Farmers Get Exemption From Estate Tax

Republicans continue eviscerating our tax code.  This time they’ve passed an exemption to the estate tax for family farms.  While it sounds well meaning by providing families the ability to keep their farms from generation to generation simple life insurance is all they need.  With simple financial planning and foresight they wouldn’t need to screw the rest of us who need government services and things like roads and bridges.

If you’re a family farmer you can figure out the value of your farm and call a life insurance company for a quote on term life insurance.  If you anticipate a $500,000 estate tax liability, for instance, you buy a $500,000 term life policy and when you die your heirs use that to pay the tax and you get to keep your farm in the family.  This isn’t rocket science folks.  Term life is inexpensive.  How is it we keep bailing out stupid people?

Nourishing the Planet in Basil Magazine

Crossposted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Check out this great new regular feature for Basil Magazine from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project:

Hello readers of Basil Magazine!

I am very excited to be a new contributor to Basil as I travel through sub-saharan Africa, sharing share with you some of the people, places, projects–and foods!– I see along the way.

I’m currently a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and co-Project Director of State of World 2011: Nourishing the Planet. I am blogging everyday from Africa at www.nourishingtheplanet.com. I have an M.S. in Agriculture, Food and Environment from the School of Nutrition Science and  Policy from Tufts University and I worked for 2 and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

I started this trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place most Americans associate with war and hunger because of the famines of the mid 1980s and 1990s. Even today, more than 6 million people in Ethiopia are at risk for starvation so I think I had mentally prepared myself for seeing very desperate people. Instead, though, I found farmers and NGO workers full of hope for agriculture in their country. I think that’s been my greatest surprise about the continent in general – how vibrant, entrepreneurial, friendly, positive, and alive people are here. Six months and thirteen countries later, I’m now in Accra, Ghana, feeling more hopeful than ever that things are really changing.

I’ve making a point during this trip to focus on stories of hope and success in agriculture. Most of what Americans hear about Africa is famine, conflict and HIV/AIDS, and we wanted to highlight the things that are going well on the continent. There’s a lot of hope out here – a lot of individuals and organizations doing terrific work – but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them receiving resources or funding. We hope to create a roadmap for funders and the donor community and shine a big spotlight on the projects and innovations that seem to be working, so that they can be scaled up or replicated in other places.

So, why should Basil magazine readers and foodies in the United States and Europe care about these projects and issues around sustainable agriculture in Africa?

I firmly believe that the foodie community in the United States and Europe are a powerful force in pushing for organically grown and local foods in hospitals and schools, more farmers markets, and better welfare of livestock and I think that some of that energy can be harnessed to promote more diversity and resilience in the food system. Right now, the world depends on just a few crops-maize, wheat, and rice-which are vulnerable not only to price fluctuations, but the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous crops-including millet, sorghum, sweet potato, and many others-however, are not only more nutritious than monoculture crops, but also more resilient to adverse weather events and disease.

By supporting-and funding-NGOs and research institutions, such as Slow Food International, Heifer International, and the World Vegetable Center, wealthy foodies can help ensure that farmers in sub-Saharan Africa help maintain agricultural biodiversity.

I hope you join me for this journey across Africa. Through Basil, I’ll bring you to nearly every country on the continent, sharing with you things I’ve learned, and introducing you to people I meet. I hope that some of my articles inspire you to contact me, ask questions, share your experiences, and guide me towards projects and people you think I should see.

So, stay tuned. I’ll start in Ethiopia, the country where this journey began…

Nourishing the Planet’s research trip to sub Saharan Africa kicks off in Ethiopia and Danielle Nierenberg describes her first impressions of the capital city, Addis.

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

1. Comment on our daily posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.

2. Receive regular updates–Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.

3. Help keep our research going–If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

Homegrown Solutions to Alleviating Poverty and Hunger

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

 

"We’ve got hundreds of local foods, almost 600 that we’ve categorized through our research," said Kristof Nordin in a January interview with Nourishing the Planet project co-Director, Danielle Nierenberg, at the permaculture project he runs in Malawi with his wife, Stacia (see also: Malawi’s Real Miracle). "But we are starving because we are only planting one crop: maize, which came originally from America."

