Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

For a farmer in a hot country like Sudan, a big harvest can end up being just a big waste. A fresh tomato off the vine will only last about 2 days in the stifling heat, while carrots and okra might last only 4 days. Despite being perfectly capable of producing abundant harvests, without any means to store and preserve crops, farmers in Sudan are at risk for hunger and starvation. They are also losing money that could be made by selling surplus produce at markets if they had a way to keep vegetables longer.

The organization, Practical Action-a development non-profit that uses technology to help people gain access to basic services like clean water, and sanitation and to improve food production and incomes- provides a simple solution to this problem in the form of homemade clay refrigerators.  Practical Action's clay refrigerators are called zeer pots and can be made out of mud, clay, water, and sand. To make one a farmer uses molds made out of mud to create two pots of different sizes. Once dry, the small pot is fitted into the larger pot and the space between them is filled with sand. By placing this structure on an iron stand so that air can flow underneath and all around, and by adding water to the sand between the pots daily, a farmer can use evaporation to keep the pots-and whatever is inside-cool.

In a zeer pot, tomatoes and carrots can last up to twenty days while okra will last for seventeen days. And this can make a huge difference for a small scale farmer who is trying to feed her family. One farmer, Hawa Abbas, featured in a Practical Action case study, used to regularly expect to lose half her crop to the inescapable heat. But now, "[zeer pots] keep our vegetables fresh for 3-4 weeks, depending on the type of crop," she said. "They are very good in a hot climate such as ours where fruit and vegetables get spoiled in one day."

Practical Action provides trainings and demonstrations to teach small scale farmers how to make and use the pots in developing countries like Sudan and Darfur. And an instruction manual about how to make the pots can be found on its website.

To read more about innovations that reduce crop waste to alleviate hunger and improve livelihoods see: It's All About the Process, Reducing Food Waste,  Investing in Better Food Storage, and In a World of Abundance, Food Waste is a Crime.

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 Togo 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.  Please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

There's more...

Creating Food Sovereignty for Small-Scale Farmers

This interview with Raj Patel, award-winning writer, activist and academic, was originally featured as a two part series on Nourishing the Planet.

Name: Raj Patel

Affiliation: Visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for African Studies, Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First.

Location: San Francisco

Bio: Raj Patel has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University, has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world. He has testified about the causes of the global food crisis to the US House Financial Services Committee and is an Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In addition to numerous scholarly publications, he regularly writes for The Guardian, and has contributed to the LA Times, NYTimes.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mail on Sunday, and The Observer. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and most recently, The Value of Nothing.

Can you please explain the concept of food sovereignty, and what policies and programs will help encourage it?

Food sovereignty is about communities', states' and unions' rights to shape their own food and agricultural policy. Now that may sound like a whole lot of nothing, because you're actually not making a policy demand, you're just saying that people need to be able to make their own decisions. But, actually, that's a huge thing. Because in general, particularly for smaller farmers in developing countries, and particularly for women, decisions about food and agricultural policy have never been made by them. They've always been imposed.

That's why La Via Campesina, the organization that really invented the term, says that one of the visions behind food sovereignty is that food sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women. That may sound something not at all to do with food, but of course, if we're serious about people being able to make choices about how their food comes to them and what the food system looks like, then the physical and the structural violence to which women are exposed in the home, in the economy and in society, all need to be tackled. Otherwise we will continue with a situation in which 60 percent of the people going hungry today are women or girls. So food sovereignty, to boil it down, is really about power - who has it in the food system, and how to redistribute it so that those who have concentrated it, have it taken away from them.

In terms of specific policies, what Via Campesina are calling for is for agriculture to be removed from the World Trade Organization, which is a way again in which local countries' sovereignty is already been given away. They also call for large corporations to be booted out of agriculture. There's strong opposition to Monsanto for example, and the way that they've been behaving in many developing countries, and many Via Campesina members are campaigning against Monsanto in their home countries.

Will another Green Revolution or more food subsidies help reduce hunger?

