Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Richard Haigh runs Enaleni Farm outside Durban, South Africa, raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Check out this video from my conversation with Richard about his sheep, his garden, and the meaning behind the name of his farm:

Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Richard Haigh runs Enaleni Farm outside Durban, South Africa, raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Check out this video from my conversation with Richard about his sheep, his garden, and the meaning behind the name of his farm:

Breeding Respect for Indigenous Seeds

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Jessica Milgroom isn’t your typical graduate student. Rather than spending her days in the library of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, her research is done in the field—literally. Since 2006, Jessica has been working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique.

When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially “parked on top of 27,000 people,” says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which affected their access to food and farmland. Jessica’s job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security.

But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties. One of the major problems in Mozambique, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of seed. As a result, farmers are forced to buy low-quality seed because nothing else is available.

In addition to identifying and collecting seeds, Jessica is working with a farmer’s association on seed trials, testing varieties to see what people like best. In addition, farmers are learning how to purify and store seeds (see Innovation of the Week: Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa).

Weevils, the farmers tell Jessica, are worse than ever, destroying both the seed and crops they store in traditional open-air, granaries. But the farmers are now building newer granaries that are more tightly sealed and help prevent not only weevils but also mold and aflatoxins from damaging crops.

Today, farmers and breeders alike have a greater respect for Mozambique’s indigenous seed varieties. According to Jessica, one of the biggest accomplishments of the project has been getting breeders and farmers to talk to each other. “It’s been interesting for both groups,” says Jessica, “and it needs to be a regular discussion” between them.

Building Knowledge About Biotechnology in Africa

This is the first of a two-part series to Africa Harvest, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In our Nourishing the Planet project we’re looking at how farmers and researchers all over the world are combining high-tech and low-tech agricultural practices to help alleviate hunger and poverty. One place they’re trying to do this is at Africa Harvest/Biotech Foundation International. The organization’s mission is “to use science and technology, especially biotechnology, to help the poor in Africa achieve food security, economic well-being and sustainable rural development.”

And while the biotechnology component of their mission may be controversial to some, Africa Harvest is determined that Africa will not be left behind when it comes to the development—and use— of the technology by African researchers and farmers. As a result, the organization is focusing on breeding African crops for Africans. “If you want to make a difference on this continent,” says Daniel Kamanga, communications director for Africa Harvest, “you have to look at African crops.” These include staples such as banana, cassava, and sorghum, which are all important sources of nutrients for millions of Africans.

But these are also crops that are heavily impacted by diseases and pests. Bananas, for example, are susceptible to sigatoka virus, fusarium, weevils, nematodes, and others. To combat these problems, Florence Wambugu, the CEO of Africa Harvest and a scientist who formerly worked with Monsanto, helped develop Tissue Culture Banana (TC banana). Banana diseases are often spread through “unclean” planting material. But TC banana technology allows scientists to use biotechnology for the “rapid and large scale multiplication” of disease free bananas—a single shoot can produce 2,000 individual banana plantlets.

Africa Harvest is also working on biofortifying sorghum with Vitamin A, creating “golden sorghum.” 

“But of course, there remains the thorny issue of control—among the biggest stumbling blocks for sharing any technology across countries and regions. Biotechnology has so far been largely owned by the private sector.” So, in addition to researching crop production, Africa Harvest is also working to improve capacity building for scientists all over Africa. “If we’re going to have GMOs on the continent,” says Kamanga, “we want scientists who know how to do it.” Along with that, Africa Harvest is working to strengthen regulatory systems for biotechnology.

And how does Africa Harvest respond to criticism about the development and use of biotechnology in agriculture? According to Kamanga, it’s an “old debate” and one that takes place in 5-star hotels, not in farmers’ fields. The issue now, he says, is how we make the best use of this technology.

Teacher Turned Farmer...Turned Teacher

This is the second in the four-part series on my visit to Heifer International projects in Gicumbi District in Rwanda. Crossposted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Holindintwali Cyprien is a 40-year old farmer and livestock keeper in Gicumbi District, outside of Kigali in Rwanda. But he hasn't always been a farmer. After the genocide in the 1990s, he and his wife, Mukaremera Donatilla, 40, were school teachers, making a about $USD 50.00 monthly. Living in a small house constructed of mud, without electricity or running water, they were saving to buy a cow to help increase their income. And when Heifer International started working in Rwanda almost a decade ago, Cyprien and Donatilla were chosen as one of the first 93 farmers in the country to be Heifer beneficiaries. Along with the gift of a cow, the family also received training and support from Heifer project coordinators.

Today, they've used their gift to not only increase their monthly income--they now make anywhere from $USD 300-600 per month--but also improved the family's living conditions and nutrition. In addition to growing elephant grass and other fodder--one of Heifer's requirements for receiving animals--for the 5 cows they currently own, Cyprien and Donatilla are also growing vegetables and keeping chickens. They've built a brick house and have electricity and are earning income by renting their other house.

Although Heifer trained them how to collect water with very simple technologies using plastic bags, Cyprien took the training a few steps further and installed his own concrete tank. In addition, Cyprien has enough money to invest in terracing his garden to prevent erosion, a necessary farming practice in this very hilly area.

And today, Cyprien is going back to his roots and making plans to teach again--this time to other farmers. He wants, he says, "the wider community to benefit from his experience."

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