Photo: Bernard Pollack

Photo: Bernard Pollack

Check out this article in Business Daily about the food-security benefits of crop insurance. For small-scale farmers, a single crop failure can be devastating to their diets and livelihoods as well as to the future of their farms. But crop insurance provides a safety net and a means for farmers to cover the costs of a lost year.

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Recently, my colleague Alice McKeown posted a piece about world automobile trends on our Dateline: Copenhagen blog page.  I re-post the piece here, since these trends are of significance not just in an energy and climate context, but are also crucial with regard the emergence of a greener economy.

In an increasingly energy- and climate-constrained world, greater vehicle fuel efficiency is a must if auto industry jobs–already under threat from recession and deep changes in the industry’s global structure–are to be secured.  But public policy also needs to strike a new balance among transportation modes.  In a blog entry posted here yesterday, I observed the growing interest in rail, and the likelihood that substantial numbers of new jobs could be created both in manufacturing rolling stock and in operating new or expanded systems. But given that the world auto industry suffers from massive over-capacities, serious thought also needs to be given to converting some of this capacity toward producing vehicles for public transportation systems, rather than seeking to churn out a steadily growing number of cars and trucks.

–Michael Renner

While U.S. legislators and journalists focus their attention on the safety and financial implications of Toyota’s recall—now expected to cost more than $5 billion over the next year—broader auto trends indicate that the industry as a whole is in trouble. Global production of cars and light trucks dropped 13 percent in 2009, marking the second year of declines in a row. Most of the traditional leading countries saw significant declines in domestic production, although a few markets saw noticeable jumps: China (45 percent increase), India (9.5 percent), and Brazil (3 percent). China is now the most dynamic force in vehicle production as it overtook Japan as the world’s largest automobile producer last year and now outpaces the United States as the world’s largest national motor vehicle market. The rapid growth in emerging markets has contributed to a 55 percent increase in the number of passenger cars on the world’s roads since 2009.

The effects on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change due to the reshuffling of vehicle production and use remain unknown. Current biofuels in use today are achieving only minimal, if any, emission reductions, and a more promising second generation of biofuels is still years away from commercial production.  With international calls to limit and reduce global emissions, will hybrid and electric car technologies be able to hold down the emissions of a growing fleet?

Learn more about the numbers and the latest vehicle trends in Michael Renner’s “Auto Industry in Turmoil, but Chinese Production Surges” from Vital Signs Online.

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By Fred Bahnson

Miguel Salcines Lopez (photo: Fred

Miguel Salcines Lopez (photo: Fred Bahnson)

Miguel Salcines Lopez is a farmer of the 21st century. With a stylish jean jacket and rakish cowboy hat adorning his six-foot frame, Miguel looks more like a Cuban John Wayne than a stooped, tired farmer. That’s part of his game: he wants to make agriculture attractive, especially to the younger generation.

Miguel is the president of Organoponico Vivero Alamar, Havana’s largest and most successful organic garden. Actually, at 11 hectares, it’s more of an urban farm than a garden. Recently, I visited Vivero Alamar with several other Kellogg Food & Society fellows. “In the past,” Miguel told us, “agriculture in Cuba was demonized. People preferred to do anything but agriculture.” But today, Cuban farmers—especially urban farmers—have become respected members of society, some earning three times as much as doctors.

Why the sudden shift in cultural values and pay scale? I asked that question at each of the three Havana organic gardens I visited in mid-February. Mostly, the answers I heard contained exalted phrases like, “Organic agriculture is the privilege of the Cuban people,” which sounded to my Yanqui ears a bit like socialist propaganda. Cubans did seem proud of their organic gardens and had ample reason to be. But in my view, the country’s sudden shift to organic agriculture, and the accompanying shift toward more respect and better pay for farmers, can best be described in one word: necessity.

At one time, the Soviet Union was Cuba’s main trading partner, supplying the island with not only meat and grains but also fertilizer, pesticides, tractors, and oil—all the standard trappings of industrialized agriculture. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba was left scrambling to feed itself. Food disappeared from the shelves. Over the next three years, which Fidel Castro euphemistically dubbed “The Special Period in a Time of Peace,” the average Cuban lost 30 pounds. Cubans had to learn to grow food without all those inputs simply because they had to. Call it organic-by-default.

