Inter Press Service » Extra TerraViva FAO38 News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 18:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Q&A: “Do Not Fear Small Farmers” Fri, 21 Jun 2013 12:46:20 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Antonio Onorati. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Antonio Onorati. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 21 2013 (IPS)

The International Planning Committee for Food Security (IPC) is the largest organisation of small food producers in the world, representing 300 million people, including La Via Campesina with its 200 million members.

It has been keeping an eye on FAO for over two decades. According to Onorati, the U.N. body has made significant progress in this period.

“In the 1980s, you couldn’t have imagined entering to the conference of FAO as civil society unless you maybe knew someone who brought you to a reception,” he tells TerraViva. “Now we are participants in the World Committee on Food Security and we are starting to have a say in the FAO technical committees. It is another world.”

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Why did IPC focus its work on FAO?

A: At FAO, the decision is made according to one state – one vote rule, which is very important, because in other places, such as the World Bank, the rule is one dollar – one vote.

In places like the World Bank or the World Trade Organisation, if you are a small producer, you have no chance: you can be an expert, you can be an observer, but when it comes to deciding you have no chance. Here, at least, you have a voice, you have the opportunity for conflict, because our members from organisations all over the world get to speak to their elected representatives.

Q: What important changes do you note in the organisation?

A: One interesting change we are seeing now is the increase in financial contributions from BRICS countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa]. More important than the money they put into FAO is the fact that large developing countries are breaking the powerful dominant position of the OECD countries.

And this is important because the model of OECD countries is not able to bring new solutions, while we are seeing interesting things coming from developing countries: Brazil’s Fome Zero programme is famous, but what is less known is that China too has managed to cut the number of its food insecure people to half.

Another welcome change is that regional conferences are coming before the international one in Rome, so regions have a bigger word to say in setting priorities.

Q: What do you think of Da Silva’s programme for reforming FAO?

A: The reform is a necessity. Reducing staff and establishing clear chains of command was welcome. The food systems approach proposed by FAO is something we very much favour but might be resisted by some of the member states.

When it comes to the money, it is important to pay attention to the distinction between the regular budget made up of obligatory contributions, and the voluntary contributions, or the trust funds. The regular budget is the only money whose use is decided by the plenary, that is, democratically.

Trust funds, on the other hand, are a way for governments to condition FAO’s work: when a donor gives an amount, that donor can indicate the use of the money [the regular budget was 1.005 billion U.S. dollars for 2012/13 and voluntary contributions stood at a similar level]. It would be important to break the conditionality between the donor money and FAO’s work, but we are far from that step.

Q: How substantial do you feel is FAO’s engagement with civil society?

A: The real breakthrough was becoming participants in the World Committee on Food Security [the Committee is the part of the FAO structure focused on food security policies]. When it comes to FAO itself, the technical committees represent the essence of the work and there is where we have to have more space. In the biennial conference, we get to speak at the end of the end of the end and as NGOs.

FAO was set up after Yalta, which was a deal between big powers and big men, and in the spirit that peasants do not understand anything. But the reality is different and there is an increased recognition now that we have to be a part of the decision-making process because we are a part of the solution. If you don’t speak to the peasant, with whom do you speak?

The current DG and the previous one have been very supportive of this change. Governments too must understand that they should not be afraid of the small food producers, who are their citizens.

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Food Disparities Are Scandalous, Says Pope Francis Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:20:15 +0000 Busani Bafana By Busani Bafana
ROME, Jun 21 2013 (IPS)

Pope Francis has challenged the Food and Agriculture Organisation to end global food disparities, describing it as scandalous that despite food abundance, millions of people still die of hunger.

Delegates to the 38th FAO conference have a brief session with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Delegates to the 38th FAO conference have a brief session with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation,” the head of the Roman Catholic Church said during a special meeting with delegates to the 38th Biennial FAO Conference at the Vatican’s Sale Clementina within the Basilica.

“This is truly scandalous. A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”

Pope Francis said the world can no longer hide behind goodwill and unmet promises, nor use the current global crisis as a pretext for failing to act on accessing food to everyone. He lamented that human dignity risked turning into a vague abstraction in the face of issues like war, malnutrition, marginalisation and financial speculation which affected the price of food, which was being treated like any other market product.

Praising the reforms initiated by FAO as a positive development for functional, transparent and impartial operations, the Pope said the fight against hunger means dialogue and fraternity for the world food body.

“What is demanded of the FAO, its member states and every institution of the international community is openness of heart,” said Pope Francis. “There is need to move beyond indifference or a tendency to look the other way and urgently to attend to immediate needs, confident that the fruits of today’s work will mature in future.”

Award-winning farmer from Ghana Lemuel Martey Quarshie, one of the delegates who met the Pope, tells TerraViva, “I was happy to meet the Pope because for me this was a once in a lifetime experience. If I had the chance to ask the Pope something, I would have asked him if his role is only pastoral intervention or he can also foster dialogue on food issues.”

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Q&A: Family Farms Hold the Future of Food Fri, 21 Jun 2013 10:19:26 +0000 Busani Bafana

Busani Bafana interviews JOSÉ ANTONIO OSABA GARCÍA, coordinator of the International Year of Family Farming

By Busani Bafana
ROME, Jun 21 2013 (IPS)

A spirited campaign by the World Rural Forum (WRF) – a grouping of civil society organisations – led to the declaration of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming by the U.N. General Assembly at its 66th session in 2011.

José Antonio Osaba García, World Rural Forum (WRF) and Coordinator of the International Year of the Family Farm. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

José Antonio Osaba García, World Rural Forum (WRF) and Coordinator of the International Year of the Family Farm. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

The IYFF seeks to highlight the importance of family farms in reducing poverty and attaining food security. Key to the sustainability of family farms is the security of land tenure.

José Antonio Osaba García, coordinator of the IYFF, tells TerraViva that the declaration of the IYFF was a major victory in the fight for the rights of farmers to own land.

More importantly, it coincided with a shift within FAO – increasingly criticised for its focus on industrial farming – to include more civil society participation and family farming in discussions and decisions on global food security. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Why the Year of Family Farming?

A: Who feeds the world? Family farms. We have pushed for this year to honour family farmers. We are using the year to push for better policies for family faming because in Africa, Asia and Latin America, many millions of women and men farmers keep the world fed. They do not have an alternative source of livelihood but farming.

We should develop the rural world in Africa but with women and men farmers as the head the movement and not for them to be pushed aside like the tendency now by huge investments from abroad. Women and men farmers should be supported with access to infrastructure and access to credit. So the year is centered on dialogue in favour of family farming as the real model for sustainable agriculture.

Q: Was it easy to get the declaration?