To answer the question, let's look at Malawi. It's the poster child for what a new green revolution in Africa might look like, with widespread subsidies of inorganic fertilizer for farmers. When I went there, late last year, what you found was long lines at the gasoline pump, because all Malawi's foreign exchange had been spent on importing this fossil fuel-based fertilizer. The country had bankrupted itself in order that it might be a showcase for the new green revolution in Africa. And of course, there are alternatives right there in Malawi, driven by farmers - invariably by women who are innovating around sustainable systems like poly-culture - growing lots of crops simultaneously together, building soil fertility for the long run.

What this shows is that there are some basic incompatibilities between varieties of ways of addressing agrarian problems in Africa. Some organizations, Worldwatch included, adopt a 'big tent' approach, in which solutions that keep the status quo but improve it marginally sit alongside far more radical approaches. Ultimately, you can't promote genetically modified monoculture or techniques that make large-scale commercial farming less destructive at the same time as wanting something like food sovereignty, which calls for much more of a deeper structural rethink of the way the food system operates. Food sovereignty is about democracy in our food system so that everyone gets to eat - industrial agriculture involves a food system run by technocrats for profit. At the end of the day, you can have one or the other -not both.

How does global agricultural policy affect small-scale farmers across the world?

In general the policies foisted on developing countries through organizations like the World Bank is that large scale agriculture is the way to go: that small farmers are a relic of the past. They are of purely cultural significance but economically, socially, and agriculturally, they stand in the way of development. So the policies that are essentially designed to increase farm size and kick off rural populations to the cities are ones that you see in pretty much every country around the world. And yet of course, it is the poor in rural communities that are being forced to bear the brunt of these policies and these are the communities that are least able to afford it. And again - you can never say it too often - it is on women's shoulders that the bulk of the pain of moving from agrarian society to a so-called modern industrial society one, falls.

Why should American food consumers care about the fate of agricultural producers halfway across the world?

Not out of any sense of pity or charity, but because the struggle that farmers in developing countries face are very similar to the struggles that farmers in the United States face. Industrial agriculture wreaks havoc. We've seen the deaths from E. coli, we've seen industrial agriculture and the rise of BSE, we've seen the massive dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico because of the run-off from animal feeding operations flowing down the Mississippi. If you're in America and you're concerned about the quality or safety of your food, or about the consequences of the way your food is produced, then you're not alone. Those are all things that farmers elsewhere in the world are worried about, and that consumers elsewhere in the world are worried about too.

There's a proven way in which those concerns can be addressed. It is to wrench power away from the corporations that profit from low standards, from the ability to off-shore pollution, and the ability to evade the costs of defective products. So I think in the US, if you're at all concerned about food safety, health, obesity - any of these things, then you would want to have more control of your food system. And wanting more control over your food system is exactly what food sovereignty is about. In a globalised world, you can't have control over your food system in this country while people elsewhere don't, and this is what makes it a common struggle.

Funding for agricultural research has declined in recent decades. Where should funding for agricultural innovation and research come from?

Funding for agriculture ought to come from the places where research used to come from: the government. I don't have any stars in my eyes when I think about governments in developing countries having a ton of cash in their coffers for research into this. But governments that are net food importing developing countries, found themselves after the last food crisis in very dark times. They're keen to develop new ways of doing things. A lot of these countries haven't had the money to be able to invest in agricultural extension and research, and so what we need are two things: One is a cancellation of the illegitimate debt that these countries have racked up with organizations like the World Bank. There's a huge debt that rich countries owe poor ones - for colonialism, for the ecological damage we have caused and continue to cause by the way we consume. Yet through the World Bank, the debt has been flipped over, and has become an agent for controlling these economies.

So we definitely need a change in the way international development and finance work, but we also need to support change within developing countries so that agricultural extension becomes something that once again is funded and is geared towards the kinds of research that is about low-carbon, that is about democratic control over resources, rather than about pushing a particular kind of product and particular kind of vision of agriculture that is ultimately unsustainable for the majority of countries in Africa.

