New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the  Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development's (ECASARD) work in Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village's chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described "young leader (he's 50 years old) with a love for the environment." He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. "We're always thinking about how to process the crops we're growing," he says. According to him, farmers don't have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but "processing gives them more leverage.

One of the groups' biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil-and having the opportunity to make additional income- themselves.

But by "coming together," says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or "service centers," which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren't enough to "fill the need" they're working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They've started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called "green gold of Ghana," moringa. When they're processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder "generates a lot of trash," says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, "making it taste more like bushmeat," and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They've also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their "drift" to the cities. He's created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in  the community that uses dancing and music "to bait the youth," says the  Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don't forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD's work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can't be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women's Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women's Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.

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Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

For pastoralist communities like the well-known Maasai in Kenya, livestock keeping is more than just an important source of food and income; it's a way of life that has been a part of their culture and traditions for hundreds of years.

But, in the face of drought, loss of traditional grazing grounds, and pressure from governments and agribusiness to cross-breed native cattle breeds with exotic breeds, pastoralists are struggling to feed their families and hold on to their culture.

The key, however, to maintaining the pastoralist way of life, at least in Kenya, may also be the key to preserving the country's livestock genetic biodiversity, as well as improving local food security."Governments need to recognize," says Jacob Wanyama, coordinator with the African LIFE Network in Kenya- an organization that works to improve the rights of pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa, "that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity." (See also: The Keepers of Genetic Diversity)

Anikole cattle, for example, a breed indigenous to Eastern Africa, are not only "beautiful to look at," says Wanyama, but they're one of the "highest quality" breeds of cattle because they can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions-something that's more important than the size and milk production of the cattle, especially as climate change takes a bigger hold on Africa. And indigenous breeds don't require expensive feed and inputs, such as antibiotics to keep them healthy.

More than just a consistent and reliable source of food, Anikole cattle also help preserve the pastoralist culture and way of life. Though most pastoralists recognize that  many of their children might choose to go into the cities instead of continuing the nomadic herding lifestyle of pastoralists, the preservation of Anikole cattle and other indigenous breeds will allow those that choose to stay to feed and support their families and community for years to come. (See also: Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World)

And, similarly, in Mozambique, the International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are promoting livestock as more than just a means to improve food security.

The two organizations are partnering to work with farmers-most of them women-to raise chickens on their farms. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer. (See also: Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa)

In Rwanda, Heifer International is helping farmers use livestock to rebuild their homes and improve their income after the devastating genocide that occurred 15 years ago.  Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, introducing a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, "no stock of good [dairy cow] genes" was left in the country after the genocide.

And he says that these animals help prove "that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows." Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows-including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture-which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer's training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

And these animals don't only provide milk-which can be an important source of protein for the hungry-and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program. And they give families a sense of security as they, and the entire country, continue to recover and rebuild. (See also: Healing With Livestock in Rwanda)

To read more about how smallscale livestock can improve food security and preserve and rebuild communities, see: Teacher Turned Farmer. . .Turned Teacher, Got Biogas?, Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya.

Photo Credit: International Livestock Research Institute

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In the Fight Against the Spread of HIV/AIDS, There is no Silver Bullet

Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

In the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, there is no silver bullet.

And as we travel throughout sub-Saharan Africa we are seeing dozens of innovative ways that organizations, governments, and individuals are working to fight the disease.

One of the organizations that stands out, thanks to their variety of innovative strategies and approaches to combating the spread of the disease, is the Solidarity Center , an AFL-CIO affiliated non-profit organization that assists workers around the world who are struggling to build democratic and independent trade unions.

We want to share with you three different ways they are making an impact on the ground as we visit projects across the continent.

1) Changing Behavior with Worksite Education and Testing

Johnson Matthey in Germiston , South Africa , just outside of Johannesburg , sees 600 workers pass through its doors every day, heading to work on an assembly lines to make catalytic converters that are inserted in cars to reduce pollution, complying with South Africa 's auto environmental emissions standards.

As we arrived there last January, Percy Nhlapo, a trainer with the Solidarity Center , was leading a discussion with a group of workers, correcting misconceptions about contracting HIV and urging participants to get tested. The Solidarity Center is working in partnership with the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), an industrial affiliate of the country's largest union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), to provide free HIV/AIDS education and HIV counseling and testing to several thousand manufacturing workers a year (literally going from plant to plant providing trainings).

Following the HIV/AIDS education session, more than 200 workers voluntarily agreed to be tested. At the testing area, we spoke with registered nurse Dorothy Majola, who said that before workers are tested they are given private counseling, and then she administers two separate tests - both with 99.99 percent accuracy - to ensure correct results.

Within ten minutes of being tested, workers receive their results. The companies work in coordination with NUMSA and the Solidarity Center , agreeing to host the HIV/AIDS outreach, allowing workers to attend and get tested at the beginning and end of their work shifts. Before each outreach, shop stewards mobilize their co-workers to participate in the HIV/AIDS activities at their workplace.

