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Ending hunger and ending food waste are both central to the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union’s AGENDA 2063 and the Malabo Declaration/AU regional priorities. The good news is we can tackle both simultaneously, argues Talentus Mthunzi from the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

There is a very thin line between food loss and food waste. Food loss and food waste happen at different stages of the food supply chain from agriculture production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging, distribution, retail and consumption. Based on current literature, losses at post-harvest are referred to as food losses while those that happen at later stages of the food supply chain are called food waste.

Annually, farmers produce enough food to feed everyone in the world, however, many people are still food insecure due to complications and inefficiencies in the food system. It is currently estimated that one third of edible food produced annually, about 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted. Global food losses and waste per year are estimated at 30 per cent for cereals, 40-50 per cent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20 per cent for oil seeds, meat and dairy, plus 35 per cent for fish, with losses and waste differing across the countries, regions and continents of the world.

Food loss and waste, and their ripple effects on the environment, society and economy have become an increasing global concern. With every ounce of food produced and then wasted, there are associated wastages in water, energy, capital, nutrition and other related resources.

The total volume of water used to produce food that is lost on an annual basis is equivalent to the yearly flow of the Volga River in Russia; it is three times the volume of Lake Geneva. In terms of land, 28 per cent of the global arable area (1.4 billion hectares of land) is used to produce food that is lost or wasted annually.

Futhermore, food waste has been noted to immensely contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The carbon footprint of wasted food is approximately 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere on an annual basis. Methane emitted from land-fills is the largest source of GHG in the waste sector. In fact, food waste would be the third largest GHG emitter, if it were a country. Such wastages strain resources and exacerbate food insecurity across the globe.

Credit: FAO

The Case of Food Loss in Sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest losses account for up to a fifth of harvests, thereby negating the benefits of investments aimed at ensuring increased productivity towards food and nutrition security, hence the focus. The Inaugural Biennial Review Report (BRR) released by the African Union Commission in January 2018 shows that the continent is not on track in terms of its efforts towards the ‘Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss’, having scored zero in 2017, against a target of 10 per cent towards the 2025 target.

A key challenge related to this performance on postharvest management (PHM) is the inability of countries to capture and record data on physical losses, perhaps as a result of unavailability or weak national monitoring and evaluation systems as highlighted by the 2017 BRR.

To address these challenges, FANRPAN is contributing to a set of initiatives to step up action in this area.

Improving Post-Harvest Management Through Regulation

The goal of this project is to increase food security of smallholder farmers in SSA through reduced post-harvest losses at farm and community level by increasing food self-sufficiency and incomes of smallholder men and women. The three main outcomes of the project are to improve the handling and storage options within the grains and pulses value chains; compile good practice options for reducing postharvest losses for scaling up; and to introduce regulatory frameworks on reducing post-harvest losses in food supply chains at national and regional levels.

FANRPAN is responsible for the work on regulation, which focuses on policy advocacy at regional and national levels. Considerable progress in the two countries we are implementing work: Benin and Mozambique.

In Benin, PHM has been included in the formulation and implementation of policies and work-plans of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAEP). A new five-year strategy of the Agricultural Policy (PSDSA), which we have contributed to developing, now has an explicit target on PHM, that is, “Halve, by 2025, the current levels of post-harvest losses”. Several other national institutions have also been persuaded to integrate PHM in their operational processes, including the Department of Quality, Innovations and Entrepreneurial Training (DQIFE), Plant Production Branch (DPV), and Agricultural Center for Rural Development (CARDER/SCDA).

Our work in Mozambique is also championing the adoption of PHM at national level. The team has managed to convince the government to establish a PHM working group which has been involved in the development of the national agriculture frameworks such as the National Agriculture Investment Plan (PNISA), the Operational Plan for Agrarian Development (PODA), the Operational Plan for Food Production (POPA), and the Operational Plan for Agricultural Commercialization (POCA). As a result, the government recently included a target of “reducing postharvest losses from 24 per cent to 12 per cent” in the PODA (2015-2019). The PODA is aligned with the Mozambique government’s Five-Year Program and is an instrument developed to ensure the implementation of the PINISA and the Mozambique Strategic Plan for Agriculture Development Sector (PEDSA).

