Getting “More Crop Per Drop” to Strengthen Global Food Security

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Increasing demand for water continues to put a strain on available water sources, threatening the livelihood of millions of small-scale farmers who depend on water for their crops. At a time when one in eight people lack access to safe water, Nourishing the Planet points to low-cost, small-scale innovations to better manage this vital resource.  These efforts are increasing the availability of water for crops and helping farmers improve crop productivity and become more food-secure.

Seventy percent of the world’s freshwater is used for irrigation, and global water resources are drying up as climate change takes hold and population growth continues. 60 percent of the world’s hungry people live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—most of them on small farms—where they do not have a reliable source of water to produce sufficient yields. Only 4 percent of the cultivated land in sub-Saharan Africa is currently equipped for irrigation. 95 percent of cropland in the region depends on rain, and climate scientists predict that rainfall on the continent will decline in the coming decades. But there is great potential to expand irrigation with small-scale solutions.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s led to a near tripling of global grain production and a doubling of the world’s irrigated area. It also, however, demanded vast quantities of water. Previous agricultural investments have focused narrowly on increasing crop yields, while there has been relatively little research and investment in ways to make better use of scarce water resources. Affordable innovations that boost agricultural development and meet the increasing demand on already-scarce water resources while also mitigating the impacts of climate change, are more important than ever.

Nourishing the Planet recommends three models for effective water management that have the potential for getting ‘more crop per drop’:

Human-powered pumps. The foot-operated treadle pump enables 2.3 million farmers in the developing world—some 250,000 in sub-Saharan Africa—to boost crop productivity, improve harvest reliability, and raise incomes. The original $35 version can irrigate 0.2 hectares with ground water; newer models can irrigate up to 0.8 hectares and cost no more than $140 installed. These devices already generate $37 million a year in profits and wages. In Zambia, International Development Enterprises worked with farmers to determine the most effective type of pump. The Mosi-O-Tunya pump is manufactured locally and delivers 25 percent more water per second than older versions.

Affordable micro-irrigation. A suite of low-cost drip irrigation technologies is helping farmers use limited water supplies more efficiently, often doubling water productivity. These systems deliver water directly to the plant roots through perforated pipes or tubes, and can come in the form of $5 bucket kits, $25 drum kits, or $100 shiftable drip systems that irrigate up to 0.2 hectares. Solar-powered micro-irrigation drip systems are also making their debut in West Africa. One study found that after a year of using these systems, villagers in Benin had higher incomes and protein in their diets. Children attended school more often, since they no longer needed to spend their day collecting water.

More effective use of rainfall. Conservation tillage methods that leave the soil intact; timely weeding and mulching; and planting vegetative barriers all help to maximize green water, or rainwater stored in the soil and plants as moisture. Rainwater harvesting using small earthen dams and other methods also helps maximize rainwater utility. Supplementing these practices with irrigation may produce optimal results. In Kenya, Maasai women are working with the U.N. Environment Programme and the World Agroforestry Centre to build rooftop catchment tanks, which provide water for their households and save women time collecting water.

Satisfying the water requirements of the future, while also coping with population growth, increasing consumption, persistent poverty, and a changing climate, will take a commitment well beyond what has materialized to date. Support—and research and investment—from governments, development agencies, and international and national NGOs can help make such technologies more accessible to smallholder farmers.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

To watch the one minute book trailer click HERE.

 

 

Agriculture: The Unlikely Earth Day Hero

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

For over 40 years, Earth Day has served as a call to action, mobilizing individuals and organizations around the world to address these challenges. This year Nourishing the Planet highlights agriculture—often blamed as a driver of environmental problems—as an emerging solution.

Agriculture is a source of food and income for the world’s poor and a primary engine for economic growth. It also offers untapped potential for mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity, and for lifting millions of people out of poverty.

This Earth Day, Nourishing the Planet offers 15 solutions to guide farmers, scientists, politicians, agribusinesses and aid agencies as they commit to promoting a healthier environment and a more food-secure future.

