New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the  Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development's (ECASARD) work in Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village's chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described "young leader (he's 50 years old) with a love for the environment." He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. "We're always thinking about how to process the crops we're growing," he says. According to him, farmers don't have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but "processing gives them more leverage.

One of the groups' biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil-and having the opportunity to make additional income- themselves.

But by "coming together," says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or "service centers," which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren't enough to "fill the need" they're working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They've started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called "green gold of Ghana," moringa. When they're processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder "generates a lot of trash," says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, "making it taste more like bushmeat," and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They've also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their "drift" to the cities. He's created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in  the community that uses dancing and music "to bait the youth," says the  Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don't forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD's work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can't be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women's Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women's Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.

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What's Up With the Rainforest: Brazil suspends Amazon dam project targeted by Avatar director

With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day just around the corner, a renewed sense of activism and attention is cast around the present state of our natural environment. What started as a local grassroots effort to increase environmental awareness and provoke action from our political leaders has not only led to significant policy changes, but has also developed into an international celebration of our planet. As we remember what this day first meant, it is important we not only look back on our past with a critical eye, but also look at our world with the hope that is needed to make the future better than today. We, along with our partner Rainforest Alliance, are calling on you to take the action needed to help make that dream a reality. Because as the recent events involving the rainforest show us, we hold the power for both tremendous improvement and colossal destruction.

We start with an update in Brazil, where a recent decision to suspend the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam provides new evidence for an argument we have been highlighting for months, suggesting Hollywood holds a great deal of environmental leadership power. The project cited as a "danger of irreparable harm" to the Amazon rainforest" was suspended after Avatar director, James Cameron, not only vocalized concerns but also visited the indigenous communities who would be impacted by the dam. And in Malaysia, individuals continue to work towards protecting land in Borneo. Recent efforts have been directed at attaining a World Heritage Listing for the Maliau Basin, which would effectively save the isolated and celebrated rain forests from timber and mining interests.

The gains in positive action have also been coupled with reports of controversy and scandal. Palm oil has been a topic of continual scrutiny, and as we've seen, Unilever, the world's biggest buyer of palm oil, has been at the center. Unilever had suspended business with Sinar Mas after reports surfaced that the company is partaking in the illegal destruction of rainforest land. Based on the company's latest decision to purchase palm oil from PT SMART a subdivision of Sinar Mas, Unilever is not only sending mixed messages to its consumers but also has learned little from its past. The EU Ecolabel has come under fire from consumers, environmentalists, and The European Environmental Bureau (EEC) who are all angered byrecent revelations that Golden Plus and Lucky Boss brand copy paper, products which had been awarded with the EU Ecolabel, have actually been adding to "devastating impacts on Sumatran rainforests, causing deforestation, threatening endangered species such as the orangutan, and harming the rights of indigenous peoples".

It is obvious that we have a long way to go in solving our global environmental crisis, but just because it may seem daunting doesn't mean it's impossible. In the words of late anthropologist Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." We encourage you to keep this in mind as you move forward and invite you to join our celebration of Earth Day by visiting us on Facebook.

Are your Skittles destroying the rainforest? Part 2

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In Part 1, I introduced you to the palm oil crisis and talked about how it is affecting orangutans.  In the poll, I also called for a "boycott." However, that may have been the wrong move on my part.

If you're interested - particularly if you didn't read Party 1 when I posted it - please read on to learn about how a seemingly harmless vegetable oil that is in one out of ten consumer products is one of the most destructive forces on our planet today.

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Are your Skittles destroying the rainforest? Part 1

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Today, I've decided to start a series on palm oil and palm ingredients - and alternatives to them.  I'm in the process of building a website on the same subject ( http://www.nomorepalm.com ), but that will take a bit of time, and time is not something worth wasting in this context.

A specific type of vegetable oil may not sound like a particularly interesting subject, but palm oil is no ordinary vegetable oil.  It is one of the more destructive forces on our planet today.  Or maybe I should say that the machine of people and corporations in place to grow and distribute palm oil is one of the more destructive forces on our planet.  Either way, consuming this ingredient - which is in an unbelievable amount of foods and cosmetics and other things - is something which makes one responsible for encouraging the ds

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10 Questions for Alvaro Uribe

The Center for American Progress is hosting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday, May 2 at 1 pm for a discussion on a wide variety of topics. Press and audience members will have a rare opportunity to pose questions to the secretive Uribe (President Bush's top ally in the region), who is in the United States to repay a visit by President Bush and make his case for a free trade agreement. Before the event, starting at 11:45, labor union officials and Colombia monitors will hold a die-in to protest Uribe's ties to rightist paramilitaries (more info below).

Here are 10 questions that those inside for the conversation need to ask President Uribe:

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