As a result of the advocacy initiatives in Mozambique, the Ministry of Agriculture has requested FANRPAN to assist the country with the development of a national PHM strategy.  The process has already been initiated and the FANRPAN team will strive for, not just the development of the strategy but, its implementation as well, so as to ensure that post-harvest losses are addressed. The lessons learnt from the policy advocacy initiatives in Benin and Mozambique are being documented and shared at regional level to ensure proliferation to other countries and regions.

Regulations are critical in setting and reinforcing postharvest policies and standards for all players in the food supply chain. The adherence to such regulations by stakeholders may contribute to reduction of postharvest losses at national, regional and global levels. However, there need to be buy in and effective compliance systems for food supply chain actors to adhere to such regulations.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morrison/Africa Practice

The post Actions in Africa Preventing Food Loss and Waste appeared first on Farming First.

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By Glen Engel-Cox on behalf of iDE.

“Now that we know how to do this, we will not let it out of our hands,” says Arra Merry, a traditional pastoralist in Ethiopia’s South Omo region. What has she learned how to do? Grow fodder (and the seeds for fodder) that enhances their ability to feed and fatten their livestock and earn an income in this extremely remote and poor location. In just a few years, Ara and her fodder-producing colleagues have enhanced their traditional way of life by learning how to use the Omo river to address drought through agricultural production.

Credit: Glen Engel-Cox, iDE, 2019

A different way of life

Not everyone wants to be a farmer. For the tribal groups living around the Lower Valley of the Omo, the customary way of life centers around cattle, which freely graze under the watchful gaze of villagers. While these populations often engage in planting some vegetable crops to supplement their diet, they are pastoralists first and foremost, focused on the raising of livestock. When two critical drought events struck Ethiopia in the last decade, the land could not support the number of cattle from all the different pastoralist groups, leading to starvation for both cattle and people as well as conflict between people as the groups expanded their cattle grazing into other tribal lands.

A surprising solution

To address the drought conditions and preserve peace, the Ethiopian government brought in cattle fodder from the highlands. Although intended as a temporary aid to overcome disaster, the intervention inadvertently identified a new strategy for increasing incomes and improving lives for these chronically poor populations. Working in partnership with the Ethiopian government, iDE has started to train pastoralists on how to cultivate fodder and food crops (mainly sorghum) using water from the Omo river.

Now in the second phase of implementation, the training and support provided by iDE and local government officials focuses on creating groups of up to 25 people from the same village to work together to plant, maintain, and harvest both seed (for resale) and fodder (for use). Since agriculture production activities are relatively new to these groups, sharing the labor burden helps overcome reluctance in engaging in manual labor: it’s simply more fun when you have someone to work with. In phase one, the first group obtained 13 quintals from 0.6 hectares of land and realized a profit of Birr 26,000. They’ve now expanded production to nearly 1.5 hectares in phase two, and have engaged in discussions about how to expand into other income generating activity. Based on these results, iDE and government workers look to expand the strategy to more groups and kebeles (local districts) within the region.

Enhancing traditional lifestyles

Rather than replacing their pastoralist way of life, iDE and the Ethiopian government believe that learning how to grow fodder (using irrigation) is an important addition to traditional activities that directly addresses pastoralists’ resilience needs. The speed at which tribal groups have embraced the use of fodder to fatten cattle (feeding their animals and generating income through subsequent sales) indicates that the strategy has clear usefulness and utility. By focusing on communities instead of individuals, the approach fits into the context of shared resources and group dynamics important to these tribal populations.

Credit: Antonio Fiorino, iDE, 2017

Pastoralist Plus

Arra is part of a Crop Production Cooperation Group of 25 members, 11 of them female, supported by their local village elders and kebele leaders. The group has a chairperson, a cashier, and a secretary. The entire group discusses how to divide up the work between them and what should be done with the income the group earns. The chairperson, rather than just being the oldest in the group, is chosen for their ability to work across the community.

Crop production isn’t the only change brought about by the recent spate of drought events. Just a decade ago, most village women weren’t allowed to leave the home. Family decision-making had been a male prerogative. With the new enhanced way of life, women are not just taking part in discussions and decisions, but are increasingly influential in the home and community.

For her family, Arra expresses how much the crop production has changed her future outlook. She and her husband have eight children, five of whom are girls who married early and now live in other villages. But her youngest three children now have the opportunity to go to school, the first in Ara’s family ever to do so, because of the income Arra and her husband have received from the group.

“We can’t expect the droughts to end,” Arra says, “but now we know that we can do something about it.” The group faces many challenges, including storage options and how to transport their production to markets, but Arra and the group see a much brighter future ahead for themselves and their community.