Many efforts to combat hunger and drought across Africa emphasize boosting yields of staple crops such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice, which can provide much-needed calories as well as income to millions of farmers. These staples, however, lack many essential micronutrients, including Vitamin A, thiamin, and niacin. That is why many communities rely on indigenous vegetables such as amaranth, dika, moringa, and baobab to add both nutrients and taste to staple foods. These vegetables are rich in vitamins and nutrients and are often naturally resistant to local pests and climatic fluctuations, making them an important tool in the fight against hunger and poverty.

"We are not saying stop growing maize, we grow maize as well," continued Kristof. "But we try to show people how it can be part of an integrated system, how that integrated agriculture can be part of a balanced diet."

Greater variety can lead to a better tasting diet, too, according to Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center’s Regional Director for Africa in Arusha, Tanzania. "None of the staple crops would be palatable without vegetables," he told Danielle when she visited the center last November. For almost 20 years now, the Center—part of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan—has been working in Africa to breed cultivars that best suit farmers’ needs (see Listening to Farmers).

In addition to providing the vitamins and nutrients needed for a complete diet, indigenous vegetables are more affordable and accessible to farmers who might otherwise be forced to pay for costly imported staple crops and the inputs they require. According to the Center’s website, vegetable production also generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises.

Indigenous vegetables help to preserve culture and traditions as well. "If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat," said Edward Mukiibi, a coordinator with the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project in Uganda, in a December interview with Danielle. The DISC project, founded by Edward and Roger Serunjogi in 2006, hopes to instill greater environmental awareness and appreciation for food, nutrition, and gastronomy by establishing school gardens at 15 preschool, day, and boarding schools. By focusing on indigenous vegetables, the project not only preserves Ugandan culture, but also shows kids how agriculture can be a way to improve diets, livelihoods, and food security (see How to Keep Kids Down on the Farm).

Sylvia Banda is another cultural pioneer. She founded Sylva Professional Catering Services in 1986 in part because she was tired of seeing Western-style foods preferred over traditional Zambian fare like chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves) and impwa (dry garden eggplant) (see Winrock International and Sylva Professional Catering Services Ltd).What started as a catering business grew into a restaurant, cooking school, and hotel, with training programs that teach farmers in Zambia, mostly women, to grow indigenous crops. Sylva’s company purchases the surplus crops from the farmers it trains and uses them in the traditional meals prepared by her facilities, improving local livelihoods and keeping the profits in the local economy.

"When I first met some of these families, their children were at home while school was in session," Sylvia said during a Community Food Enterprise Panel and Discussion hosted by Winrock International in Washington, D.C., in January. "They told me that they didn’t have money to pay for education. But after becoming suppliers for my business, the families can afford to send their children to school and even to buy things like furniture for their houses."

Women who grow vegetable gardens in Kibera slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya, were among the best prepared for the country’s 2007 food crisis, despite being some of the poorest members of society. Their gardens provided family meals at a time when no other food was coming into the city. With food prices on the rise in Africa and the impacts of climate change becoming more significant, home gardens raising indigenous vegetables that are resistant to extreme weather and are rich in vitamins and nutrients have become even more important (see Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera).

As these examples illustrate, most parts of sub-Saharan Africa "have everything they need right here," according to Kristof.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1.Comment on our daily posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2.Receive regular updates–Join the weekly Nourishing the Planet newsletter by clicking here.
3.Help keep our research going—-If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

 

1,000 Words About Mauritius

Crossposted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Full disclosure: We had never heard of the Republic of Mauritius until the day we bought a ticket to go there.

Our pathetic excuse: Lonely Planet doesn’t list it in their Africa book.

When we arrived people seemed shocked to meet two people from the United States – hotel clerks, cab drivers, and street vendors who’ve worked on the island for years said they never met Americans before.

Yet, this is clearly America’s loss because sitting in the middle of the Indian ocean is one of the most incredible islands we’ve ever visited.

We always try to reduce our carbon footprint by traveling via public buses, but in this case a boat didn’t seem like a good option and flights from Johannesburg were extremely cheap. We resisted the urge to splurge on an all-inclusive beach holiday and opted for the more budget hostel pay-as-you-go experience.We had only four days and wanted to make the most of them and interacting with people seemed more interesting than lounging forever on a beach.

While English is the official language, few people spoke it. Bernie’s upbringing in Montreal came in handy as we interacted with people using French. Our cab driver from the airport to Grand Bay, Shivan, told us how safe the country was and how people co-exist harmoniously, “we are different colors, with different cultures, but we live together peacefully here. People are all the same, and we all treat each other that way.” The more we interacted with locals, the more people echoed the same sentiments. The traditional foods we ate reflected this multi-ethnicity melting pot, blending Indian, Creole, Chinese and European influences.