A: Yes. It was easy because family farming is an important theme, it is not the theme of cereal, which is also relevant. We are promoting the rights of billions of the people and that is why this year is different. It is not the year of the mountain, which is extremely important, it is not the year of the rice, which is also extremely important, but the year of billions of farmers. We will launch the year next November and celebrations will start all over the world.

Q: As a civil society organisation (CSO), do you consider this your major victory?

A: Oh yes. We have been working on regional issues affecting farmers but this is the first major worldwide campaign and that is why it is so important because farmers may be in different continents with different situations, [but] they have common issues: access to land, accessing markets, challenges faced by women and youths, and we are using this year to articulate these issues.

Q: What does this mean about the participation of CSOs within the FAO?

A: This is the first time in history that a year has been declared by a social movement, not by governments. The voice of civil society has been heard and civil society can make a big difference in the global food security debate. We have more than 370 organisations in five continents in more than 65 countries working together.

We have a world consultative committee with representatives from each continent plus Oxfam International, IFAM, Slow Food and others. The World Rural Forum is just doing the coordination to keep the initiative together. The U.N. system needs civil society and civil society needs the U.N. so we are complimentary.

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No Food Security Without Land Security Thu, 20 Jun 2013 18:23:17 +0000 Busani Bafana Tribal women converge at the Boipariguda weekly market to sell and buy farm produce. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Tribal women converge at the Boipariguda weekly market to sell and buy farm produce. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Busani Bafana
Jun 20 2013 (IPS)

If slavery was a scourge to humanity, denying legitimate tenure rights is the cancer eating away the future of smallholder farmers who feed the world, often under trying conditions, say civil society organisations.

“The developed countries succeeded by developing their agriculture and the capital from agriculture was the basis for the industrial development thanks to the rights to land,” José Antonio Osaba Garcia from the World Rural Forum (WRF) and coordinator of the International Year of Family Farming (ITFF) tells TerraViva.

“Why is Africa and other countries not being allowed to develop their agriculture rooted in family farms as the basis for developing their countries? It is because land tenure is the heart of this.”"In many cases, national states consider under-used land as being available for disposal to outside investors." - Harold Liversage, IFAD

Hundreds of millions of small landholders, pastoralists and indigenous people do not hold formal land titles. And when it suits governments, they ignore this customary land holding and sell or lease the land to private companies.

Garcia says the global land rush, particularly in Africa, has exposed the extent to which smallholder farmers are being disposed of their ancestral lands that supported food security.

“Agriculture is the basis of development and we see that the pressure is strong in favour of big investors, many times at the expense of family farming, particularly in Africa and Latin America. I cannot single out models where land tenure is working, but we have heard about some success of land tenure in Brazil. But that too has had some problems.”

According to data compiled by the International Land Coalition, some 45 million hectares of land has been or is about to be signed over to foreign investors in Africa, Southern Asia and Latin America.

“It would seem that most land is already owned de facto by rural communities under a range of diverse tenure systems, although in many cases these rights are not registered,” Harold Liversage, a land tenure adviser for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), writes in an independent analysis on the issue.

“Also, in many cases, national states consider under-used land as being available for disposal to outside investors.”

Liversage says, however, that this perception is starting to change in many developing countries with the recognition that, while some land may be under-used, very little is not owned, vacant or unused.

In an effort to safeguard land tenure rights, FAO developed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, which has been endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security. The Guidelines seek the promotion and protection of land tenure, especially for vulnerable groups, through specific legislation.

At a side event to discuss the International Year of Family Farming and the Voluntary Guidelines, Francisca Rodrigues from La Vía Campesina expressed concern that the voluntary nature of the guidelines meant they were not enforceable.

“The application of the guidelines relies on the countries’ willingness and readiness to work on them and the commitment of government is crucial,” says FAO land tenure officer in the National Resources Management and Environment Department Francesca Romano.

“That is what they are made for: countries where tenure is insecure and where the governance of tenure is weak and where there are problems related to tenure of land, forests and fisheries. This is where they have to work,” she says.

Garcia tells TerraViva that while international investment in agriculture is welcome, it should not come at the expense of local family farmers through land grabs.

The Global Alliance Against Land Grabbing convened by La Vía Campesina and its allies in Mali in 2011 noted that land grabbing dislocated communities and endangered their identity.

“Those who dare stand up to defend their legitimate rights and survival of their families and communities are beaten, imprisoned and killed… The struggle against land grabbing is a struggle against capitalism,” La Via Campesina says.

A report titled Land Concentration, Land Grabbing and People’s Struggles In Europe, by European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands off the Land alliance published in April argues that land concentration and land grabbing do not occur only in developing countries in the South, but are happening in the North, too.

The report says, for instance, that just three percent of landowners in Europe have come to control half of all farmed land, with massive concentration of land ownership and wealth on a par with Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.



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A Catch for Stressed Ecosystems Thu, 20 Jun 2013 11:56:42 +0000 Stella Paul Integrated management considers the environmental impact of a particular activity on the whole ecosystem, rather than just one particular resource. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

Integrated management considers the environmental impact of a particular activity on the whole ecosystem, rather than just one particular resource. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Stella Paul
ROME, Jun 20 2013 (IPS)

The key to sustainable economic growth with an eye on fragile ecosystems is integrated management, FAO experts said here on Wednesday.

The holistic process – which considers the environmental impact of a particular activity on the whole ecosystem, rather than just one particular resource – is being implemented in partnership with communities and local governments in several of the organisation’s projects worldwide that aim to help millions achieve food security and overcome poverty.

In Vietnam, where 3.4 million people are dependent on lagoons for their livelihood through fishing and aquaculture, Integrated Management of Lagoon Activities (IMOLA) has become one of FAO’s most successful integrated management projects, according to Árni Mathiesen, assistant director general of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

It decreased ecological degradation of Gian Tam – Cau Hai, the largest lagoon in the country, and triggered growth across multiple sectors including fisheries, aquaculture, sustainable resources and food and nutrition security, he said.

Livelihood activities over the years have created high pressure on the lagoon’s ecosystem and its natural resources. Reclamation of land for agriculture and poorly planned aquaculture development has further led to excessive fishing and the loss of nursery areas, according to Mathiesen.

Launched in 2005, FAO-IMOLA was designed to deal with these challenges and improve the livelihoods of the people dependent on the lagoon system. It worked alongside the government of Vietnam, the local provincial government agencies and its fisheries department to formulate a strategy for sustainable lagoon management through the Integrated Lagoon Management plan. The strategy included understanding the ecology of the lagoon and the various ways that people living around it used the water body for their livelihoods.