Featured photo credits: Antonio Fiorino, iDE, 2017

The post Fodder for the Future: Enhancing Pastoralism in Ethiopia’s Lower Valley of the Omo appeared first on Farming First.

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“How will we grow an adequate quantity—and quality—of food to feed and nourish a rapidly growing, urbanizing world in the face of increasing water insecurity?” This was the primary problem considered by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the 2019 Global Food Security Symposium in Washington DC last week. This year’s symposium, ‘From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future’ saw the release of a 149-page report by the Council and focus on three central topics: the nature of the threat to water security; strategies to enhance water, food, and nutrition security; and ensuring that water solutions reach smallholder farmers.

Alesha Black, Managing Director of the Council’s Global Food and Agriculture Program, opened the full day of proceedings by quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”

With the tone of the day set, discussion of turned to the featured report’s findings and recommendations. As outlined in Farming First’s coverage of the report, progress on water security requires work both by large organisations and innovation on the part of individual consumers and producers.

“Water stress is forcing us to consider what we must do to balance the needs of mankind when it comes to this shared resource,” Ms Black emphasised. In that vein, understanding what was driving water stress so as to mitigate it was a major preoccupation of the day’s speakers.

“In areas where rain is extremely important for growing food crops and for food security, the timing of water is shifting in many places,” noted Betsy Otto, the Global Director of the World Resources Institute’s Water Program. However, she continued “in many places the chief driver of increased water stress is actually demand, not supply. We’re putting much more strain on our available water resources. We’re not using them efficiently.”

Global Water Consumption by Sector. Credit: Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Innovation was highlighted as a key means to improve efficiency. Gilbert F. Houngbo, the President, International Fund for Agricultural Development, stressed that the greatest expectation for the private sector in particular was for it to innovate and develop new technologies that would improve water management.

Pearl Gaone Ranna, Obama Foundation Scholar at the Harris School of Public Policy, suggested a crucial part of improving water efficiency was enabling and encouraging smallholders to play their role. As smallholders are set to meet the food needs of much of the developing world, technology which can be simplified and distributed for their use is crucial to global water conservation efforts. One promising Israeli example, Ranna suggested, were economical automated systems that activated irrigation systems based on readings of soil moisture; these increased yields by 5 per cent and reduced water consumption by 30 per cent.

“For me, it’s about the small ideas that add up to make a huge impact,” said Kevin Fessenden, a Senior Director of Global Engineering at Abbott Nutrition. Fostering cultures – from the top-down and bottom-up – that encourage initiatives like the recycling of used water and the capturing of rainwater allow for additive bonuses in both urban and rural environments.

Nonirrigated vs Irrigated Land Use and Crop Production. Credit: Chicago Council on Global Affairs

One such change would be changing from rain-fed agriculture to irrigated agriculture. This was noted by Khalid Bomba, CEO of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. “We actually need to produce more than once a year. Thankfully, the soil and the ecology allows us to do that – water is the limiting factor. We have to use the abundance of water that we have that comes in a very concentrated way, in a smarter and more efficient manner throughout the year,” he said.

The symposium also heard of solutions such as breeding more productive crops to make every unit of water go farther, and strengthening institutional governance of water resources. However, even after considering a multitude of solutions to make water use more efficient, there did remain concerning trends.

“The exportation of the western/American diet: it does not look great for Africa, it does not look great for Asia, or South-East Asia,” said Jessica Fanzo, Associate Professor of Ethics and Global Food and Agriculture at Johns Hopkins University. And this does not merely entail just concerns regarding health; the high level of meat consumption from the westernised diet many in the developing world are clamouring to experience is extremely water-intensive. Changing current western dietary intakes to be more sustainable and less meat-intensive would, on average, reduce water use by 30 per cent.

“Food security cannot just be about quantity. It has to be about quality,” said Roy Steiner, Manager Director of food at the Rockefeller Foundation. In this regard, water security plays into both concerns – promoting health and sustainable agriculture may two sides of the same coin.

Featured photo credits: Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

The post Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium 2019 Sets Sight on Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future appeared first on Farming First.

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This week, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released the new report: ‘From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future’. With more than a third of all people on Earth – approximately 2.4 billion – living in water-scarce conditions, water management is already a priority. Yet the present situation pales in comparison to the worst-case scenario of the coming decades, according to the report authors.

