in Dhaka’s Malibagh slum. He came to Bangladesh’s capital a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but only to find grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Why all the movement?

While human movements have long occurred since the beginning of time, many migrants now move out of necessity, not choice.

Alongside an increase in protracted crises which force communities out of their homes, it is the lack of access to income and employment and thus a sustainable livelihood that is among the primary drivers of rural migration.

In China, significant rural-urban income gaps drove rural workers to abandon agriculture and migrate to cities.

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of China’s population living in urban areas increased from 26 percent to 56 percent, and an estimated 200 million rural migrants now work in the East Asian nation’s cities.

However, such rapid urbanisation increasingly seen around the world is posing new challenges in the availability of resources.

Poor environmental conditions and agricultural productivity have also driven rural workers away.

A recent study revealed that a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature is associated with a 5 percent increase in the number of international migrants, but only from agriculture-dependent societies.

In other countries such as Thailand and Ghana, migration is prompted by the lack of infrastructure and access to services such as education and health care.

This points to the importance of investing in rural areas to ensure migration is not overwhelming and that residents have the means to live a prosperous life.

However, it is very important to consider the right type of investments and development, Cattaneo said.

“The type of development matters. Development per say is not going to reduce migration…but if you have the right type of development and investments in rural areas, you can make the case that you can reduce some of this migration,” Cattaneo told IPS.

A forward outlook

In the report, FAO advocates a territorial development approach to reduce rural out-migration  and thus international migration including investments in social services and improving regional infrastructure in or close to rural areas.

For instance, investments in infrastructure related to the agri-food system—such as warehousing, cold storage, and wholesale markets—can generate employment both in agriculture and the non-farm sectors and provide more incentive for people to stay instead of move to already overburdened cities.

Policies should also be forward-thinking and context specific, Cattaneo noted while pointing the consequences of climate change. This could mean investing in new activities that are viable to a particular region while another region moves towards more drought-resistant crop.

While migration may still continue, it will not be driven by the lack of economic opportunities or suitable living conditions.

“Migration is a free choice but if you put in place good opportunities at home, many people may decide not to migrate. Some will still want to migrate and that’s fine—that’s actually the type of migration that works. It’s not out of need, it’s out of choice,” Cattaneo told IPS.

In fact, migration often plays a significant role in reducing inequalities and is even included as a target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10, which aims to reduce inequality within and among countries.

Whilst reducing their own inequalities, migrants also contribute to economic transformation and development around the world.

“We focus on the challenges without looking at the opportunities that can come with migration because at the end of the day, people are a resource for society,” Cattaneo said.

“If we can find a way to put them into productive use, then that’s an added value for the destination or host country,” he added, pointing to Uganda as an example.

In recent years, Uganda has seen an influx of refugees from conflict-stricken nations such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With its open-door policy, the East African country now has 1.4 million refugees, posing strains on resources.

Despite the challenges, its progressive refugee policy allows non-nationals to seek employment, go to school, and access healthcare. The government also provides a piece of land to each refugee family for their own agricultural use.

“This is a country that has looked beyond the challenges to see the opportunities, and they are making these people be productive part of society,” Cattaneo said.

With certain rhetoric that has cast migrants in a negative light, the international community still has a way to go to learn how to turn challenges into opportunities.

“Much remains to be done to eliminate poverty and hunger in the world. Migration was – and will continue to be – part and parcel of the broader development process,” Graziano da Silva concluded.

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Kenyan Women Turning the Tables on Traditional Banking and Land Ownershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/kenyan-women-turning-tables-traditional-banking-land-ownership/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2018 15:58:12 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158133 This article is part of a series of stories to mark World Food Day October 16.

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

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 12 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increased access to loans means increased access to land

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

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

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

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

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

Table banking still guided by rules

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

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

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

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

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

Land and independence to call their own 

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

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

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

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

Women need land to combat world hunger

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

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

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

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

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

Women understand land better

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

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

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

The worst is yet to come

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women with an income and purchasing power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting the System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Problem of Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future of Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Without Food Security, There Is No Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/without-food-security-no-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-food-security-no-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/without-food-security-no-peace/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2018 05:33:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157799 Reversing years of progress, global hunger is on the rise once again and one of the culprits is clear: conflict. A high-level side event during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly brought together, U.N. officials, governments, and civil society to assess and recommend solutions to the pressing issue of conflict-based food insecurity.  […]

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Two mothers and their children look to shore after arriving by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan. In 2014 in less than a month close to 84,000 fleeing the fighting in Bor crossed the river Nile. South Sudan has been mired in civil conflict since December 2013. Some 2.8 million people, a majority of whom depend on livestock for their livelihoods, are now facing acute food and nutrition insecurity, according to FAO. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2018 (IPS)

Reversing years of progress, global hunger is on the rise once again and one of the culprits is clear: conflict.

A high-level side event during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly brought together, U.N. officials, governments, and civil society to assess and recommend solutions to the pressing issue of conflict-based food insecurity. “The use of hunger as a weapon of war is a war crime. Yet, in some conflict settings, parties to conflict use siege tactics, weaponise starvation of civilians, or impede life-saving humanitarian supplies to reach those desperately in need." -- Action Against Hunger’s CEO Veronique Andrieux

“Conflict-related hunger is one of the most visible manifestations to human suffering emerging from war…this suffering is preventable and thus all the more tragic,” said United States’ Agency for International Development’s (USAID) administrator Mark Green.

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

The Global Report on Food Crises found that almost 124 million people across 51 countries faced crisis-level food insecurity in 2017, 11 million more than the year before.

Conflict was identified as the key driver in 60 percent of those cases.

The report predicts that conflict and insecurity will continue to drive food crises around the world, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Panellists during the “Breaking the Cycle Between Conflict and Hunger” side-event noted food insecurity is often a tell-tale sign of future potential conflict and can lead to further insecurity.

“Building resilience…is indeed fundamental for strengthening social cohesion, preventing conflict, and avoiding forced migration. Without that, there is no peace,” said Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) director-general Jose Graziano da Silva.

World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley echoed similar sentiments, stating: “If you don’t have food security, you’re not going to have any other security. So we have to address the fundamentals.”

In an effort to address conflict-based hunger and the worrisome reversal in progress, the U.N. Security Council for the first time recognised that armed conflict is closely linked to food insecurity and the risk of famine earlier this year.

The group unanimously adopted resolution 2417 condemning the use of starvation as a weapon of war and urged all parties to conflict to comply with international law and grand unimpeded humanitarian access.

While participants lauded the historic resolution, they also highlighted that it alone is not enough.

“Humanitarian action and technical solutions can mitigate the effects of food crises but we desperately need political solutions and we need to implement [resolution] 2417 if we are to reverse the shameful, upwards trajectory of hunger primarily resulting from conflict,” said Action Against Hunger’s CEO Veronique Andrieux.

In order to prevent food crises and thus conflicts from escalating, the international community must take a holistic, preventative approach and strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus.

Before the long-running war began, Syria faced a drought which caused a spike in prices and led to food shortages. Many theorise that it was these very conditions that set off the civil war in 2011. This is a picture dated August 2014 of the then rebel-held Aleppo city, Syria. The government has since taken control of the city. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Beasley pointed to the case of Syria where a seven-year long conflict has destroyed agricultural infrastructure, local economies, and supply chains and has left over six million food-insecure.

“The cost for us to feed a Syrian in Syria was about 50 cents a day which is almost double the normal cost because it is a war zone. If that same Syrian was in Berlin, it would be euros per day,” he told attendees.

“It is a better investment if we address the root cause as opposed to reacting after the fact,” Beasley added.

Before the long-running war began, Syria faced a drought which caused a spike in prices and led to food shortages. Many theorise that it was these very conditions that set off the civil war in 2011.

“Early action response to early warning is critical. We cannot wait for the conflict to start. We know that it will start,” said Graziano da Silva.

And it is data that can help establish early detection and prevent such crises, Graziano da Silva along with the other panelists stressed.

The Global Network against Food Crises (GNFC), which publish the Global Report on Food Crises, brings together regional and national data and analysis to provide a comprehensive picture of food insecurity globally.

It was the GNFC that enabled agencies to mitigate food crises and avert famine in northern Nigeria and South Sudan.

Just prior to the side event, FAO and the European Commission partnered to boost resilience and tackle hunger by contributing over USD70 million.

Panelists stressed the importance of such partnerships in addressing and responding to the complex issue of conflict-based food insecurity.

“At the ground, when we work together, it’s not only that we do better…we are much more efficient,” Graziano da Silva said.

