Fighting Global Malnutrition Locally

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

Every year, 5 million children worldwide die from malnutrition-related causes, including immune-system deficiency, increased risk of infection, decreased bone density, and starvation. But a variety of local efforts are hoping to turn things around.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country struggling with internal conflict, food shortages, and poverty, thousands of lives are threatened by acute malnutrition. When a child is brought to one of the therapeutic Stabilization Centers at regional hospitals, run by the Congolese Ministry of Health with support from the organization Action Against Hunger, they receive rations of specially formulated Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF). RUTF-such as Plumpy'nut, a peanut butter-based food produced by the French company Nutriset-is infused with vitamins and minerals and is used to quickly rehabilitate children suffering from malnutrition.

RUTF is packaged and requires no preparation or refrigeration. It can be administered at home, allowing families to avoid having to travel to far-off medical centers or pay for long and expensive stays at hospitals. It is also very effective. After about 40 days of two or three servings of RUTF per day, a child can reach a healthy weight. During the 2005 food crisis in the Maradi region of Niger, the non-profit Doctors Without Borders treated 40,000 severely malnourished children using RUTF and saw a recovery rate of 90 percent.

In addition to obtaining Plumpy'nut from UNICEF or directly from Nutriset in France, Action Against Hunger purchases it from Amwili, a local producer that has partnered with Nutriset. By providing a local source of RUTF, Lubumbashi-based Amwili frees the treatment centers from dependency on supplies imported from Europe. Local production also improves livelihoods by creating jobs, and many organizations around the world are working to link local farmers to RUTF production in order to provide an improved and consistent source of income.

In Haiti, the Zanmi Agrikol Program, run by the organization Partners in Health, is improving agricultural capacity and household food security, in addition to treating malnutrition, by training and contracting with local peanut farmers who provide the ingredients for locally produced RUTF. Currently the project provides malnutrition treatment and prevention for 5,000 children; agriculture training and support to 1,240 families; and has contracts with over 100 local peanut farmers. Additionally, the organization Meds & Food for Kids relies on local ingredients and Haitian producers to make its own brand of RUTF, called Medika Manba or "peanut butter medicine." Meds & Food for Kids saw a significant increase in demand for Medika Manba after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year, and many malnourished children were treated with a locally made RUTF that provides the additional benefit of helping to restore the country's fragile economy.

Companies like Nutriset in France and Valid International in the United Kingdom offer instruction manuals for local production of their specific RUTF products and partner with local producers in countries struggling with malnutrition across sub-Saharan Africa. Action Against Hunger, for example, also purchases Plumpy'nut from a producer in Nairobi, Kenya, called INSTA-a partner of Valid International-to distribute RUTF to its programs throughout East Africa.

In Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is processing the leaves of moringa trees, which are high in protein and other valuable nutrients, into powder that can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. This effort, along with other crop-processing projects, is helping to add value to small-scale farmers' crops and improve the livelihoods of the nearly 5,000 participating farmers.

To read more about how farmers can produce ingredients for local products to improve livelihoods, nutrition, and food security see: Locally Produced Products for Locally Consumed Products, Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets, and Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

 

 

Locally Produced Crops for Locally Consumed Products

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Zambia, sorghum-a drought resistant cereal that thrives in the country- was considered a "poor man's crop" in the past, often shunned by small-scale farmers for the more commercially viable maize. But an article in the June issue of Farming Matters explains how a Zambian brewery with a new brand of beer is changing the way small-scale farmers think about sorghum.

While most clear beers such as lagers and pilsners are made with expensive, imported malts, the Zambian Breweries' Eagle Lager is made from sorghum. A subsidiary of the South African-based SABMiller, Zambian Breweries purchases sorghum  from local farmers, increasing farmers' income and providing local grocery stores with an affordable lager.

To help farmers partner with the brewery, the Cooperative League of the United States of America (CLUSA), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), provides loans for farmers' start-up expenses, as well as agricultural training to make sure their crops meet the brewery's quality standards. With CLUSA's support, the brewery gets a consistent supply of sorghum to produce its beer and farmers gain access to a secure market, a fixed price for their crop, and a consistent income.

To produce larger crop yields of higher quality sorghum, CLUSA and the brewery, encourage farmers to implement conservation agriculture-a combination of simple techniques such as minimal or zero-tillage, ground cover, crop rotation and inter-planting.  Conservation agriculture can reduce the need for inputs, including artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. And it benefits the other crops farmers are growing by helping improve soil fertility, controlling pests and weeds, and improving water management. In Zambia, maize yields have been increased by 75 percent and cotton yields by 60 percent thanks to conservation agriculture. (See also: Using the Market to Create Resilient Agriculture Practices, To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector, and a Sustainable Calling Plan.)

While Zambia Breweries' collaboration with local farmers is working, not all partnerships between companies and farmers go so well. Without appropriate regulation, companies may take advantage of a monopoly; farmers can become indebted to the company and lose control of their farms and crops;  and A BIG financial incentive to grow a specific crop can threaten overall crop diversity.

But  in Zambia, more than 4,500 small-scale farmers in 14 districts are currently seeing an increase in their incomes due to their contract with Zambia Breweries. Recognizing the significance of this benefit, the Zambian government recently lowered taxes on Eagle Lager in order to encourage Zambian Breweries to continue working with local small-scale farmers.  And SABMiller is trying to form similar partnerships with sorghum farmers in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

To read more about how partnerships between local companies and small-scale farmers can improve livelihoods and provide other benefits to the environment and community see: Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Improving African Women's Access to Agriculture Training Programs, and Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

 

 

Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

At the Rural Development Foundation's (RDF) primary school in Kalleda, a small village in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, students carry gardening tools, along with their notebooks and pencils.

