New Cassava Varieties Save Zanzibar’s Food Security

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet and written by Catherine Njuguna

Millions of cassava farmers in eastern and central Africa are in distress from viral cassava diseases that are sweeping across the region and ravaging their crops. But their counterparts on the popular tourist island of Zanzibar are undergoing a quiet revolution using new disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties that were introduced three years ago.

The four varieties, Kizimbani, Mahonda, Kama, and Machui, have given cassava a new lease on life after the crop was devastated by the two main diseases afflicting the region: brown streak disease and mosaic disease. The diseases, which are spread by white flies, cost Africa’s cassava sector more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Small-scale farmers – among the poorest in the region – bear most of the economic effects.

Cassava mosaic disease first appeared in Uganda in the mid-1980s and spread rapidly in cassava-growing areas of eastern and central Africa through the sharing of infected planting materials and via the white fly vector. Following the development and deployment of resistant and tolerant varieties and widespread awareness-raising on ways to curb the mosaic’s spread, scientists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and farmers were able to bring the disease nearly under control. Then the cassava brown streak struck. This disease had been around for much longer but was confined to the coastal low-altitude areas of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. From 2004, it started spreading rapidly to mid-altitude areas that were recovering from the mosaic, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Haji Saleh, the head of Zanzibar’s roots and tuber program under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, says the first survey of cassava brown streak on the island was conducted in 1994 and indicated that 20 percent of the crop had disease symptoms. In a follow-up survey in 2002, the disease was found everywhere. “All the local varieties grown by the farmers were susceptible. The farmer and authorities were crying out for help,” Saleh said.

Heeding the call for help, Zanzibar crop scientists in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) started a breeding program to develop cassava varieties that were resistant to the two diseases. Their efforts paid off, and after only four years, four new varieties were released in 2007.

“You have to understand, cassava is a very important staple in Zanzibar, where it comes in second after rice,” Saleh said. “However, it is first in terms of acreage and production with over 90 percent of farmers growing the crop. It is our food security crop as it grows in most of the agro-ecological zones including in the dry parts of the island where other crops do not perform well. So when the diseases hit, they were very devastating to the island’s food security. We had to act fast.”

The research team then started a rapid multiplication program, working with the farmers to spread the improved varieties on the island and beyond. “We selected pilot farmers in each district to help with the multiplication,” Saleh said. “We trained them on how to grow cassava to get good yields and maintain soil fertility, and on business skills, as they were to sell the planting material as a business.”

One farmer, 59-year-old Ramadhani Abdala Ame of Kianga village – a father of 10 – participated in the on-farm trials using the improved varieties. During the trials, the farmers helped the researchers select not only the best performing varieties, but also those that met farmer preferences and requirements for various uses of the crops. Ramadhani said he had given up on cassava, which was suffering from “kensa ya mhogo,” or “cancer of the cassava.” Infected by the brown streak disease, the crop develops a dry rot in its roots – the most economically important part of the plant – which makes it useless for consumption.

“The cassava looked good in the field, but when you harvested, the roots were rotten and useless, with all your labor and efforts going down the drain,” Ramadhani said. He explained that he was given 40 cuttings of the four new varieties to test on his farm. “At that time, they did not have names, only numbers. I was amazed at their performance: the  tubers were huge, and had no disease. I selected the two I liked best that were later renamed Kizimbani and Machui.”

Ramadhani said the sale of cassava roots and planting materials has made a big difference in his life. He has bought two cows to add to his stock, constructed a cowshed, and is now building a better brick and iron-sheet house for his family.

Another pilot farmer, Suleiman John Ndebe of Machui village, had also given up on cassava after 10 years of bad harvests due to the “cancer” and other pests and diseases such as mealy bug and cassava green mite. But the varieties given to him at Kizimbazi research station for testing excited him and motivated him to resume growing the crop. It’s a decision he says he has not regretted.

Suleiman says his involvement in the project has turned his life around. Farming for him is now a serious business. He estimates that he makes profits of between 50 and 100 percent from his cassava, depending on the season, and his income increased more than four times. “Before the training, I did not know agriculture was a business. I did not know whether I made a profit or a loss. Now, I know how much cassava I have planted, the cost of labor and manure, how much I expect to harvest, and how much profit I will make. I am now able to save some money in the bank and my life is less stressful. I even bought a color TV to be able to follow the World Cup!”