Andrieux highlighted the need to uphold respect for international humanitarian law and that the U.N. and member states must hold all parties to the conflict to account.

“The use of hunger as a weapon of war is a war crime. Yet, in some conflict settings, parties to conflict use siege tactics, weaponise starvation of civilians, or impede life-saving humanitarian supplies to reach those desperately in need,” she said.

“We believe this is failing humanity,” Andrieux added.

Green pointed to the conflict in South Sudan where fighters have blocked desperately needed humanitarian assistance and attacked aid workers.

The African nation was recently ranked the most dangerous for aid workers for the third consecutive year.

“All the parties to the conflict are culpable, all the parties to the conflict are guilty, and they have all failed themselves, their people, and humanity,” Green told attendees.

Though the task of tackling conflict-based hunger is not easy, the solutions are there. What is now required is commitment and collective action, panelists said.

“All of us working together with effective solutions—we can truly end world hunger,” Beasley said.

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India Uses Tech to Power its New Battle Against Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/india-uses-tech-power-new-battle-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-uses-tech-power-new-battle-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/india-uses-tech-power-new-battle-malnutrition/#respond Wed, 26 Sep 2018 16:30:29 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157795 Kanaklata Raula from Kaptipada village in India’s Mayurbhanj District is on duty 24×7. The 52-year-old community health worker from Odisha state rides a bicycle for hours each day, visiting community members who need nutrition and reproductive healthcare. Raula’s main job is to ensure that the women and young children in her community are using the […]

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A mother and a child in Melghat district, an area in India with high rates of malnourishment. The government’s new POSHAN campaign aims to curb malnutrition by a significant margin by also using smartphones to collect relevant data. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAYURBHANJ DISTRICT, India, Sep 26 2018 (IPS)

Kanaklata Raula from Kaptipada village in India’s Mayurbhanj District is on duty 24×7. The 52-year-old community health worker from Odisha state rides a bicycle for hours each day, visiting community members who need nutrition and reproductive healthcare.

Raula’s main job is to ensure that the women and young children in her community are using the integrated free basic healthcare and nutrition services at the government-run community health and nutrition centre, locally known as Anganwadi.“Technology alone is not enough, we need to also reach the unreached population like the migrants who are too poor to afford a nutritious meal.” -- Laila Garda, the director of the KEM Hospital Research Centre in Pune city.

Raula monitors the health of all children under the age of six, checks their weight and their growth, ensures they are immunised and advises their mothers and other pregnant and nursing women on basic healthcare and nutrition. She then encourages them to regularly visit the Anganwadi.

But most important of all her duties, Raula is the record keeper of the community and notes, through numbers and statistics, the health of her patients. She then submits regular reports on the health of the community to the government.

“I am in charge of five villages. There are 300 families and more than 80 percent of them are poor tribal people. Without Anganwadi they will not be able to get proper nutrition for their children or necessary health supplements for themselves,” Raula, who received the best Anganwadi worker award in July by Plan India, the Indian arm of Plan International, tells IPS.

Life has gotten a little easier for Raula as the ministry of women and child development has decided to provide Anganwadi workers with smartphones or tablets with software especially designed to make their record-keeping and reporting easier.

India currently has the fourth-highest number of stunted people in the workforce in the world. Of these, 66 percent of  stunting is a result of childhood malnutrition, says a new World Bank report.

The recent National Family Health Survey 2015-2016 shows that while there is a declining trend in child stunting, the levels remain high at 38.4 percent in 2015/2016.

The survey noted increased levels of child wasting (where one’s weight is too low for their height); from 19.8 percent in 2005/2006 to 21 percent in 2015/2016. The country also has high levels of anaemia among children–58.4 percent of children under the age of six are anaemic.

To curb the alarming rate of malnutrition and stunting, India launched a new nutrition drive last November called Partnerships and Opportunities to Strengthen and Harmonise Action for Nutrition (POSHAN). With a total budget of nine billion rupees (USD126 million), the campaign has an ambitious goal: to reduce stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia and low birth weights by about two to three percent per annum.

According to information shared in national parliament by India’s minister of women and child development Maneka Gandhi, POSHAN is using:

  • a mobile application that is made available to the community healthcare workers and is pre-loaded on mobile phones and,
  • a six-tier monitoring dashboard for desktops.

 

IT for ground data

But how will smartphones be used by the Anganwadi workers while in the field?

Pramila Rani Brahma, the social welfare minister for Assam state, in north eastern India, explains that the phones will be loaded with software called the Common Application System or CAS, which was specially built for the POSHAN campaign and developed in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Anganwadi workers will use the software to enter the details of their patients, including the number of children they see, their health updates, weight etc., and will send this report to headquarters.

Data on service delivery and its impact on nutrition outcomes will also be collected.

The desktop monitoring system will be used to monitor the delivery of services to children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. It will analyse the ground data and map the weight efficiency, height and nutrition status of children under five years.

“There are a total 11 registers which I have to regularly maintain. It [usually] takes many hours. I think it will save me a lot of time, which I can spend on serving the community better. I think it will also help send the information much more quickly to the higher officials,” Raula tells IPS.

According to Brahma, the 61,000-strong Anganwadi workers in Assam state have been struggling to submit their daily reports and even demanded computers or laptops.

There are currently nearly 1.3 million Anganwadi workers across India – all of whom will receive a simple, android data-enabled smartphone, according to the government. The phones will be distributed by the respective state governments, while the federal government and its ministry of women and child development will provide the funds.

“I was informed that, there are provisions to provide smartphones to the Anganwadi workers and several other states have already taken this initiative. We will provide the smartphones to the Anganwadi workers within a short period of time,” Brahma said to a group of journalists – which included IPS – at a state-organised workshop on nutrition in Guwahati, Assam.

An early success story

The IT-enabled nutrition campaign has already reaped some results, when it was first rolled out in June.

“We have given over 50,000 cellphones to Anganwadi workers through which they give us daily reports on how many children were provided food, how many were weighed, etc,” Gandhi said at press conference in New Delhi. “Until now, we have identified 12,000 children (as severely underweight) and we are following up on their status with the district officials,” she said.

Besides collecting numbers, Anganwadi workers are also using the smartphones for  surveying houses in their neighbourhoods and even sending photos of children eating a hot cooked meal at the Anganwadi.

An uphill task ahead

However, despite the new campaign, the road ahead for India to become malnutrition-neutral remains a difficult one.

One of the main reasons for this is that the country still has a huge population that continues to face acute hunger. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation’s report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018, some 159 million of the country’s 1.3 billion people are undernourished.

The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Food Sustainability Index (FSI) 2017 ranks 34 countries across three pillars: sustainable agriculture; nutritional challenges; and food loss and waste. India ranks close to bottom on the index at 33. According to the index India ranks 32 in the world in food sustainability and human development. The centre will be hosting an international forum on food and nutrition this week as a side event to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday Sept. 28. One of the topics to be discussed is food and migration.

Kavita, a 22 year old domestic worker in Hyderabad’s Uppal neighbourhood, presents a perfect example of this.

She is a migrant labourer from Mahbubnagar—a rural district some 150 km away from Hyderabad—and despite labouring for nearly 12 hours each day, she is unable to afford a nutritious meal for her and her 18-month old daughter.

Every day Kavita cooks a simple meal of rice and tomato chutney for her and her child. Both the mother and daughter appear underweight and malnourished with a yellowish tinge to their hair and dark circles under their eyes. But the mother says that she has no time to visit an Anganwadi.

“I start working at 5 am and finish only at 4 pm. I have to work seven days a week. If I take one holiday, my employers will fire me. I heard that at the Anganwadi they give dhal, curry and even eggs to children. But I can’t afford to leave work and take my child there,” she tells IPS.

There are millions of poor migrants and floating workers like Kavita across urban India who are not aware of the government facilities or the POSHAN campaign and continue to be left out of these initiatives. According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, there were 326 million internal migrants in the country as of 2007/2008.

Unless this huge population is covered, it will be difficult to achieve the targets of the POSHAN campaign, says Laila Garda, the director of the KEM Hospital Research Centre in Pune city, Maharashtra.

“Technology alone is not enough, we need to also reach the unreached population like the migrants who are too poor to afford a nutritious meal,” Garda, who has been working in community health for nearly two decades, tells IPS.

Chuna Ram, a community reporter and nutrition activist in Barmer, Rajastahan—one of the states in the country with the highest rate of malnutrition—says that government action must go beyond the rhetoric.

In Rajasthan, he says, the government has talked of providing smartphones  to the Anganwadi workers, but it has not happened yet.

