A Conversation About Natural Resource Management with Louise Buck

In this regular series, we profile advisors to the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Louise Buck, Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Name: Louise Buck

Affiliation: Cornell University and Ecoagriculture Partners

Location: Ithaca, New York, United States

Bio: Louise Buck is Senior Extension Associate at Cornell University. She joined the university’s Department of Natural Resources in 1996 and has been associated with the Cornell International Institute for Food Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) since 1993. Presently, Louise leads the Cornell Ecoagriculture Working Group. Her interests include community-based natural resource management, agroforestry, curriculum development for experiential learning, and participatory research.

Recent Work:

-L.E. Buck and S.J. Scherr, “Building innovation systems for managing complex landscapes,” in K.M. Moore, ed., The Sciences and Art of Adaptive Management: Innovating for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society, 2009).
-J. Sayer and L.E. Buck, eds., "Learning from Landscapes,” IUCN Forest Conservation Program and Ecoagriculture Partners, Arborvitae Special Issue, September 2008.
“Farming the Forest,” Cornell Plantations Magazine, vol. 62, no. 2 (2007), pp. 6–13.
-L.E. Buck, T.A. Gavin, N.T. Uphoff, and D.F. Lee, “Scientific Assessment of Ecoagriculture Systems,” in S.J. Scherr and J.A. McNeely, eds., Farming with Nature: The Art and Science of Ecoagriculture (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2007).

On Nourishing the Planet: The Nourishing the Planet project will stimulate much-needed innovation in the development of integrated land-use and market systems that can deliver food production, environmental conservation, and livelihood security outcomes. It will also support innovation in the collaborative management of agriculture and natural resources at a landscape scale.

How do farmers benefit from the utilization of forest management? Forests and forest resources play vital roles in farmers’ livelihood strategies throughout the world, especially in lesser developed countries and in places where livelihood security is tenuous. Forests provide safety nets for farmers when times get tough, and managing them is essential to the reliable production of foods, medicines, fodder, and building materials that many millions of farmers depend on during all or part of the year. In addition, forests play vital roles in micro-climatic and hydrologic functions that regulate the supply of water needed for crop growth and livestock production in agricultural landscapes. Management is required to ensure the delivery of these critical ecosystem services.

Can you describe the local benefits of forest management as well as the global benefits? Local benefits contribute to the livelihoods of people and to the well-being and survival of wildlife in proximity to where forests are located. Such benefits include a wide variety of products, habitat, and water regulation to help prevent flooding and drought. Globally, forests contribute to climatic function through their roles in the hydrological cycle, and in the sequestration of carbon and other greenhouse gases.

What types of projects, policies, and other actions would you like to see put in place to encourage improved forest management? Systems of land tenure and property rights that provide incentives for local communities to manage forest resources for current and future use are the core requirement for sustainable forest management. Locally based management systems must be protected by national-level regulations and sanctions against internal and external violators. With these measures in place, communities can readily develop the capacity for effective management. While a variety of joint management and collective-use agreements from around the world can serve as models, the political will to support and protect them from violators is too often in short supply. Given the local and global importance of forests, this is a core issue that humanity needs to address.

What role can education play in encouraging people to think about environmental sustainability when practicing agriculture?
Formal and informal education at all levels can play an essential role in building awareness about the linkages between agricultural practice and environmental protection. The keys are in “getting the curriculum right” and in fostering joint learning and collective problem solving. A particularly promising educational tool for this purpose is the Agriculture Bridge system, which connects innovative agricultural practitioners around the world to leading universities and to one another to help resolve pressing questions related to agriculture and conservation through the use of multi-media case studies and an interactive communications platform.

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To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Production, Finance, and Technology (PROFIT) program in Lusaka, Zambia, is different from other development projects, according to Rob Munro, the program’s senior market development advisor. This is because PROFIT has “real clients” in the private sector who maintain relationships with smallholder farmers.

By working with these partners, PROFIT isn’t distorting the market “by throwing money at it” or giving farmers subsidies for inputs, such as fertilizer. Instead, it is working with farmers, the private sector, and donors to improve the competitiveness of rural businesses by linking large agribusiness firms to farmers. It’s helping to improve linkages within industries that large numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises participate in, such as cotton, livestock, and non-timber forest products like honey.

Specifically, PROFIT helps communities select and train agricultural agents who work with agribusiness to provide inputs to farmers in rural areas—places where agribusiness firms had been reluctant to go because they didn’t think there was a big enough market. The agents are essentially entrepreneurs who provide goods and services that the communities didn’t have access to. In addition to selling things like hybrid maize or fertilizer, the agents can also provide ripping services to farmers practicing conservation farming methods, as well as herbicide spraying and veterinary services.

The “key” to the program’s success, says Munro, is that the agent is a “community man” selected by the communities themselves, not by agribusiness firms. The farmers trust the agent not to run off with their money and to deliver the goods and services they’ve purchased.

Unlike traditional development projects that “inundate” communities with trainers, PROFIT minimizes the number of USAID staff involved locally, helping to ensure that the project isn’t viewed as traditional “aid,” which can create dependency. Unlike the AGRA-supported CNFA, which relies extensively on its own staff to train agro-dealers, 80 percent of the trainings for agents are not provided by PROFIT, but by firms that are training agents how to use their products.

PROFIT’s model means that the program doesn’t work “with the poorest of the poor,” but with farmers who have the ability to scale up, says PROFIT chief of party Mark Wood. If you start with the very poorest, Wood says, “it’s like trying to start a car without an engine.” But by working with the 200,000 farmers in Zambia who have the means to collaborate with businesses, PROFIT is helping to create opportunities for thousands of poorer farmers in the future.