All of the students work in the school's garden, cultivating and harvesting rice, lentils, corn, and cotton that is used to make the daily meals or sold to the village and to other schools. Students also take turns tending a field of marigolds and selling them in Kalleda. All of the profit goes back to the school.

And the students carry another important tool-a camera.

Cameras were provided by Bridges to Understanding (Bridges), a Seattle-based non-profit that uses digital technology to empower and connect children around the world. Students participating in the Bridges curriculum are taught to use cameras and editing software to develop stories about their community and culture. These videos, comprised of a photo slide show with a running narration, are then shared with the Bridges online community which is made up of schools in seven countries: Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Peru, South Africa, and the U.S.

For many students, it's the first time they have ever even held a camera. "When I first asked my students if they thought they could ever design, shoot and edit their own film they just shook their heads and said, 'there's no way," said Elizabeth Sewell, Bridges program coordinator at the RDF school in Kalleda.

But not only did her students successfully develop a concept for, shoot and edit a video about local water pollution, they are also participating in an online discussion about their school garden with another group of students at the Aki Kurose school in Seattle. Students at Aki Kurose are learning to grow corn, squash, and beans using traditional Native American practices. And they volunteer at a local food bank, a completely new concept to the students at Kalleda. "Thank you for your post about your school garden and information about your food bank," wrote Sewell's students. "We had never heard of a food bank before your post. We like the idea of a place where people can get free food."

Sewell explains that having a conversation about farming with students in Seattle helps students at Kelleda "realize what makes their community unique but also that there are other kids out there dealing with similar issues, providing a model or inspiration for alternatives and creating a global sense of solidarity in facing these problems."

And, according to Sewell, the Bridges video project gives students a concrete and achievable goal to strive towards as they grapple with larger questions about their role as "agents of change" in their community and the world.

"At first, the prospect of designing, shooting and editing a movie seems insurmountable but then they produce these beautiful films," says Sewell. "And then you knock down that barrier, you show them what they are capable of doing. And then they can start to approach other, larger and more institutional, problems the same way. Suddenly, in their own eyes, there are no limits to what they can achieve."

To read more about the use of storytelling and digital technology to connect and educate farmers, see: Acting it out for Advocacy and Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another.

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.
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Messages From One Rice Farmer to Another

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

Some 80 percent of the world's rice production is grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). From Bangladesh to Benin, these farmers continue to develop different solutions to improve the process of rice production.  These methods include using flotation to sort seeds, and parboiling, which removes impurities and reduces grain breakage.  The Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) has developed a simple solution to help farmers share this knowledge: Farmer to farmer videos

Working with researchers, rice farmers and processors, they have developed a series of videos to instruct farmers, including, manual seed sorting manually and by flotation, seed drying and preservation in Bangladesh; rice quality and parboiling in Benin; land preparation for planting rice in Burkina Faso; and seedbed preparation, transplanting, weeding and soil fertility management in Mali.

Farmers in Guinea watched videos of Bangladeshi women creating solutions to improve the quality of farm-saved rice-seed. "The farmers pay a lot of attention to the quality of their seed that they store for the next season," said Louis Béavogui, researcher at the Institut de recherche agronomique de Guinée (IRAG). "Watching the videos on seed has stimulated them to start looking for local solutions to common problems that farmers face. It is by drawing on local knowledge that sustainable solutions can often be found at almost no cost."

To pique farmers' interest in the project, AfricaRice researchers approach them with videos on topics relevant to that particular region. And farmers are involved in the production of the videos from the very beginning, helping researchers decide which methods should be highlighted. Edith Dah Tossounon, chairperson from a rice processing group in Southern Benin, was one of the many women who demonstrated how to parboil rice in a video.

The strong presence of women in the videos also helps local NGOs and extension offices-which tend to be made up mostly of male agents-engage women's groups.  A survey of 160 women in Central Benin comparing the use of video with conventional training workshops showed that videos reached 74 percent of women compared with 27 percent in conventional training. Women who watched the videos worked with NGOs to formulate requests for training in building improved stoves and to seek financial assistance to buy inputs such as paddy rice and improved parboilers that allow rice to stay above the water during steaming, so more nutritional value is preserved.  More than 95 percent of those who watched the video adopted drying their rice on tarpaulins and removed their shoes before stirring the rice to preserve cleanliness and avoid contamination, compared to about 50 percent of those who only received traditional training.  In addition, illiterate woman could easily learn from the simple language and clear visuals of the examples shown in the videos.

"By giving rural women a voice through video, and disseminating these videos through grassroots organizations and rural radio stations," AfricaRice believes that they can "overcome local power structures and reduce conflict at the community level."

By 2009, 11 rice videos were available to communities in Africa.  AfricaRice partners translated various rice videos into over 30 African languages and held open air video presentations.  At least five hundred organizations and more than 130,000 farmers are involved.   Distribution has been most successful through farmer associations, where initial distribution to nine associations led to making the videos available to 167 local farmer organizations and their members. Farmers would spontaneously start organizing video shows, taking the initiative to find video and dvd equipment and gathering around an available television in a village.

AfricaRice also paid attention to how the videos could complement existing rural radio to enhance learning, build additional connections and share information.  In collaboration with Farm Radio International (FRI), the videos were also used for radio scripts, including information for listeners about how to obtain the rice videos.  The scripts were sent to more than 300 rural radio stations, making the videos more widely known and linking different stakeholders who were previously strangers to each other, allowing them to explore their common interests.

For more about innovative ways to share knowledge among rural populations, see Acting it Out For Advocacy.

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.

 

 

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

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.

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