“The general election is going to take place in 2019, so the government is making a lot of promises to woo the voters. But how much of these promises will actually be kept will decide how far the situation will change,” he tells IPS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Additional reporting by Carmen Arroyo in New York.

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

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

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Sep 25 2018 (IPS)

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

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

But in fact, it was a bacterial disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complacency and lack of information contribute to spread of the disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using technology to strengthen rural farmers and control spread of BXW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A real-time reporting system on the disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams in Johannesburg

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Recognising the Debilitating Nature Conflict Has on Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/157707/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=157707 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/157707/#respond Fri, 21 Sep 2018 09:00:54 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157707 Nyalen Kuong and her daughters fled to safety after an attack on their village in South Sudan in which Kuong’s husband and two sons where killed and the family’s cattle lost. Kuong, her daughters and other families from their village fled to islands surrounded by swamp land. There, she had little to eat. And soon […]

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For many people affected by conflict, agriculture is their only means of survival, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 21 2018 (IPS)

Nyalen Kuong and her daughters fled to safety after an attack on their village in South Sudan in which Kuong’s husband and two sons where killed and the family’s cattle lost. Kuong, her daughters and other families from their village fled to islands surrounded by swamp land. There, she had little to eat. And soon began suffering from diarrhoea, brought on by acute malnutrition.

Eventually she was taken to a hospital camp where she was treated and was placed on an intravenous feeding drip. This is Kuong’s story as told by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). When she recovered she was given fishing equipment by FAO, which she now uses to supply her own food.

South Sudan is Africa’s newest state, but it has been mired in civil conflict since December 2013. Some 2.8 million people, a majority of whom depend on livestock for their livelihoods, are now facing acute food and nutrition insecurity, according to FAO.

The debilitating nature of conflict

Kuong’s experiences continue to be replicated in conflict zones around the world. Conflicts cost livelihoods and drive hunger and malnutrition, some of the most pressing development challenges today.

In May 2018, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2417 (2018), explicitly acknowledging the link between conflict and hunger and calling on all partners to protect civilians as well as their means to produce and access food.

Hunger has been on the rise for three years in a row, the U.N. found in a new report published this September. The global body says 821 million people are now hungry and over 150 million children stunted, putting the goal of hunger eradication at risk.

FAO is using its mandate to end hunger and malnutrition and to cultivate peace. This will ultimately enable food and nutritional security, which are linked to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2030.

“Agenda 2030 clearly links sustainable development and peace and calls for improved collaboration on conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution and recovery,” Enrique Yeves, director of communications at FAO, told IPS. “Sustaining peace encompasses activities aimed at preventing outbreak and recurrence of conflict.”

Yeves emphasised that interventions in support of food security, nutrition and agricultural livelihoods for conflict prevention and sustaining peace, are fundamentally important as they address not only the symptoms but also the root causes of conflict.

As the world marks the International Day of Peace on Friday, Sept. 21, the impact of conflict on humanity is a call to build a peaceful world. Sustainable Development Goal #16 underscores promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

“It is time all nations and all people live up to the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human race,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, in a message ahead of the International Day of Peace. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Food after the fight

For many people affected by conflict, agriculture is their only means of survival, according to FAO.

The U.N. body says agriculture accounts for two-thirds of employment and one-third of GDP in countries in protracted crises. Since 2000, 48 percent of civil conflicts have been in Africa where access to rural land underpins the livelihoods of many. In 27 out of 30 interstate conflicts in Africa, land issues have played a significant role.

In 2018, FAO partnered with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to facilitate peaceful livestock movement between Kenyan and Ugandan cross-border areas.

In 2017, FAO signed a USD 8.7 million agreement with Colombia’s Rural Development Agency to help boost agricultural competitiveness and restore rural areas affected by armed conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia.
FAO believes promoting food security and livelihoods can help address some of the conflict drivers.

“In conflict and post-conflict situations the humanitarian agenda takes the place of states that have failed, including welfare issues such as food, but also to some extent security functions in refugee camps. For example, thus the driving forces for it become global rather than local, with all the problems that it will entail,” David Moore, a researcher and political economist at the University of Johannesburg, told IPS.

Moore noted that conflicts are complications that a simplistic “helping hand” cannot resolve — but where there are local actors influencing and acting with global agencies, like FAO, some issues can be addressed and perhaps alleviated.

Strengthening government and private sector engagement for food and peace

Recognising that food security can support peace building, the FAO-Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security and Peace was established by the director general of FAO Jose Graziano da Silva and currently there are 10 Nobel Peace Laureates as members, said Yeves.

He added that the aim of the Alliance is not only to raise awareness and champion the links between food security and peace building, but also highlight the leadership of FAO in agricultural and food security policies and actions that promote peace, rural development and food security.

The Alliance members include Muhammad Yunus, Oscar Arias Sánchez, Tawakkol Karman, Betty Williams, Juan Manuel Santos, Frederik Willem de Klerk, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramos-Horta and Mairead Maguire.

This year, on Sept. 24, the Alliance is inducting a new member from Africa during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, a U.N. General Assembly high-level plenary on global peace

Graça Machel, humanitarian and widow of former South African president Mandela, will be named an honorary member of the Alliance this month in recognition of her late husband’s struggle for freedom and peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This must continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Climate Change Becomes a Reality Check for the Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/climate-change-becomes-reality-check-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-becomes-reality-check-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/climate-change-becomes-reality-check-north/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2018 15:53:42 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157468 “This season, the month of May was particularly hot and dry,” says Leo De Jong, a commercial farmer in Zeewolde, in Flevopolder, the Netherlands. Flevopolder is in the province of Flevoland, the largest site of land reclamation in the world. Here a hectare of land costs up to 100,000 Euros. “At the moment, we are spending […]

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A drought stressed maize crop on Leo De Jong's farm, in the Netherlands. De Jong says he spends between 20,000 and 25,000 Euros per week on irrigation. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
WAGENINGEN, The Netherlands, Sep 5 2018 (IPS)

“This season, the month of May was particularly hot and dry,” says Leo De Jong, a commercial farmer in Zeewolde, in Flevopolder, the Netherlands. Flevopolder is in the province of Flevoland, the largest site of land reclamation in the world. Here a hectare of land costs up to 100,000 Euros. “At the moment, we are spending between 20,000 and 25,000 Euros per week on irrigation.”

While most reports point to developing nations being the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, it is slowly emerging that farmers in the North who generally have more resources are feeling the heat too.

From incessant wild fires and powerful hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, to record-breaking high temperatures and droughts in Europe and Asia, the scientific community is unanimously in agreement that climate change is the more likely cause of these extremes in weather.

And it is causing severe disruptions to agricultural production systems, the environment and biodiversity.

This is troubling as, according to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a rise in temperature of more than 2°C could exacerbate the existing food deficit and prevent the majority of African countries from attaining their Sustainable Development Goals on poverty and hunger.

While De Jong can afford spending thousands of Euros on irrigation each week, he knows it is no longer sustainable for his farming business. He currently grows potatoes, onions and wheat, among other crops, on 170 hectares of reclaimed land.

Leo De Jong in his potato field, in the Netherlands. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Soil health emerges as key

With 18 million inhabitants, the Netherlands is densely populated. Half of the Netherlands is below sea level, but part of the sea was reclaimed for agricultural purposes.

After a flood in 1916, the Dutch government decided that the Zuiderzee, an inland sea within the Netherlands, would be enclosed and reclaimed. And later, the Afsluitdijk was completed—a 32 kilometre dyke which closed off the sea completely. Between 1940 and 1968, part of this enclosed inland sea was converted into land and in 1986 it became the newest province of the Netherlands—Flevoland.

Soil health in the Flevopolder, Flevoland, which sits about four meters below sea level, is of particular importance. De Jong sees it as a hallmark for every farmer in this era of climate change, regardless of their location.

He believes the answer to the climate challenge lies in farmers’ ability to “balance between ecology and economy.” This, he tells IPS, can be achieved through various ways such as improved and efficient irrigation technology, research and innovation, as well as farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchanges like the one to which he belongs—the Skylark Foundation. At the foundation he exchanges knowledge with a group of colleagues, mainly focusing on soil health.

“I have a feeling that the climate is getting extreme but consistent usage of manure, cover crops and other efficient sustainable practices guarantees good soil health, and soil health is the hallmark on which sustainable crop production is built.”

Similarly, Peter Appelman, who specialises in farming broccoli and cabbage, agrees with the soil health argument.