With the global population expected to reach 9.8 billion people by the middle of the century, and with climate change anticipated to destabilize weather patterns in the coming years, the world faces a dual crisis of booming demand and a less predictable supply of water. The report highlights that over one-half of the world’s population could be at risk due to water stress in 2050.

Agriculture is responsible for 71 per cent of global water consumption, and the report cites that that water consumption for farming will increase by 21 per cent by 2050. Farmers will have to increasingly compete with industrial and domestic water demand, with 70 per cent of 2050’s population residing in rapidly growing urban areas which will increasingly demand more diverse and ‘western’ diets that place further demand on water supply. However, both climate change and the over-extraction of groundwater will mean that the supply of this water risks being ever more precarious in the coming decades.

In order to safeguard water resources for farmers and protect their harvests for coming generations, the report highlights several strategies to enhance water security, including: improving governance and institutions for effective water management, incentivising efficient water use through effective water policies, increasing water productivity through investment in agricultural research, development, and technology, shifting diets and diversifying agriculture to reduce demand for water and improve nutrition, and increase the managed water supply and expand irrigated areas.

Many of the report’s strategies emphasise the role of policymakers in changing the institutional and incentive structures for producers and consumers, but there is a great deal that can be done on the ground.

For example, increasing water productivity through agricultural research requires not just investment and incentives from governments, but initiative and action from farmers themselves to enact economic and cultural change, the report details. Concrete steps to increase water productivity include optimizing the efficiency and quality of livestock diets, adopting water-saving irrigation methods and systems, capturing more rainwater and using it more efficiently, and using advanced crop-management techniques enabled by new technology. Furthermore, research initiatives in plant breeding, agronomic and soil management, reducing post harvest losses, and mitigating pollution can allow existing water resources to feed more people.

From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future - YouTube

Increasing the amount of irrigated area, so as to allow greater agricultural productivity than ever before, and increase the resilience of smallholders in the face of climate change is already working. This is especially important for smallholder farmers, who are the least likely to use irrigation methods. As smallholders tend to live in the regions facing the greatest increase in demand for food and the most water insecurity from climate change, it is paramount that innovations in irrigation reach this set of farmers. Thus, a major emphasis of the report is strategies to ensure that these water solutions reach smallholders.

Key means which are set out to ensure this include creating a conducive policy environment, introducing affordable technologies and precision agriculture solutions, expanding financial access, improving the value chain, expanding infrastructure, emboldening institutions to support irrigation management, investing in research and extension services, and building access to assets for women.

“The stakes are high for protecting our water resources, as increasing scarcity threatens to undermine the progress that has been made on global food and nutrition security,” argues managing director of the global food and agriculture program at the Council, Alesha Black, “Failure to treat water as a strategic, valuable and limited resource will accelerate water insecurity, even for historically water-secure populations, and it may threaten the economic and political security of nations, including the United States.”

Featured photo credits: REUTERS Mohamed al-Sayaghi / Anuwar Hazarika

The post New Report Outlines Strategies for Food and Water Security appeared first on Farming First.

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On Tuesday, March 12th, Farming First hosted a side event at the Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4) in Nairobi, Kenya. The side event focused on the role that agricultural innovation can play in delivering more sustainable food systems.

Moderated by Farming First’s co-Chair Robert Hunter, the panel opened with a live poll of the audience in attendance on what they considered most press challenge facing the food system today, with “the impacts of climate change” receiving almost half the total votes.

Farming First supporter Amy Azania, who is Senior Policy Officer at One Acre Fund, then presented some opening remarks from the panel. Her organisation works with smallholder farmers in seven African countries, supplying them with financing and training to help them grow their way out of hunger and into lasting prosperity.

Azania discussed the everyday challenges facing farmers, from the recent droughts to the prevalence of post-harvest losses and health threats like aflatoxin.  She reinforced the importance of crafting interventions from the perspective of the whole value chain, to ensure the best chance of delivering positive impact. 

Amanda Namayi, East Africa Regional Co-ordinator of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (also a Farming First supporter), discussed the role that innovation can play in enticing young people into careers in agriculture, for instance around digital agriculture, big data and predictive analytics.  She also stressed the importance of focusing on “demand-driven” interventions – from new product development (i.e. new recipes for existing crops) and better processing capabilities.

