Targeting Gaps in the Food Supply Chain: Going Beyond Agricultural Production to Achieve Food Security

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Agricultural production is only the first step in moving the world’s food from farm to fork, according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Worldwatch Institute. The other links in the food chain—harvesting, packaging, storing, transporting, marketing, and selling—ensure that food actually reaches consumers. Inefficiencies in these activities, rather than just low yields or poor farming techniques, are often to blame for food shortages and low prices for growers.

With the United Nations projecting a global population of more than 9 billion by 2050, increasing food chain efficiency will become ever more essential. Producers and consumers must be part of a food chain that feeds the world, provides fair prices to farmers, and works in harmony with the environment. “When groups of small farmers better organize their means of production—whether ordering the right inputs at the right time or selling their crops directly to customers—they become more resilient to fluctuations in global food prices while also better serving local communities,” said Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch.

In State of the World 2011, contributing author Samuel Fromartz uses the example of corn production in Zambia to illustrate how off-farm inefficiencies exacerbate food insecurity and poverty. Poor market access, unpredictable weather patterns, and insufficient infrastructure make small-scale agriculture a high-risk livelihood. Seasons of surplus corn production can be as detrimental as low-yielding ones. Large surpluses saturate local markets, and local farmers have no alternatives for selling their product. “Many do not have the luxury of picking when to sell or whom to sell to; they are desperate and need to sell to eat. So they take whatever price they can get,” writes Fromartz.

Research done by Nourishing the Planet staff has found innovations in sub-Saharan Africa and other locations around the globe that improve market access, enhance farmer-to-farmer communication, and harness simple information technology. These improvements in the food chain provide farmers with fair prices and also help increase food security by distributing food efficiently.

Nourishing the Planet recommends three ways that agriculture is helping to address gaps in the current food supply chain:

  • Coordinating farmers. In Uganda, the organization Technoserve works with farmers to improve market conditions for sales of bananas. Technoserve helps individuals form business groups that receive technical advice and enter into sales collectively. Coordinating business has decreased transaction costs and helped farmers market their crops and compete with larger producers more effectively. Over 20,000 farmers now participate in the project. Farmers in the United States are also banding together to increase sales efficiency and fair prices. The Chesapeake Bay regions’s FRESHFARM Markets act as an organizational umbrella under which area farmers can coordinate, market, and sell their products.
  • Increasing market transparency. In Nairobi, Kenya, the DrumNet project uses simple communication technology to provide farmers with real-time market information. Having access to market prices and sale-coordination opportunities allows farmers to receive fair prices for their crops. And the transparency increases overall sales transactions, meaning that less food goes to waste.
  • Using low-cost technology to boost efficiency. According to the UN, over 5 billion people on the planet now have a mobile phone subscription. As the cost of the technology drops, using the devices beyond personal communication makes sense. In Niger, farmers use mobile phones to access market information, an application that has reduced the fluctuation in regional grain prices by 20 percent and has helped ensure fair prices for producers and consumers. Similarly, the Grameen Foundation and Google have collaborated to develop Google Trader, an online bulletin board on which farmers and merchants can contact one another. The bulletin also includes applications such as “Farmer’s Friend” a tool that offers farmers information on weather, pests, and livestock management.

 

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.

 

 

It’s All About the Process

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Zambian grocery stores are filled with processed foods from around the world, from crackers made in Argentina and soy milk from China to popular U.S. breakfast cereals. In addition to these foreign foods, however, are also variety of locally made and processed products, including indigenous varieties of organic rice, all-natural peanut butter and honey from the It's Wild brand.

It's Wild was started by the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) over 30 years ago to preserve and protect wildlife. But the organization soon learned that in order to protect wildlife, it would need to address the lack of income sources for local communities that were sometimes forced to resort to poaching elephants or other wildlife in order to earn enough to feed their families.