Appelman says that farmers should not be preoccupied with the various systems (conventional and organic farming) currently being propagated by researchers. He says that farmers should rather adopt systems that work for them depending on the type of soils on their farms.

“We have stopped feeding the crop but the soil,” he tells IPS, pointing at a pile of composite manure. “I am not an organic farmer but I try to be sustainable in whatever way because this comes back to you. You can’t grow a good product in bad soil.”

Market access for sustainability

In addressing the production cost side of the business, Appelman points to consumer satisfaction and predictable markets as key enablers to farmers’ sustainability in this era of climate stress.

As consumer preferences become more obvious, Appelman says farmers should not expend their energies complaining about market access and growing consumer demands but should rather work hard to satisfy them.

“I think my fellow farmers complain too much, which is not the best practice for the business,” he says. “As farmers, we should exert this energy in looking for customers, and work to satisfy them—I believe better farmer-to-customer relations should be the way forward.”

According to Appelman, production should be determined by consumer/market preferences. “I travel around the world looking for markets, and through these interactions, I learn and do my work according to the needs of my customers. Look for customers first and then proceed to produce for them, because it is tough in the production stage,” says Appelman, whose farm has an annual turn-over of about two million Euros.

The Appelman family grow broccoli on 170 hectares and red and white cabbage on 60 hectares.

Research and innovation

According to Professor Louise Fresco, president of the research executive board of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the answer to the global food challenge lies in ensuring that the contribution of agriculture to climate change is positive rather than negative.

This, she says, is only possible through investment in research and innovation in order to achieve maximum efficiency for food production and to minimise waste.

“The agriculture sector therefore needs to do more than produce food—but produce efficiently,” she said in her opening address to the 2018 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists congress held in the Netherlands in July. “Food has to be produced not as a chain, but in a circular way. Water and energy use are highlights.”

Under the theme: Dutch roots—small country, big solutions; the congress highlighted what lies at the centre of the Netherlands’ agricultural prowess.

“Productivity through innovation and efficiency is the answer to why the Netherlands,ca small country, is the second-largest agricultural exporter [in the world],” said Wiebe Draijer, chief executive officer and chairman of Rabobank.

Draijer said Rabobank, which was founded as a cooperative, was happy to be associated with the Dutch agricultural prowess, which is anchored in sustainable and innovative practices.

“In response to the global food challenge, we keep refining our lending modalities to support environmental sustainability. For example, we track farmers that we give loans to to monitor their environmental sustainability practices, and there is an incentive in the form of a discount on their loans.”

Sustainability is the buzz word globally. However, it seems there is much more to be done for farmers to achieve it, especially now that negative effects of climate change are similarly being felt in both the north and the global south.

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China-Africa Cooperation a Vibrant Partnership for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/china-africa-cooperation-vibrant-partnership-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-africa-cooperation-vibrant-partnership-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/china-africa-cooperation-vibrant-partnership-sustainable-development/#respond Mon, 03 Sep 2018 14:17:19 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157439 António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in an address to the China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing

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António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in an address to the China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing

By António Guterres
BEIJING, Sep 3 2018 (IPS)

This Forum on China-Africa Cooperation is an embodiment of two major priorities of the United Nations: to pursue fair globalization and to promote development that leaves no one behind in the context of a rules-based system of international relations supported by strong multilateral institutions.

António Guterres

China has achieved remarkable development progress in recent years, with an unprecedented reduction in poverty, and I commend its commitment to sharing its successes through different initiatives and namely the Belt and Road.

Africa, too, has made dramatic advances, and hosts some of the world’s most dynamic economies. Together, China and Africa can unite their combined potential for peaceful, durable, equitable progress to the benefit of all humankind.

It is important that current and future development cooperation contributes to peace, security and to building a “community of shared future for mankind.”

China and Africa have strengthened their relationship in recent years, enjoying growing mutual trust and exchanges at all levels.

Development cooperation is increasing, based on the two mutually compatible roadmaps: the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

I commend this engagement. Cooperation, based on the principles of the UN Charter, can benefit your peoples and can benefit the international community as a whole.

And allow me to mention five areas that will be crucial for the success of this very important partnership.

First, reinforcing the foundations of Africa’s progress. Stronger cooperation between China and Africa can lead to sustainable, environmentally-friendly and resilient development in Africa that is inclusive, reaching first those people that are furthest behind. Financial and technological support for infrastructure development is critical.

So is building capacity on trade as African countries start to realize the potential of the landmark Continental Free Trade Area. And they’re also ready to support the strengthening national data systems to help African countries formulate policy and drive decision-making.

Second, ensuring national ownership and African-led sustainable development.

In the past year, the United Nations has agreed joint frameworks with the African Union on Peace and Security and on supporting Agenda 2063.

These frameworks are based on our commitment to be a steadfast and trusted partner of Africa, with full respect for Africa’s stewardship of its own future.

The China-Africa partnership echoes this collaborative approach to create not just immediate gains but long-lasting value.

And we are ready to support the strengthening of governance and institutional capacities in African countries to ensure country ownership and leadership that fully responds to the needs and aspirations of Africa’s people.

Of particular concern are education and job opportunities for young people, and equality and empowerment for the continent’s women and girls.

Third, deepening South-South cooperation.

I believe this Summit will contribute to preparations for the United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation in Buenos Aires next year.

South-South cooperation is fundamental for fair globalization. But the dramatic increase in South-South cooperation does not eliminate the need to implement North-South commitments, including those assumed in the context of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

We need to ensure that cooperation paves the way for Africa’s economic vitality and greater trade, both at regional and global levels.
Partnership for sustainable development must also give more space for African voices, innovations and perspectives in global development discourse around the world.

Fourth, promoting sustainable fiscal policies.

United Nations Country Teams are fully committed to supporting African nations to seize their full potential of their cooperation with China.

At the same time, we all need to work together to guarantee the financial sustainability of African development.

Sound fiscal policies are an essential pillar for sustainable development. It is imperative that we support Africa to both preserve and create fiscal space for investments.

That includes a concerted global effort to combat tax evasion, money laundering and illicit financial flows allowing to contribute to the success to the strong African commitment to fight corruption as agreed at the African Union Summit in early January 2018.

Fifth, climate change.

Climate change is an existential threat. A sustainable future for China, Africa and the world means climate-friendly and climate-resilient development as it was underlined today by President Xi Jinping.

As we are increasingly aware, climate change and environmental degradation are risk multipliers, especially for fragile states and vulnerable regions.

China is today a global leader in climate solutions.

It is important that it shares its advances with Africa to enable the continent to leapfrog traditional polluting development in favour of green growth.

And also ,to support Africa in adapting to climate change and in building resilience to the impacts that Africans have done so little to cause.

This Summit exemplifies the win-win collaboration that is necessary for the future we want.

The United Nations will continue to support the China-Africa Partnership and more broadly, South-South cooperation, so that all nations – in Africa and beyond – may enjoy sustainable and inclusive development.

The post China-Africa Cooperation a Vibrant Partnership for Sustainable Development appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in an address to the China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Beijing

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How Accurate Information About the Weather is Yielding Resilience for Zambia’s Smallholdershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/accurate-information-weather-yielding-resilience-zambias-smallholders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=accurate-information-weather-yielding-resilience-zambias-smallholders http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/accurate-information-weather-yielding-resilience-zambias-smallholders/#respond Thu, 30 Aug 2018 09:45:19 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157402 Just having better information about when and for how long it will rain is proving the difference between success and failure among smallholder farmers in southern Zambia. Empowered with timely information about the weather ahead of the 2017/18 farming season, 56-year-old Fainess Muzyamba of Pemba district ditched her traditional maize crop for sweet potatoes. “Through […]

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Fainess Muzyamba of Pemba district, Zambia, ending up ditching her traditional maize crop for sweet potatoes in the last farming season. It proved a successful strategy for her. She is pictured here with the clay flower pots that she also makes and sells at Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone, for additional income. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Zambia, Aug 30 2018 (IPS)

Just having better information about when and for how long it will rain is proving the difference between success and failure among smallholder farmers in southern Zambia. Empowered with timely information about the weather ahead of the 2017/18 farming season, 56-year-old Fainess Muzyamba of Pemba district ditched her traditional maize crop for sweet potatoes.

“Through the monthly weather briefings that we get, I decided to plant sweet potatoes instead of maize,” Muzyamba told IPS.

The monthly weather bulletin that Muzyamba is referring to is part of an integrated package of interventions under the Rural Resilience Initiative by the World Food Programme (WFP).

The initiative integrates six management strategies, which include risk transfer through rainfall index insurance, prudent risk taking through input and cash loans, climate services and information, and post-harvest management and marketing.