Stay tuned this week for more about PROFIT and Mobile Technology’s work to help small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers use mobile phone technology for e-banking services and to access market information.

http://www.youtube.com/user/Worldwatchag#p/a/u/0/JgM3jkaxfO4

http://www.youtube.com/user/Worldwatchag#p/a/u/1/o_dFK6-ENMg

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Innovation of the Week: Providing an Agricultural Answer to Nature’s Call

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

It’s hard to believe, but an estimated 2.6 billion people in the developing world—nearly a third of the global population—still lack access to basic sanitation services. This presents a significant hygiene risk, especially in densely populated urban areas and slums where contaminated drinking water can spread disease rapidly. Every year, some 1.5 million children die from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and hygiene.

It is in these crowded cities, too, that food security is weakened by the lack of clean, nutrient-rich soil as well as growing space available for local families.

But there is an inexpensive solution to both problems. A recent innovation, called the Peepoo, is a disposable bag that can be used once as a toilet and then buried in the ground. Urea crystals in the bag kill off disease-producing pathogens and break down the waste into fertilizer, simultaneously eliminating the sanitation risk and providing a benefit for urban gardens. After successful test runs in Kenya and India, the bags will be mass produced this summer and sold for U.S. 2–3 cents each, making them more accessible to those who will benefit from them the most.

In post-earthquake Haiti, where many poor and homeless residents are forced to live in garbage heaps and to relieve themselves wherever they can find privacy, SOIL/SOL, a non-profit working to improve soil and convert waste into a resource, is partnering with Oxfam GB to build indoor dry toilets for 25 families as well as four public dry toilets. The project will establish a waste composting site to convert dry waste into fertilizer and nutrient-rich soil that can then be used to grow vegetables in rooftop gardens and backyards.

In Malawi, Stacia and Kristof Nordin’s permaculture project (which Nourishing the Planet co-director Danielle Nierenberg visited during her tour of Africa) uses a composting toilet to fertilize the crops. Although these units can be expensive to purchase and install, one company, Rigel Technology, manufactures a toilet that costs just US$30 and separates solid from fluid waste, converting it into fertilizer. The Indian non-profit Sulabh International also promotes community units that convert methane from waste into biogas for cooking.

On a larger scale, wetlands outside of Calcutta, India, process some 600 million liters of raw sewage delivered from the city every day in 300 fish-producing ponds. These wetlands produce 13,000 tons of fish annually for consumption by the city’s 12 million inhabitants. They also serve as an environmentally sound waste treatment center, with hyacinths, algal blooms, and fish disposing of the waste, while also providing a home for migrating birds and an important source of local food for the population of Calcutta. (See also “Fish Production Reaches a Record.”)

Aside from cost and installation, the main obstacles to using human waste to fertilize crops are cultural and behavioral. UNICEF notes in an online case study that a government-run program in India provided 33 families in the village of Bahtarai with latrines near their houses. But the majority of villagers still preferred to use the fields as toilets, as they were accustomed to doing their whole lives. “It is not enough just to construct the toilets,” said Gaurav Dwivedi, Collector and Bilaspur District Magistrate. “We have to change the thinking of people so that they are amenable to using the toilets.”

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Using the Market to Create Resilient Agriculture Practices

Care International's work in Zambia has two main goals: increase the production of staple crops and improvefarmers’ access to agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers.

But instead of giving away bags of seed and fertilizers to farmers, Care is “creating input access through a business approach,” not a subsidy approach, according to Steve Power, Assistant Country Director for Zambia.

One way they’re doing this is by creating a network of agro-dealers who can sell inputs to their neighbors as well as educate them about how to use hybrid seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs. At the same time, “we are mindful” of the benefits of local varieties of seeds, says Harry Ngoma, Agriculture Advisor for the Consortium for Food Security, Agriculture and Nutrition, AIDS, Resiliency and Markets (C-FAARM). Care and C-FAARM are working with farmers to combine high- and low-technology practices.

Care thinks that this “business approach” will help farmers get the right inputs at the right time, unlike subsidy approaches that give farmers fertilizer for free, but often at the wrong time of year, making the nutrients unavailable to crops. And Care’s focus on training agro-dealers and giving them start-up grants allows the organization to remain invisible to farmers. Power says that Care wants to be a “catalyst to the market” and help transfer resources, without distorting the basic pricing structure.

Another component of Care’s work is improving the production of sorghum and cassava. “Zambia is as addicted to maize as we are to Starbucks coffee,” says Power. But by encouraging the growth of other crops, including sorghum, which is indigenous to Africa, Care can help farms diversify local diets as well as build resilience to price fluctuations and drought.

Care is promoting conservation farming in Zambia as well. The organization has been working in six districts since 2007, reaching 24,000 households. In addition to promoting minimum tillage practices and the use of manure and compost, Care is helping to train government extension officers about conservation farming so that eventually they’ll be responsible—instead of Care—for training farmers.

According to Power, the key to Care’s work is promoting business-like approaches to agriculture alongside more traditional ones, so farmers don’t become dependent on the organization for gifts of fertilizer or seed. These sorts of programs, according to Care, will be more effective at feeding people and increasing incomes than traditional food-aid projects that rely on long-term donor support. This is a big challenge in a country—and a region—facing the impacts of both climate change and the global economic crisis.

Stay tuned for more blogs about how farmers are linking to the private sector.

To learn more about Care’s work in Zambia, visit www.care.org/zambia.

 

 

Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

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

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