“It’s not like most places in Africa,” another cab driver told us. “You can walk anywhere at night. You can leave your stuff unattended. We don’t have much crime here, people will help you  – not bother you  – and its very rare that they will steal anything from you.”

We asked another local named Richard why he thought it was so safe and he told me that the government took care of it’s people. “Everyone gets a good pension, no matter how long or where you worked; all people get access to health care and free education; and if you’re too poor to own a house then the government builds one for you with electricity for free (and after paying basic rent for seven years, you own it).”

Another person we asked, named Marie, said that Mauritius lacked the government corruption of most African countries, citing it as the reason people visit there over nearby islands such as Madagascar and Comoros. “We have a real democracy,” she said.

In Mauritius, the government is elected on a five-year basis. The last general elections took place on July 3, 2005 in all the 20 mainland constituencies, as well as the constituency covering the island of Rodrigues.

The British left the country after they attained independence in 1968, and became a republic in 1992. According to the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which measures governance using a number of different variables, Mauritius’ government earned the highest rank among African nations for “participation and human rights” and “sustainable economic opportunity”, as well as earning the highest score in the index overall. Mauritius came second in “rule of law”, and fourth in terms of “human development” (source: Wikipedia).

Our hostel (Grand Bay Beach Residence), booked via Student Flights (affiliated with Liberty travel in the United States), was terrific value. It is located in short walking distance from the town of Grand Bay and the ocean. The price was around thirty dollars per night, but considering the fact that free 3G WiFi worked on the outdoor deck and taking into account the hours we spent uploading video files and talking on conference calls to the United States on Skype – we got lots of unexpected value.  Things like restaurants and tourist destinations are very expensive on the island, but buying groceries and having drinks in the hotel room before heading out dancing allows budget travelers to enjoy everything without a hefty toll on your wallet. All the beaches everywhere in the country are public for both locals and tourists and that was something we enjoyed taking advantage of.

We drove across the Island learning more about the country’s agriculture, which, next to tourism, is their biggest source of income. Sugar cane is the largest export, and the plots of land growing them stretched for miles. We were told that this crop accounted for a quarter of all exports from the country. We also saw lots of pineapple and coffee being grown.

Yet, an industry that surprised us was the booming hi-tech sector. We certainly didn’t expect coast-to-coast wireless internet (3G) when we arrived (it covers 60 percent of the island and is cheap and widely assessable).  

We also played tourists and visited Triolet Shivala, the biggest Hindu temple of the island. The temple is dedicated to the Gods Shiva, Krishna, Vishna, Muruga, Brahma and Ganesha. This place is also the longest village on the island.

We also saw the “Coloured Earths of Chamarel,” among the oddest sites of the island. There are seven-coloured dunes at Chamarel, the result from the weathering of volcanic rocks. And a short drive away, we relaxed, eating spicy pineapple near the breathtaking Chamarel waterfalls. And we admit, we visited the beaches there as well.

As we boarded the plane, we looked at each other, and said we hoped to visit this magical island again.

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

1. Comment on our daily posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.

2. Receive regular updates–Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.

3. Help keep our research going–If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

Bringing High-Quality Food Aid Closer to Home

Cross-posted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Danielle Nierenberg with Felix Edwards of the World Food Programme's Zambia P4P Program. (Photo: Bernard Pollack) The highways in southern Africa are filled with trucks carrying food aid across the continent. In the past, much of the maize, rice, soy, and other foods loaded onto these trucks came not from African farmers, but from the United States. And while these shipments provided much needed calories to people in need, they also disrupted national and local markets by lowering prices for locally grown food.

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

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

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

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

1.Comment on our daily posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.

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3.Help keep our research going–If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Sustainable Calling Plan

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Danielle Nierenberg with Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager (photo: Bernard Pollack) In addition to hoes and shovels, more and more farmers in sub-Saharan Africa carry another agricultural “tool”: a cell phone.

Over the last decade, cell-phone use in Africa has increased fivefold, and farmers are using their phones to gain information about everything from markets to weather. For example, farmers can find out prices before they make the long trips from rural areas to urban markets, giving them the option to wait to sell until prices are higher. Agricultural extension agents and development agencies also use mobile phones to communicate with farmers, letting them know about changes in weather that could affect crops.