To learn more about food sovereignty and fair trade, see Depending on A Global Workforce,  In a Global Food System: Breaking Down Barriers and Improving Livelihoods for Food Workers and Making Sure the Food Industry Works for its Employees.

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Raj Patel for allowing us to profile him on the Nourishing the Planet blog. We're a big fan of his work with Food First and promoting food sovereignty. While we're grateful to Raj for highlighting the importance of protecting the livelihoods of millions of farmers all over the world, we would like to respectfully disagree with his suggestion above that Worldwatch has promoted "genetically modified monoculture" systems. Worldwatch has a long history of writing about sustainable agriculture systems that encourage crop diversity and support the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, including our early writing on the local food movement in Brian Halweil's book, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Solutions in a Global Supermarket; our first-hand reporting in 2001 on why genetically modified crops are not necessarily the best, or most appropriate, or only available solution to agricultural challenges; and Danielle Nierenberg's writing on the spread of factory farming into the developing world and how it could be stopped in Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry.

This blog has taken a "big tent" approach, so to speak, in that we've featured many voices as we scour Africa for examples of farmers, scientists, politicians and others doing great work. This doesn't mean we think all solutions are equally worthy of attention or support. In fact, we have tried to make clear in our posts that we think current investments in agricultural development are irrationally skewed towards crop breeding and big infrastructure projects, like dams for irrigation. Many of the innovations we have profiled-from low-cost ways to cut waste in the food system, to mixed-cropping systems with livestock, to farmer-organized marketing and research cooperatives-aren't making "large-scale commercial farming less destructive," as Raj writes. But, used widely, they could change the very structure of the food economies throughout the world. And that's what will successfully eliminate hunger and poverty.

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.

 

 

1,000 Words About Tanzania

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

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania

We arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania excited to catch a flight to Kigoma, a region in the northwestern part of the country to visit a Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania project working with small farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, has suspended all flights for the next several weeks and the other airline is all booked.

No worries, we headed to Zanzibar instead....

Zanzibar is a place known for beautiful beaches, but the thing that I liked most about my visit there was the food. Everywhere you look there's a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and, most importantly given the island's history, spices. Zanzibar is one of the "Spice Islands," a group of islands that supplied cloves, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and other spices to Europe in the 17th Century.  Today, those spices are grown much the same way they were then-organically, without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, in response to consumer demand. And they're still grown on large plantations, but instead of slaves planting and harvesting the crops, local Tanzanian farmers use intercropping to grow many of the spices along with fruit trees and vegetables. The spice farms are also benefiting from tourism-I paid a shockingly low $12 for my day long trip to the spice farm, which included a wonderful (and spicy!) vegetarian lunch and a trip to a pristine and deserted beach.

The Tanzanian government, however, controls much of the land where the spices are grown and also where they are sold. Vanilla grown in Zanzibar, for example, is not used on the island or even in mainland Tanzania, but is grown exclusively for export. And Zanzibar is also the world's third largest supplier of cloves, the main export from the island.

When we arrived back to Dar Es Salaam we did have the opportunity to meet with Pancras Ngalason who is the Executive Director of Jane Goodall Center (JGI) in Tanzania and he explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s. They've gone, according to Ngalason, beyond research to address questions of livelihood.

JGI started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But in the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn't start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn't work. JGI first started by planting trees in the region, but soon found that communities cut them down, not because they wanted to, but because they needed them for fuel and for making charcoal. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we "thought beyond planting trees" and more about community-based conservation.

JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. They like to say that their products are "Good for All"-good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.

They're also working training community health practitioners about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, educating youth, establishing micro-credit programs, and working with UNICEF and USAID to supply clean water to communities.

We then hopped on a bus to Arusha, Tanzania to meet with the World Vegetable Center...

As hunger and drought spread across Africa , there's a huge focus on increasing yields of staple crops, such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice. And while these crops are important for food security, providing much needed calories, they don't provide much protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, other important vitamins and micronutrients-or much taste. "None of the staple crops," says Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center's Regional Director for Africa, "would be palatable without vegetables." And vegetables, he says, "are less risk prone" than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods of time.