And judging by the success of places like Vivero Alamar, they’re doing an amazing job. The garden is a cooperative, which Miguel describes as a “private ownership model with socialist, egalitarian tendencies.” Of the 164 workers, 22 have university degrees, two of which are doctorates. Seventy percent of the profit is distributed among the workers, 20 percent goes to farm infrastructure, and 10 percent goes to the state. The vegetables and fruit grown at Vivero Alamar are sold six days a week to the people in the neighborhood, and the garden also has contracts with Havana hospitals, rest homes, and schools.

Miguel describes the benefits: working hours have been reduced to seven hours a day in summer and six hours a day in winter. There are coffee breaks and free lunches, and workers can take home 1.5 pounds of vegetables each day they work. Workers can also gather after work for a beer at the on-site cantina, and bring their families there on weekends. The garden is both workplace and community center. “We even have hairdressers and manicurists for our women workers,” Miguel said. Women hold prominent leadership roles. “We men get easily ruined by rum and cigars,” Miguel laughed. “Women are better workers.”

As you might gather, there is a waiting list to work here.

In 15 years, Cuba has become “the world’s largest working model of a semi-sustainable agriculture,” according to U.S. writer and activist Bill McKibben. At least in terms of vegetable and fruit production like the kind I witnessed at Vivero Alamar, Cuba is a model to emulate, demonstrating how an entire society can convert its agriculture to organic methods and thrive.

Granted, Cuba still imports between 76 and 85 percent of its food and is far from being food-secure. But in the city of Havana, nearly all of the vegetables and most fruit now come from within a 30-mile radius, an accomplishment of which few cities in the world can boast. Talking with Miguel, it’s also clear that whatever crisis led Cuba to organic farming in the first place, there are few backward glances.

Fred Bahnson is traveling as a Kellogg Food & Society fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. His writing has appeared in Orion, The Sun, and Best American Spiritual Writing 2007 (Mariner). He lives with his wife and two sons on a farm in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

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Mention “clean tech” or “green jobs,” and many people will automatically assume you are referring to wind turbine manufacturers, solar installers, and the like. But another dimension of a greener economy has long been neglected: the transportation sector, and specifically the role of rail and urban transit. That has begun to change, for a number of reasons.

For starters, ridership in many countries is increasing, as is overall public excitement about alternatives to automobile dependence. Concerns about the environmental impacts of car-centered transportation, energy import dependence, and the toll of traffic congestion on human health and urban vitality also play a role. Now, in the midst of a deep economic crisis, public investment in intercity rail and urban transit is seen as a way to kickstart languishing economies, and to create jobs in both manufacturing and operating public transportation systems.

That’s true even in the United States, which for decades has neglected rail and transit even as the federal government has invested huge sums of money in highways and air travel infrastructure. (See Figure 1, based on Congressional Budget Office data.)

U.S. passenger trips [PDF] across all public transport modes increased from 7.8 billion in 1995 to 10.7 billion in 2008.  Bus rides account for slightly more than half of the total (and grew 26 percent during these years). The fastest growth, however, has occurred in rail-based travel—39 percent for commuter rail, 76 percent for heavy rail, and 86 percent for light rail.

By one count, there were some 400 proposed new transit projects in 37 U.S. states at the end of 2008. The investment required to construct these systems was estimated at a combined $248 billion—a whopping 77 times the annual federal transit investment prior to the Obama administration.

Through the economic stimulus program known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Obama administration made available a total of $8.4 billion for three major transit programs: $6.9 billion for the Transit Capital Assistance Program, $750 million for the Fixed Guideway Infrastructure Investment Program, and another $750 million for Capital Investment Grants.

ARRA also provides $1.3 billion for Amtrak and $8 billion for new high-speed rail corridors and intercity passenger rail service, as well as $6.9 billion for urban transit. For a historically starved passenger rail system, the ARRA funds provide unprecedented sums of funding, as an April 2009 Department of Transportation report points out. (See Figure 2 [PDF].)

