Cultivating Knowledge and Crops: Women Are Key to Sustainable Agricultural Development

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Women account for 75 percent of the agricultural producers in sub-Saharan Africa, but the majority of women farmers are living on only $1.25 per day, according to researchers from the Worldwatch Institute.

Despite the challenging circumstances that women in developing countries face, important innovations in communications and organizing are helping women play a key role in the fight against hunger and poverty. "Access to credit, which provides women farmers with productive inputs and improved technologies, can be an effective tool in improving livelihoods in Africa and beyond," said Worldwatch Institute's executive director Robert Engelman.

Worldwatch researchers traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to meet with more than 350 farmers groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists, highlighting innovations, such as better extension and communication services, that are helping farmers improve their livelihoods. The findings are documented in the recently released report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Nourishing the Planet highlights four innovations that can strengthen women’s agricultural capacity: providing microfinance credit, providing access to the global market, providing extension services, and providing organizational support to women’s projects.

  • Providing women with microfinance credit. Globally, women fall well short of receiving the same financial benefits and opportunities as men. Only 10 percent of the credit services available in sub-Saharan Africa, including small “microfinance” loans, are extended to women. The New York-based nonprofit Women’s World Banking is the only microfinance network focused explicitly on women, providing loans of as little as $100 to help women start businesses. Microfinance institutions from 27 countries provide the loans to women who in many cases have no other way to access credit.
  • Providing women access to the global market. In Africa’s Western Sahel, the production of shea butter is boosting women’s entry into global markets. Women-run cooperatives across the region are tapping into the global demand for fair trade and organic beauty products by selling the skin-care cream they produce from the shea nut crop to cosmetics firms such as Origins and L’Oréal. These “responsible” companies in turn pay fair price for the products and invest in the women’s communities.
  • Providing women with extension services. In the United States, outreach programs like Purdue Cooperative Extension Services offer training for women to grow their businesses and increase profitability. And in Uganda, agricultural extension workers have introduced women’s groups to “coolbot” technology—solar energy and an inverter—that can be used in traditional reed, mud, and thatch shops to reduce temperatures and prolong the shelf lives of vegetables. “When extension programs invest in women farmers, the payoff can be huge,” write Dianne Forte, Royce Gloria Androa, and Marie-Ange Binagwaho in State of the World 2011. “Women receive an education, raise yields, increase their incomes, and improve the nutritional status of family members, contributing to the wellbeing of entire communities.”
  • Helping women work together. Around the world, numerous organizations are helping to empower and support women farmers. In the United States, American Agri-Women, a coalition of farm, ranch, and agribusiness women’s organizations, works with more than 50 state and commodity affiliates on legislative and regulatory matters as well as on student and consumer education. And the country’s National Women in Agriculture Association helps socially disadvantaged women in rural areas obtain resources administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the mission to “educate, develop, network and create bonds of sisterhood among all women.”

With a large percentage of women worldwide still lacking necessary services, it is time that policymakers include women, respect what they know, and stand beside them in pursuing the right to equality for all women. The ideas and technologies for the success of women are available, and development programs have the opportunity to thrive if they embrace the knowledge and skills of women farmers.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

This is the third blog in a series about the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisitions, or land-grabs.

In April 2010, more than 120 farmers’ groups and non-governmental organizations all across the world signed a statement declaring their opposition to the guiding principles endorsed by the World Bank, the FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD on “responsible” land investments.

The campaign, spearheaded by NGOs GRAIN, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), Land Research Action Network (LRAN) and La Via Campesina, calls for an immediate end to land grabbing, claiming that it “denies land for local communities, destroys livelihoods, reduces the political space for peasant oriented agricultural policies and distorts markets towards increasingly concentrated agribusiness interests and global trade rather than towards sustainable peasant/smallhold production for local and national markets.”

The groups also believe that land-grabbing will “accelerate eco-system destruction and the climate crisis” because many of the deals rely on industrial and “mono-culture oriented” production systems.

In an interview with Nourishing the Planet, writer and activist Raj Patel denounced land-grabs as “modern forms of colonialism, except with colonialism there was the argument that the colonizers were bringing civilization to the people they were colonizing. This time around, they don’t bother with that justification. There’s not even the pretense of bringing civilization – now it’s just about efficiency.”

Patel noted that when people tout these land deals as an effective means to end hunger, they often ignore the fact that many deals are not growing food at all, but instead pursuing the rapidly expanding biofuels market. “When you’re talking about turning arable land into zones of cultivation for jatropha, you’ve a hard time arguing that anyone’s belly is going to be fuller as a result,” he said. A 2008 report by the FAO and the International Institute for Environment and Development documents the displacement of households due to this trend in particular. One example the report cites is a multimillion dollar British jatropha project in the Kisarawe district of Tanzania that “has been reported to involve acquiring 9,000 ha of land and the clearing of 11 villages which, according to the 2002 population census, are home to 11,277 people.”

The issue of capturing water in these deals is also often not discussed, but it was mentioned in the April statement, as an example of the many factors that need to be included when assessing the value of the land being leased or sold.

In numerous deals, land under negotiation is described as “idle” or “unused” – a glaring misrepresentation of the indigenous people (including many pastoralists) who in fact live on and have worked the land for years. In an interview with GRAIN, Nyikaw Ochalla, a member of the indigenous Anuak nation in Ethiopia describes the government’s complete disregard for his people’s livelihoods. “There is no consultation with the indigenous population, who remain far away from the deals,” he says. “The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands. And they have no place to voice their opposition. They are just being evicted without any proper consultation, any proper compensation.”