Yet there is still a big gap to fill before all the farmers on Zanzibar can enjoy the new cassava varieties. According to Salma Omar Mohamed, a research officer with Kizimbani Research station, only some 10,000 farmers are currently growing these new varieties, out of a potential of more than 1 million. She says the business model of distributing the planting materials has excluded poor farmers who are not able to afford the materials. However, she was thankful for the strides made with funding from donors such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which supported the free distribution of planting materials to poor farmers under a voucher program.

Mohamed hopes they can get more such support to spread the improved varieties to all the farmers on Zanzibar and on neighboring Pemba Island, where the disease is also prevalent and penetration of the new varieties is even lower.

Dr. Kanju, a cassava breeder with IITA, says hope is also on the way for farmers in Kenya, mainland Tanzania, and Uganda, as 15 promising cassava varieties that are suitable for the climatic conditions of these areas are in the last testing stages. “With scientists and farmers working together, they can eliminate the diseases in the region, securing the food and livelihoods of over 200 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who depend on the crop.”

Catherine Njuguna is a communication officer with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 

 

New Cassava Varieties Save Zanzibar’s Food Security

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet and written by Catherine Njuguna

Millions of cassava farmers in eastern and central Africa are in distress from viral cassava diseases that are sweeping across the region and ravaging their crops. But their counterparts on the popular tourist island of Zanzibar are undergoing a quiet revolution using new disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties that were introduced three years ago.

The four varieties, Kizimbani, Mahonda, Kama, and Machui, have given cassava a new lease on life after the crop was devastated by the two main diseases afflicting the region: brown streak disease and mosaic disease. The diseases, which are spread by white flies, cost Africa’s cassava sector more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Small-scale farmers – among the poorest in the region – bear most of the economic effects.

Cassava mosaic disease first appeared in Uganda in the mid-1980s and spread rapidly in cassava-growing areas of eastern and central Africa through the sharing of infected planting materials and via the white fly vector. Following the development and deployment of resistant and tolerant varieties and widespread awareness-raising on ways to curb the mosaic’s spread, scientists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and farmers were able to bring the disease nearly under control. Then the cassava brown streak struck. This disease had been around for much longer but was confined to the coastal low-altitude areas of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. From 2004, it started spreading rapidly to mid-altitude areas that were recovering from the mosaic, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Haji Saleh, the head of Zanzibar’s roots and tuber program under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, says the first survey of cassava brown streak on the island was conducted in 1994 and indicated that 20 percent of the crop had disease symptoms. In a follow-up survey in 2002, the disease was found everywhere. “All the local varieties grown by the farmers were susceptible. The farmer and authorities were crying out for help,” Saleh said.

Heeding the call for help, Zanzibar crop scientists in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) started a breeding program to develop cassava varieties that were resistant to the two diseases. Their efforts paid off, and after only four years, four new varieties were released in 2007.

“You have to understand, cassava is a very important staple in Zanzibar, where it comes in second after rice,” Saleh said. “However, it is first in terms of acreage and production with over 90 percent of farmers growing the crop. It is our food security crop as it grows in most of the agro-ecological zones including in the dry parts of the island where other crops do not perform well. So when the diseases hit, they were very devastating to the island’s food security. We had to act fast.”

The research team then started a rapid multiplication program, working with the farmers to spread the improved varieties on the island and beyond. “We selected pilot farmers in each district to help with the multiplication,” Saleh said. “We trained them on how to grow cassava to get good yields and maintain soil fertility, and on business skills, as they were to sell the planting material as a business.”

One farmer, 59-year-old Ramadhani Abdala Ame of Kianga village – a father of 10 – participated in the on-farm trials using the improved varieties. During the trials, the farmers helped the researchers select not only the best performing varieties, but also those that met farmer preferences and requirements for various uses of the crops. Ramadhani said he had given up on cassava, which was suffering from “kensa ya mhogo,” or “cancer of the cassava.” Infected by the brown streak disease, the crop develops a dry rot in its roots – the most economically important part of the plant – which makes it useless for consumption.