Farmers and agribusiness agents in Zambia are also using cell phones as bank accounts, to pay for orders, to manage agricultural inputs, to collect and store information about customers, and to build credit. Mobile Transactions, a financial services company for the “unbanked,” allows customers to use their phones like an ATM card, says Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager. An estimated 80 percent of Zambians, particularly in rural areas, don’t have bank accounts, making it difficult for them to make financial transactions such as buying seed or fertilizer. But by using Mobile Transactions, farmers are not only able to make purchases and receive payment electronically, they are also building a credit history, which can make getting loans easier.

Mobile Transactions also works with USAID’s PROFIT program to help agribusiness agents make orders for inputs, manage stock flows, and communicate more easily with agribusiness companies and farmers. Perhaps most importantly, the partnership helps agents better understand the farmers they’re working with so that they can provide the tools, inputs, and education each farmer and community needs.

In addition, e-banking and e-commerce systems can help make better use of agricultural subsidies. Mobile Transactions worked with AGRA and CARE to develop an e-voucher system for obtaining conservation farming inputs. Farmers receive a scratch card with funds that they can redeem via their phones to purchase tools or other inputs from local agribusiness agents. Unlike paper vouchers, there’s no delay in moving the money, and farmers can get what they need immediately, such as seed during planting season or fertilizer when it can be used most effectively. And because donors are using Mobile Transactions to distribute the vouchers, they’re acting as a stimulant to the private sector, rather than distorting the market.

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

1. Comment on our daily posts — we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.

2. Receive regular updates–Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.

3. Help keep our research going–If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

Meet Shayna Bailey, Slow Food International

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet, www.nourishingtheplanet.com

“Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group” is a new regular series where we profile advisors ofthe Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we’re featuring Shayna Bailey, who is Director of International Development for Slow Food International.”

Bio:  Shayna Bailey is Director of International Development for Slow Food International. She works on organizational development, strategic partnerships, and resource mobilization at Slow Food’s international headquarters in Italy. She has a M.A. in Sustainable Development and a B.A. in International Business, and has worked on and managed Community-Supported Agriculture programs in the U.S. states of California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as in St. Croix. Bailey has researched perceptions of food security with Quichua women in the Ecuadorian Andes and has studied ecological horticulture at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She represents Slow Food in the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty and is involved in planning the 4th meeting of Terra Madre – World Meeting of Food Communities, to be held in October 2010.

On Nourishing the Planet:  Nourishing the Planet is an important opportunity to show the world that there are effective alternatives to solving the problems of hunger and poverty that are already in practice, and are replicable on a larger scale. Many of these innovations are not well known to diverse and international audiences. This project gives visibility to lesser-known sustainable approaches that tackle some of the most critical and complex issues of our time. Nourishing the Planet will surely shift policymakers’, development workers’, and ordinary citizens’ perspectives on what it will take to decrease hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Slow Food International states that it works to counteract fast food and fast life by bringing together pleasure and responsibility to make them inseparable. Can you give specific examples of how Slow Food does this?

Fast food and fast life create a gap between us and our food. There is less time to savor the tastes of the seasons and the joy of food shared in company. We eat to fill our stomachs, without thinking of the implications. Slow Food works to create a broad cultural shift in the relationship people around the world have with the food they eat. Pleasure is important to our daily food rituals. Responsibility without pleasure does not encourage us to enjoy mealtimes, to preserve our cultural traditions, or to value and appreciate our food. Pleasure without responsibility, however, is negligent.  Our disconnection with food results in a negative impact on environment, economy, culture, and health.

Our decisions about purchasing and consuming food have a direct effect on the food production and supply chain. For example, the demand for artificially ‘cheap’ food on the market means: that our food is unfairly sourced from low-paid labor and, often, is inspected under questionable standards of quality; that varieties of fruits and vegetables are favored for their ease of transportation instead of for their vitamin and mineral content; that we produce enough food in the world for 12 billion people when we have a global population of less than 7 billion, meaning that we waste almost half of all food produced while 1 billion people go hungry; that our children eat food at school that causes diet-related diseases and obesity; and, that, as a result, we spend millions on health care and environmental clean-up to address these externalized costs of our food system.

The concept of making pleasure and responsibility inseparable permeates all of Slow Food’s programs-from raising awareness through workshops and connecting consumers directly to food producers, to supporting small-scale farmers in creating a sustainable product that also has great taste quality and preserves culture, to teaching children that the sweetest carrot they have ever tasted comes not from a plastic bag in the supermarket, but right from their own garden.