According to Gianni Ghisi, ambassador and permanent representative of Italy to the United Nations, it was the building of this partnership with local agencies that contributed greatly to the success of the project.

“Working with different communities has been very beneficial: it helped us build a decentralised corporation. The success of this project shows that it is possible to include so many actors,” he said. With an investment of 300 million dollars, Italy was the main funder of the project.

The project adopted a participatory methodology aimed at strengthening provincial institutional capacity, underlined Mathiesen. Further emphasis is put on sustainable use of hydro-biological resources and the improvement of the livelihoods of the poor in the area.

While the local communities were asked to stop certain fishing practices, such as use of the electric shock method and mesh wire nets, they were also educated about the fragility of the lagoon, which triggered their active participation in its preservation and that of their livelihoods.

Designed in three phases – a survey, the formulation of the management plan and the preparation of the plan – the project is now expected to be a model of integrated lagoon management plans that can later be replicated by other areas of Vietnam.

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Feeding the World in Harmony with Nature Thu, 20 Jun 2013 11:17:03 +0000 Busani Bafana Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rains and pests are some of the challenges faced by young farmers in the Solomon Islands. The Kastom Garden Association, a local NGO, has helped implement composting and organic farming methods. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rains and pests are some of the challenges faced by young farmers in the Solomon Islands. The Kastom Garden Association, a local NGO, has helped implement composting and organic farming methods. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Busani Bafana
ROME, Jun 20 2013 (IPS)

The world needs a more sustainable food production system based on knowledge that prioritises the conservation of natural resources to boost agricultural yields over the heavy use of pesticides and other chemical inputs, say experts promoting the concept of agroecology.

A holistic study of agroecosystems focusing on environmental and human interrelationships, agroecology has been practised since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, and could offer answers to the challenge of producing food safely and sustainably for a rapidly growing global population.

“This practise is critical now because agriculture took a different pathway through the Green Revolution, so intensification was done based on inputs which caused a lot of consequences to natural resources, and therefore it is important to readjust those damages to environmental resources and produce  food in a different way,” FAO senior officer in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection Caterina Batello told TerraViva at a side event discussing agroecology as a path to the future.

“If we want to continue producing and increase production and maintain natural resources, this is the only way to go,” she said.

Batello said agroecology is being taken more seriously now because there is a growing body of scientific evidence that it works to sustain agricultural production and ensure resilience to climate change.

One recent report by the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food cites evidence showing agroecology techniques increased crop yields by 80 percent in 57 developing countries, with an average of 116 percent for all African projects.

“This is absolutely an important opportunity for developing countries, because it values existing traditional practises and can help farmers by increasing their knowledge to adopt new practises, but always based on their local ecosystems and the capacity of that system to produce.”

Agroecology developed as a response to concerns about the decline of natural resources, including biodiversity loss, as a result of modern agricultural practises.

FAO launched the concept in 2011 and seven developing countries – Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Mozambique, Chad, Angola and Niger – are now participating in nine projects being implemented through farmer field schools involving local communities.

Fattoum Lakhdari, director of the Centre of Scientific Research and technical of Arid Regions (CRSTRA) in Algeria, says the world of science and agriculture needs to embrace local knowledge and academic knowledge for sustainable agriculture.

“Throughout the world, we need to converge more the scientific and the agricultural research. We need to work on the idea of involving communities in the development of academic best knowledge and not to neglect community knowledge.”

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Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All Wed, 19 Jun 2013 16:38:33 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi Healthy soil looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to worms and other organisms. It feels soft, moist, and friable, and allows plant roots to grow unimpeded. Credit: Colette Kessler, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Healthy soil looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to worms and other organisms. It feels soft, moist, and friable, and allows plant roots to grow unimpeded. Credit: Colette Kessler, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

By Mantoe Phakathi
ROME, Jun 19 2013 (IPS)

Each year, 12 million hectares of land – where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown – are lost to degradation.

In fact, over the past four decades, one-third of the planet’s food-producing land has become unproductive due to erosion.

Here at the 38th conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, countries led by the Kingdom of Thailand are calling for an International Year of Soils (IYS) in 2015 to raise the profile of this critical yet endangered resource.

Soil degradation is estimated to cost the global economy 70 dollars per person every year, according to Arni Mathiesen, FAO assistant director-general for aquaculture and fisheries.

Meanwhile, healthy soils provide an estimated 1.5 to 13 trillion dollars in ecosystem services annually.

But with a necessary 60-percent rise in global food production in coming decades, Mathiesen says there will be “further pressure on soils”. This can also worsen global warming, as erosion puts carbon back into the atmosphere.

Supporting the call for an IYS is Namibia’s director of Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Dr. Moses Maurihungirire, who says soil conservation does not get the attention it deserves.

“There aren’t many experts working on soil compared to water and other natural resources,” Maurihungirire tells TerraViva. “This is part of the reason why soil is marginalised compared to other natural resources.”

Coming from a semi-arid country where a vast amount of land area is desert, Maurihungirire says extreme weather patterns driven by climate change are stripping the scarce topsoil that exists, leading to further desertification.

Also throwing its weight behind Thailand’s proposal is Brazil, which is taking the lead in the preservation of soil and creating awareness in the Latin American region as the founder of the Global Soil Partnership.

Luiz Maria Pio Corrba, the alternate representative of Brazil to FAO, says creating awareness on soil is critical to promote agricultural production.

“Without soil, there is no agriculture because soil provides the link to all natural resources,” he tells TerraViva.

Thaliland and FAO are also asking the United Nations system to officially recognise a World Soil Day on Dec. 5 to coincide with the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is a soil scientist and has initiated programmes in his country aimed at soil preservation and rehabilitation.

Both proposals ultimately will have to be voted on by the U.N. General Assembly.

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A Closer Look at Nutrition Wed, 19 Jun 2013 16:32:08 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Nepal has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Over 41 percent of the country’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition, predominantly in rural areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Over 41 percent of the country’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition, predominantly in rural areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 19 2013 (IPS)

In addition to the world’s 870 million hungry, many others are suffering from inadequate nutrition that does not allow them to live full lives, or find their fates highly vulnerable to price shifts on global food markets.

Published during FAO’s 38th biennial conference taking place Jun. 15-22 in Rome, Italy, the FAO Statistical Yearbook 2013 combines national statistics from all over the world to paint a global picture of food security and nutrition.

It is already well known that 12.5 percent of the world population, or 870 million people, were undernourished in 2010-2012, 852 million of whom live in developing countries.

Even though significant progress has been made in combating hunger over the past decade, the global economic crisis has put a break on this positive transformation in many places around the world.