“The cassava looked good in the field, but when you harvested, the roots were rotten and useless, with all your labor and efforts going down the drain,” Ramadhani said. He explained that he was given 40 cuttings of the four new varieties to test on his farm. “At that time, they did not have names, only numbers. I was amazed at their performance: the  tubers were huge, and had no disease. I selected the two I liked best that were later renamed Kizimbani and Machui.”

Ramadhani said the sale of cassava roots and planting materials has made a big difference in his life. He has bought two cows to add to his stock, constructed a cowshed, and is now building a better brick and iron-sheet house for his family.

Another pilot farmer, Suleiman John Ndebe of Machui village, had also given up on cassava after 10 years of bad harvests due to the “cancer” and other pests and diseases such as mealy bug and cassava green mite. But the varieties given to him at Kizimbazi research station for testing excited him and motivated him to resume growing the crop. It’s a decision he says he has not regretted.

Suleiman says his involvement in the project has turned his life around. Farming for him is now a serious business. He estimates that he makes profits of between 50 and 100 percent from his cassava, depending on the season, and his income increased more than four times. “Before the training, I did not know agriculture was a business. I did not know whether I made a profit or a loss. Now, I know how much cassava I have planted, the cost of labor and manure, how much I expect to harvest, and how much profit I will make. I am now able to save some money in the bank and my life is less stressful. I even bought a color TV to be able to follow the World Cup!”

Yet there is still a big gap to fill before all the farmers on Zanzibar can enjoy the new cassava varieties. According to Salma Omar Mohamed, a research officer with Kizimbani Research station, only some 10,000 farmers are currently growing these new varieties, out of a potential of more than 1 million. She says the business model of distributing the planting materials has excluded poor farmers who are not able to afford the materials. However, she was thankful for the strides made with funding from donors such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which supported the free distribution of planting materials to poor farmers under a voucher program.

Mohamed hopes they can get more such support to spread the improved varieties to all the farmers on Zanzibar and on neighboring Pemba Island, where the disease is also prevalent and penetration of the new varieties is even lower.

Dr. Kanju, a cassava breeder with IITA, says hope is also on the way for farmers in Kenya, mainland Tanzania, and Uganda, as 15 promising cassava varieties that are suitable for the climatic conditions of these areas are in the last testing stages. “With scientists and farmers working together, they can eliminate the diseases in the region, securing the food and livelihoods of over 200 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who depend on the crop.”

Catherine Njuguna is a communication officer with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 

 

New Cassava Varieties Save Zanzibar’s Food Security

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet and written by Catherine Njuguna

Millions of cassava farmers in eastern and central Africa are in distress from viral cassava diseases that are sweeping across the region and ravaging their crops. But their counterparts on the popular tourist island of Zanzibar are undergoing a quiet revolution using new disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties that were introduced three years ago.

The four varieties, Kizimbani, Mahonda, Kama, and Machui, have given cassava a new lease on life after the crop was devastated by the two main diseases afflicting the region: brown streak disease and mosaic disease. The diseases, which are spread by white flies, cost Africa’s cassava sector more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Small-scale farmers – among the poorest in the region – bear most of the economic effects.

Cassava mosaic disease first appeared in Uganda in the mid-1980s and spread rapidly in cassava-growing areas of eastern and central Africa through the sharing of infected planting materials and via the white fly vector. Following the development and deployment of resistant and tolerant varieties and widespread awareness-raising on ways to curb the mosaic’s spread, scientists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and farmers were able to bring the disease nearly under control. Then the cassava brown streak struck. This disease had been around for much longer but was confined to the coastal low-altitude areas of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. From 2004, it started spreading rapidly to mid-altitude areas that were recovering from the mosaic, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Haji Saleh, the head of Zanzibar’s roots and tuber program under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, says the first survey of cassava brown streak on the island was conducted in 1994 and indicated that 20 percent of the crop had disease symptoms. In a follow-up survey in 2002, the disease was found everywhere. “All the local varieties grown by the farmers were susceptible. The farmer and authorities were crying out for help,” Saleh said.

Heeding the call for help, Zanzibar crop scientists in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) started a breeding program to develop cassava varieties that were resistant to the two diseases. Their efforts paid off, and after only four years, four new varieties were released in 2007.