Because vegetables typically have a shorter growing time, they can maximize often scarce water supplies and soil nutrients better than crops such as maize which need a lot of water and fertilizer.

Unfortunately no country in Africa, according to Dr. Tenkouano, has a big focus on vegetable production. But that's where the Center steps in. Since the 1990s, the Center (which is a part of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan) has been working in Africa to breed cultivars that best suit farmers' needs.

Despite the focus on staple crops, vegetable production generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises, according to the Center's website. And unlike staple crops, vegetable production is something that benefits urban and rural farmers alike (See our posts on urban farmers in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya).


In addition, vegetable production is the most sustainable and affordable way of alleviating micronutrient deficiencies among the poor. Often referred to as "hidden hunger," micronutrient deficiencies-including lack of Vitamin A, iron, and iodine-affect some 1 billion people worldwide. They lead to poor mental and physical development, especially among children, and cause poor performance in work and in school, further crippling communities already facing poverty and other health problems.

But by listening to farmers and including them in breeding research, the Center is helping to alleviate these problems.

Introducing a new weekly series where we recommend one 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 Zimbabwe.

There is a great diversity of music to be heard in Zimbabwe but one classic is John Chibadura and the Tembo Brothers. This music feels like nothing but good times.

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 for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
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3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

 

 

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:
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Reducing Wastewater Contamination Starts with a Conversation

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

In Accra, Ghana, most homes do not have indoor plumbing or sewage systems. Instead, households dispose of waste into the same ditches and streams that urban farmers use to irrigate the crops they sell at local markets. The use of wastewater on farms presents a significant health risk and has been banned by the government. But because many farmers don't have access to clean sources of water, they lack other options for irrigating their crops.

In 2005, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a non-profit organization working in Asia and Africa to improve water and land management for farmers and the environment, received funding from several groups, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) initiative Challenge Program for Water and Food, to work with urban farmers in Ghana to develop improved farm wastewater management.

"Ideally we would start at the city level to address wastewater treatment through infrastructure," says Ben Keraita, an irrigation and water engineer and researcher with IWMI. "But there is no money or support for a big project like that, so we start with the farmers to find affordable, small, and simple ways to reduce the risk of contamination."

Starting with the farmers is critical for another reason, Keraita explains. "There are too many different kinds of interventions when it comes to reducing the risk of contamination from waste water, and farmers do not react well to having new techniques pushed upon them." Instead, Keraita and other project coordinators used their existing relationships with local farmers to call a meeting to discuss the problem and hear potential solutions from the farmers themselves. "Farmers know that the waste water is a problem and have lots of their own ideas about how to address it."

Keraita and his colleagues created a list of innovations suggested by farmers and then introduced a few of their own, exposing the farmers to best practices from around the world. "Nothing we introduced was invented on the spot, and many are simple enough to be adopted immediately, like avoiding stepping into irrigation water and stirring up sediment that might contain contaminants by putting down a plank to walk on instead," Keraita explains. Farmers are then asked to volunteer to adopt the practices that they think will be most effective, keeping track of their work daily so that an assessment can be made of the innovation at harvest time.

"If farmers don't like a technique then we suggest doing another trial with a new technique," Keraita says. "And we invite other farmers to view the harvest and the weighing of the crops so that they can give each other feedback and learn from the experiments of others."

Based on these group discussions and trials, urban farmers in Accra are now irrigating with water collected in "waste sedimentation ponds"-ponds built specifically to allow sediment to sink to the bottom so farmers can irrigate with the cleaner surface water-and with simple containers of filtered water. Some are now also using drip irrigation from kits produced by International Development Enterprises (IDE), allowing them to use water more precisely and to conserve clean water (see also Slow and Steady Irrigation Wins the Race).

To read about more innovations in irrigation and reducing the risk of contamination from waste water, see: Getting Water to Crops, Access to Water Improves Life for Women and Children, and ECHOing a Need for Innovations.

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 for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

 

 

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