To do this, COMACO organizes farmers into producer groups, encouraging them to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management and other practices. The organization supports the creation of regional processing centers and trading depots to make it easier for farmers to process and transport their crops. Their products are then sold under the It's Wild brand in supermarket chains in Zambia, such as ShopRite, Checkers and Spar. And the organization tries to do as much of the product distribution as possible so that the money stays with the farmers, not middlemen, improving local livelihoods and preserving local wildlife. (See also: Peanut Butter and Progress)

And all across sub-Saharan Africa, other organizations are providing farmers with the processing skills and materials they need to improve their incomes and support their families-and that can produce unexpected benefits, including wildlife, reducing food-born health risks, and improving access to education.

In Kenya, the Mazingira Institute  is working to create awareness about climate change, human rights, and urban agriculture. And they're also training communities to learn better skills to increase income generation and well-being-including training in how to process foods to preserve them longer and make them more appealing to consumers.

Mazingira, for example, helped Esther Mjoki Maifa, an entrepreneur in Nairobi, capitalize on a growing interest among Kenyans for natural healthy products by training her to process groundnuts without any preserves or chemicals. It takes her about one day to produce 50 kilograms of groundnuts and she sells jars from 200-300 shillings each. Eventually, Ms. Maifa is hoping to make enough money from her products to purchase her own nut grinding machine.  (See also: Mazingira Institute and NESALF: Training a New Breed of Farmers)

In Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project is helping livestock farmers to improve the processing and preservation of milk in order to produce better tasting and longer lasting dairy products which are also safer for the consumer. EADD encourages farmers to join cooperatives (See Innovation of the Week: Farmers Groups and Cooperatives), giving them access to group owned and run refrigerated milk collection centers, significantly reducing the financial burden of the process. The milk is then transported to a milk processing facility and sent to market where the processed milk will receive a higher price than unpasteurized milk. It also stays good longer and reduces the risk of food borne illness. (See also: Improving Incomes with Milk Processing)

In Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria, the World Cocoa Foundation is providing cocoa farmers with hands-on training on production, pest and disease management and post-harvest techniques. The region accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world's cocoa production, 90 percent of which is grown on nearly 2 million small family farms. Almost 16 million people depend on this crop as their main source of income and being able to properly process cocoa can make a big difference in income for a family. One farmer in Côte d'Ivoire, Ekra Marceline, was able to more than quadruple  her cocoa harvest after receiving training from a Farmer Field School supported by WCF. She was able to build a solar dryer to produce higher quality beans and the additional income she earns enabled her to send her children to school and build a new home for her family. (See also: Improving African Women's Access to Agriculture Training Programs)

To read more about how training in processing techniques can improve incomes and provide other benefits, see also: Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value, Reducing Food Waste, Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa, and Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
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Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Washington DC last week at the House Hunger Caucus briefing, panelist, Cheryl Morden, Director of the North American Liaison Office of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), concluded that, in the global agriculture funding community's struggle to alleviate hunger and poverty, there is a "big pay-off in focusing on women," but " neglect them and you'll end up doing harm."

Although women farmers produce more than half of the food grown in the world-and roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods-they are often not able to benefit from general agriculture funding because of the institutional and cultural barriers they face-including lack of access to land, lack of access to credit, and lack of access to education.  Worldwide, women receive only about 5 percent of agriculture extension services and own about 2 percent of land worldwide.

But research has shown that when women's incomes are improved,and when they have better access to resources like education, infrastructure, credit, and health care, they tend to invest more in the nutrition, education, and health of their family, causing a ripple effect of benefits that can extend to the entire community.

In Kibera-sub-Saharan Africa's largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where anywhere from 700,000 to a million people live-women farmers, with training and seeds provided by the French NGO Soladarites,  are growing vegetable farms in sacks filled with dirt. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way and during the food crisis in Kenya during 2007 and 2008, when conflict in Nairobi prevented food from coming into the area, most residents did not go hungry because there were so many of these 'vertical farms.'

In Zambia, Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, saw improvements in her family's quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the "Mosi-o-Tunya" (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased from International Development Enterprises (IDE). In many parts of  sub-Saharan Africa, the task of gathering water-in the driest parts of the continent this can require up to eight hours of labor per day - usually falls to women. Explaining that her children are eating healthier, with more vegetables in their diet, Mrs. Sianchenga adds that she is also enjoying increased independence. "Now we are not relying only on our husbands, because we are now able to do our own projects and to assist our husbands, to make our families look better, eat better, clothe better-even to have a house."