Luciano Loman, Nuffield Scholar and Executive Director of Metos Brazil, presented on the rise of sensor systems in his home country to support farmers, including soil sensors that track moisture, disease risk alerts, insect monitoring and hyper-local weather forecasting. He anticipates that as these information technologies further scale up over time, the associated costs will fall, and the data sets will become more reliable (with years of data to analyse). This will help better translate the huge amounts of data being collected into actionable advice for farmers on the ground, and ultimately to help bridge the information divide that exists between producers and consumers.

Brian Lindsay, Sector Lead for Sustainability, Dairy Sustainability Framework, presented on his work with dairy value chain actors to improve their sustainability holistically across a range of criteria, from greenhouse gas emissions and water & soil management to rural economic growth, improved working conditions and animal care.  He commented that farmers tend to be conservative decision-makers and prefer to see new approaches working elsewhere before they adopt it themselves. He stressed the sector’s commitment to continued progress through encouraging innovation, collaboration and dialogue.

Finally, Ross Smith, Senior Regional Programme Advisor of the World Food Programme’s Regional Bureau for East & Central Africa, raised the alarm about the year-on-year increases his organisation is seeing related to acute food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, often a result of conflict but also more broadly due to shocks and stresses from climate change.

The session concluded by exploring several key questions facing the agricultural sector to continue supporting more sustainable global food systems. Those in attendance shared their views on priorities:

  1. Which innovations are making our food system more environmentally sound?

2. Which types of policies can help make food production and consumption patterns more sustainable?

3. What are the big ideas that will help the agriculture sector “Solve Different”?

The post UNEA4: Side Event Explores Role of Innovation in Achieving Sustainable Food Supply Chains appeared first on Farming First.

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Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8th March, Sam Viney, Communications and Advocacy Officer at Farm Africa, explores how access to land and inputs can include women and youth in Uganda’s coffee boom.

I’m in my twenties but whenever I go to Uganda it makes me feel old! The world’s second youngest country’s median age is 15, and 77% of the population is below 30.

Every day, hundreds of young Ugandans hit the job market. Many find employment, but often not.  

Unemployment in Uganda is rising and young people shoulder the burden. In 2015, one in three young Ugandans was unemployed. When young people find work it’s normally insecure, part-time or unpaid family work. Women are more likely to be unemployed than men.

Uganda’s young people are full of entrepreneurial spirit, and never fail to fill me with confidence in the country’s future. Providing 70% of the country’s employment opportunities and contributing more than half of all exports, agriculture is Uganda’s most obvious vehicle to unleash their potential.

Credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi/Farm Africa

Opportunity is brewing

Uganda’s employment challenge is coupled with rising demand for their most lucrative export: coffee.

There is huge demand for the caffeinated treat, and Kanungu’s tropical climate, in south-western Uganda, provides the perfect conditions to grow it. This should bring opportunities.

Despite this huge potential, limited access to land and low profits stop youth and women from investing in coffee production.

With co-funding from the European Union, the international NGO  has launched a project in Kanungu that develops young people’s skills and links to markets, and helps them gain access to the land they need to become successful coffee entrepreneurs.

Credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi/Farm Africa

Access to land

Like many young Ugandans, Gillian and Dan need more land. The couple has a one-acre coffee farm that they received from Dan’s father Murisa.

Their annual income of £266 “isn’t enough”. If they had more land they’d be able to provide their son, who suffers from life-threatening fits, with much needed medical care.

Dan’s parents could afford to give Gillian and Dan a portion of their 45-acre farm but Murisa isn’t keen on the idea.

In Uganda, land is seen a man’s asset, the eldest man in the family doesn’t like to cede control over land or agricultural decisions to women or younger men.

“Agriculture employs 93% of Kanungu’s residents. Land in is in the hands of older men. Youth face hardship accessing land, young women doubly so.” Martin Atukwase, General Secretary of Kanungu Ugandan Young Farmers’ Association. “No land, no opportunity.”

Youth need access to and control over land to invest in coffee. Coffee plants take around five years to bear fruit so young farmers need to start planting early on in their careers to see economic returns later in life.

Farm Africa has helped set up the Kanungu chapter of the Ugandan Young Farmers’ Association. The young leaders were provided with advocacy training, and are calling for greater access to land for women and young people.

The young leaders have hit the ground running, working with TV and radio stations, and organising intergenerational meetings to change fathers’ minds about land.

Land agreements

Farm Africa’s staff in Kanungu are working with families to create agreement amongst family units about land access issues.

These conversations are sensitive. Land is a delicate subject. Uganda has seen a spate of deaths involving young men killing other family members over access to family land.

