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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Helping Conserve Wildlife-and Agriculture-in Mozambique

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Madyo Couto has a tough job. He works under the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism to help manage the country’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). These areas were initially established to help conserve and protect wildlife, but they’re now evolving to include other uses of land that aren’t specifically for conservation.

Madyo explained that in addition to linking the communities that live near or in conservation areas to the private sector to build lodges and other services for tourists, they’re also helping farmers establish honey projects to generate income. In many of national parks and other conservation areas, farmers resort to poaching and hunting wildlife to earn money. Establishing alternative-and profitable-sources of income is vital to protecting both agriculture and biodiversity in the TFCAs.

Stay tuned for more blogs about the links between wildlife conservation and agriculture.

Looking to Agriculture to Help Rebuild in Haiti

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

A recent article in the New York Times highlights the critical role that agriculture will play in rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

Food security is not a new problem in Haiti, and development organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme, as well as nongovernmental organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam, have been forced to halt food programs in the country as these groups themselves attempt to recover from the disaster.

Before the quake, FAO alone was implementing 23 food and agriculture projects in Haiti, hoping to improve access to food in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Prior to the disaster, an estimated 46 percent of Haiti’s population was undernourished, and chronic malnutrition affected 24 percent of children under five.

Right now the most urgent need is to get food and water to millions of people in the capital city of Port au Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. But as the country looks to the future, the need for sustainable sources of food, such as those we are learning about in sub-Saharan Africa, is more important than ever.

Journalism’s Role in Educating Africa About What it Eats

This is the second in a two-part series of my visit to Africa Harvest in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Daniel Kamanga, the Director of Communications of Africa Harvest, and former journalist, says that journalism in Africa has to overcome many challenges, including a general lack of coverage on agriculture issues-let alone a deeper understanding about who is funding agricultural development in Africa. “No one knows who Bill [Gates] is in Africa,” lamented Kamanga. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest and most influential funders of agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. (See Filling a Need for African-Based Reporting on Agriculture).

“You can’t have a revolution in Africa if people aren’t briefed,” says Kamanga, referring to the call for a Green Revolution in Africa by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Although agriculture makes up about 98 percent of the economy in Kenya, it’s barely covered in the country’s newspapers. And there are not any agricultural editors at any of the newspapers on the entire continent.

But it’s not just a question of reporters having more knowledge, according to Kamanga. It’s also a matter of compensation. African journalists are typically paid very little compared to journalists in other countries. In Burkina Faso, reporters receive just 160 dollars per month. As a result, many journalists see bribes as a way to supplement their income.

Yet with newspaper and media consolidation, fierce competition for advertisers, and lackluster economic conditions in Africa and all over the world, it’s a trend that might only get worse.

Sweeping Change

This is the final in a four-part series about my visit to Stacia and Kristof Nordin’s permaculture project in Lilongwe, Malawi. Crossposted from Nourishing the Planet.

Travel anywhere in Malawi and you’ll see people sweeping-the sidewalks, the floors of their houses, and the bare dirt outside their homes. And while the sweeping makes everything look tidy, it’s also one of the major causes of damage to soils in the country. Because sweeping compacts soils, leaving it without any organic matter, erosion is widespread and the soil has very little nutrients. As a result, crops-especially corn-in Malawi rely heavily on the use of artificial fertilizers.

Kristof and Stacia Nordin have been working in Malawi to help educate farmers that “tidy” yards and gardens aren’t necessarily better for producing food or the environment. Stacia works for the German-base NGO GTZ, while Kristof runs the farm and is a community facilitator. Their home is used 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.

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

In addition, they’re training the 26 tenants who rent houses on the property to practice permaculture techniques around their homes and have built an edible playground, where children can play and learn about different indigenous fruits.  More importantly, the Nordins are showing that by not sweeping, people can get more out of the land than just maize.

Such practices will become even more important as drought, flooding, other effects of climate change continue to become more evident in Malawi and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

For more about permaculture, check out Chapter 6, “From Agriculture to Permaculture” in State of the World 2010, which was released today.