2) Curbing the Spread of AIDS Along Transportation Routes

When we arrived at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Katuna , Uganda , about 20 long-haul truck drivers were sitting on chairs  and intently watching a match between Manchester United and Chelsea on a small television while they waited for their vehicles to be cleared by customs before entering Rwanda .

But just eight months ago, instead of television, billiards, and camaraderie among workers, the easiest diversion for truckers was sex. Katuna is one of many towns along what is known as the Northern Transport Corridor-a span of highway that stretches from Mombasa , Kenya through Uganda , Rwanda , Burundi , Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and all the way to Djibouti .

In the past, the truckers were often delayed for days on the border, giving them little to do. Boredom--and drinking--often led to unsafe sex with commercial sex workers at the truck stops along the highway. As a result, truck drivers have one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Africa . Unfortunately, the virus doesn't stop with them, and is often spread to their spouses.

Now, thanks to the work of the Solidarity Center and Uganda 's Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU), the amount of time truckers spend on the border has been reduced from days to just hours. The union has worked with the government to reduce the amount of time it takes their paperwork to go through, which reduced the amount of free time they have on the border.  When they don't have as much free time waiting for clearance, they're not as likely to engage in unsafe sex.

Additionally, the Katuna resource center, like many others dotted along the transport corridor, offers HIV/AIDS education, and free testing to truck drivers and local community members (directly impacting more than 150,000 workers so far). The Solidarity Center has similar programs in Kenya , Tanzania , Rwanda and Burundi .

3) Helping Orphans who Lost Their Parents to AIDS, by Putting Them Through School

Outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, we visited an orphanage for children whose parents died of AIDS-related illnesses that the Solidarity Center 's partner, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), an associate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), is helping to support.

In addition to providing HIV/AIDS education and HIV counseling and testing to workers, ZCIEA is also providing a way to immediately help the children of parents who've died from the disease.

As we arrived, a hundred children were singing, clapping, and rushing to offer us hugs and high fives. The orphanage provides them not only with a place to learn and go to school, but also gives them a family in a nurturing environment. More than providing meals and a roof, the orphanage is built around the community, and the children are well-supported.

The teachers and caretakers who work there are mostly volunteers from local communities and you can see that they share a deep commitment and passion for the future of these kids. None of this would be possible without the support and efforts of the Zimbabwean labor movement in providing funding and helping to secure outside funding through grants.

Music Without Borders: Senegal
This is a weekly series where we recommend an artist, song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today's selection is from Senegal:

Mbalax is a local musical genre in Senegal; most people have heard of Youssou N'Dour, who is a major artist in that world. Here is another mbalax great, Thione Seck.

 

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Giving Farm Workers a Voice

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Gertrude Hambira doesn't look like someone who gets arrested regularly. Nor do the other women and men in suits who work with her at the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), formed in the mid-1980s to protect farm laborers. But arrest, harassment and even torture have been regular occupational hazards for Gertrude-the General Secretary of GAPWUZ-and her staff for many years.

Unfortunately, things have not gotten much better since the 2008 elections when President Mugabe refused to cede power to the democratically elected Morgan Tsvangirai, a former union leader himself. The resulting power-sharing agreement has left the two sides battling for control as the nation plummets deeper into unemployment and poverty. At least 90 percent of the populati0n is not part of formal workforce.

Meanwhile, land reform policies have left many farm workers (about 1.5 million) without a source of income as farms are divided up-with many tracts given to Mugabe supporters.  While Zimbabwe's land reform was initially intended to decrease the number of white-owned farms in the country and provide land to the landless, it's done little to help the poor in rural areas. "Land was taken from the rich and given to the rich," says General Secretary Hambira. The rich farmers are, however, not utilizing the land, she notes, leading to lower agricultural productivity, higher prices for food, and widespread hunger.

Hambira says that as rural areas become a target for government reforms, "farm workers have become voiceless." But giving them back their voice is what GAPWUZ is trying to do by helping reduce child labor, by educating members about their rights in the fields and on the farm, by educating workers about HIV/AIDS , and by helping women workers gain a voice in decision-making. And, unfortunately, that's why General Secretary and her staff often get arrested.  Shortly after I met with her, the GAPWUZ office was raided by government police and she was forced to go in hiding to South Africa for several weeks.

But GAPWUZ isn't just working to protect the rights of farm workers in Zimbabwe, says Hambira.  By "looking at the plight of farm workers," the union is helping to build productivity on the farm and to build a strong agricultural sector-one that will be needed more than ever as Zimbabwe struggles to rebuild and restore democracy.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

1,000 Words About Johannesburg

 Been scratching our heads about how to write 1,000 original, inspiring, and exciting words on one of the most written about countries in the world. Instead of trying, we want to share with you a couple of things we saw and learned while we there.