“You have to understand, cassava is a very important staple in Zanzibar, where it comes in second after rice,” Saleh said. “However, it is first in terms of acreage and production with over 90 percent of farmers growing the crop. It is our food security crop as it grows in most of the agro-ecological zones including in the dry parts of the island where other crops do not perform well. So when the diseases hit, they were very devastating to the island’s food security. We had to act fast.”

The research team then started a rapid multiplication program, working with the farmers to spread the improved varieties on the island and beyond. “We selected pilot farmers in each district to help with the multiplication,” Saleh said. “We trained them on how to grow cassava to get good yields and maintain soil fertility, and on business skills, as they were to sell the planting material as a business.”

One farmer, 59-year-old Ramadhani Abdala Ame of Kianga village – a father of 10 – participated in the on-farm trials using the improved varieties. During the trials, the farmers helped the researchers select not only the best performing varieties, but also those that met farmer preferences and requirements for various uses of the crops. Ramadhani said he had given up on cassava, which was suffering from “kensa ya mhogo,” or “cancer of the cassava.” Infected by the brown streak disease, the crop develops a dry rot in its roots – the most economically important part of the plant – which makes it useless for consumption.

“The cassava looked good in the field, but when you harvested, the roots were rotten and useless, with all your labor and efforts going down the drain,” Ramadhani said. He explained that he was given 40 cuttings of the four new varieties to test on his farm. “At that time, they did not have names, only numbers. I was amazed at their performance: the  tubers were huge, and had no disease. I selected the two I liked best that were later renamed Kizimbani and Machui.”

Ramadhani said the sale of cassava roots and planting materials has made a big difference in his life. He has bought two cows to add to his stock, constructed a cowshed, and is now building a better brick and iron-sheet house for his family.

Another pilot farmer, Suleiman John Ndebe of Machui village, had also given up on cassava after 10 years of bad harvests due to the “cancer” and other pests and diseases such as mealy bug and cassava green mite. But the varieties given to him at Kizimbazi research station for testing excited him and motivated him to resume growing the crop. It’s a decision he says he has not regretted.

Suleiman says his involvement in the project has turned his life around. Farming for him is now a serious business. He estimates that he makes profits of between 50 and 100 percent from his cassava, depending on the season, and his income increased more than four times. “Before the training, I did not know agriculture was a business. I did not know whether I made a profit or a loss. Now, I know how much cassava I have planted, the cost of labor and manure, how much I expect to harvest, and how much profit I will make. I am now able to save some money in the bank and my life is less stressful. I even bought a color TV to be able to follow the World Cup!”

Yet there is still a big gap to fill before all the farmers on Zanzibar can enjoy the new cassava varieties. According to Salma Omar Mohamed, a research officer with Kizimbani Research station, only some 10,000 farmers are currently growing these new varieties, out of a potential of more than 1 million. She says the business model of distributing the planting materials has excluded poor farmers who are not able to afford the materials. However, she was thankful for the strides made with funding from donors such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which supported the free distribution of planting materials to poor farmers under a voucher program.

Mohamed hopes they can get more such support to spread the improved varieties to all the farmers on Zanzibar and on neighboring Pemba Island, where the disease is also prevalent and penetration of the new varieties is even lower.

Dr. Kanju, a cassava breeder with IITA, says hope is also on the way for farmers in Kenya, mainland Tanzania, and Uganda, as 15 promising cassava varieties that are suitable for the climatic conditions of these areas are in the last testing stages. “With scientists and farmers working together, they can eliminate the diseases in the region, securing the food and livelihoods of over 200 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who depend on the crop.”

Catherine Njuguna is a communication officer with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 

 

New Cassava Varieties Save Zanzibar’s Food Security

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet and written by Catherine Njuguna

Millions of cassava farmers in eastern and central Africa are in distress from viral cassava diseases that are sweeping across the region and ravaging their crops. But their counterparts on the popular tourist island of Zanzibar are undergoing a quiet revolution using new disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties that were introduced three years ago.

The four varieties, Kizimbani, Mahonda, Kama, and Machui, have given cassava a new lease on life after the crop was devastated by the two main diseases afflicting the region: brown streak disease and mosaic disease. The diseases, which are spread by white flies, cost Africa’s cassava sector more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Small-scale farmers – among the poorest in the region – bear most of the economic effects.