Many fathers recognise youth and women’s need for land but worry that equipping them with land will undermine their authority and lead to the sale of family land.

Farm Africa sensitively allays these fears by working with fathers and other household members to develop voluntary land use agreements.

The content of the agreements is decided upon by the family. In general, agreements look to provide young people and women with access to and control over what’s grown on a piece of land for a specific period of time. Agreements normally stipulate that the occupant cannot sell land.

These agreements provide young people and women with the opportunity to invest in their businesses and future. The process hopes to kickstart a journey that sees young people go from being job seekers to job creators.

Credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi/Farm Africa

Improve quality

Kanungu’s coffees could be amongst the best in the world but poor farming practices and processing mean that farmers produce low quality coffee, relegating their produce to cheap instant coffee, and other sub-par, markets.

The project is training 4,800 people to grow and process quality coffee and gain access to more lucrative markets.

Many farmers are selling coffee for as little as 10p a kilogram, if they improved coffee quality they could be selling at £2 a kilogram locally in Kanungu and upto £4 a Kilogram in the international markets

In a context of shrinking farm sizes, providing people with the skills and resources necessary to maximise land use and produce quality coffee that fetches a good price is extremely important.

It also makes the land access ask easier: give skilled people the chance to enter a profitable market, unlocking profits that will benefit the whole family.

Credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi/Farm Africa

Coffee, a man’s crop?

In Kanungu, coffee is seen as a man’s crop. Men sell the cash crop and pocket the earnings, while women do the majority of the agricultural work and see little, if any, of the profits.

Farm Africa plans to launch a new project in September 2019 to complement the existing work.  

Made possible by matched funding from the UK government for Farm Africa’s recently launched Coffee is Life appeal, the new project will provide women with the support they need to become actively involved in coffee cooperatives and earn a fair share of coffee production profits.

The project will help women move from providing menial labour harvesting coffee to assuming positions of responsibility actively involved in adding value to the coffee, marketing it and securing good prices from the international speciality coffee market.

Featured photo credit: Esther Ruth Mbabazi/Farm Africa

The post Women and Youth Take on “Man’s Crop” Coffee in Uganda appeared first on Farming First.

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By adopting environmentally-friendly pasture management methods, female dairy farmers can unlock a dormant cattle industry, Jessica Joye writes on behalf of Fintrac. 

La Montañita, a small town located in southwest Colombia, is an area rich in biodiversity and home to two of the country’s largest waterways. However, despite these ecological benefits, the region has been plagued by violence, illicit crop production, and rampant deforestation.

Given the region’s long history of cattle ranching, USAID’s Producers to Markets Alliance (PMA) program, implemented by Fintrac, is partnering with the Association for Economic Solidarity of Central and Lower Cagúan (ASOES) to establish Sustainable Pasture Divisions (DSPs) for 565 rural dairy farmers. DSP is an environmentally-friendly pasture management method based on rotational grazing and pasture divisions. Cattle are placed into pens with high-nutrient fodder grass to restrict overfeeding on one particular area of land. The pens are rotated seasonally as new grass is planted and appropriate for grazing. This method helps cattle optimize nutritional benefits from grass and increase milk production while also ensuring other vegetation is safe from overfeeding.

Flor Maria Gutiérrez Laguna is one of 149 women who are becoming leaders in their community by adopting new methodologies such as DSPs. Flor Maria began with 26 hectares of land divided into four lots; working with ASOES and PMA, she put three hectares under the DSP methodology and quickly began to see an increase in milk productivity thanks to improved access to water for her herd, as well as less damage to her pasture from grazing.

Upon seeing these results, she invested more than $1,000 of her own funds to implement DSP practices on the rest of her land. She also invested in a cement structure to elevate her aqueduct and improve her drinking stations, which she installed with PMA assistance. These improvements have saved her up to two hours per day in water collection – time she can now dedicate to other income-generating activities.

The impact of these activities on her quality of life has been significant.

“Thanks to the program, I have doubled my production. Before, I averaged about 25 liters per day with my 15 dairy cows, and now I am selling 50 liters per day,” she says.

“The extra income helped me invest in more materials for my farm, but most importantly, it has helped me pay for my son’s engineering school, a dream that had been put on hold until recently.”

PMA is bringing hope and opportunity to a region previously plagued with violence and illegality, offering new technologies and effective methods of production for Caquetá’s dairy farmers, empowering them to build a sustainable economic path for future generations.