“This service has been very helpful,” said Muzyamba. “Through this information and technical advice from extension officers, I was able to project that seasonal rainfall would be problematic, and decided to plant sweet potatoes—these don’t need a lot of water to do well.”

And the decision paid off.

She harvested 60 x 50-kilogram (kg) bags of sweet potatoes which she has exchanged for 40 x  50-kg bags of maize.

At the current market price, Muzyamba would earn 2,800 Zambian kwacha (USD280) for the maize and an additional 1,200 Zambian kwacha (USD120) from her crop of sugar beans, which she has recently diversified into for its income and nutrition value. She added, however, “20 bags of maize is for food consumption” for her 11-member family. And it is guaranteed to last until the next harvest.

Smallholder farmers not protected against climate shocks

In Zambia, 73 percent of farmers or 1.5 million of the country’s 16 million people are smallholders, cultivating less than two hectares of land. Erratic rainfall is an additional burden to challenges such as fragile soils and poor access to agricultural inputs, markets and improved agricultural practices.

They often do not have access to basic risk management strategies and when climate shocks hit, their wellbeing in the short term is compromised. In the long term, these shocks have enduring consequences, including poverty, malnutrition and low life expectancy.

“The issue of erratic patterns of the weather and how we have seen this evolving, is a concern and a larger problem affecting smallholder farmers not only in Zambia but the entire southern African region,” noted Lola Castro, WFP regional director for southern Africa, during her visit to Zambia in March.

She told IPS: “It is for this reason that we think the Rural Resilience Initiative we are implementing with partners needs to be scaled up to empower smallholders to create resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts by discouraging mono-cropping of maize and promoting diversification.”

In partnership with Meteorological Department of Zambia, WFP “has installed two Automatic Weather stations to improve upstream and downstream dissemination and utilisation of agro-met information,” Allan Mulando of WFP Zambia told IPS. “WFP has also installed 20 manual rain gauges manned by trained local farmers and used by the community to make timely decisions on planting.”

Farmers take and then share readings from the gauges with the meteorological office, field project and government extension officers, and fellow farmers for planning purposes.

In their farmers’ clubs, lead and follower farmers gather to discuss parameters such as the right soil moisture content for planting. By comparing their own locally-obtained information and the broad-based national and regional weather forecast, they are able to make projections of what to expect, thereby helping them to plan what and when to plant.

A success in a season of disaster

When she compares the average yields of other farmers in the area, Muzyamba believes her story is a remarkable turnaround in a season that has largely been a disaster for the majority of smallholders due to poor rainfall.

“Paying for my children’s school fees will not be a problem this year. I was particularly worried [about having the fees for my] oldest son who is in grade twelve,” she said. She added that the situation would now be manageable as she is also involved in a savings scheme with the farmers’ club. She uses the proceeds of her savings to transport clay flower pots to Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone, where they are sold.

This is a typical story of diversification as a climate change adaptation strategy for smallholder farmers. But, perhaps, what has been lacking over the years are concrete integrated and sustainable ways of incentivising smallholder farmers.

“I think what we have learnt so far, is that the only way to address some of these issues is through an integrated approach—ensuring that activities are mainstreamed into national programmes to avoid confusion, and in future even when we leave as partners, these programmes continue to be implemented by relevant government departments,” Zambia WFP country director, Jennifer Bitonde, told IPS.

The initiative, which started in 2014, has been expanded to the Monze, Gwembe, Namwala and Mazabuka districts, reaching a total of 18,157 farmers.

More people need more food

By the year 2050, global population is expected to rise from the current seven billion to about nine billion, requiring a dramatic increase in agricultural production. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO),  as populations grow and diets change the world must produce 49 percent more food by 2050 than it did in 2012.

FAO believes that hunger, poverty and climate change can be tackled together by recognising the links between rural poverty, sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.

At a global level, one important step taken to actualise this strategy was the adoption of the Koronivia Work Programme on Agriculture by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 2017 Conference of Parties—the highest decision-making body on climate change and development.

This was after several years of discussing agriculture as a secondary subject at the UNFCCC negotiating table. But the decision to adopt it as a work programme, provides hope for farmers and processors in developing economies as meaningful action to adverse effects of climate change on agriculture will be taken.

“From our perspective as Zambia, our interest is in line with the expectations of the African group which is seeking to protect our smallholders, who are the majority producers, from the negative impacts of climate change through tried and friendly technologies,” Morton Mwanza, Zambia’s ministry of agriculture focal point person on climate smart agriculture, told IPS.

Technology adoption and human rights approach the way forward

Meanwhile, George Wamukoya, one of Africa’s well-known experts on climate change and agriculture, believes innovative technology adoption is the next big step forward for African agriculture to be transformed.

“I think it is a positive step because it has brought the issues of implementation and science together, and this is what we have been fighting for. We need investment in agriculture, to try and get science to inform whatever we are doing in agriculture, and to help cushion our farmers’ challenges,” Wamukoya told IPS.

However, civil society groups are cautious of some approaches. Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance argued for a human rights approach.

Mwenda told IPS that agriculture is no longer just an issue of science but also a human rights issue, adding that industrialised agriculture was not the right remedy to smallholder farmers’ climate challenges.

“Our interest is to promote resilience to agriculture, the context in Africa is how to support that smallholder farmer, that pastoralist whose cows are dying due to drought every time, so it’s important that we look at it from this context and not theories of industrialisation,” explained Mwenda.

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Fledgling Venture Aims to Make Money from Cutting Food and Packaging Wastehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/fledgling-venture-aims-make-money-cutting-food-packaging-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fledgling-venture-aims-make-money-cutting-food-packaging-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/fledgling-venture-aims-make-money-cutting-food-packaging-waste/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 16:17:07 +0000 Kelly Ng http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157826 To tackle food waste, Nicholas Lim did not simply spread the word among his friends and family. In an experiment to see if he could make a viable business out of the problem, he co-founded an online platform that allows individuals, eateries and voluntary welfare organisations to order discounted groceries that would otherwise be thrown […]

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TreeDots founders Tylor Jong(left), Nicholas Lim (centre), and Lau Jia Cai (right) say they are Asia's first wholesale supplier of unsold food supplies. Courtesy: TreeDots

By Kelly Ng
SINGAPORE, Aug 27 2018 (IPS)

To tackle food waste, Nicholas Lim did not simply spread the word among his friends and family.

In an experiment to see if he could make a viable business out of the problem, he co-founded an online platform that allows individuals, eateries and voluntary welfare organisations to order discounted groceries that would otherwise be thrown away.

TreeDots began operations six months ago and now has about 180 business partners, which obtain discounted groceries from about 30 suppliers.

The items may be slightly defective or approaching their expiry dates, but prices are hugely marked down. For instance, 12 one-litre bottles of olive oil cost USD8, compared with about USD12 per bottle at a supermarket, while a kilogramme of Cavendish bananas can be bought for about USD 1, about a third of the price it is usually sold for elsewhere.

TreeDots offers free delivery and takes a 10 percent cut for every successful transaction, said Lim, 26, who co-founded the platform with fellow Singapore Management University graduates Tylor Jong and Lau Jiacai.

About 10 people order TreeDots’ weekly “vege boxes”, which contain up to 14kg of fruits and vegetables that may look “ugly” or are blemished. The boxes’ content varies according to what the suppliers are looking to let go of. Each box costs USD30 and three boxes cost USD84.

Lim said the start-up has generated enough revenue to cover its overhead costs, which includes a refrigerator truck, but the founders are still working unpaid.

“Response has been growing over the months, but still mostly on the business-to-business level…Despite growing interest in the issue of food waste, we still feel the majority of people here are not willing to accept such products,” said Lim.

While eco-businesses selling items such as upcycled bags or bamboo and stainless steel straws are not new to Singapore, the experiences and ability of two fledgling ventures that deal in perishable food items could signal if a broader swathe of local consumers are ready to adopt low-waste habits in a bigger way.

In May, a 1,200 sq ft grocery store opened in Sembawang Hills estate, targeting patrons keen to shop for daily necessities stripped of the usual packaging. Inspired by a video of a provision shop with the same concept operating somewhere in Europe, UnPackt’s co-founder Florence Tay, 36, is looking to help the average shopper to take small steps to reduce waste in everyday life.

For a start, the store has stocked about 70 types of toiletries, cleaning agents and dried foodstuff like cereal that are stored in self-service dispensers and priced according to weight.