While the focus of the first Millenium Development Goal is halving world hunger by 2015, FAO’s Yearbook draws attention to the need to look beyond the number of undernourished, to the number of those who suffer from “food inadequacy”. These are people who might not be considered undernourished under normal circumstances, but do live on a diet that prevents them from adequately conducting physical activities that require significant effort.

Countries such as Bangladesh, India, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Swaziland or Kenya have large populations suffering from food inadequacy while not being on the list of states where chronic undernourishment is widespread.

To take India as a case in point, undernourishment reached 17.4 percent in 2010-2012, or 217 million people, while the food inadequacy rate was 27.5 percent in the same period.

As many of the less-well-off people rely on physical work for survival, governments need to pay attention to this additional indicator, argues FAO.

The statistics compilation also makes it clear that increasing food production will not necessarily bring about a decrease in hunger, unless accompanied by other policies, as Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen stressed in his lecture kicking off the FAO Conference.

While in many countries and regions high food availability is positively correlated with proper nourishment, this is not necessarily the case everywhere. For instance, Egypt’s dietary supply adequacy (indicative of the caloric value of the food available in the country) is 45 percent more than what is deemed necessary for proper nutrition. Yet 31 percent of children under the age of five suffer from stunting, often the result of prolonged periods of inadequate nutrition.

Similar situations occur in Benin, Malawi, the Niger, Kazakhstan or Nicaragua, proving that ensuring adequate nutrition depends significantly on the ability to distribute available resources equitably, without allowing for pockets of poverty to be created.

The world’s poor are not only constantly struggling to meet their nutrition needs, but they are also the most likely to be affected by fluctuations of food prices. This is because the poor spend the highest share of their disposable incomes on food, making them very vulnerable to sudden food price increases or decreases in revenues.

The FAO Yearbook notes several countries around the world are particularly exposed to world food markets: Mexico when it comes to maize, the Philippines for rice, Egypt for wheat and bread.

In many places, food price increases have led to increased hunger rates over the past years: for instance, in Uganda, food prices increased by 25 percent between 2003-2005 and 2010-2012, which came together with a rise in undernourishment rates of 30 percent.

But this is not always the case: rising food prices brought reductions in hunger rates in countries such as China, Nepal and Pakistan. The difference is made by the extent to which the vulnerable populations are net food producers or consumers, and by national policies which may buffer domestic markets from price changes on international markets.

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Nigeria’s Recipe for Hunger Reduction Wed, 19 Jun 2013 15:40:23 +0000 Busani Bafana By Busani Bafana
Jun 19 2013 (IPS)

Nigeria -one of Africa’s most populous states and a major oil producer – learned hard lessons about under-investing in food security for its people: malnutrition went up; so did prices and corruption in the voucher system for farming inputs.

That is all in the past now, says Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, who credits political support for helping Nigeria halve the number of hungry people in the last two years. The country was one of the 38 nations recently awarded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for meeting Millennium Development Goal One on reducing hunger and extreme poverty, from 19.3 percent in 1990-1992 to 8.5 percent today, according to Adesina, who became agriculture minister in 2011.

Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria. Credit: Busani Bafana/

Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria. Credit: Busani Bafana/

“That means we have achieved the goal three years ahead of the schedule set for us,” he says. “Agriculture is the basis for making sure you have diversified and nutritious food.”

IPS’ Busani Bafana, asked Adesina –a trained economist and decorated food security advocate – about Nigeria’s new food fortunes. Excerpts from the interview follow:

BB: So what is your secret for turning the tide?

AA: We are using quite a lot of private sector investments to drive agriculture. Because at the end of the day, if you are a farmer and you have a lot of money, you cannot only buy supplementary food that you need but can also invest in housing, in sanitation and better nutrition for your kids.

BB: Political will comes with financial resources. Has Nigeria invested adequately in its agricultural productivity?

We made one fundamental paradigm shift on agriculture. Agriculture is not just a quantum of public sector funds that you put into agriculture, but agriculture is a business. In the last 18 months, we have been able to leverage about 8 billion dollars of private sector investment commitments in this. We are not looking at just increasing public finance, but also looking at leveraging a lot of private sector into agriculture, because agriculture is not a development programme.

BB: What challenges have you faced?

As minister of agriculture, my goal is to make sure that we are a net exporter of food. I am not satisfied that Nigeria has been importing food for a long time. We are already turning that around. We have produced 1.9 million metric tonne of rice in just one year. That is about 55 percent of what we need to be self-sufficient in rice by 2015. The secret: making sure that farmers get the inputs.

The challenge remains making sure that all farmers today get inputs and finance at affordable interest rates. Our President has approved that we recapitalise our Bank of Agriculture. We are using our own funds, not development funds, to leverage 3,5 billion dollars off the balance sheet of our banks for agriculture. Another thing is infrastructure, whether it is rural roads or making sure our irrigation facilities are well done.

BB: You launched a mobile facility for farmers to access vouchers. One of the reasons for this was to curb corruption. What impact has this made?

For 40 years fertilisers in Nigeria were bought and sold by government. As that happened, no more that 11 percent of the farmers were actually getting fertilizers and sometimes they were getting sand as fertiliser. This was creating a lot of disincentives for farmers.

At the start of his administration, and with Mr. President’s support, it actually took 90 days to end corruption of 40 years. We decided to reach our farmers directly with inputs and that is why we did the electronic wallet: farmers could get their inputs on time and we could target them.

Some people said farmers will not be able to use the mobile phones, but the fact that you do not speak English does not mean you are illiterate. Out of the 4.9 million transactions that were done by mobile phone last year, 2.2 million were done in Hausa and 1.8 million of them were actually done in the Pidgin language.

The impact has been massive. We cut out the corruption and cut out the middle men and saved government money. We saved 29 billion Naira [about 180 million dollars] just last year and that is money I would have [otherwise] signed away [to input suppliers] as Agriculture Minister.



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The Great Water Challenge Wed, 19 Jun 2013 12:09:32 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Water scarcity features among FAO's five new strategic objectives. Credit: Bigstock

Water scarcity features among FAO's five new strategic objectives. Credit: Bigstock

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 19 2013 (IPS)

The Middle East and North Africa is the region most affected by water scarcity in the world, and for the moment, the situation seems set to worsen.

“In Yemen, we do not have many sources of fresh water and rain water is certainly not enough for our needs,” Gunid Ali Abdullah, planning director at Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture, tells TerraViva in Rome. “We are all the time having to dig deeper and deeper to get water from aquifers.”"The potential of the region is not being met." -- FAO's Mohamed Bazza

In Yemen’s capital Sana’a, tap water is rationed, and farmers close to the city have deepened their wells by tens of metres over the past decade but are nevertheless extracting less water than before.