Can you explain how preserving biodiversity helps improve quality of life and save communities and cultures?

Biodiversity in our food systems leaves us less vulnerable to climatic changes, to economic crises, to the homogenization of cultures, and to public health epidemics. Just as you would diversify your investment portfolio to manage financial risk, biodiversity in food and agriculture minimizes threats to these systems and lessens the impact of negative influences. The genetically uniform crop of potatoes planted and consumed in the 1840s greatly exacerbated the Irish potato famine, which killed 1 million people and caused the emigration of a million more. The blight that struck Europe would not have had such a terrible impact on the potato crop in Ireland if a diversity of potatoes had instead been planted.

Indigenous cultures are often the custodians of biodiversity, preserving not only traditional seed varieties but also diverse agricultural practices. This knowledge can serve to mitigate and adapt to adverse environmental changes that complicate the cycle of hunger and poverty. Some traditional communities use more than 200 different species in their diets, while the average community in developed countries uses a maximum of 30. These 30 food species, out of 7,000 domesticated species that have spanned the history of agriculture, account for 90 percent of our daily diets. Over the last 100 years, 75 percent of our food crops have disappeared. Agricultural systems that are rich in biodiversity increase food security and improve nutrition for communities, while protecting soil fertility and providing pollinators-essential for food production-with healthy ecosystems.

What are some of the fairs, events, and markets you organize to foster greater connection between producers and co-producers? What is the value in creating this connection?

The idea of ‘responsibility’ is demonstrated in Slow Food’s use of the word ‘co-producer’ as opposed to consumer. Instead of passively making food choices, a co-producer makes educated decisions about the food they eat and, when possible, actively supports the people who produce their food. Slow Food organizes initiatives around the world to directly link producers and co-producers, including Salone del Gusto, Earth Markets, educational projects, and thousands of events by our local chapters (convivia) comprised of 100,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food is also growing regional networks out of Terra Madre, a global network of food producers, cooks, academics, and youth, to create this cultural shift and grow sustainable food systems on national and regional levels.

This direct link between producers and co-producers is important since, in the United States for example, 91 cents of every dollar spent on food goes to middlemen for packaging, shipping, transportation, and marketing, while only 9 cents goes to the farmer. By shortening the supply chain, consumers pay less and eat better, and farmers earn a fair wage. Besides the obvious economic and health values, this connection also reinforces positive community development, preserves local cultural practices, and educates consumers on the realities of where their food comes from and from whom.

Do you see any connection or potential connection between the “slow food” or “whole food” movements in the United States and Europe, and the work that Slow Food is doing internationally? Why should consumers in the United States care about preserving biodiversity or food traditions in Uganda, for example?

In many ways, consumers are now facing similar food-system issues in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Lack of access to food that is healthy and fresh is not only happening in the neighborhoods of Yaoundé, but also in the food deserts of North America. Over-nutrition is a problem now in sub-Saharan Africa, right alongside under-nutrition, and both can be caused by poverty. People who have migrated to urban areas are eating foods that are low in nutritional value, and, consequently, are fighting diabetes and other diet-related diseases.

There are parents in every country who want their kids to eat good food at school, and gardens on school grounds are growing in every corner of the globe. Engaging the next generation of farmers, and ensuring that they have the skills and the markets to make a living, is another common thread of concern. Nearly everyone we speak with agrees that it is increasingly difficult to slow down and share a meal with friends and families, and that we are forgetting our cultural and culinary heritage.

The effort to feed the world almost exclusively by an industrial approach to food production and consumption is demonstrating its inadequacy in terms of health, environmental, economic, and cultural consequences. Consumers in the United States should care about preserving biodiversity and food traditions in Uganda because they are faced with the same dilemmas at home, because we can learn from one another to improve the situation, and because many American agricultural and trade policies, not to mention cultural influences, have had-and continue to have-a huge negative impact on less-developed nations’ food systems. It goes back to the concept of pleasure and responsibility: we cannot enjoy our food and ignore the system that produced it. In the end, that system affects us all.

Using the Market to Create Resilient Agriculture Practices

Cross posted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Care International’s work in Zambia has two main goals: increase the production of staple crops and improve farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. But instead of giving away bags of seed and fertilizers to farmers, Care is “creating input access through a business approach,” not a subsidy approach, according to Steve Power, Assistant Country Director for Zambia.