1. Guaranteeing the Right to Food. Guaranteeing the human right to adequate food—now and for future generations—requires that policymakers incorporate this right into food security laws and programs at the regional, national, and international level. Governments have a role in providing the public goods to support sustainable agriculture, including extension services, farmer-to-farmer transmission of knowledge, storage facilities, and infrastructure that links farmers to consumers.

2. Harnessing the Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables. Micronutrient deficiencies, including lack of vitamin A, iodine, and iron, affect 1 billion people worldwide. Promoting indigenous vegetables that are rich in micronutrients could help reduce malnutrition. Locally adapted vegetable varieties are hardier and more dependable than staple crops, making them ideal for smallholder farmers. Research organizations like AVRDC/The World Vegetable Center are developing improved vegetable varieties, such as amaranth and African eggplant, and cultivating an appreciation for traditional foods among consumers.

3. Reducing Food Waste. Experts continue to emphasize increasing global food production, yet our money could be better spent on reducing food waste and post-harvest losses. Already, a number of low-input and regionally appropriate storage and preservation techniques are working to combat food waste around the world. In Pakistan, farmers cut their harvest losses by 70 percent by switching from jute bags and containers constructed with mud to more durable metal containers. And in West Africa, farmers have saved around 100,000 mangos by using solar dryers to dry the fruit after harvest.

4. Feeding Cities. The U.N. estimates that 70 percent of the world’s people will live in cities by 2050, putting stress on available food. Urban agriculture projects are helping to improve food security, raise incomes, empower women, and improve urban environments. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) has helped city farmers build food gardens, using old tires to create crop beds. And community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in Cape Town, South Africa, are helping to raise incomes and provide produce for school meals.

5. Getting More Crop per Drop. Many small farmers lack access to a reliable source of water, and water supplies are drying up as extraction exceeds sustainable levels. Only 4 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s cultivated land is equipped for irrigation, and a majority of households depend on rainfall to water their crops—which climate scientists predict will decline in coming decades. Efficient water management in agriculture can boost crop productivity for these farmers. By practicing conservation tillage, weeding regularly, and constructing vegetative barriers and earthen dams, farmers can harness rainfall more effectively.

6. Using Farmers’ Knowledge in Research and Development. Agricultural research and development processes typically exclude smallholder farmers and their wealth of knowledge, leading to less-efficient agricultural technologies that go unused. Research efforts that involve smallholder farmers alongside agricultural scientists can help meet specific local needs, strengthen farmers’ leadership abilities, and improve how research and education systems operate. In southern Ethiopia’s Amaro district, a community-led body carried out an evaluation of key problems and promising solutions using democratic decision-making to determine what type of research should be funded.

7. Improving Soil Fertility. Africa’s declining soil fertility may lead to an imminent famine; already, it is causing harvest productivity to decline 15–25 percent, and farmers expect harvests to drop by half in the next five years. Green manure/cover crops, including living trees, bushes, and vines, help restore soil quality and are an inexpensive and feasible solution to this problem. In the drought-prone Sahel region, the Dogon people of Mali are using an innovative, three-tiered system and are now harvesting three times the yield achieved in other parts of the Sahel.

8. Safeguarding Local Food Biodiversity. Over the past few decades, traditional African agriculture based on local diversity has given way to monoculture crops destined for export. Less-healthy imports are replacing traditional, nutritionally rich foods, devastating local economies and diets. Awareness-raising initiatives and efforts to improve the quality of production and marketing are adding value to and encouraging diversification and consumption of local products. In Ethiopia’s Wukro and Wenchi villages, honey producers are training with Italian and Ethiopian beekeepers to process and sell their honey more efficiently, promote appreciation for local food, and compete with imported products.

9. Coping with Climate Change and Building Resilience. Global climate change, including higher temperatures and increased periods of drought, will negatively impact agriculture by reducing soil fertility and decreasing crop yields. Although agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for about one-third of global emissions, agricultural practices, such as agroforestry and the re-generation of natural resources, can help mitigate climate change. In Niger, farmers have planted nearly 5 million hectares of trees that conserve water, prevent soil erosion, and sequester carbon, making their farms more productive and drought-resistant without damaging the environment.