Yemen is certainly not unique in a region where per capita water consumption in many countries stands well below the U.N.’s water scarcity mark of 1,000 cubic metres yearly. To compare, the global water consumption average is above 6,000 cubic metres.

Countries in the region are already tapping non-replenishable water resources, or fossil aquifers.

“At the end of this year, we should be able to start using water coming from the Al-Disi Basin, at the border with Saudi Arabia, which we hope will come a long way in meeting the needs of our capital, Amman, which hosts 3.5 million people, almost half of our total population,” Feisal Alargan, deputy permanent representative of Jordan to FAO, tells TerraViva.

The Al-Disi aquifer is thought to be about 320 kilometres long, the largest of its type in the Arabian peninsula. It has already been exploited by Saudi Arabia, and its resources are thought to be non-renewable.

Jordan is ranked third in the world when it comes to water scarcity, relying mostly on rain and underground water as well as on a supply quota of the river Jordan agreed with Israel.

In such conditions, figuring out how to use non-replenishable water resources, despite the unsustainability of the solution and despite some doubts over the quality of the water, seems like a miraculous way out for Jordanian leaders and others in the region.

Yet such approaches resemble a race to the bottom: a NASA report published in March this year showed that, between 2003 and 2009, the Middle East lost a quantity of water equivalent to the volume of the Dead Sea.

And things might get worse: the World Bank predicts that water demand in the region is expected to grow by 60 percent by 2045.

The region’s water problems are caused by a natural lack of water resources combined, according to experts, with poor management of the existing resources at both the national level and regionally.

The lack of intra-regional cooperation is most noticeable when it comes to sharing water from transboundary rivers: outdated accords make it so that Egypt uses most of the Nile’s potential; Turkey, upstream from other countries on the course of the Euphrates and the Tigris, is sucking up most valuable resources via its intensive use of dams; the use of river Jordan remains an issue of controversy between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries.

Governments in the region are of course struggling to find solutions to the problem of water scarcity.

“We’re working on the construction of small dams in the highlands in order to harvest water,” explains Yemen’s Gunid Ali Abdullah. “We’re also trying to modernise irrigation methods in order to use less water for agriculture, which currently takes up about 90 percent of our precious water resources.”

But the challenges are high and cooperation is key to overcoming water scarcity in the region.

International organisations have been trying to tackle water issues in the region in the past with technical assistance programmes and grants, with limited success.

This year, the U.N. FAO is attempting to change the approach to the issue: throughout 2013, it is conducting a thorough assessment of water resources and use in the whole region, trying both to treat the region as a whole and to pay close attention to the multiple interactions between water and all other aspects of human life.

“The Near East region has to meet half of its food needs via imports because of lack of water to produce enough food itself,” explains Mohamed Bazza, FAO’s focal point for national drought policies.

Bazza stresses that the central role of water for achieving food security makes water scarcity issues crucial for FAO, which explains why water scarcity features among the five new strategic objectives to be pursued by the institution.

“Numerous efforts have been made in the past to improve food security in the region on different aspects, including water use, but something has not been working, meaning that the potential of the region is not being met,” Bazza says.

FAO’s comprehensive assessment will this year look for the reasons behind the region’s water crisis, as well as try to identify what should be priority areas of action to address these problems.

Solutions not emphasised much until now could become more prominent: for instance, shifting  agricultural production towards less water-intensive crops or even reducing food waste on the fields as wasted crops also mean wasted water.

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No Hunger in Brazil by 2015 Tue, 18 Jun 2013 19:04:27 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Soybean field near Eldorado in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Credit: Gerson Sobreira/IPS

Soybean field near Eldorado in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Credit: Gerson Sobreira/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 18 2013 (IPS)

“We do believe that it’s perfectly possible to end extreme poverty in Brazil by 2015,” Antonino Marques Porto, Brazil’s ambassador to FAO, tells TerraViva in Rome.

Brazil is currently implementing the Brasil Sem Miséria programme — a continuation of the successful Fome Zero– which aims to do just that, Marques Porto says. Initiated in 2003 by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Fome Zero is credited with having taken 30 to 40 million Brazilians out of poverty.

“It involved among others cash transfers to the poorest families, conditioned on children going to school and getting vaccines,” the ambassador says,” but also rural credits and investments in small farms.”

One of the core actions of the programme was providing poor children with free school lunches, which were purchased by the state from family farms. In this way, support to local small farmers was provided at the same time as offering quality nutrition to children from low-income families.

According to Marques Porto, supporting family farms – which currently provide 70 percent of the food eaten by Brazilians – is central to poverty alleviation.

The success of Fome Zero was due to three elements, thinks Oxfam International’s Luca Chinotti: the strong leadership provided by President Lula; the broad partnership involved in devising and implementing the platform, which included ministries, civil society, representatives of small farmers and rural workers; and shifting most public sector food purchases to family farm suppliers.

Brazil is sharing its experience with family farm produce purchases for poverty alleviation with other countries around the world, as part of the World Food Programme’s Purchase for Progress framework, says Marques Porto.

Over the past decade, Brazil has been deriving much of its wealth from food exports. Yet its large-scale soy and beef production for export are also responsible for deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Amazonian region. Furthermore, clearing of land for industrial agriculture is threatening livelihoods of local communities.

“Across the world, rural communities rely on land, forests and fisheries for their food security,” says Oxfam’s Chinotti. “If policies and projects reduce their access to those natural resources, the outcome will be more hunger.”

Last year, FAO published a set of “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security”, offering guidance to countries around the world on just systems of tenure, that are compatible with every person’s right to adequate food

Oxfam and other NGOs are now calling on all countries around the world to implement those guidelines in order to secure smallholders’ access to land and natural resources.

This year, the U.N.’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposed that clear targets on land tenure are included in the development framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. If adopted, such targets could play an important role in preventing land grabbing and protecting the food security of local communities.

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Eradicating Hunger in a World of Plenty Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:47:53 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi By Mantoe Phakathi
ROME, Jun 18 2013 (IPS)

The world today faces a rather stunning paradox. We produce enough to feed seven billion people, but high prices and other factors have pushed adequate nutrition out of reach for more than one in 10, says Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general-knowledge at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 

Speaking during the 38th conference of FAO in Rome on Monday, Semedo also points out that between 30 and 50 percent of the food produced globally is not consumed.

As FAO member states ponder the next move after the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MGD) come to an end in 2015, Semedo believes that hunger can indeed be eradicated in the coming decade – by 2025.

“The challenge is to ensure that the poor have the means to obtain the food they need at reasonable cost and in times of crisis,” she says.

Linda Collette, Secretary, Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Linda Collette, Secretary, Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

One of the first MDG targets is to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015, an achievement many developing countries will not realise, according to the 2012 FAO report, the State of Food Insecurity in the World.