As we traveled all the way south from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Johannesburg, South Africa, several Africans kept telling us how dangerous J'burg is. We heard the same sort of thing before visiting Nairobi, Kenya,"don't step out at night and "don't go anywhere without a taxi..." Yada, Yada, Yada.

But there was no question in our minds whether would visit or not. With a dozen meetings scheduled, nothing was going to stop us from going. And after two weeks weeks, despite the hype, and without compromising our experience, we didn't encounter a single problem (we stayed in hostels and budget B&B's), didn't witness any car-jackings, were never robbed at gun point at an ATM, and never felt that our safety was compromised in any way. Every visitor we met while in the city had the same experience as us (uneventful, as far as crime).

We are not saying don't be cautious -- or that crime is not a problem -- but if fear is stopping anyone from experiencing this important city, or even the World Cup, our advice is stop reading this article and book that ticket.

When you arrive in Johannesburg, it's hard not to notice how big this mega-city is-- more than 10 million people and one of the 40 largest cities in the world. While it is the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa, the gap between the rich and poor is unlike anything we have seen (maybe with the exception of Kenya). We visited the slums of Germiston and Soweto, comparing the poverty to the decadence of the suburb Sandton and the East Gate Mall, the biggest mall in J'burg. How ironic that a city with so much wealth also has such extreme poverty, comparable or even worse to what we saw traveling in Madagascar, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe.

We wanted to share with you two interesting meetings/projects we visited on the ground:

We did a field visit to Johnson Matthey Catalysts in Germiston, South Africa, just outside of Johannesburg. There, nearly  600 workers pass through its doors every day to work on an assembly line making catalytic converters that are inserted in cars to reduce pollution, complying with South Africa's auto environmental emissions standards. As we arrived, Percy Nhlapo, a trainer with the Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO affiliated non-profit organization that assists workers around the world who are struggling to build democratic and independent trade unions, was leading a discussion with a group of workers to correct misconceptions about the HIV virus and urging participants to get tested. "HIV/AIDS affects everyone, educating workers is the first step in helping them prevent further infection, getting tested is the second," said Percy. After the training, nearly all the workers voluntarily agreed to be tested.

At the testing area, we spoke with registered nurse Dorothy Majola. "I find this job so rewarding because it so important that people know their status, as soon as they know their status they can change their lifestyle and behavior, which it will allow them to live longer lives," said Majola. The company, in coordination with NUMSA (the workers' union) and the Solidarity Center, agreed to host the training, allowing workers to attend and get tested at the beginning and end of their work shifts. Through programs like these thousands of workers are voluntarily getting tested a year across the country.

The next day we met with Daniel Kamanga, the Director of Communications of Africa Harvest, and former Kenyan journalist, who says that journalism in Africa has to overcome many challenges, including a general lack of coverage on agriculture issues—let alone a deeper understanding about who is funding agricultural development in Africa. Although agriculture makes up about 98 percent of the economy in Kenya, it’s barely covered in the country’s newspapers. And there are not any agricultural editors at any of the newspapers on the entire continent. But it’s not just a question of reporters having more knowledge, according to Kamanga. It’s also a matter of compensation. African journalists are typically paid very little compared to journalists in other countries. In Burkina Faso for example, reporters receive just 160 dollars per month. As a result, many journalists see bribes as a way to supplement their income. Yet with newspaper and media consolidation, fierce competition for advertisers, and lackluster economic conditions in Africa and all over the world, it’s a trend that might only get worse.

Finally, here are four other random final thoughts about "Jozi":

(1) Spend an entire day at the Apartheid Museum, it's brilliantly laid out using technology and multi-media, the visits take you on a powerful journey that will forever change the way your forever look at race relations and racism. It was one of the most powerful and emotional experiences of our lives.

(2) Take a biking or walking tour of Soweto, make sure you don't just visit Apartheid landmarks (although you should definitely also do that), but ask your tour guide to take you through several villages and slum areas (we went looking at urban gardening projects).

(3) Where we stayed for a couple of days: we splurged ($35/night double en suite) on a quaint bed and breakfast on Sunberry street, in the heart of the bohemian town of Melville. Melville is full of alternative shops, two used bookstores, loads of pubs, and even a burrito barn. What we loved most about the B&B was the large kitchen for us to cook. We did a week binge of zero restaurants, cooking two meals a day, and enjoying the free wifi, free laundry, and even some free taxi rides.

(4) Visit the SAB Beer Museum, not sure what it says about a city when its number one tourist attraction is a beer museum. I'm also not sure what it says about us that we contributed to such a statistic (and had a blast!). The tour is advertised everywhere in Johannesburg--it's a one and a half hour guided tour organized by SAB brewing (partners with Miller-Coors in the USA) complete with a 3D adventure, an IMAX-style movie, real life machinery depicting the beer making process, and lots more. Oh, and did we mention the tasting?
 

 

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