All in all, ARRA offers close to $18 billion for rail and transit programs. And the regular fiscal year 2010 budget for the federal rail and transit administrations adds up to more than $15 billion—though this still represents just over one-third the funding for highways.

Among the benefits of intercity rail and urban transit spending is the creation of jobs. And as recent reports demonstrate (here, here [PDF], and here), every $1 billion spent on public transportation supports as much as twice the number of jobs gained by spending the same amount on highway infrastructure. These findings are also consistent with European [German-language PDF] numbers.

There are great hopes that ARRA and FY2010 funds are but a down-payment for a sustained strategy that rebalances the nation’s transportation infrastructure and creates large numbers of well-paying jobs. The United States lags far behind other nations in intercity passenger rail and urban transit. Companies like Alstom of France, Bombardier of Canada, and Siemens of Germany are among the leading manufacturers of locomotives and rolling stock, and Chinese companies (here and here) are rapidly increasing their capabilities and exports.

Unless the United States works hard—through sustained investments and a concerted industrial policy—to resurrect its long-dormant passenger rail manufacturing industry, many of the jobs may end up being created abroad. The great rail race of the 21st century is on.

This is the first installment in an occasional series of blog entries on rail and transit matters.  Worldwatch senior researchers Michael Renner and Gary Gardner are part of a research team that also involves Marcy Lowe and colleagues at Duke University’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness (CGGC) and Professor Joan Fitzgerald at Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center. The research team is part of the Apollo Alliance’s TMAP (Transportation Manufacturing Action Plan) Project, funded by the Rockefeller and Surdna Foundations.

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After handing my passport over to a marine with arms the size of my legs, I went into the US Embassy in Madrid and spent a few hours with the very kind embassy staff. During my stay in Spain, embassy staff members were very helpful in assisting me in sharing the message of State of the World 2010 in Spain–with the Spanish press, with the public, and with the staff of Real Instituto Elcano–and they also filmed a Question & Answer session for the US Embassy Madrid’s YouTube channel. You can watch it below.

And a special thanks to Monica, Ari, Katie, and Krysten for all your help!

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Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Mark Wood, and Reuben Banda from USAID PROFIT in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Rob Munro, Mark Wood, and Reuben Banda from USAID PROFIT in Lusaka, Zambia. (Photo Credit: 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.


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“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 Shayna Bailey, who is Director of International Development for Slow Food International.

Shayna Bailey, Director of International Development for Slow Food International and Advisor to the Nourishing the Planet Project.

Shayna Bailey, Director of International Development for Slow Food International and Advisor to the Nourishing the Planet Project.

Name: Shayna Bailey
Affiliation: Slow Food International
Location: Bra, Italy

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.

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Stacia and Kristof Nordin's composting toilet helps to fertilize their diverse crops. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In Malawi, Stacia and Kristof Nordin's composting toilet fertilizes their crops. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

It’s hard to believe, but an estimated 2.6 billion people in the developing world—nearly a third of the global population—still lack access to basic sanitation services. This presents a significant hygiene risk, especially in densely populated urban areas and slums where contaminated drinking water can spread disease rapidly. Every year, some 1.5 million children die from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and hygiene.

It is in these crowded cities, too, that food security is weakened by the lack of clean, nutrient-rich soil as well as growing space available for local families.

But there is an inexpensive solution to both problems. A recent innovation, called the Peepoo, is a disposable bag that can be used once as a toilet and then buried in the ground. Urea crystals in the bag kill off disease-producing pathogens and break down the waste into fertilizer, simultaneously eliminating the sanitation risk and providing a benefit for urban gardens. After successful test runs in Kenya and India, the bags will be mass produced this summer and sold for U.S. 2–3 cents each, making them more accessible to those who will benefit from them the most.

In post-earthquake Haiti, where many poor and homeless residents are forced to live in garbage heaps and to relieve themselves wherever they can find privacy, SOIL/SOL, a non-profit working to improve soil and convert waste into a resource, is partnering with Oxfam GB to build indoor dry toilets for 25 families as well as four public dry toilets. The project will establish a waste composting site to convert dry waste into fertilizer and nutrient-rich soil that can then be used to grow vegetables in rooftop gardens and backyards.

