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?

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.

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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.

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To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Rob Munro, Mark Wood, and Reuben Banda from USAID PROFIT in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo by Bernard Pollack)The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Production, Finance, and Technology (PROFIT) program in Lusaka, Zambia, is different from other development projects, according to Rob Munro, the program’s senior market development advisor. This is because PROFIT has “real clients” in the private sector who maintain relationships with smallholder farmers.

By working with these partners, PROFIT isn’t distorting the market “by throwing money at it” or giving farmers subsidies for inputs, such as fertilizer. Instead, it is working with farmers, the private sector, and donors to improve the competitiveness of rural businesses by linking large agribusiness firms to farmers. It’s helping to improve linkages within industries that large numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises participate in, such as cotton, livestock, and non-timber forest products like honey.

Specifically, PROFIT helps communities select and train agricultural agents who work with agribusiness to provide inputs to farmers in rural areas-places where agribusiness firms had been reluctant to go because they didn’t think there was a big enough market. The agents are essentially entrepreneurs who provide goods and services that the communities didn’t have access to. In addition to selling things like hybrid maize or fertilizer, the agents can also provide ripping services to farmers practicing conservation farming methods, as well as herbicide spraying and veterinary services.

The “key” to the program’s success, says Munro, is that the agent is a “community man” selected by the communities themselves, not by agribusiness firms. The farmers trust the agent not to run off with their money and to deliver the goods and services they’ve purchased.

Unlike traditional development projects that “inundate” communities with trainers, PROFIT minimizes the number of USAID staff involved locally, helping to ensure that the project isn’t viewed as traditional “aid,” which can create dependency. Unlike the AGRA-supported CNFA, which relies extensively on its own staff to train agro-dealers, 80 percent of the trainings for agents are not provided by PROFIT, but by firms that are training agents how to use their products.

PROFIT’s model means that the program doesn’t work “with the poorest of the poor,” but with farmers who have the ability to scale up, says PROFIT chief of party Mark Wood. If you start with the very poorest, Wood says, “it’s like trying to start a car without an engine.” But by working with the 200,000 farmers in Zambia who have the means to collaborate with businesses, PROFIT is helping to create opportunities for thousands of poorer farmers in the future.

Stay tuned this week for more about PROFIT and Mobile Technology’s work to help small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers use mobile phone technology for e-banking services and to access market information.

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

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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.

Wausau Daily Herald: Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty

Wausau Daily Herald: Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty

Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty

http://www.wausaudailyherald.c…

By Danielle Nierenberg

For the Wausau Daily Herald

Stacia and Kristof Nordin have an unusual backyard, and it looks a lot different from the Edgar yard in which Kristof grew up.

Rather than the typical bare dirt patch of land that most Malawians sweep “clean” every day, the Nordins have more than 200 varieties of mostly indigenous vegetables growing organically around their house. They came to Malawi in 1997 as Peace Corps volunteers, but now call Malawi home. Stacia is a technical adviser to the Malawi Ministry of Education, working to sensitize both policymakers and citizens about the importance of using indigenous foods and permaculture to improve livelihoods and nutrition. Kristof is a community educator who works to train people at all levels of Malawian society in low-input and sustainable agricultural practices.

The Nordins use their home as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods that incorporate composting, water harvesting, intercropping and other methods that help build organic matter in soils, conserve water, and protect agricultural diversity. Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor-people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops might hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi — as well as in other African countries.

Nowhere needs the help more than Malawi, a nation of 14 million in southeast Africa that is among the least developed and most densely populated on Earth.

The country might be best known for the so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago, the government decided to do something controversial and provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then, maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story.

But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof, makes it “kind of like Wonder Bread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients. Traditional varieties of corn, which aren’t usually so highly processed, are more nutritious and don’t require as much artificial fertilizer as do hybrid varieties.

“Forty-eight percent of the country’s children are still nutritionally stunted, even with the so-called miracle,” Kristof says.

Rather than focusing on just planting maize — a crop that is not native to Africa — the Nordins advise farmers with whom they work that there is “no miracle plant — just plant them all.” Research has shown that Malawi has more than 600 indigenous and naturalized food plants to choose from. Maize, ironically, is one of the least suited to this region because it’s highly susceptible to pests, disease and erratic rainfall patterns.

Unfortunately, the “fixation on just one crop,” says Kristof, means that traditional varieties of foods are going extinct — crops that already are adapted to drought and heat, traits that become especially important as agriculture copes with climate change.

“Design,” says Kristof, “is key in permaculture,” meaning that everything from garden beds to the edible fish pond to the composting toilet have an important role on their property. And although their neighbors have been skeptical, they’re impressed by the quantity — and diversity — of food grown by the family. More than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables are grown on their small plot of land, providing a year-round supply of food to the Nordins and their neighbors.

In addition, they’re creating a “model village” by training several families who rent houses on the property,) to practice and teach others about the permaculture techniques that they use around their homes. They also have built an “edible playground,” where children can play, eat and learn about various indigenous fruits.

More important, the Nordins are showing that by not sweeping, burning and removing all organic matter, people can get more out of the land than just maize and reduce their dependence on high-cost agricultural inputs in the process.

And indigenous crops can be an important source of income for farmers. Rather than import amaranth, sorghum, spices, tamarinds and other products from India, South Africa and other countries, the Nordins are helping farmers find ways to market seeds, as well as value-added products, from local resources. These efforts not only provide income and nutrition, but fight the “stigma that anything Malawian isn’t good enough,” says Kristof. “The solutions,” he says, “are literally staring us in the face.”

And as a visitor walked around seeing and tasting the various crops at the Nordins’ home, it became obvious that maize is not Malawi’s only miracle.

Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, blogging daily from Africa

at: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/no… She can be reached at dnierenberg@worldwatch.org.

Creating a Well-Rounded Food Revolution

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Check out the most recent issue of the journal Science which takes a look at ways to improve food security as the world’s population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050. To best nourish both people and the planet, the journal suggests a rounded approach to a worldwide agricultural revolution by encouraging diets and policies that emphasize local and sustainable food production, along with the implementation of agricultural techniques that utilize biotechnology and ecologically friendly farming solutions.