Semedo says there is a need to shift to more sustainable food production and consumption patterns because some countries, in Africa, for instance, produce little of what they eat, instead relying on pricier, more volatile imports.

In the end, smallholder farmers, women and youth will be the critical agents of change in achieving MDG One and economic development, Semedo says. “They are not the problem but the solution.”

As the continent with the highest proportion of malnourished people – 23 percent – Africa has come up with a clear strategy through its New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

Two-thirds of the continent’s population is also under the age of 35, and NEPAD’s CEO Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki says agriculture can drive economic development to help create employment opportunities.

But there is a need to create stronger linkages among various sectors, including health, education, science and technology, to drive the post-2015 development agenda, he says.

“The main single message from Africa is that the post-2015 agenda is structural economic transformation,” says Mayaki.

NEPAD provides the critical framework and context to structure the thinking, strategies and priorities for Africa’s thrust on the post-MDG era, he says.

“It can’t be done without agriculture and food security,” Mayaki adds.

Africa’s message seems to be in line with FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva’s vision “of an interconnected and yet peaceful, fair and culturally diverse world,”  that guarantees all human beings their fundamental right to food and a life free from hunger and malnutrition.

To realise this vision, he urges member states to ensure that sustainable agriculture and food security nourishes people and nurtures the planet.

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No Till, More Yields Tue, 18 Jun 2013 10:42:59 +0000 Busani Bafana Conservation agriculture has improved Zimbabwean farmer Catherine Dube's maize yields. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Conservation agriculture has improved Zimbabwean farmer Catherine Dube's maize yields. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
HWANGE, Zimbabwe, Jun 18 2013 (IPS)

For Catherine Dube, it is a good time to catch up on village happenings and sing-alongs when she meets with neighbours to dig basins in each other’s fields in preparation for the planting season.

The camaraderie of sharing the labour and sometimes seeds characterises the annual hoeing of neatly spaced deep basins, a technique Dube says has improved her crop yields since she adopted it four years ago.

Though the holes dug 15 cm deep by 15 cm wide look ordinary, they are not. Dube sprinkles fertiliser, using a soft drink bottle top as a measure. She throws three hybrid maize seeds into each basin, then covers it halfway with dry soil.

When the first rains fall, water collects in the basin, providing moisture for the plant for many weeks until the next rains come.

The practise of digging such basins is known as conservation agriculture — others call it “farming God’s way”.

The Zimbabwe station of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Matopos, about 30 km south of Bulawayo, actively promotes conservation farming.

The technique is helping an estimated 300,000 Zimbabwean farmers like Dube feed their families and even have surplus grain to sell.

“Conservation agriculture has improved my crop production,” Dube tells TerraViva during a walk around her plot in Jambezi ward in Hwange District, 300 kms north of Bulawayo.

Adopted by thousands of farmers in Zimbabwe to boost yields and save their soils from erosion, conservation agriculture involves three main principles: planting crops with minimum disturbance of the soil; mulching with crop wastes, cover crops or other organic matter; and growing crops such as cereals and legumes in rotation.

The process entails zero ploughing and massive carting in of manure, and farmers say making the basins is hard work when the soil is dry.

Dr. Kizito Mazvimavi, a scientist with ICRISAT, says preparing planting basins using hand hoes before the onset of the rainy season allowed smallholder farmers without access to draft power to plant with the first rains.

“The basins also allow for precision application of the often limited fertiliser and harvesting of rain water early in the season,” Mazvimavi says.

ICRISAT has promoted conservation agriculture and micro-dosing techniques in semi-arid regions of the world, including Zimbabwe, with funding from the UK Department for International Development ‘s Protracted Relief Programme.

According to Mazvimavi, farmers adopting the technology have realised yield gains of 15 to 100 percent across different agro-ecological regions.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) profiles conservation agriculture in a report titled “Partnering for Results”. It details 29 stories from member countries around the world, and was released at the 38th session of the FAO biennial conference in Rome this week.

“While only five percent of Zimbabwe’s maize-growing area is currently under conservation agriculture, those farmers who have adopted it have been able to harvest more from their small plots, averaging about two tonnes per hectare of maize, which is nearly triple what they produced under conventional agriculture,” the report says.

In its initial stages, conservation agriculture is more labour-intensive than conventional methods, so the FAO launched a programme of training and demonstration. It also introduced labour-saving mechanical planters to win over sceptical farmers.

“Once farmers pass the initial labour-intensive, start-up seasons, their conservation agriculture techniques cut down on waste of inputs and thus reduce their costs,” the report says.

But critics like researcher and agricultural ecologist Ian Scoones warn that conservation agriculture may not be appropriate for every area. For example, although 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s farmers are smallholders, some of the new resettlements involve farms averaging five to 10 ha, where such a labour-intensive technique would not be a good fit.

“In a new agrarian setting, there are some real technological challenges, but these will have to be met together with inputs from farmers and a much better sense of scale requirements and farmer needs and priorities,” he concludes.

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Budget Is the Missing Link: FAO Director General Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:38:44 +0000 Stella Paul FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva addresses delegates and heads of state at the 38th FAO Conference. Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva addresses delegates and heads of state at the 38th FAO Conference. Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

By Stella Paul
ROME, Jun 17 2013 (IPS)

World food production in developing regions soared by up to 40 percent over the past decade, yet nearly a billion people continued to live with chronic hunger. 

To bridge this gap, there is an urgent need to strengthen the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation’s budget, says FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, addressing an assembly of delegates and heads of state at the 38th session of FAO’s biannual conference.

“If we keep looking at hunger from the point of food production alone, the problem will not get solved. We also need to improve the entire system, including the partnership with other stakeholders. It is time for us, therefore, to take the next step, which is improving the budget,” says Da Silva, adding that over the past 20 years, the FAO budget has lost 27 percent of its value.

Not all member states concur with the request – especially the largest donor countries. But Da Silva expressed hope that during the course of this week, a consensus will be reached on increasing the budgetary allocation of FAO, thus enabling the U.N. agency to better fight hunger across the world and help increase countries’ ability to ensure food security.

“We had a good start over the weekend with an inspiring lecture from Professor Amartya Sen and recognising countries that have met hunger targets. I am hopeful that the week ahead will be a constructive one,” the director general said.

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Feed the Hungry, Save the Planet Sun, 16 Jun 2013 09:47:25 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu An estimated half of fresh produce in Papua New Guinea is lost between harvesting and marketing. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated half of fresh produce in Papua New Guinea is lost between harvesting and marketing. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 16 2013 (IPS)

Humanity currently needs the resources of one and a half planets to support our lifestyles. But do we really need to burn out the earth in order to feed ourselves?