Cassava mosaic disease first appeared in Uganda in the mid-1980s and spread rapidly in cassava-growing areas of eastern and central Africa through the sharing of infected planting materials and via the white fly vector. Following the development and deployment of resistant and tolerant varieties and widespread awareness-raising on ways to curb the mosaic’s spread, scientists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and farmers were able to bring the disease nearly under control. Then the cassava brown streak struck. This disease had been around for much longer but was confined to the coastal low-altitude areas of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. From 2004, it started spreading rapidly to mid-altitude areas that were recovering from the mosaic, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Haji Saleh, the head of Zanzibar’s roots and tuber program under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, says the first survey of cassava brown streak on the island was conducted in 1994 and indicated that 20 percent of the crop had disease symptoms. In a follow-up survey in 2002, the disease was found everywhere. “All the local varieties grown by the farmers were susceptible. The farmer and authorities were crying out for help,” Saleh said.

Heeding the call for help, Zanzibar crop scientists in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) started a breeding program to develop cassava varieties that were resistant to the two diseases. Their efforts paid off, and after only four years, four new varieties were released in 2007.

“You have to understand, cassava is a very important staple in Zanzibar, where it comes in second after rice,” Saleh said. “However, it is first in terms of acreage and production with over 90 percent of farmers growing the crop. It is our food security crop as it grows in most of the agro-ecological zones including in the dry parts of the island where other crops do not perform well. So when the diseases hit, they were very devastating to the island’s food security. We had to act fast.”

The research team then started a rapid multiplication program, working with the farmers to spread the improved varieties on the island and beyond. “We selected pilot farmers in each district to help with the multiplication,” Saleh said. “We trained them on how to grow cassava to get good yields and maintain soil fertility, and on business skills, as they were to sell the planting material as a business.”

One farmer, 59-year-old Ramadhani Abdala Ame of Kianga village – a father of 10 – participated in the on-farm trials using the improved varieties. During the trials, the farmers helped the researchers select not only the best performing varieties, but also those that met farmer preferences and requirements for various uses of the crops. Ramadhani said he had given up on cassava, which was suffering from “kensa ya mhogo,” or “cancer of the cassava.” Infected by the brown streak disease, the crop develops a dry rot in its roots – the most economically important part of the plant – which makes it useless for consumption.

“The cassava looked good in the field, but when you harvested, the roots were rotten and useless, with all your labor and efforts going down the drain,” Ramadhani said. He explained that he was given 40 cuttings of the four new varieties to test on his farm. “At that time, they did not have names, only numbers. I was amazed at their performance: the  tubers were huge, and had no disease. I selected the two I liked best that were later renamed Kizimbani and Machui.”

Ramadhani said the sale of cassava roots and planting materials has made a big difference in his life. He has bought two cows to add to his stock, constructed a cowshed, and is now building a better brick and iron-sheet house for his family.

Another pilot farmer, Suleiman John Ndebe of Machui village, had also given up on cassava after 10 years of bad harvests due to the “cancer” and other pests and diseases such as mealy bug and cassava green mite. But the varieties given to him at Kizimbazi research station for testing excited him and motivated him to resume growing the crop. It’s a decision he says he has not regretted.

Suleiman says his involvement in the project has turned his life around. Farming for him is now a serious business. He estimates that he makes profits of between 50 and 100 percent from his cassava, depending on the season, and his income increased more than four times. “Before the training, I did not know agriculture was a business. I did not know whether I made a profit or a loss. Now, I know how much cassava I have planted, the cost of labor and manure, how much I expect to harvest, and how much profit I will make. I am now able to save some money in the bank and my life is less stressful. I even bought a color TV to be able to follow the World Cup!”

Yet there is still a big gap to fill before all the farmers on Zanzibar can enjoy the new cassava varieties. According to Salma Omar Mohamed, a research officer with Kizimbani Research station, only some 10,000 farmers are currently growing these new varieties, out of a potential of more than 1 million. She says the business model of distributing the planting materials has excluded poor farmers who are not able to afford the materials. However, she was thankful for the strides made with funding from donors such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which supported the free distribution of planting materials to poor farmers under a voucher program.