In Malawi, Stacia and Kristof Nordin’s permaculture project (which Nourishing the Planet co-director Danielle Nierenberg visited during her tour of Africa) uses a composting toilet to fertilize the crops. Although these units can be expensive to purchase and install, one company, Rigel Technology, manufactures a toilet that costs just US$30 and separates solid from fluid waste, converting it into fertilizer. The Indian non-profit Sulabh International also promotes community units that convert methane from waste into biogas for cooking.

On a larger scale, wetlands outside of Calcutta, India, process some 600 million liters of raw sewage delivered from the city every day in 300 fish-producing ponds. These wetlands produce 13,000 tons of fish annually for consumption by the city’s 12 million inhabitants. They also serve as an environmentally sound waste treatment center, with hyacinths, algal blooms, and fish disposing of the waste, while also providing a home for migrating birds and an important source of local food for the population of Calcutta. (See also “Fish Production Reaches a Record.”)

Aside from cost and installation, the main obstacles to using human waste to fertilize crops are cultural and behavioral. UNICEF notes in an online case study that a government-run program in India provided 33 families in the village of Bahtarai with latrines near their houses. But the majority of villagers still preferred to use the fields as toilets, as they were accustomed to doing their whole lives. “It is not enough just to construct the toilets,” said Gaurav Dwivedi, Collector and Bilaspur District Magistrate. “We have to change the thinking of people so that they are amenable to using the toilets.”

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As the Worldwatch Institute prepares for our upcoming publication State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, we’re looking for original photo submissions of innovative farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

We want State of the World to reflect as many African voices as possible—as chapter authors, as vignette creators, and now even as photographers! Please submit your photos to dnierenberg@worldwatch.org. We will include as many as possible in the book, highlighting innovations across the continent that are helping to alleviate hunger and poverty in a sustainable way.

We will review all of your submissions, but ideally the resolution should be 300 dpi, so that means the file should be around 2175 pixels by 3000 pixels.

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Danielle Nierenberg (right) with Jan Nijhoff, Coordinator, COMESA, Michigan State University. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle Nierenberg (right) with Jan Nijhoff, Coordinator with COMESA and Michigan State University. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

This is the second in a two-part series about my visit with Jan Nijhoff, who works with the Common Market for Eastern and South Africa (COMESA) and Michigan State University in Lusaka, Zambia.

According to Jan Nijhoff, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) “was born” as a result of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—the list of broad targets that the United Nations hopes developing nations will achieve by 2015. Nijhoff, who coordinates a project between Michigan State University and countries in eastern and southern Africa to promote regional trade, says CAADP was a response by COMESA (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) to develop a program to “solve” the problems outlined in the MDGs.

The initiative is focused especially on MDG #1, the goal of halving both the number of people who earn less than a dollar a day and the number of hungry people worldwide by 2015.

CAADP works on four main pillars or programs: extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access; increasing food supply, reducing hunger, and improving responses to food emergency crises; and improving agriculture research and technology dissemination and adoption.

But achieving these goals (and MDG #1) will require increasing agricultural growth across Africa by 6 percent per year, according to CAADP. To do that, African governments will need to spend 10 percent of their annual budgets on agricultural development—up from only around 5 percent currently.

The “beauty of the CAADP approach,” Nijhoff says, “is that it holds governments accountable” through agreements, or compacts, that they develop with COMESA. These compacts, which outline extensive government actions, can help countries achieve greater agricultural growth while also protecting the environment. Essentially, Nijhoff says, they are “game plans” that specify where a country needs to spend its resources, where donors and the private sector can play a role, and what policies need to be in place before an investment can happen. They can include actions like building more roads to reduce transport costs for farmers and other businesses.

COMESA has also launched a regional compact initiative with FANRPAN (which I’ll be writing about in future blogs) and other partners to identify interventions that are already common among member states, as well as activities that can have a regional impact.

By focusing on national and regional economic development, and by showing donors where to spend their money, both COMESA and CAADP hope to increase food security, improve livelihoods, and achieve the MDGs for millions of people in eastern and southern Africa. And although skeptics of the program claim that it’s “donor pushed,” Nijhoff says it should be viewed as “African led” because agriculture and trade ministers are working in collaboration with CAADP to develop policies.

What do you think?

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