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:

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Board: David Spielman

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

“Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group” is a regular series where we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we’re featuring David Spielman, who is a Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Name: David Spielman

Affiliation: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Bio: David Spielman is a Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His research agenda covers a range of topics including agricultural science, technology, and innovation policy; seed systems and agricultural input markets; and community-driven rural development. Prior to this, David worked in agriculture and rural development for the World Bank (Washington, D.C.), the Aga Khan Development Network (Pakistan), and several other organizations. His regional emphasis is on East Africa and South Asia. Spielman received a Ph.D. in Economics from American University in 2003, an M.Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics in 1993, and a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University in 1992.

Recent Publications:

• David J. Spielman et al., “Policies to promote cereal intensification in Ethiopia: A review of evidence and experience,” Food Policy, vol. 35 (2010), in press;

• Anwar Naseem; David J. Spielman, and Steven Were Omamo, “Private-sector investment in R&D: A review of policy options to promote its growth in developing-country agriculture,” Agribusiness, vol. 26, no. 1 (2010), pp. 143-73;  

• David J. Spielman, Javier Ekboir, and Kristin Davis, “The art and science of innovation systems inquiry: Applications to Sub-Saharan African agriculture,” Technology in Society, vol. 31, no. 4 (2009), pp. 399-405;

• David J. Spielman and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development (Washington, DC: IFPRI, 2009).

On Nourishing the Planet: “Nourishing the planet” means investing in growth, development, and the improvement of human livelihoods in new and more sustainable ways than what we have done in the past. This means encouraging greater innovation in how we produce food, manage our natural resources, steward our environment, and assist those least able to benefit from innovation.

What is the relationship between agriculture, the environment, and global hunger and poverty? Agriculture is a fundamental source of both sustenance and income for many of the world’s poor, whether directly or indirectly. Their long-term ability to earn a living from agriculture depends acutely on how we manage the environment that provides agriculture with its essential inputs-soil, nutrients, water, light, and so many other elements. With the world waking up to climate change, there is more recognition that agriculture and the environment are inextricably linked, and thus that our lives and livelihoods are similarly linked.

What is the role you see small-scale farmers playing in the eradication of global poverty and hunger? There are skeptics who argue that small-scale farming is not a viable livelihood option in developing countries, and that the consolidation of land holdings and the expansion of capital-intensive farming will eventually push small farmers out. Yet there is ample empirical evidence indicating that small farmers-particularly small farmers who are able to innovate, commercialize, and compete in the marketplace-have some real advantages over more corporate-style agriculture. But realistically, creating a new generation of competitive and dynamic farmers will take more investment in rural education and health services, market institutions and infrastructure, and science in the interest of the smallholder. The new generations of small farmers should not be bound to the drudgery and uncertainty of agricultural life; rather, they should be sharp, savvy farmers endowed with the skills and education needed to compete successfully.

When you met with Nourishing the Planet co-director Danielle Nierenberg in the fall of last year, you said that “farmers are now faced with decisions that it would take a Ph.D to solve,” but that there are enormous opportunities for creative innovations that can help lift farmers’ incomes, protect the environment, and increase food security. Can you provide examples of what you mean? Policymakers, administrators, and development practitioners seem to expect that farmers will readily respond to their concerns about sluggish agricultural productivity growth, rising food prices, poor household nutrition, climate change, and a host of other complex challenges. But the solutions on offer-a new cultivation practice here, a new market niche there-are not always an obvious opportunity for every farmer. The ability of a farmer to seize an opportunity-to cultivate her crops in a new way, or to sell her farm surplus in a new market-depends acutely on her sense of household security now and in the future, her perceptions of risk, and her level of education and degree of experience.

My favorite “innovation” example is conservation agriculture which, loosely defined, is a set of cultivation practices designed to improve soil fertility and water retention that depend on the adoption of closely related farming techniques-residue retention, minimum tillage, land leveling, strategic crop rotation, improved or specialized varieties, etc. The idea is to conserve the natural resource base of agricultural production while also improving yields or lowering costs for the farmer. There are a range of crop-specific technologies designed to make these approaches work (direct seeded rice, zero tillage wheat, etc.), but they are pretty complicated. I have seen it practiced in Zambia, India, and several other countries, and I take my hat off to these farmers. It doesn’t look that easy.