“There are 1.5 billion small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 hectares of land,” according to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of The Oakland Institute and member of the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group. “Secure and equitable access to and control over land allows these farmers to produce food, which is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world.”

The signatories of the April statement (of which Patel was one), demand true agrarian reform, which includes investment in research and training programs for small-holder farmers, overhauling trade policies, supporting regional markets, enforcing strict regulations to foreign direct investment, and promoting “community-oriented food and farming systems hinged on local people's control over land, water and biodiversity.”

When asked about alternative business models like contract farming, proposed by many intergovernmental agencies, Raj Patel concluded, “What we need is for people to decide what they want to do with the land. The alternative to contract farming on grabbed-land is if people were able to decide in a community forum, in which women had equal voice with men, what the fate of the land should be. That’s what food sovereignty is about. And anything less than that is really just crumbs from the table.”

To read the second half of the interview with Raj Patel, see Change is Possible in this Complex Food System. For examples of agricultural training programs in Africa, see Girl Up: Helping Girls around the Globe Help Each Other Working with the Root, and Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs.

 

 

There's more...

Halving Hunger Through "Business as Unusual"

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet

By Alex Tung

This interview with Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is part of a regular interview series with agriculture and food security experts.

Name: Shenggen Fan

Affiliation : Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Location : Washington, DC

Bio: Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). He has over 20 years of experience in the field of Agricultural Economics. He is currently an Executive Committee member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. He has worked in academic and independent research institutions, including Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Arkansas and the National Agricultural Research in the Netherlands. Fan received his Ph.D. in applied economics from the University of Minnesota and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing Agricultural University in China.

Fan’s work in pro-poor development strategies in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has helped identify how to effectively allocate public spending in reducing poverty and generating agricultural growth.

About “Halving Hunger:”

Currently, 16 percent of the world is undernourished. In his recently published report, Halving Hunger: Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through “Business as Unusual”, Fan voiced his concern that efforts to meet the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 are “moving in the wrong direction.” Taking projected population growth into account, the number of undernourished needs to fall by an average of 73 million per year in the next five years. Continuing to conduct “business as usual” will clearly not suffice in meeting this goal. As such, Fan outlined five innovative approaches to go about “business as unusual:”

  1. Investing in two core pillars: Agriculture and social protection
  2. Bring in new players
  3. Adopt a country-led and bottom-up approach
  4. Design policies using evidence and experiments
  5. “Walk the Walk”

According to Fan, these “unusual” approaches are already showing success. The next step is to apply them on a larger scale in new locations to have a real impact on reducing global hunger.

In your report, you called for countries to “Walk the walk.” What are key factors hindering countries’ progress in fulfilling their commitments? What could be done to encourage them to do so?

Failure to summon political will and resources is one of the key factors that hinders countries from fulfilling their commitments. To ensure the commitment of policymakers, the general media and popular communication sources should provide the public with evidence-based information and knowledge. In addition, strong institutions and governance should be promoted to support the implementation of commitments both by governments and donors. To add accountability and keep progress on track, timely and transparent monitoring of implementation is required.

Regarding “new players in the global food system” or emerging donors – What are essential elements of a fair, “mutually beneficial” relationship? Is there any danger of partnership become exploitation, and where do you draw the line? What measures can be taken to ensure foreign investment generate real results that benefit the local community?

A mutually beneficial relationship between emerging donors and recipient countries needs to enhance long-term benefits and minimize any potential harm, particularly to vulnerable groups. The essential elements of such a relationship include: fair competition with local enterprises; strong linkages of investments with domestic markets; engagement of the local workforce; and the adoption of higher environmental and labor standards.

Many emerging donors, such as China, place the bulk of their investment in areas like infrastructure or construction. Considering the goal of eradicating hunger, do you believe aid should continue in this direction? How can emerging donors synchronize their work with providers of more traditional or “mainstream” development aid?

Indeed, emerging donors need to diversify their investments into other areas such as agriculture and rural areas to have an impact on decreasing hunger. Emerging donors should increase transparency and cooperation in aid delivery. Through dialogue with traditional donors, common standards in the aid system should be set. This will help to avoid duplication and create synergies with other donors.

These emerging donors should also ensure that their trade with and investments in developing countries will benefit other developing countries and bring win-win opportunities.

Many of the hungry are located in countries with unstable political environment, where a country-led approach may be difficult to achieve. What is the best course of action for those providing aid to these countries?

Fan: While humanitarian aid is important for countries with unstable political environment, aid for long-term country-led development is also needed. Aid donors should support the building up of country capacity for setting investment priorities and designing investment plans. Increased investment is needed for domestic institutions such as universities and think tanks that can provide evidence-based research for policymaking and strategy formulation.

In your report, you mentioned the success of “positive deviance” in designing sound policy solutions – why do you think this approach works compared with traditional approaches?

Positive deviance in policy making can be achieved through experimentation. This approach increases the success rate of reforms since only successful pilot projects that have been tried, tested, and adjusted are scaled up.

Finally, let’s talk about IFPRI’s work; What role does IFPRI currently play or plan to play in the future in helping donors (countries, private, multilateral agencies) effectively direct their aid and shaping programmatic response in developing countries to meet MDG1?

IFPRI will continue to provide evidence-based policy research as an international public good which is relevant for decision makers at all levels. Our research on public spending, for example, has been and will be guiding investment priorities and strategy formulation for effective poverty and hunger reduction in developing countries. Through its country support strategy programs which are located countries, IFPRI will also continue to help to build their own capacity to drive their own investment plans and strategies.

Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon 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.

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

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 Benin 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.

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

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 Benin 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.

Diaries

Advertise Blogads