Patrons are free to buy only the amount they want, and the items are a shade cheaper than what they would cost in a supermarket. For instance, UnPackt is selling 100g of raw sugar for USD0.10, the same amount of organic pasta for USD0.50 and, almonds, for USD3.20.

Customers bring their own receptacles or use the jars and containers that Tay has collected, cleaned and sterilised.

UnPackt’s co-founder Jeff Lam, 38, who lives alone, said he used to throw out a lot of unfinished food that had expired and hopes to “debunk the myth that eco-friendly habits are expensive and unsustainable”.

The duo have pumped in about USD 73,000 to get the business going and while they see it also playing an advocacy role, they stress the need to be financially sustainable.

“Profitability still has to come in, in order for us to keep running (the store) and prove to the man in the street that this is the one-stop shop for their low-waste lifestyle habits,” said Tay.

Good cause but will customers bite?

The efforts by TreeDots’ and UnPackt’s founders come amid the growing amount of food and plastic waste generated in Singapore. A waste audit by the National Environment Agency found that over half of food waste generated by households here would not have been trashed had consumers bought the quantities they needed or cooked the right portions.

Meanwhile, packaging waste made up a third of the 1.7 million tonnes of domestic waste generated here last year. About 15 percent of the packaging waste – or about 83,550 tonnes – is made up of plastic and paper disposables such as single-use plates and take-away food containers.

But the key ingredient determining the reach and sustainability of businesses such as TreeDots and UnPackt could ultimately be their prices, said business experts and observers.

The majority of consumers in Singapore still make their purchases based on prices, they said.

Associate professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore’s School of Business said: “At this juncture, consumers are still very sensitive to what hits their pockets. We have not achieved a concerted vision and effort to cut waste. Economics still takes precedence.”

Loh, who directs the school’s Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations, said consumers also want to be assured that going “packaging-free” does not compromise hygiene.

Ang Huan Ting, who has ordered six of TreeDots’ vegetable boxes since the start of the year, said she finds their price “pretty reasonable considering the quality of the products and door to door delivery”.

The 27-year-old civil servant and her husband takes up to two weeks to consume the vegetables.

“The offerings are different each time, and I like the element of surprise… Another reason why I keep subscribing (to the vegetable boxes) is because I find the founders very passionate about their vision to reduce food waste,” said Ang.

Dumpster diver Daniel Tay, who leads outings to “rescue” discarded edible produce and started the Freegan in Singapore Facebook page said it may be more difficult for such businesses to stay afloat here, given the cost of rentals and transport.

Jeff Cheong, president of advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Asia, said brands that championing the zero waste culture must be “actively involved in education and outreach to share ideas that ‘normal people’ can do right from their home”.

“From producing content, to holding public talks, to interacting with patrons at their stores, these advocates-cum-businessmen need to invest time to build up the community from the heartlands. Working with young children is key in shaping their minds towards responsible living in the future,” said Cheong.

Other smaller outfits that operate online or as pop-up stores said challenges lie in reaching out to a wider segment of Singaporeans.

Danielle Champagne, who co-founded the Green Collective, a three-month pop-up store in Paya Lebar, said: “We might feel like there is a growth (of people reducing waste) but it could be because of the circles we are in… We don’t want to just be preaching to the converted.”

Champagne owns Zhai Eco, which sells clothing made of natural fibres like bamboo and linen. Zhai Eco is one of 15 brands found at the pop-up, which offers customers recycled bags only when they request for one.

The Green Collective also holds do-it-yourself workshops, talks and “plant swaps” (sessions to exchange seedlings, seeds or gardening tips).

Others, like online shop The Sustainability Project and pop-up store The Zero Ways hope their wares — which include beeswax wraps and straws made of bamboo or stainless steel — can help Singaporeans adopt more eco-friendly behaviour.

Said Lily Khairunnisa, who started The Zero Ways in January with her family members: “More Singaporeans, especially of the younger generation, are getting more conscious of the waste we produce. We are still quite far from having these practices ingrained in our everyday lives, but it is picking up traction.”

The 30-year-old also believes there is strength in numbers. “It takes time… We have seen many other green businesses come up in the last few months. We see one another as collaborators, and I think that would make it easier to spur the movement,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agenda 2030

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reproductive Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How the Lack of Affordable Vegetables is Creating a Billion-Dollar Obesity Epidemic in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lack-affordable-vegetables-creating-billion-dollar-obesity-epidemic-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-affordable-vegetables-creating-billion-dollar-obesity-epidemic-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lack-affordable-vegetables-creating-billion-dollar-obesity-epidemic-south-africa/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 10:51:04 +0000 Nalisha Adams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157170 Every Sunday afternoon, Thembi Majola* cooks a meal of chicken and rice for her mother and herself in their home in Alexandra, an informal settlement adjacent to South Africa’s wealthy economic hub, Sandton. “Vegetables is only on Sunday,” Majola tells IPS, adding that these constitute potatoes, sweet potato and pumpkin. Majola, who says she weighs […]

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The number of young South Africans suffering from obesity doubled in the last six years, while it had taken the United States 13 years for this to happen.

Fruit and vegetable prices in South Africa have increased to the point that poorer people have had to remove them from their grocery lists. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

By Nalisha Adams
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 10 2018 (IPS)

Every Sunday afternoon, Thembi Majola* cooks a meal of chicken and rice for her mother and herself in their home in Alexandra, an informal settlement adjacent to South Africa’s wealthy economic hub, Sandton.

“Vegetables is only on Sunday,” Majola tells IPS, adding that these constitute potatoes, sweet potato and pumpkin. Majola, who says she weighs 141 kgs, has trouble walking short distances as it generally leaves her out of breath. And she has been on medication for high blood pressure for almost two decades now.“It is precisely a justice issue because at the very least our economy should be able to provide access to sufficient and nutritious food. Because, at the basis of our whole humanity, at the very basis of our body, is our nutrition." -- Mervyn Abrahams, Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group

“Maize is a first priority,” she says of the staple item that always goes into her shopping basket. “Every Saturday I eat boerewors [South African sausage]. And on Sunday it is chicken and rice. During the week, I eat mincemeat once and then most of the time I fill up my stomach with [instant] cup a soup,” she says of her diet.

Majola is one of about 68 percent of South African women who are overweight or obese, according to the South African Demographic and Health Survey. The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Food Sustainability Index (FSI) 2017 ranks 34 countries across three pillars: sustainable agriculture; nutritional challenges; and food loss and waste.  South Africa ranks in the third quartile of the index in 19th place. However, the country has a score of 51 on its ability to address nutritional challenges. The higher the score, the greater the progress the country has made. South Africa’s score is lower than a number of countries on the index.

Families go into debt to pay for basic foods

Many South Africans are eating a similar diet to Majola’s not out of choice, but because of affordability.

Dr. Kirthee Pillay, lecturer of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, tells IPS that the increase of carbohydrate-based foods as a staple in most people’s diets is cost-related.

“Fruit and vegetable prices have increased to the point that poorer people have had to remove them from their grocery lists.”

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa), a social justice non-governmental organisation, noted last October in its annual food barometer report that while the median wage for black South Africans is USD209 a month, a monthly food basket that is nutritionally complete costs USD297.

The report also noted that food expenditure from households arise out of the monies left over after non-negotiable expenses, such as transport, electricity, debt and education needs have been paid first. And this resulted in many families incurring debt in order to meet their food bills.

“Staples are cheaper and more filling and people depend on these, especially when there is less money available for food and many people to feed. Fruit and vegetables are becoming luxury food items for many people given the increasing cost of food. Thus, the high dependence on cheaper, filling staples. However, an excessive intake of carbohydrate-rich foods can increase risk for obesity,” Pillay tells IPS via email.

Majola works at a national supermarket chain, with her only dependent being her elderly mother. She says her grocery bill comes to about USD190 each month, higher than what most average families can afford, but agrees that the current cost of fruit and vegetables are a luxury item for her.

“They are a bit expensive now. Maybe they can sell them at a lesser price,” she says, adding that if she could afford it, she would have vegetables everyday. “Everything comes from the pocket.”

Monopoly of Food Chain Creating a System that Makes People Ill

David Sanders, emeritus professor at the school of public health at the University of the Western Cape, says that South Africans have a very high burden of ill health, much of which is related to their diet.

But he adds that large corporates dominate every node of the food chain in the country, starting from inputs and production, all the way to processing, manufacturing and retail. “So it is monopolised all the way up the food system from the farm to the fork.”

“The food system is creating, for poor people anyway, a quite unhealthy food environment. So for well-off people there is sufficient choice and people can afford a nutritionally-adequate diet, even one of quite high quality.