In Rwanda, the Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI) helps to empower young girls and other students by integrating school gardens and agriculture training into primary school curriculums. Over 60 percent of students in Rwanda will return to rural areas to farm for a living after graduating instead of going on to secondary school or university. While both young boys and girls benefit from the training, it is especially important for young girls to learn these skills, says Josephine Tuyishimire, so that they can avoid dependence on men for food and financial security. And so they can share what they learn.

By  "passing these skills to future generations" - or the children that are often under their care- said Tuyishimire, women help to create future farmers who are prepared to feed themselves and similarly self-sufficient and empowered.

To learn more about women's important role in alleviating global hunger and poverty, see: Farming on the Urban Fringe, Building a Methane Fueled Fire, Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value, Women Farmers Are Key to Halving Global Hunger by 2015, For Many Women, Improved Access to Water is About More than Having Something to Drink, and Reducing the Things They Carry.

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.

 

 

Peanut Butter and Progress

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack. 

Originally featured in the North Carolina News Observer.

It's not every day you meet someone from Raleigh while traveling in Lusaka, Zambia. Dale Lewis might not have intended to spend decades in the landlocked African country of 12 million, but his passion for protecting wildlife and for conservation led him there - and his entrepreneurial spirit and desire to lift farmers from poverty while protecting the environment compelled him to stay.

How does Lewis, who attended Broughton High School and whose parents were longtime Raleigh residents, help alleviate hunger and poverty in Zambia's most rural areas?

By making peanut butter, and lots of it!

One of the first things you notice about grocery stores in Zambia is the plethora of processed foods from around the world, from crackers made in Argentina and soy milk from China to popular U.S. breakfast cereals. Complementing these foreign foods, however, are a variety of locally made and processed products, including indigenous varieties of organic rice, all-natural peanut butter and honey from the It's Wild brand.

It's Wild was started by the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), which Lewis founded over 30 years ago to conserve and protect local wildlife.

COMACO helps farmers improve their agricultural practices in ways that can protect the environment while also creating a reliable market for farm products. It organizes farmers into producer groups, encouraging them to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management and other practices so that they don't have to resort to poaching elephants or other wildlife.

By targeting hard-to-reach farmers who live near protected areas, "we're trying to turn things around," Lewis says. For decades, many farmers in eastern Zambia practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and were involved in widespread elephant poaching. It was their only option. Degraded soils and drought left many farmers in the region desperate.

By training more than 650 "lead" farmers to train other farmers, COMACO hopes not only to protect the environment and local wildlife, but also to help farmers increase their incomes by connecting them to the private market. The organization supports creation of regional processing centers and trading depots to make it easier for farmers to process their crops and transport them to market. It also offers a higher price to farmers who grow rice and other products organically and for those who use the conservation farming techniques they've learned from trainers and lead farmers.

Lewis says that when farmers comply with COMACO, they see benefits, including improvements in food security and health.

The resulting products are then sold under the It's Wild brand in major supermarket chains across Zambia, such as ShopRite, Checkers and Spar. Next year, COMACO plans to export its products to Botswana. The organization is trying to do as much of the product distribution as possible so that the money stays with the farmers and not middlemen.

COMACO has also gotten technical support from Minneapolis-based multinational food giant General Mills. The company paid for a COMACO food technician to visit its headquarters in early 2009 to learn how different food processing techniques can increase the nutritional and economic value of the foods the organization is selling. Lewis hopes that eventually COMACO will be self-sufficient, and profitable, without the current dependence on donor funding. But that's not easy for an organization that works with thousands of farmers and has high administrative, transport and salary costs.

He says that he is 70 percent there and is determined to show that his model is not only sustainable, but also profitable.

Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and co-project director of "State of World 2011: Nourishing the Planet." Bernard Pollack is a travel writer from the District of Columbia, currently based in Africa.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

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