One way they’re doing this is by creating a network of agro-dealers who can sell inputs to their neighbors as well as educate them about how to use hybrid seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs. At the same time, “we are mindful” of the benefits of local varieties of seeds, says Harry Ngoma, Agriculture Advisor for the Consortium for Food Security, Agriculture and Nutrition, AIDS, Resiliency and Markets (C-FAARM). Care and C-FAARM are working with farmers to combine high- and low-technology practices.

Care thinks that this “business approach” will help farmers get the right inputs at the right time, unlike subsidy approaches that give farmers fertilizer for free, but often at the wrong time of year, making the nutrients unavailable to crops. And Care’s focus on training agro-dealers and giving them start-up grants allows the organization to remain invisible to farmers. Power says that Care wants to be a “catalyst to the market” and help transfer resources, without distorting the basic pricing structure.

Another component of Care’s work is improving the production of sorghum and cassava. “Zambia is as addicted to maize as we are to Starbucks coffee,” says Power. But by encouraging the growth of other crops, including sorghum, which is indigenous to Africa, Care can help farms diversify local diets as well as build resilience to price fluctuations and drought.

Care is promoting conservation farming in Zambia as well. The organization has been working in six districts since 2007, reaching 24,000 households. In addition to promoting minimum tillage practices and the use of manure and compost, Care is helping to train government extension officers about conservation farming so that eventually they’ll be responsible-instead of Care-for training farmers.

According to Power, the key to Care’s work is promoting business-like approaches to agriculture alongside more traditional ones, so farmers don’t become dependent on the organization for gifts of fertilizer or seed. These sorts of programs, according to Care, will be more effective at feeding people and increasing incomes than traditional food-aid projects that rely on long-term donor support. This is a big challenge in a country-and a region-facing the impacts of both climate change and the global economic crisis.

Stay tuned for more blogs about how farmers are linking to the private sector.

To learn more about Care’s work in Zambia, visit www.care.org/zambia.

Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.


Richard Haigh runs Enaleni Farm outside Durban, South Africa, raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Check out this video from my conversation with Richard about his sheep, his garden, and the meaning behind the name of his farm:


U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, on Agricultural Development in Zimbabwe

This is the first in a series of blogs where we’ll be asking policy makers, politicians, non-profit and organizational leaders, journalists, celebrities, chefs, musicians, and farmers to share their thoughts-and hopes-for agricultural development in Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting with the new U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray. Ambassador Ray was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions about agricultural development in a country facing political turmoil, high unemployment, and high food prices.

What do you think is needed in Zimbabwe to both improve food security and farmers incomes?

Over the past decade, Zimbabwean small holder farmers have endured a litany of economic, political, and social shocks as well as several droughts and floods resulting in the loss of their livelihoods and food security. Poverty for small holder farmers has greatly increased throughout the country.

In order to restore farmers’ livelihoods they need to be supported in a process of sustainable private sector-driven agricultural recovery to achieve tangible household-level impact in food security and generate more household income, as well to promote more rural employment.

The U.S. government through USAID is doing this by supporting programs that provide effective rural extension, trainings and demonstration farms in order to improve farm management by small holder producers. The programs also include support for inputs and market linkages between the farmers and agro-processers, exporters and buyers. These programs are broad-based and cover all communal small holder farmers throughout the country.

The result of this work is increased production, and productivity, lowered crop production costs and losses, improved product quality, and production mix and increasing on-farm value-adding. Together these programs are increasing food security and farmer’s incomes as well as generating more farmer income and rural employment of agro-business.

At present, the U.S. is the largest provider of direct food aid in Zimbabwe. We are working with our partners to move from food aid to food security assistance which will use more market oriented approaches and combine livelihoods programs as noted above, which will reduce the need for food distribution.

Do you think Zimbabwe needs more private sector investment? If so, what are ways the U.S. government and other donors can help encourage both domestic and foreign investment?

Zimbabwe certainly needs more foreign direct investment. There is little chance that the country can internally generate the investments required to promote the economic growth it needs without it. But it is the government of Zimbabwe that is responsible for creating the business enabling environment to attract investment including both foreign and national.

At present, much more needs to be done in policy and the legal and regulatory framework and in the rhetoric and actions by the government in order to create the environment conducive to attract investment. Without the clear will of the government to be FDI-friendly there is not much that the donors can do.