10. Harnessing the Knowledge and Skills of Women Farmers. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, women represent 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, but due to limited access to inputs, land, and services, they produce less per unit of land than their male counterparts. Improving women’s access to agricultural extension services, credit programs, and information technology can help empower women, while reducing global hunger and poverty. In Uganda, extension programs are introducing women farmers to coolbot technology, which uses solar energy and an inverter to reduce temperatures and prolong the shelf life of vegetables.

11. Investing in Africa’s Land: Crisis and Opportunity. As pressure to increase food production rises, wealthy countries in the Middle East and Asia are acquiring cheap land in Africa to increase their food productivity. This has led to the exploitation of small-scale African farmers, compromising their food security. Agricultural investment models that create collaborations between African farmers and the foreign investing countries can be part of the solution. In Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, farmers grow green beans for the Dutch market during the European winter months, but cultivate corn and other crops for local consumption during the remaining months.

12. Charting a New Path to Eliminating Hunger. Nearly 1 billion people around the world are hungry, 239 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. To alleviate hunger, we must shift our attention beyond the handful of crops that have absorbed most of agriculture’s attention and focus on ways to improve farmers’ access to inputs and make better use of the food already produced. Innovations—such as the human-powered pump that can increase access to irrigation and low-cost plastic bags that help preserve grains—offer models that can be scaled-up and replicated beyond Africa.

13. Moving Ecoagriculture into the Mainstream. Agricultural practices that emphasize increased production have contributed to the degradation of land, soil, and local ecosystems, and ultimately hurt the livelihoods of the farmers who depend on these natural resources. Agroecological methods, including organic farming practices, can help farmers protect natural resources and provide a sustainable alternative to costly industrial inputs. These include rotational grazing for livestock in Zimbabwe’s savanna region and tea plantations in Kenya, where farmers use intercropping to improve soil quality and boost yields.

14. Improving Food Production from Livestock. In the coming decades, small livestock farmers in the developing world will face unprecedented challenges: demand for animal-source foods, such as milk and meat, is increasing, while animal diseases in tropical countries will continue to rise, hindering trade and putting people at risk. Innovations in livestock feed, disease control, and climate change adaptation—as well as improved yields and efficiency—are improving farmers’ incomes and making animal-source food production more sustainable. In India, farmers are improving the quality of their feed by using grass, sorghum, stover, and brans to produce more milk from fewer animals.

15. Going Beyond Production. Although scarcity and famine dominate the discussion of food security in sub-Saharan Africa, many countries are unequipped to deal with the crop surpluses that lead to low commodity prices and food waste. Helping farmers better organize their means of production—from ordering inputs to selling their crops to a customer—can help them become more resilient to fluctuations in global food prices and better serve local communities that need food. In Uganda, the organization TechnoServe has helped to improve market conditions for banana farmers by forming business groups through which they can buy inputs, receive technical advice, and sell their crops collectively.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. To watch the one minute book trailer click HERE.

Common Corporate Sense

Half a world away, a tiny band of workers is trying to save their country from a nuclear meltdown. Closer to home, 11 people died and tens of thousands more lost their livelihoods when an oil rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. Even closer, my local news carries daily accounts of how a gas line explosion that left 8 dead, 50 injured, and 40 families homeless could have been prevented.

All of these events have two things in common – they’re accidents. No one got out of bed one morning and said, “Gee, I think I’ll go out and kill someone today.”

The other is that with some common sense and honesty, all of them could have been prevented or at least their risk mitigated by prudent action – even when a tsunami rolls ashore.

Cutting Corners to Keep the Dividends
For years, all the companies involved told their governments and the public things were just peachy. “Safety is our top priority. We’re responsible citizens” as if by top priority you mean cutting corners so the dividends keep on rolling in. Their inability to follow the rules is ample proof.

It’s de rigueur these days to lament the crushing weight of regulations on business, a not wholly inaccurate charge. The popular refrain is that unnecessary regulations kill jobs and stymie innovation, progress, and plenty. However, fewer point out that a job isn’t much good if you, your family, or your neighbors end up in the morgue waiting to be identified by their dental work or the ash pile that is their DNA.