I’m not much of a farmer myself, but if you gave me a half hectare of land and asked me to try some of these techniques out, I would fail miserably. And even if I got the techniques right-preparing the land correctly, planting seed, managing the irrigation, and harvesting at the right time-who knows what would happen when I tried to sell my output in the market. Being a good farmer, a good agronomist, and a good businessperson all at the same time is challenging. That’s why I focus on the need for greater investment in agricultural science, rural education, and rural infrastructure, so that tomorrow’s farmers are better equipped with the skills and education needed to experiment, adapt, and ultimately, compete.

What sorts of innovations, policies, etc. would you like to see implemented to reduce global poverty and hunger? Reducing global poverty and hunger hinge on several key policies and investments. First, continued and accelerated investment in science and technology is critical. This means not only “high” science like genomics and crop genetic improvement, but also the more “day to day” science of soil fertility and water management, as well as the managerial and organizational aspects of how we actually do science.

Second, greater investment in the hardware and software of innovation are also needed. This means physical infrastructure like roads and power; market infrastructure like price information systems and laws to effectively settle commercial disputes; rural education and health services; and many other areas that are often lacking in the lives of small farmers and rural entrepreneurs.

Third, investment in communities is essential because collective action can often contribute dramatically to social and economic change. There is much to be gained from encouraging communities to identify their own development priorities, marshal their own resources to effect change, and act as independent but constructive partners to both state and non-state actors.

Can you describe the Millions Fed project and your involvement? “Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development” is a project that examines “what works” in agricultural development-what types of programs, policies, and investments have had a proven impact on hunger and food security. The project looks at 20 proven successes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America during the last 50 years that have played an important role in reducing the proportion of people suffering from malnutrition from about one-third to one-sixth of the world’s population. The project, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was undertaken by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in 2008-09.

Our flagship output from this project is a book by the same title. The book-along with the website, video, booklets, technical papers, and seminar presentations-has helped inform the debate on the future of the global food and agriculture system by focusing attention on large-scale successes that have had a demonstrated impact on hunger and food security, and on the importance of accumulating real evidence on where, why, and how interventions succeeded.

Can you discuss the relationship-if you think there is one-between food consumers in the United States and global hunger? Increasingly, consumers in both industrialized and developing countries are driving the choices that farmers in developing countries make. About 30 years ago, this was not necessarily the case, as policymakers with food self-sufficiency targets, local administrators with subsidized inputs, or scientists with new plant varieties held sway. Of course, this shift to a more consumer-driven global system offers many opportunities. Think about the small farmer in Tanzania who is able to make good money producing organic green beans for export to Europe, or the small farmer in India who is enjoying high returns on his mango and grape exports to the Middle East.

But I often wonder whether there is a need for us to cautiously interpret the gains associated with the expansion of this global system. The natural skeptic in me would ask whether we are simply replacing cacao, tea, rubber, and other colonial cash crops with pesticide-free strawberries, shade-grown coffee, or organic broccoli for wealthy consumers in industrialized countries. The economist in me would ask whether poverty reduction and global hunger can be effectively reduced by these products (and interventions to promote these products), or whether there are better uses of our scarce resources.

In some countries such as Ethiopia, research shows that greater poverty reduction can be achieved by investing in the improvement of food staple and livestock productivity. Although this doesn’t preclude investment in high-value export crops, it should be a warning message to policymakers and development practitioners who are overly enamored with the idea that quaint fruits, organic vegetables, or pretty flowers will end poverty.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? During my undergraduate studies, I had an international relations professor who published extensively on the theory of deterrence and mutually assured destruction-key principals during the Cold War. But recognizing that the Berlin Wall was falling at the same time as he was lecturing, he talked a bit about interdependence-the idea that the security of all countries would depend not on rival military might, but on the depth of their economic and social relationships. I think we are moving closer and closer to a tightly interdependent world. This means that food consumers in the United States need to care more about the state of the world because their choices at the supermarket, in the kitchen, and in the voting booth affect the livelihoods of millions beyond their borders.

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

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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:
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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.

 

Recovery is a Word You Hear a Lot in Rwanda

Crossposted from BorderJumpers.org. Originally featured on Thought Leader, written by Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and Jim De Vries, director of Heifer International’s Programs Division.

From public-service announcements on television to billboards – it’s the motto for a place that just 15 years ago was torn apart by genocide. More than one million people were murdered in 1994 as ethnic strife turned neighbour against neighbour in one of the bloodiest civil wars in African history.

“Heifer is helping a recovery process,” explained Dr Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the programmes manager for Heifer International Rwanda. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it’s close to the border with Uganda. Residents, who weren’t killed, fled to Kigali for safety.

In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how to raise them.

Heifer’s start in Rwanda was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group – because they were giving farmers “very expensive cows” says Holindintwali Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn’t understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s.

