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.

Bringing High-Quality Food Aid Closer to Home

 Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

The highways in southern Africa are filled with trucks carrying food aid across the continent. In the past, much of the maize, rice, soy, and other foods loaded onto these trucks came not from African farmers, but from the United States. And while these shipments provided much needed calories to people in need, they also disrupted national and local markets by lowering prices for locally grown food.

But today, more and more of the crops providing food aid come from African farmers who are selling directly to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) through local procurement policies. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and several other nations in sub-Saharan Africa (as well as in Asia and Latin America), WFP is not only buying locally, but helping small farmers gain the skills necessary to be part of the global market.

The WFP’s Progress for Profit (P4P) program, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the Belgian government, is working with the private sector, governments, and NGOs to provide an incentive for farmers to improve their crop management skills and produce high-quality food, create a market for surplus crops from small and low-income farmers, and promote locally processing and packaging of products.

In Zambia, WFP buys food directly from the Zambia Agricultural Commodity Exchange while remaining “invisible,” says Felix Edwards of the Zambia P4P Program. This way, WFP Zambia doesn’t distort prices and helps create an alternative market for farmers. WFP also works through its partners, including USAID’s PROFIT program, to help farmers and farmer associations meet the quality standards required by the Exchange. As a result, they are preparing Zambian farmers to provide high-quality food aid not only to programs and consumers in their own country, but also potentially to growing regional and international markets.

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Global markets, dollar plunge as rescue collapses

Stocks tumbled around the world and the dollar slumped after the Senate rejected a bailout for American automakers, threatening to deepen the global recession. Treasuries rallied and yields fell to record lows.

In a predictable development, Bloomberg reports that the dollar sank to a 13-year low against the yen in the wake of news that the auto bailout has collapsed. Other drops follow.

There's more...

Greenspan, bubbles, and responsibility

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

We are now in the season of scapegoats. The brays for justice and villains grow daily, and this week has seen a walk of shame as various participants in the credit debacle sit in front of Congress to be scolded and upbraided for their sins. Many of the goats today, and none more than former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, were heroes only a short while ago - yet another vivid illustration of the ancient words of the mythical king Croesus: "Count no man happy till he's dead," or to put it another way, "it ain't over till it's over."

There's more...

Market manipulation at Intrade?

(crossposted at Motley Moose)

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has an interesting post about why Intrade's futures prices have barely reflected the major upswing in Obama's polling over the last week.  After the GOP convention, when McCain passed Obama in the polls for the first time, bettors priced McCain as high as 54% midday on Sep 13, a really scary number.  But when the polls began to move back Obama's way last week, prices were sluggish to respond, and still have only got Obama at 52, which given the electoral math, is almost certainly undervalued.  Most other betting sites currently price Obama above 60%, while 538 itself puts him above 70%.  For markets to be this far out of sync is bizarre:

This is the equivalent of the Giants being 3-point favorites at the Bellagio Sportsbook, and 7-point favorites at the Mirage down the block. Those things just don't happen in efficient, sufficiently liquid markets, because they create arbitrage opportunities: you'd lay $10,000 on the Giants at the Bellagio and $10,000 on their opponents at the Mirage. Any time the Giants win by fewer than 3 points or more than 7 points, you lose nothing, since your two bets cancel out. But any time they win by fewer than 7 points but more than 3, you win both bets, and take home $20,000 (less the casino's vigorish) for absolutely no risk. Pretty good deal, right? That's exactly what's happening with these futures contracts.

There's more...

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