All of these events, like thousands before them, will generate new regulations. The throngs don’t take kindly to being blown up while watching American Idol and they’ll push their government to do something and do something now.

Score 1 for K St.
The gears of government will turn. There will be a cacophony over just how far the regulations should go. In the end, lobbyists will win out and the resulting regulations will, more often than not, benefit the companies and not control their stupidity. Score 1 for K St.

That doesn’t matter much anyway. Government won’t enforce the laws and will cut back on the agencies that are responsible for that because someone needs a tax cut. The companies will continue to have accidents and all will be right with the world until the next tiny band of workers is irradiated or killed for simply going to work at ones of those nifty jobs that were generated by the cutting of corners and ignoring of regulations – the same regulations that tried to legislate common sense into people who have none of their own.

In the end, these events aren’t about small government or big government. They aren’t about deregulation or over-regulation. They aren’t about the gulf between the haves and have nots. They are about the ultimate failure of holding companies responsible for what they do.

Just as CEO’s don’t get out of bed in the morning plotting on who to kill today, regulations don’t come about needlessly. They come about as the result of someone not doing something that should have.

Unfortunately, you can’t legislate common sense into a thick corporate skull. And, we’re all the worse off for it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

State of the World 2011 Symposium in Washington DC and Live Streaming Online

Today is the Worldwatch Institute’s 15th Annual State of the World Symposium, hosted at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. It is being live streamed on the Nourishing the Planet blog at 1:15PM (EST) for those unable to join the event in person. Bringing together leading thinkers in agricultural development, hunger, and poverty alleviation, the symposium takes place following the release of Worldwatch's flagship publication, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Symposium keynote speakers and panelists include Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Hans Herren, President, Millennium Institute; Sara Scherr, President and CEO, Ecoagriculture Partners; Catherine Alston, Cocoa Livelihoods Program Coordinator, World Cocoa Foundation; and Stephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach, One Acre Fund.

Also participating, in keeping with the project’s emphasis on ‘voices from the field,’ are two on-the-ground innovators from sub-Saharan Africa: Edward Mukiibi, co-founder and Project Coordinator of Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) in Uganda and Sithembile Ndema with the Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in South Africa. The DISC project instills greater environmental awareness and understanding of nutrition, indigenous vegetables, and food culture in Uganda’s youth by establishing vegetable gardens at pre-school, day, and boarding schools. FANRPAN's Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project recently launched a series of Theatre for Policy Advocacy (TPA) campaigns in rural Malawi, using an interactive model to strengthen the ability of women farmers to advocate for appropriate agricultural policies and programs.

State of the World 2011 is full of similar stories of success and hope in sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The report draws from hundreds of case studies and first-person examples to offer solutions to reducing hunger and poverty. It's nearly a half-century since the Green Revolution, and yet a large share of the human family is still chronically hungry. Since the mid 1980s when agricultural funding was at its height, the share of global development aid has fallen from over 16 percent to just 4 percent today. Drawing from the world's leading agricultural experts and from hundreds of innovations that are already working on the ground, State of the World 2011 aims to help the funding and development community reverse this trend.

In Kibera, Nairobi, the largest slum in Kenya, for example, more than 1,000 women farmers are growing "vertical" gardens in sacks full of dirt poked with holes, feeding their families and communities. These sacks have the potential to feed thousands of city dwellers while also providing a sustainable and easy-to-maintain source of income for urban farmers. With more than 60 percent of Africa's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, such methods may be crucial to creating future food security. Currently, some 33 percent of Africans live in cities, and 14 million more migrate to urban areas each year. Worldwide, some 800 million people engage in urban agriculture, producing 15-20 percent of all food.

In 2007, some 6,000 women in The Gambia organized into the TRY Women's Oyster Harvesting producer association, creating a sustainable co-management plan for the local oyster fishery to prevent overharvesting and exploitation. Oysters and fish are an important, low-cost source of protein for the population, but current production levels have led to environmental degradation and to harmful land use changes over the last 30 years. The government is working with groups like TRY to promote less destructive methods and to expand credit facilities to low-income producers to stimulate investment in more-sustainable production.