Featured photo credit: Fintrac/Jessica Joye. Flor Maria Gutierrez Laguna is working with Fintrac’s PMA program to implement improved pasture practices for her 15-cow herd. Since adopting these new methods, she’s seen milk production double. She’s investing her additional income into farm and home improvements as well as her family’s education.

The post Sustainable Pasture Practices Double Milk Production in Colombia appeared first on Farming First.

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The potential for new technology to support African smallholders deserves greater attention, Toby Johnson, communications team leader at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) writes.

Farmers worldwide are facing huge challenges to meet rising demand with increasingly scarce resources but this situation is most acute in Africa.

With the fastest growing population in the world, the continent’s ageing smallholders shoulder the burden to produce ever more food.

Meanwhile, Africa is also suffering the most extreme impacts of climate change, putting extra pressure on water and land.

But there is huge promise for new technologies and innovations to help improve productivity, profitability and sustainability for African smallholders and agripreneurs, and this should be higher on the international agenda.

Firstly, producing more food for a growing population will require more young people to enter agribusiness.

African leaders have committed themselves to creating new jobs for at least 30 per cent of the youth in agricultural value chains by 2025, but most young people have little or no interest in agriculture.

With the average age of farmers in Africa still at 55-60 years old, we must ask ourselves how we can transform the rural landscape and make it much more attractive for young people.

Digitalisation can provide a potentially profitable entry point for them, with the added benefits of boosting productivity, income, increased food and nutrition security.

CTA attends the GFFA to discuss how digital innovations can impact sustainable agriculture. (Credit: CTA)

Secondly, increasing productivity while using fewer resources in a changing climate will mean smallholders need to adopt smarter, more precise techniques.

The wealth of information now available to us through satellites, drones and artificial intelligence can help smallholders farm with greater efficiency and accuracy, making them more resilient to extreme conditions like droughts or flooding.

Yet while smallholders produce around 70 per cent of Africa’s food supplies, only 60 per cent of Africans have internet connections, limiting their access to key information and knowledge such as weather forecasts, market data and farming advice.

Finally, embracing digitalisation in Africa can help achieve broader development goals such as better incomes.

Digitalisation affords young entrepreneurs the opportunity to create disruptive business models, leapfrogging traditional stages of development while there are claims that leveraging technology to increase access to information could boost rural incomes by up to 60 per cent.

CTA, an EU-funded institution, works across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, to support the roll-out of new services and innovations using cutting edge technology.

This has included providing farmers with instant weather updates via SMS, or supporting them with satellite-gathered data and analysis to help guide decisions on fertiliser or pesticide use.

Over the last three years, CTA’s Pitch AgriHack challenge has also reached more than 800 young e-agriculture start-ups, providing training, mentoring and business development skills and seed funding. Several of the supported start-ups have grown into successful businesses serving close to one million smallholder producers

But there is an enormous amount of potential that requires collaboration between the public and private sector to unlock.

This was recognised at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, which focused on “smart solutions for future farming”, with an emphasis on the opportunity of digitalisation.

The event, attended by agriculture ministers as well as private sector actors, was a great opportunity to bring together the parties that can scale up digitalisation to transform African agriculture.

From blockchain technology for greater transparency and efficiency, to artificial intelligence that automates information services, there are ever more exciting and emerging ways to equip smallholders to be more productive and more resilient.

I hope the dialogue at the GFFA helped to propel the mobilisation of young African innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to capitalise on digitalisation’s potential.

Featured photo credit: USAID

The post Why Digitalisation Should Be at the Top of the Agenda for Transforming African Agriculture appeared first on Farming First.

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A CGIAR COP24 side event looked at the changes needed to transform our food systems and protect the environmental resources that agriculture depends on. Marissa Van Epp, Global Communications and Knowledge Manager at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), looks at how policy changes has helped to drive climate-smart agriculture through irrigation in idea.

The case for adopting climate-smart agriculture practices – which can improve productivity, build resilience and reduce emissions – has been underlined by a series of events at the United Nations climate talks in Poland this year.

The “Agriculture Advantage 2.0” series highlighted five pathways towards transforming our food system, and making it fit for purpose under a changing climate. One of these was the need for enabling policies that will encourage farmers to take up improved practices that can deliver on climate and food security goals.

One case study presented by Dr. Alan Nichol at the Policy Advantage event, was an initiative led by the International Water Management Institute, CCAFS, The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and the Tata Trust.