Mohamed hopes they can get more such support to spread the improved varieties to all the farmers on Zanzibar and on neighboring Pemba Island, where the disease is also prevalent and penetration of the new varieties is even lower.

Dr. Kanju, a cassava breeder with IITA, says hope is also on the way for farmers in Kenya, mainland Tanzania, and Uganda, as 15 promising cassava varieties that are suitable for the climatic conditions of these areas are in the last testing stages. “With scientists and farmers working together, they can eliminate the diseases in the region, securing the food and livelihoods of over 200 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who depend on the crop.”

Catherine Njuguna is a communication officer with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 

 

Creating Food Sovereignty for Small-Scale Farmers

This interview with Raj Patel, award-winning writer, activist and academic, was originally featured as a two part series on Nourishing the Planet.

Name: Raj Patel

Affiliation: Visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for African Studies, Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First.

Location: San Francisco

Bio: Raj Patel has degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University, has worked for the World Bank and WTO, and protested against them around the world. He has testified about the causes of the global food crisis to the US House Financial Services Committee and is an Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In addition to numerous scholarly publications, he regularly writes for The Guardian, and has contributed to the LA Times, NYTimes.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mail on Sunday, and The Observer. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and most recently, The Value of Nothing.

Can you please explain the concept of food sovereignty, and what policies and programs will help encourage it?

Food sovereignty is about communities', states' and unions' rights to shape their own food and agricultural policy. Now that may sound like a whole lot of nothing, because you're actually not making a policy demand, you're just saying that people need to be able to make their own decisions. But, actually, that's a huge thing. Because in general, particularly for smaller farmers in developing countries, and particularly for women, decisions about food and agricultural policy have never been made by them. They've always been imposed.

That's why La Via Campesina, the organization that really invented the term, says that one of the visions behind food sovereignty is that food sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women. That may sound something not at all to do with food, but of course, if we're serious about people being able to make choices about how their food comes to them and what the food system looks like, then the physical and the structural violence to which women are exposed in the home, in the economy and in society, all need to be tackled. Otherwise we will continue with a situation in which 60 percent of the people going hungry today are women or girls. So food sovereignty, to boil it down, is really about power - who has it in the food system, and how to redistribute it so that those who have concentrated it, have it taken away from them.

In terms of specific policies, what Via Campesina are calling for is for agriculture to be removed from the World Trade Organization, which is a way again in which local countries' sovereignty is already been given away. They also call for large corporations to be booted out of agriculture. There's strong opposition to Monsanto for example, and the way that they've been behaving in many developing countries, and many Via Campesina members are campaigning against Monsanto in their home countries.

Will another Green Revolution or more food subsidies help reduce hunger?

To answer the question, let's look at Malawi. It's the poster child for what a new green revolution in Africa might look like, with widespread subsidies of inorganic fertilizer for farmers. When I went there, late last year, what you found was long lines at the gasoline pump, because all Malawi's foreign exchange had been spent on importing this fossil fuel-based fertilizer. The country had bankrupted itself in order that it might be a showcase for the new green revolution in Africa. And of course, there are alternatives right there in Malawi, driven by farmers - invariably by women who are innovating around sustainable systems like poly-culture - growing lots of crops simultaneously together, building soil fertility for the long run.

What this shows is that there are some basic incompatibilities between varieties of ways of addressing agrarian problems in Africa. Some organizations, Worldwatch included, adopt a 'big tent' approach, in which solutions that keep the status quo but improve it marginally sit alongside far more radical approaches. Ultimately, you can't promote genetically modified monoculture or techniques that make large-scale commercial farming less destructive at the same time as wanting something like food sovereignty, which calls for much more of a deeper structural rethink of the way the food system operates. Food sovereignty is about democracy in our food system so that everyone gets to eat - industrial agriculture involves a food system run by technocrats for profit. At the end of the day, you can have one or the other -not both.

How does global agricultural policy affect small-scale farmers across the world?