State of the World 2011 provides new insight into the often overlooked innovations that are working right now on the ground to alleviate hunger and deserve more funding and attention. Its findings will be shared in over 20 languages with a wide range of global agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities.

Connect with Nourishing the Planet on Facebook by clicking HERE.

Bird, Fish Kills Blamed on Obama and DADT Repeal

J'ACCUSE! - A spontaneous demostration took place in Beebe, AR Sunday as Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials named Barack Obama as the major cause of a huge fish and bird kill along the banks of the Arkansas River.

Beebe, AR – Arkansas game officials have announced that President Barack Obama has been implicated in the deaths of 4,000-5,000 birds – mostly blackbirds – and approximately 83,000 drum fish along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River over the New Year holiday.

Billy Bob Hatfield, chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said toxicology tests have found no evidence of poisoning and necropsies that began on Monday have so far revealed no scientific explanation. Officials have also considered – but ruled out – fear of noise from thunderstorms and New Year’s fireworks and midair collisions between the birds. “With both fish and bird kills, it’s clear it wasn’t the noise or poison. And there were blackbird air traffic controllers on duty when the incident took place,” Hatfield said.

The commission settled on the Obama theory after a thorough search of the Holy Bible. “We prayed and the good Lord led us to a passage that says, “A man of dark color shall arrive in your country from Kenya and try to convert you to socialism,” said the chaplain for the Commission, Bob Billy McCoy.

Obama is the Anti-Christ
“We figured that since Obama has been conclusively proven to be a Kenyan and the anti-christ it must be his fault. “When we compared his color to the description of a ‘man of dark color’ found in the scriptures, it proved he was the true culprit,” McCoy said. “Then there’s that whole blackbird thing. Black man? Blackbird? That’s a coincidence? I think not.”

Some Republican officials and televangelist Pat Robertson have added “corroborating evidence” proving the initial trigger for the wildlife disaster was Obama repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

“There were thousands of gays swimming upstream of the fish kills in the Arkansas River. Some of the fish were sodomized by those secular homosexual humanists and swam upstream infected with AIDS,” Robertson said. “A dead fish washed ashore in the river and a bit of carcass from the fish was eaten by a blackbird who, in turn, infected the rest of his bird herd.”

“Gosh darn it. There can be no other explanation. God came to me in a vision I had during a nice veal scallopini dinner and told me it was so,” Robertson said.

Former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin also weighed in on the subject via a Twitter message. “Yeah, ditto what Reverend Robertson said. BTW I’m not running for President in 2012, I just play like it on TV. I’m a rogue, God bless America.”

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) – no relation to the town – cautioned citizens to not consider this a final cause for the incident. “As a Democrat, I will work in a completely bipartisan manner with my Republican colleagues to investigate this matter,” Beebe said.

Too Late for Bipartisanship

However, the Governor may be too late in his calls for bipartisanship. Incoming Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Republican Darrell Issa, is already adding an investigation to his lengthening list of issues the committee will take on.

“I’m currently asking lobbyists – including those representing the blackbird and drum fish lobby and the Texas Board of Education – to rewrite new rules and textbooks loosening the stranglehold the Sierra Club and those other nature nuts have on good old American business,” Issa said.

“We’ve already found direct evidence that Barack Obama is a pedophile through his connection to National Public Radio. I’m sure my committee will find him guilty, especially since he isn’t a US citizen. I’m already working with my pastor to fashion an extradition agreement with the Kingdom of God if one is needed,” Issa Said.

“All I know is that under George W. Bush’s administration we had 10 straight years without a wildlife kill. Now, with two years of the Obama administration’s mismanagement, we’ve had socialist health care, oil rig explosions, and the mass die offs of thousands of birds and fish,” Issa said. “Republicans will prove they are the party of God by becoming strong advocates for ecological conservation – as long as it doesn’t involve oil companies, coal companies, or mining interests. ”

“I don’t know why Obama hates America,” he added.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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