Historically in India, power to pump groundwater for crop irrigation had been subsidized. But this has led to the over-extraction of groundwater. To incentivise behaviour change, the Indian government is investing in solar-powered pumps, a cleaner alternative to diesel pumps. To further encourage farmers to stop pumping more groundwater than is need, a policy to purchase any excess solar power that farmers have captured has been piloted.

This policy decision has resulted in a win-win: 75 per cent of solar energy that participating farmers are generating is being fed back into the grid, driving a sustainable energy source while putting money in farmers’ pockets. Based on the success of the pilot scheme, the Indian government has now budgeted USD 21.8 billion for a massive new scheme to promote solar irrigation, including the provision of 1.75 million solar pumps for agriculture.

There is now opportunity for this approach to expand into Africa. Morocco, for example, is set to install more than 100,000 solar pumps by 2020. In sub-Saharan Africa as well, major donors and development agencies have piloted and assessed solar pumping in Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, among others.

New research is also mapping which areas will be suitable for solar irrigation. The results for Ethiopia suggest that solar-powered irrigation is potentially suitable on an estimated 6.8 million hectares.

This story demonstrates how a shift in policy can have a transformative effect. It also highlights that resource-poor farmers need incentives in order adopt climate-friendlier practices.

Read more about the pathways towards food systems transformation in the latest briefing from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Featured photo credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan/IWMI

The post Innovative Indian Policy Paves Way for Solar-Powered Farming appeared first on Farming First.

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Innovation and technology have critical roles to play if smallholder farmers across the world are to become more productive and sustainable.

This year’s FAO International Symposium on Innovation for Family Farmers in Rome brought together innovators, farmers and policymakers to discuss how we can best combine farmers’ knowledge with the latest technology to meet these goals.

A side event co-hosted by Farming First, the International Agri-Food Network and Government of Nigeria, explored some of the best transformative technologies making farming more efficient and productive, while achieving agroecological outcomes.

The recent UN General Assembly Resolution on Agricultural Technology for Sustainable Development recognized “the need to further enhance the linkages between agricultural technology and agroecological principles, such as recycling, resource use efficiency, reducing external inputs, diversification, integration, soil health and synergies, in order to design sustainable farming systems that strengthen the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment for food security and nutrition, enhance productivity, improve nutrition, conserve the natural resource base and attain more sustainable and innovative food systems.” 

Following a successful prior event at FAO during the Committee on World Food Security, this event brought together a global panel of experts to discuss how innovation and agroecology can work together hand in hand.

Jack Froese, President of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, spoke about the role technology can play in helping reducing waste and helping increase farmers’ incomes. He outlined how new plant breeding has helped to reduce post-harvest losses by keeping plant pods intact and seed ready for harvest.

Speakers addressed solutions that apply to farms of all sizes and regions. Thavy Chumni Un Staal of BASF spoke about the power digital technologies can have for small-scale farmers.

Paul Wagstaff, Senior Agriculture Advisor at Self Help Africa agreed, adding that farmers needed to have a range of appropriate technologies at their disposal to become sustainable farmers.

“Farmers need choices of innovations,” he commented.

He highlighted Self Help Africa’s work on conservation agriculture, in which farmers are supported to improve soil health through intercropping and minimum soil disturbance.

Shiv Kumar Agrawal, a lentil breeder at ICARDA, highlighted the importance innovation can play in helping to drive crop diversity and drive food systems change.

He highlighted ICARDA’s breeding work that has shortened the growing season for pulses and legumes, allowing them to fit into crop rotations with rice.

This innovation goes beyond simply increasing productivity. Agrawal added that innovation could bring other positive outcomes. ”This is good for the environment and for nutrition.”

The event also brought to the fore the role of next generation farmers in promoting the wider use of technology.

Agusdin Pulungan, President of the Indonesian Farmers’ Society Organisation, spoke about the important role young people have in accelerating the uptake of technology.

“As a farmers’ organisation, we have championed ecological farming, more direct marketing, and working with youth in cities,” Pulungan said, adding that young people as a generation are crucial in driving the partnerships that are needed to deliver systemic change.

“We need to boost acceleration, and boost partnerships, in order to accelerate innovation.” 

Featured photo credit: Robynne Anderson

The post Agricultural Innovations to Shape Future of Farming Highlighted at FAO appeared first on Farming First.

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