In general the policies foisted on developing countries through organizations like the World Bank is that large scale agriculture is the way to go: that small farmers are a relic of the past. They are of purely cultural significance but economically, socially, and agriculturally, they stand in the way of development. So the policies that are essentially designed to increase farm size and kick off rural populations to the cities are ones that you see in pretty much every country around the world. And yet of course, it is the poor in rural communities that are being forced to bear the brunt of these policies and these are the communities that are least able to afford it. And again - you can never say it too often - it is on women's shoulders that the bulk of the pain of moving from agrarian society to a so-called modern industrial society one, falls.

Why should American food consumers care about the fate of agricultural producers halfway across the world?

Not out of any sense of pity or charity, but because the struggle that farmers in developing countries face are very similar to the struggles that farmers in the United States face. Industrial agriculture wreaks havoc. We've seen the deaths from E. coli, we've seen industrial agriculture and the rise of BSE, we've seen the massive dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico because of the run-off from animal feeding operations flowing down the Mississippi. If you're in America and you're concerned about the quality or safety of your food, or about the consequences of the way your food is produced, then you're not alone. Those are all things that farmers elsewhere in the world are worried about, and that consumers elsewhere in the world are worried about too.

There's a proven way in which those concerns can be addressed. It is to wrench power away from the corporations that profit from low standards, from the ability to off-shore pollution, and the ability to evade the costs of defective products. So I think in the US, if you're at all concerned about food safety, health, obesity - any of these things, then you would want to have more control of your food system. And wanting more control over your food system is exactly what food sovereignty is about. In a globalised world, you can't have control over your food system in this country while people elsewhere don't, and this is what makes it a common struggle.

Funding for agricultural research has declined in recent decades. Where should funding for agricultural innovation and research come from?

Funding for agriculture ought to come from the places where research used to come from: the government. I don't have any stars in my eyes when I think about governments in developing countries having a ton of cash in their coffers for research into this. But governments that are net food importing developing countries, found themselves after the last food crisis in very dark times. They're keen to develop new ways of doing things. A lot of these countries haven't had the money to be able to invest in agricultural extension and research, and so what we need are two things: One is a cancellation of the illegitimate debt that these countries have racked up with organizations like the World Bank. There's a huge debt that rich countries owe poor ones - for colonialism, for the ecological damage we have caused and continue to cause by the way we consume. Yet through the World Bank, the debt has been flipped over, and has become an agent for controlling these economies.

So we definitely need a change in the way international development and finance work, but we also need to support change within developing countries so that agricultural extension becomes something that once again is funded and is geared towards the kinds of research that is about low-carbon, that is about democratic control over resources, rather than about pushing a particular kind of product and particular kind of vision of agriculture that is ultimately unsustainable for the majority of countries in Africa.

To learn more about food sovereignty and fair trade, see Depending on A Global Workforce,  In a Global Food System: Breaking Down Barriers and Improving Livelihoods for Food Workers and Making Sure the Food Industry Works for its Employees.

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Raj Patel for allowing us to profile him on the Nourishing the Planet blog. We're a big fan of his work with Food First and promoting food sovereignty. While we're grateful to Raj for highlighting the importance of protecting the livelihoods of millions of farmers all over the world, we would like to respectfully disagree with his suggestion above that Worldwatch has promoted "genetically modified monoculture" systems. Worldwatch has a long history of writing about sustainable agriculture systems that encourage crop diversity and support the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, including our early writing on the local food movement in Brian Halweil's book, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Solutions in a Global Supermarket; our first-hand reporting in 2001 on why genetically modified crops are not necessarily the best, or most appropriate, or only available solution to agricultural challenges; and Danielle Nierenberg's writing on the spread of factory farming into the developing world and how it could be stopped in Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry.

This blog has taken a "big tent" approach, so to speak, in that we've featured many voices as we scour Africa for examples of farmers, scientists, politicians and others doing great work. This doesn't mean we think all solutions are equally worthy of attention or support. In fact, we have tried to make clear in our posts that we think current investments in agricultural development are irrationally skewed towards crop breeding and big infrastructure projects, like dams for irrigation. Many of the innovations we have profiled-from low-cost ways to cut waste in the food system, to mixed-cropping systems with livestock, to farmer-organized marketing and research cooperatives-aren't making "large-scale commercial farming less destructive," as Raj writes. But, used widely, they could change the very structure of the food economies throughout the world. And that's what will successfully eliminate hunger and poverty.

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.

 

 

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