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.

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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.
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.

 

 

Nourishing the Planet in USA Today: In a world of abundance, food waste is a crime

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Check out the op-ed on preventing food waste that Nourishing the Planet has in this mornings USA Today. We describe how both the United States and sub-Saharan Africa waste enormous amounts of food. In the U.S. we waste food often by simply buying too much and then throwing it away, while in many parts of Africa food rots in fields or in storage before it ever reaches consumers. But there are ways to prevent food waste and the impact it has on the environment-including buying less food, composting food scraps, and developing better storage systems, such as the PICS bag that protects cowpeas from pests in Niger.

We'll also be highlighting more innovative ways to prevent food waste in the upcoming State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, will author a chapter addressing innovations that can help prevent waste in the food system from farm to fork.

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