“But poor people can’t. In most cases, the great majority, don’t have a kind of subsistence farming to fall back on because of land policies and the fact that in the 24 years of democracy there hasn’t been significant development of small scale farming,” Sanders, who is one of the authors of a report on food systems in Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, tells IPS.

According to the report, about 35,000 medium and large commercial farmers produce most of South Africa’s food.

In addition, Sanders points out that a vast majority of rural South Africans purchase, rather than grow, their own food.

“The food they can afford tends to be largely what we call ultra processed or processed food. That often provides sufficient calories but not enough nutrients. It tends to be quite low often in good-quality proteins and low in vitamins and minerals – what we call hyper nutrients.

“So the latter situation results in quite a lot of people becoming overweight and obese. And yet they are poorly nourished,” Sanders explains.

The Sugar Tax Not Enough to Stem Epidemic of Obesity

In April, South Africa introduced the Sugary Beverages Levy, which charges manufacturers 2.1 cents per gram of sugar content that exceeds 4g per 100 ml. The levy is part of the country’s department of health’s efforts to reduce obesity.

Pillay says while it is still too early to tell if the tax will be effective, in her opinion “customers will fork out the extra money being charged for sugar-sweetened beverages. Only the very poor may decide to stop buying them because of cost.”

Sander’s points out “it’s not just the level of obesity, it is the rate at which this has developed that is so alarming.”

A study shows that the number of young South Africans suffering from obesity doubled in the last six years, while it had taken the United States 13 years for this to happen.

“Here is an epidemic of nutrition, diet-related diseases, which has unfolded extremely rapidly and is just as big and as threatening and expensive as the HIV epidemic, and yet it is going largely unnoticed.”

Overweight people have a risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension, which places them at risk for heart disease. One of South Africa’s largest medical aid schemes estimated in a report that the economic impact on the country was USD50 billion a year.

“Even if people knew what they should eat there is very very little room for manoeuvre. There is some, but not much,” Sanders says adding that people should rather opt to drink water rather than purchase sugary beverages.

“Education and awareness is a factor but I would say that these big economic drivers are much more important.”

Sanders says that questions need to be asked about how the control of the country’s food system and food chain can “be shifted towards smaller and more diverse production and manufacture and distributions.”

“Those are really the big questions. It would require very targeted and strong policies on the part of government. That would be everything from preferentially financing small operators [producers, manufacturers and retailers]…at every level there would have to be incentives, not just financial, but training and support also,” he says.

Pillay agrees that the increase in food prices “needs to be addressed as it directly influences what people are able to buy and eat. … Sustainable agriculture should assist in reducing the prices of locally-grown fruit and vegetables and to make them more available to South African consumers.”

Mervyn Abrahams, one of the authors of the Pacsa report, now a programme coordinator at the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, tells IPS that the organisation is campaigning for a living wage that should be able to provide households with a basic and sufficient nutrition in their food basket. The matter, he says, is one of economic justice.

“It is precisely a justice issue because at the very least our economy should be able to provide access to sufficient and nutritious food. Because, at the basis of our whole humanity, at the very basis of our body, is our nutrition. And so it is the most basic level by which we believe that the economy should be judged, to see whether there is equity and justice in our economic arena.”

*Not her real name.

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Transforming Food Systems: Today’s Realities and Tomorrow’s Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/transforming-food-systems-todays-realities-tomorrows-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transforming-food-systems-todays-realities-tomorrows-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/transforming-food-systems-todays-realities-tomorrows-challenges/#respond Wed, 01 Aug 2018 15:37:30 +0000 Alice Lloyd http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157007 The world’s food systems face two immense challenges today. One, to produce enough food to nourish a global population of seven billion people without harming the environment. Two, to make sure food systems deliver nutrition to everyone, particularly the world’s poorest, many of whom suffer from chronic under-nutrition. Like the Economist’s 2017 Food Security Index, […]

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Radish production at West Africa Farms, in Northern Senegal. Credit: Sarah Farhat / World Bank

By Alice Lloyd
WASHINGTON, Aug 1 2018 (IPS)

The world’s food systems face two immense challenges today. One, to produce enough food to nourish a global population of seven billion people without harming the environment. Two, to make sure food systems deliver nutrition to everyone, particularly the world’s poorest, many of whom suffer from chronic under-nutrition.

Like the Economist’s 2017 Food Security Index, a new report released earlier this summer looks at the complex connections between the ways we organize and produce our food, and the implications for the environment, human health, and social wellbeing.

With input from over 150 experts from 33 countries, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Agriculture and Food: Scientific and Economic Foundations Report, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) project, makes the case for a global agri-food systems transformation. It argues that our agri-food systems today are being viewed and evaluated through a narrow, incomplete and distorted lens by focusing on per-hectare-productivity. To fix our food system, our food metrics need to be fixed.

The way we are currently producing food is negatively impacting climate, water, top soil, biodiversity and marine environments. If we do not change course, we will seriously undermine our ability to deliver adequate food for future populations. In addition to the negative environmental impacts, we are struggling to deliver nutritious and healthy diets in an equitable way. Diet-related chronic diseases are on the rise even as we fail to deliver nutritious food to millions of poor people around the world.

The consequences of our current food systems outlined in the report include:
• Agricultural production alone contributes over one-fourth of global GHG emissions.
• However, when considering the entire ‘agri-food value chain’ (including agriculture-related deforestation, farming, processing, packaging, transportation and waste), this number climbs to a staggering 43 to 57 percent of GHG emissions.
• 70 to 90 percent of global deforestation is from agricultural expansion.
• If women had the same access to resources (land, credits, education, etc.) as male farmers, they could raise yields by 20 to 30 percent, and lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger.
• Approximately one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted, enough to feed the world’s hungry six times over.
• Around 40 percent of available land is used for growing food, a figure that would need to rise to an improbable 70 percent by 2050 under a “business-as-usual” scenario.
• 33 percent of the Earth’s land surface is moderately to highly affected by some type of soil degradation mainly due to the erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, or chemical pollution of soils.
• Diets have become the main risk for human health. Six of the top eleven risk factors driving the global burden of disease are diet-related.
• The World Health Organization estimates the direct costs of diabetes at more than US$827 billion per year, globally.
• Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases. An estimated 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food, while 420,000 die every year.
• 61 percent of commercial fish populations are fully fished and 29 percent are overfished.
• In a “business-as-usual” scenario, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish (by weight) by 2050.

The agricultural revolution is still very strongly influencing our food production. While food production has successfully been increased, the environmental impacts have received a lot less attention. They have been either been ignored or been considered as a necessary trade-off.

The Economist’s 2017 Food Security Index for example, in considering how resilience to natural resource and climate related risks pose long term threats to food systems across countries, includes a tool to explore how individual countries perform on a natural resources and resilience adjustment factor.

“If you look at food production only from a price perspective, and the old paradigm of the cheaper the better, you run into a trap because the long-term sustainability of our food production system is not a given,”says Alexander Müller, Study Leader of TEEBAgriFood.

“The task for agriculture and food systems in the years to come is huge, says Muller: ‘feeding a population projected to reach 10 billion in 2050, achieving the four dimensions of food security (FAO 1996) for all people by providing healthy food, drastically reducing the impacts of different types of agricultural production on the world’s ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change and to adapt to it, developing rural areas to create jobs and to improve livelihoods of poor people, maintaining ecosystem services such as clean water and air for a rapidly urbanizing planet are only some of the challenges.”

Tackling these challenges requires a systematic approach. This report looks at all the impacts of the value chain, from farm to fork to disposal, including effects on livelihoods, the environment, and health. It identifies theories and pathways for transformational change in government, business, farming, and consumer contexts while providing a framework for evaluation that supports the comprehensive, universal and inclusive assessment of eco-agri-food systems.

Recognizing the interlinkages, in terms of impacts and dependencies that food systems have with our economies, societies, health, and environment is a crucial first step. Using the report’s Framework and its language can allow for the next generation of agricultural and food research to provide a more comprehensive basis for decision-making and together with the 2017 Food Security Index, provides a comprehensive assessment of food systems as well as natural resource availability and resilience.