But Heifer introduced a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide. And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high-producing cows”.

And these animals don’t only provide milk – which can be an important source of protein for the hungry – and income to families. They also provide manure, which is a source of fertiliser for crops and is now helping provide bio-gas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a national bio-gas programme.

Madame Helen Bahikwe, another farmer in Gicumbi District, began working with Heifer International in 2002. She now has five cows – and an excess of manure. With a subsidy from the government, Helen built a bio-gas collection tank, which allows her to use the methane from decomposing manure to cook for her 10-person family. She no longer has to collect or buy firewood, saving both time and money and protecting the environment. The fuel is also cleaner burning, eliminating the smoke that comes from other sources of fuel.

Heifer is also helping farmers become teachers, training other Heifer partners. Holindintwali Cyprien hasn’t always been a farmer. After the genocide, he and his wife, Donatilla, were school teachers, making about $USD50 monthly. Living in a small house constructed of mud, without electricity or running water they were saving to buy a cow to help increase their income. But when Heifer International started working in Rwanda almost a decade ago, Cyprien and Donatilla were chosen as one of the first 93 farmers in the country to be Heifer partner families. Along with the gift of a cow, the family also received training and support from Heifer project coordinators.

Today, they’ve used their gift to not only increase their monthly income – they now make anywhere from $USD 300-600 a month – but also improved the family’s living conditions and nutrition. In addition to growing elephant grass and other fodder – one of Heifer’s requirements for receiving animals – for the 5 cows they currently own, Cyprien and Donatilla are also growing vegetables and keeping chickens. They’ve built a brick house and have electricity and are earning income by renting their other house.

Today, Cyprien is going back to his roots and making plans to teach again – this time to other farmers. He wants “the wider community to benefit from his experience”.

And Heifer’s work is now being recognised – and supported – by the Rwandan government. In 2008 the government instituted the One Cow Per Poor Household Programme, which aims to give the 257 000 of the poorest households in the country training and support to raise milk for home consumption.

But Heifer, says, Dr Karamuzi, is also building an exit strategy by connecting farmers to cooperatives, which can organise and train farmers themselves.

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

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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:

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Reducing the Things They Carry

Crossposted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

The majority of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa- in some areas up to 80 percent- are women. The average female farmer in the region is responsible not only for growing food but also for collecting water and firewood-putting in a 16-hour workday.

Deforestation and drought brought on by climate change have further increased women’s time spent doing activities like gathering firewood and collecting water for bathing, cooking, and cleaning. Many women in Africa lack access to resources and technologies that might make these tasks easier, such as improved hoes, planters, and grinding mills; rainwater harvesting systems; and lightweight transport devices.

In Kenya, the organization Practical Action has introduced a fireless cooker to reduce household dependence on wood charcoal and other forms of fuel. Made easily by hand and at home, fireless cookers use insulation to store heat from traditional stoves that can then be used to cook foods over a longer period of time. Meals that are placed in a fireless cooker in the morning are baked with the stored heat and ready to eat later that day, reducing the need to continuously fuel traditional cook fires.

Meanwhile, biogas units that are fueled by livestock manure can save, on average, 10 hours of labor per week that would otherwise be spent collecting wood or other combustibles. The Rwandan government, recognizing the value of this time savings, hopes to have 15,000 households nationwide using biogas by 2012, and is subsidizing installation costs. (See also “Building a Methane Fueled Fire” and “Got Biogas?“)

The “Mosi-o-Tunya” (Pump that Thunders) pressure pump, produced by International Development Enterprises (IDE), is a lightweight pump that sits on top of a well and is operated by foot. The pump’s weight makes it easy to operate as well as to transport by foot or bike. Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, Zambia, explained how, in addition to improving her family’s diet and income, the pump gave her more independence: “Now we are not relying only on our husbands, because we are now able to do our own projects and to assist our husbands, to make our families look better, eat better, clothe better-even to have a house.” (See also “Access to Water Improves Quality of Life for Women and Children.”)

In Ethiopia, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) helped women living in the rural lowlands near Ajo improve their incomes and livelihoods by creating a milk marketing group. Before the USAID-funded project was implemented, women were carrying 1-2 liters of milk for seven or eight hours to sell at the nearest market in Dire Dawa. The milk would sell for only some 20 cents a liter, and after spending the night in town, the women returned home only to make the same trip again days later, forcing them to neglect their homes and gardens. Now, the women take turns selling each other’s milk at the market, making the long trip only once every 10 days and keeping all of the profits from the day, putting some of the money into savings and using the rest to pay for food, school, and household supplies.

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

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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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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.