A definitive “no” is the answer of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has partnered with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) to reduce the pollution intensity of food systems, from production to consumption."In reality, there is never a choice between agriculture and the environment." -- UNEP’s Fanny Demassieux

Launched in 2010, the two agencies’ Sustainable Food Systems Programme has no easy mission: with the world population expected to reach nine billion in the next decades and three billion people predicted to join the global middle class by 2050, food production is likely to erode even more of the earth’s resources unless radical measures are taken.

With this programme, the two U.N. bodies are embracing a new approach to food issues that calls for addressing all food-related activities in an interconnected manner.

What does this mean? For example, when trying to assess levels of waste produced by a retail chain, one must take into account not only the food directly thrown away by stores but also the vegetables abandoned in fields in exporting countries because of the high esthetic standards imposed by the retailer.

Addressing various parts of the global food chain separately only provides us with partial answers, according to this approach, while a more holistic outlook could bring surprising solutions.

At least a third of the food produced today is wasted. The production of this wasted food takes up a quarter of water resources used for agriculture, and results in about as much CO2 emissions as the whole United States is responsible for in one year. This is a sign of system failure but also an opportunity: cutting waste means both increasing food available for the needy and reducing pollution.

The systemic approach was endorsed last year at the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil, when all governments committed to a 10-year framework of sustainable production and consumption programmes.

In coming years, the FAO-UNEP programme could translate, for instance, into assistance provided to authorities on how to make food production more sustainable; informing consumers about how to reduce waste; or “voluntary sustainability standards” (a kind of sustainability certificate) that producers around the world can adhere to.

This U.N. vision of the future of the global food system must now be accepted and supported by governments around the world. The “voluntary” nature of the sustainability standards that are part of the programme already signals one of the potential weaknesses of this U.N. push, namely, that only some will commit to best practices.

“Food systems may be something very obvious when you are in FAO or UNEP, but on the ground people are wondering how to manage trade-offs between the economy and the environment,” UNEP’s Fanny Demassieux tells TerraViva on the sidelines of the Jun. 15-22 FAO biannual conference.

“But in reality, there is never a choice between agriculture and the environment because it is ecological foundations that agriculture is build on and depends on,” she adds.

“The fact that 15 percent of us in the world are still hungry is a collective failure, and this is something we must face up to and this is why it is necessary to try new approaches,” says Demassieux.

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African Farmers Lead the Way Sun, 16 Jun 2013 09:45:47 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi By Mantoe Phakathi
ROME, Jun 16 2013 (IPS)

Development in Africa will only be led through agriculture, says the CEO of the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki.

CEO of NEPAD Ibrahim Mayaki. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

CEO of NEPAD Ibrahim Mayaki. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Speaking to TerraViva at the opening of the weeklong 38th conference of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome on Saturday, Mayaki stresses that two-thirds of Africa’s population depends on agriculture, and it should therefore be placed at the centre of the multi-sectoral approach towards development.

“Trade, infrastructure and human capital development are all essential for agriculture development,” he says. “That is why NEPAD as a development agency for the African Union needs to take that multi-sectorality on board in its thinking, planning and interventions.”

Agriculture and food security are at the heart of the discussions in the Italian capital, where FAO member states are gathered at the biennial conference. According to the 2013 edition of FAO’s flagship report The State of Food and Agriculture, Africa leads the world with the highest prevalence of undernourished people, at nearly 23 percent of the population.

Liberian Ministry of Agriculture official Dr. Charles McClain attributes the high number of hungry people in Africa to national budgetary constraints.

“Our revenue as a continent is not where it should be so that we’re able to adequately invest in agriculture,” McClain says.

Despite the Maputo Declaration in 2003, in which African heads of state committed to a 10-percent allocation to agriculture, the continent remains far from achieving food security. Of the 54 African Union member states, just 10 have met this commitment.

“For instance, my country [Liberia] allocated only 2.4 percent [of the budget] to agriculture in the last financial year and it went down to 1.4 percent this year. We’re a country that’s recovering from war and we don’t have the resources,” McClain says.

To make up for the shortfall, Liberia – like many other African countries facing similar challenges – has turned to the donor community.

While Mayaki cautions that it will take time for the continent to make genuine progress on malnutrition, NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is providing countries with mechanisms and policies to realise this goal.

“It’s not always about the availability but also the accessibility to food,” he says. “The state has the responsibility to ensure that food is accessible to the vast majority of its citizens.”

This could be achieved through empowering small-scale farmers to become entrepreneurs so that they can sell and buy food, he says. Mayaki also called for the empowerment of civil society organisations so that they are able to shape the priorities of the state.

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Genes are Gems for Food Security Sun, 16 Jun 2013 09:26:30 +0000 Busani Bafana By Busani Bafana
ROME, Jun 16 2013 (IPS)

What can savvy global financial market traders learn from humble smallholder farmers in developing countries? Risk management in the face of climate change. 

“Farmers, particularly in the smallholder sector, are good risk managers because their fields usually have a diversity of crops in order to manage risk and ensure food security,” Linda Collette, secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, tells TerraViva on the sidelines of the 38th conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which opened in Rome on Jun. 15.

“Especially now when biodiversity is under threat from many factors, including climate change.”

Linda Collette, Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Credit, Busani Bafana/ IPS

Linda Collette, Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Credit, Busani Bafana/ IPS

The 30-year-old Commission is the only permanent forum for governments to discuss and negotiate matters specific to biological diversity for food and agriculture. Genetic resources contained in crops, trees, marine and animal species are valuable in maintaining biodiversity in food systems. Genes are the molecular unit which contain the heredity of living organisms.

Global genetic resources are invaluable for food security, nutrition and livelihoods. The world should be worried about the future of food, Collette says, if no action is taken to conserve them and use them sustainably.

Genetic diversity — the root of biodiversity and therefore important for agriculture —  is being lost at an alarming rate due to factors such as climate change, loss of natural habitats, environmental degradation and population growth. An info graphic developed by FAO paints a worrisome  picture of the future of food.

What’s needed to correct the situation is an improvement in policy and legal frameworks on food security, as well as the integration of genetic resources and biodiversity into the development agenda, according to the Commission — which will table its Second Global Plan of Action at this week’s conference in Rome.

“We cannot have food if we do not use and manage our genetic resources,” Collette says. “When we reduce some genetic resources, this also reduces their genetic pool that provides resilience and traits that might be helpful in the future.” "We cannot have food if we do not use and manage our genetic resources." - Linda Collette, secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

As climate change stalks global agriculture, researchers should collaborate with smallholder farmers in enhancing the diversification of crops that use water differently and more efficiently  to ensure food security, says Dr. Emile Frison, director-general of Bioversity International.