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Sustainable Agriculture To End World Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/sustainable-agriculture-end-world-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-agriculture-end-world-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/sustainable-agriculture-end-world-hunger/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 10:26:29 +0000 Carmen Arroyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156834 Significantly more investment is needed to lift hundreds of millions rural poor out of poverty and make agriculture environmentally sustainable, according to Rob Vos, director of the markets, trade and institutions division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). With a growing world population, hunger and undernutrition are on the rise, and governments are […]

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The weakness of poor farmers and the growth of low-nutrition crops have been, until now, some of the deterrents of efficient agriculture. Esmilda Sánchez picks string beans on the Finca de Semillas farm. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2018 (IPS)

Significantly more investment is needed to lift hundreds of millions rural poor out of poverty and make agriculture environmentally sustainable, according to Rob Vos, director of the markets, trade and institutions division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

With a growing world population, hunger and undernutrition are on the rise, and governments are looking for private alliances to alleviate these issues.“The world has over-invested in low-nutrition staple crops, driving up the relative price of nutrition rich-foods. Empty calories is the food system of the poor." -- John Coonrod, executive vice-president, the Hunger Project.

During the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, this July, IFPRI organised a side event called “Investing for Reshaping Food Systems”.

Speakers included Claudia Sadoff, director general for the International Water Management Institute; Nichola Dyer, from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme at the World Bank; Gerda Verburg, coordinator at the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN); and Chantal-Line Carpentier, chief at the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development.

They all emphasised the urgency of investing in sustainable agriculture, defined by the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition as “the efficient production of safe, healthy, and high-quality agricultural products, in a way that is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.”

While the world population will reach over eight billion people in 2025, the amount of cultivable land will remain the same. Decimated by pesticides, non-sustainable agricultural techniques, and water waste, healthy nutrients will become harder to access for the growing population. This issue, along with food waste (20 percent of every food purchase is wasted), is a major concern for Verburg, who highlighted the need to rethink food systems and stop blaming agriculture.

The relationship between the private sector and agriculture isn’t new. On the contrary, many farmers-especially the poorest ones-are members of the private sector.

“The majority of poor and hungry people are small-scale farmers. They are in fact members of the private sector, albeit the weakest. And some corporate investments in agriculture can hurt them,” John Coonrod, executive vice-president at the Hunger Project, told IPS.

The weakness of poor farmers and the growth of low-nutrition crops have been, until now, some of the deterrents of efficient agriculture.

“The world has over-invested in low-nutrition staple crops, driving up the relative price of nutrition rich-foods. Empty calories is the food system of the poor. To overcome malnutrition, we need to increase the dietary diversity of the poor to include many more fruits and vegetables, which means increasing their local production and reducing their price to local consumers,” Coonrod explained.

How can private investment develop sustainable agriculture? Vos from IFPRI said that a first priority should be to provide incentives for investments beyond farms “in infrastructure like roads, electricity and cold transportation and agri-food processing.”

“This will help provide better and more stable market conditions for farmers, create lots of new jobs, and limit the risks of investing in agriculture itself,” he said.

He also added that “the second priority is to provide incentives for investing in sustainable practices and crop diversification, including towards fruits and vegetables.”

Brian Bogart, senior regional programme advisor for South Africa to the U.N. World Food Programme, agreed with Vos.

“Key areas for investment to equity in food systems include rural infrastructure, access to markets, knowledge and technology, and improved storage and transport capacity to reduce post-harvest losses,” Bogart said.

What about governments?

During the event, Verburg, from SUN, pointed out the importance of political commitment and leadership within countries to reduce hunger and reshape food systems.

When asked about the role of national governments, Bogart said: “Member states have a responsibility to lead such efforts by developing effective partnerships with the private sector and fostering an enabling environment for investment.”

“With shrinking public investment in agriculture (according to the Secretary General’s progress report on the SDGs, government expenditure as a percentage of GDP declined from .38 to .23 between 2001 and 2016 and international aid allocations for agriculture declined by 20 percent between the mid-1980s and 2016), the question is how public-private partnerships can unlock opportunities for private investment to complement public resources and capacity to generate improved food security, particularly for the most vulnerable populations,” he added.

Some countries are already doing this. The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition’s Food Sustainability Index on sustainable agriculture; nutritional challenges; and food loss and waste which ranks 34 countries according to eight categories, which are in turn divided among 35 indicators, reveals that France, Japan, Germany score highest.

However, responsibility does not lie solely with the state, but with civil society also. Coonrod, from the Hunger Project, explained what his organisation does in this regard: “We promote good nutrition through education, promoting better local farming methods, increasing local food processing and, in indigenous communities of Latin America, we’ve opposed junk food and helped communities reclaim their nutritious traditional foods.”

Finally, Vos highlighted the importance of research in reducing hunger.

“We undertake research to better understand the causes underlying the deficiencies in the present food systems and test out the effectiveness of interventions that aim to overcome these shortcomings. We know far too little on what is driving food system change, not just in agriculture, but in all stages of the food chain, from farm to fork.”

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Food Sustainability, Migration, Nutrition and Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/food-sustainability-migration-nutrition-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-sustainability-migration-nutrition-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/food-sustainability-migration-nutrition-women/#respond Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:02:14 +0000 Enrique Yeves http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156293 We worry about how we can continue to put food on our tables; and yet one-third of food is never eaten, instead being lost or wasted. We worry about eating properly, and yet in many countries, poor nutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies are increasingly common. This trend is taking place in the Americas, Oceania, Asia, […]

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Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Enrique Yeves
ROME, Jun 19 2018 (IPS)

We worry about how we can continue to put food on our tables; and yet one-third of food is never eaten, instead being lost or wasted.

We worry about eating properly, and yet in many countries, poor nutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies are increasingly common. This trend is taking place in the Americas, Oceania, Asia, Africa and in Europe.

Enrique Yeves

We want to empower women and girls, yet in every sector we still see serious disparities in terms of equal pay for equal wages and getting more women into senior management positions. We worry about the mass movement of people, many of them disenfranchised, and yet fail to stop the exploitation and even death that too often awaits those who try to migrate.

What is to be done? First, we must understand how each of these issues is interlinked and how they can be alleviated using an integrated approach involving agriculture, education, social services, health and infrastructure. If we channel development assistance in an integrated way, rather than towards specific sectors, we are more likely to achieve sustainable changes – these in turn can ease the burden of coordination and enhance our ability to help governments to achieve more effective and long term improvements.

For this to happen, we need the political will of governments to achieve change, coupled with adequate resources.

These issues are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments committed to the SDGs in 2015, pledging to end hunger, extreme poverty, and other social, environmental and health evils that have left over 815 million people undernourished, and in many areas barely surviving in squalid and inhumane conditions.

The role of governments is central. Only they can exert the political will to enforce the required changes and to set aside the critically needed resources.

The role of development organizations, including the UN, non-governmental organizations and international and regional financial institutions, is also critical. They exist to support governments determined to achieve the SDGs and in so doing to improve their overall social, economic and political wellbeing.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been working for over 70 years on both the policy front and on the ground, doing so globally, regionally, nationally and at the community level. We have been documenting the state of food insecurity in the world, exploring and emphasizing the all-important role of small producers in achieving food security. Small-scale farmers, fishers and foresters, constituting a vast number of the rural poor, are vulnerable to environmental and market forces often beyond their control.

Yet it is they who, using tried and tested traditional systems enhanced where possible by improved technologies adapted to their needs, hold the keys to a world without hunger. As FAO has documented, family farmers produce more than two-thirds of the world’s food, with smallholders producing more per unit of land.

In the long run, tackling the direct relationship between mass migration and poverty and instability entails addressing basic challenges in the countries that people are leaving, and by providing more integrated assistance to refugees to improve their health and capacity to earn livelihoods in the receiving countries.

An important but frequently underplayed aspect for governments in developing countries is their need for assistance in defining and quantifying their present situation through internationally accepted benchmarks. Reliable statistics are crucial in order to measure progress towards attainment of the SDGs and general progress in development.

FAO delivers a lot of services to its members in this regard. And the effort produces globally relevant information, some of it alarming. Right now, for example, the global number of undernourished people is estimated at 815 million and that figure is rising for the first time in more than a decade. The number of countries reliant on external food assistance is now 39, the highest it’s ever been since FAO started tracking.

Eradicating hunger is a lynchpin for the entire 2030 Agenda, and governments must raise awareness about why achieving the SDGs is critical. This effort will both enable and benefit from women’s empowerment.

Programmes such as food for work, food stamps or a mix of both – especially in situations where conflict or natural disaster have impacted local production – are all part of the toolkit and are demonstrably efficient in fostering women’s power and interests. Increasing access to food is a building block to goals ranging from nutrition to women’s rights and assuring resilient livelihoods for producers.

What is essential is to find synergies – not only to avoid wasteful duplication but to forge the basis for sustainable solutions. Otherwise our worries are in vain.

Enrique Yeves is Director of Communications, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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