Adopting a plant diversity approach, according to Frison, has the double benefit of protecting biodiversity and ensuring food security for farmers. “Water is going to be a limiting factor in the future and our interest is in how to make use of this scarce resource for the benefit of smallholder farmers who value biodiversity to manage risks.”

Through its research, Bioversity is availing many crop varieties to farmers that match their current needs, especially in a changing climate. Under its Seeds for Needs project in Ethiopia, the organisation has used Geographic Information System (GIS) technology — which visualises geographic and meteorological data and trends– to find out which plant varieties in gene banks will be suitable in different areas and rainfall conditions and make these available to farmers there.

Bioversity is promoting greater diversification by re-introducing crops that have virtually disappeared or have been neglected. It is working with women’s groups growing traditional leafy vegetables in Kenya. The project has given the women greater income and better nutrition.

Because of their adaptability, diversity and nutritional benefits,  indigenous food plant species can help beat malnutrition and poverty in Africa, says Prof. Mary Abulutsa Onyango, a Kenyan horticultural researcher.

“Indigenous fruits and vegetables,” she says, “have several advantages that have not been fully exploited. They can withstand harsh climatic conditions and are highly nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals.”

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Advancing the Development Goal Posts Sat, 15 Jun 2013 12:14:23 +0000 Busani Bafana By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jun 15 2013 (IPS)

With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring in less than 1,000 days, new goals are needed that prioritise support for smallholder farmers to better access markets and increase productivity, nutrition and incomes.

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi enjoyed his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi enjoyed his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Michael Hoevel, deputy director of a UK-based think tank called Agriculture for Impact, says that the MDGs have helped galvanise efforts to address the world’s most fundamental development challenges, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

“The [new] Sustainable Development Goals can move even further by setting clear metrics for how this can happen,” he says. “For instance, we should be promoting ‘sustainable intensification’ into these goals – looking at metrics such as agricultural productivity and rural incomes on the one hand and GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and resource use per unit of output on the other hand.”

Andrew Emmott of Twin, a UK-based fair trade group that works with more than 50 farmer organisations, notes that food safety is not a feature of the MDGs, despite presenting significant barriers to achieving Goal Four on reducing child mortality and Goal Six on combating diseases.

“There is a danger that the Sustainable Development Goals may not tackle the global food safety challenge but focus on a less defined interpretation of food security and nutrition,” Emmott says. “Nutrition interventions, seen as some of the most cost-effective, are undermined by not addressing food safety as toxins such as aflatoxin are anti-nutritious, as well as harmful to health.”

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, malnutrition costs the global economy as much as five percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to 3.5 trillion dollars annually or 500 dollars a person. Impact for Agriculture noted that over 200 million people go hungry and 40 percent of children under age five are stunted due to malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa today.

“Twin believes that incorporating food safety into the food security and nutrition goals will create the impetus to develop novel finance mechanisms in post-harvest drying and storage for households and communities as well as formal value chains,” Emmott says, explaining that this approach should seek to improve food safety, reduce food waste, support local food systems and make food more readily available for longer periods over the year.

“This will reduce the need to increase food production, and should result in less people becoming malnourished, as well as improving public health through better food safety.”

Hoevel and Emmott agree that in structuring the new goals, the development of markets for smallholder farmers is essential.

“Creating more connected and inclusive markets will be key here,” Hoevel said. “Innovative approaches should be tested and refined over time, as long as safety nets are in place for the farmers involved.”

Two recent reports by Agriculture for Impact highlight how smallholder farmers can be supported to access input and output markets more effectively. When scaling up investments or development programmes, it is essential to adapt them to the local context, both in terms of agroecological conditions and socioeconomic realities.

According to Hoevel, the lion’s share of future market-based opportunities for smallholders lies in domestic and regional markets. Smallholders can also access global export markets if they are supported with good agronomic and business advice, quality inputs and the ability to organise themselves to benefit from economies of scale.

Twin’s experience, Emmott told IPS, has shown that organisation is the key to accessing value-added markets for smallholder farmers.

“By forming cooperatives and working collectively, marginalised smallholders can gain support to develop their skills and increase their productivity at the farm level, as well as having strength through numbers,” said Emmott.

“Farmers who negotiate contracts and trade collectively not only get a better price than at the local market, they are less likely to be short-changed through faulty scales or exploited by unscrupulous loan sharks.”

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TerraViva Comes to FAO Fri, 14 Jun 2013 18:05:08 +0000 Mario Lubetkin By Mario Lubetkin
ROME, Jun 14 2013 (IPS)

Dear Reader:

TerraViva, a special publication of the IPS news agency, the leader in coverage of development issues, civil society and the emerging South, is once again circulating, this time in the meeting rooms and hallways of the FAO building.

The print version of TerraViva was available early this year at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in the United Arab Emirates, and a few months before that, in June 2012, at the Rio+20 global conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro. Now, in Rome, our independent publication is dedicated to food.

We are producing it in an extraordinary setting: the 38th FAO conference, which will focus on the challenges facing agriculture, emerging global scenarios and, naturally, the new balances of power arising from them.

Mario Lubetkin, Director General of IPS

Mario Lubetkin, Director General of IPS

As in dozens of TerraViva editions produced over the last 20 years at U.N. or civil society conferences, our publication hopes to be an instrument of reflection and reporting with a critical eye on the crucial issues facing humanity.

In terms of food and agriculture, this means raising adequate funds to provide the current FAO leadership with the conditions that would make it possible for the agency to fulfil its mandate with regard to a strategic plan for the future.

During the conference, a significant number of countries that have met the Millennium Development Goals and World Food Summit hunger reduction targets will be recognised.

A critical focus on the limitations and difficulties encountered along the road is necessary, but we must also be capable of recognising progress.

We have brought together in Rome a team of top-level journalists from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, who represent more than 400 colleagues from our network spread across 140 countries, and who will give TerraViva a multicultural and pluralistic perspective.

In this regard, I would like to thank the FAO authorities for their continuous support in the preparation of this publication.

TerraViva is also available on-line, in several languages, to millions of readers around the world.

At the same time, TerraViva will follow the impact of the Media Talks organised by IPS TV in its pilot phase, from Monday, June 17 to Friday, June 21 in the Sheikh Zayed Conference Hall. The debates will focus on the MDGs, the new scenario in Africa, food waste, price speculation, and the role of the media in development.

These debates will be reproduced on thousands of web sites so they are not limited to a FAO conference room.

We hope TerraViva lives up to your expectations.


IPS Director General Mario Lubetkin

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