Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: Jan Nijhoff

In this regular series, we profile advisors to the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Jan Nijhoff, Regional Coordinator for COMESA-MSU in Lusaka, Zambia.

Jan Nijhoff, Regional Coordinator for COMESA-MSU and Advisor to Nourishing the Planet. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

Name: Jan Nijhoff

Affiliation: Michigan State University

Location: Lusaka, Zambia

Bio: Jan Nijhoff  works for the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics, at Michigan State University,  and is currently based at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia where he coordinates a regional project portfolio that focuses on policy and investment analysis and regional policy dialogue.

Quote on NTP: We work largely on agriculture policy with COMESA, supporting them with analytical work, helping them build capacity among their own policy makers to design policies that are right and promote regional integration. In doing so, we deal with issues of agriculture trade and investment, creating the best investment climate for increasing agriculture investment and productivity. The region is going to need a lot more food in the coming decade and we believe technology development and the promotion of trade to create a demand for the products being produced is part of the answer. In our own way at the regional level we try to make a contribution there. I think we’re at a very interesting juncture in the development arena so we are really happy to share with you what we have and what we do and to see  how it all fits into the Nourishing the Planet publication that is forthcoming.

What is the connection between agriculture and alleviating global hunger and poverty? In many developing countries that are now emerging economies, agricultural development has been the first phase of an economy-wide structural transformation process that has generated other economic activity and eventually resulted in broader economic growth and poverty reduction.

What kinds of policy and economic policy changes would you like to see implemented immediately to address the needs of small, medium, and large-scale farmers? Agricultural development requires public and private investments, supported by sound policies. In order to attract private investments in everything that makes the sector tick —i.e. technology, input markets, farmer service delivery, processing, product marketing and trade, and finance— a number of public investments are also required, including road infrastructure, irrigation, adaptive research, and education. Equally important for a conducive investment and business climate are government policies that encourage and facilitate local and international trade. Regional Economic Communities, such as COMESA, are increasingly playing an important role in harmonizing policies among member states. Among other tricky policy issues, COMESA is working towards facilitating regional trade in seed and livestock, and encouraging free trade in food commodities in order to create market opportunities for farmers and increase food security at the regional level.

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Innovation of the Week: Turning the School Yard into a Classroom

More than 85 percent of Rwanda's population depends on small-scale agriculture for survival. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

In Rwanda, more than 85 percent of the population’s livelihood depends on small-scale agriculture. And the majority of primary school students—roughly 60 percent— will return to rural areas to make their living in ways, instead of going on to secondary or vocational schooling or university.

With that in mind, in 2007, the organization CARE designed the  Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI) , a three year project that integrates modern and environmentally sustainable agriculture training into primary school curriculum in Rwanda—making traditional schooling more relevant to the average Rwandan student.

The project started with 27 pilot schools in nine districts: Nyamagabe and Nyaruguru Districts in the Southern Province, Gatsibo and Nyagatare Districts in the Eastern Province, and Karongi, Rutsiro, Rubavu, Nyabihu and Ngororero Districts in the Western Province.  Each pilot school received funding from CARE to invest in a school garden or farm.  After one year, profits from the garden went back into the school’s agriculture program while the other half was used to help another school, called a satellite school, start its own garden.  By the end of the project there were 28 satellite schools, each with its own garden started with the help of another school.

While maintaining the school gardens, students experimented and were trained in farming techniques that emphasize the preservation of natural resources as much as they do crop production, such as agroforestry, intercropping, mulching and compost, and non-chemical methods of pest and disease control.

According to Josephine Tuyishimire, a FOFI project coordinator, the school gardens also benefit students’ parents and their local community. As parents learn new farming techniques from their children, their neighbors also learned from them. “The population surrounding FOFI schools copied [the farming techniques] and replicated them at home.”

One boy, an orphan from Cyanika primary school in Nyamagabe District, who is living on his own, used irrigation and intercropping techniques he learned at school to start his own small garden. With the help of a teacher at the school he gained access to a local market to sell his vegetables and eventually earned enough money to purchase his own land. With the additional security that comes with land ownership, he continues to generate more income by selling his produce.

Helping students to be self-sufficient is especially beneficial for young women who are often kept out of school, but who can be “empowered in this project,” said Tuyishimire. “In the future they become self-reliant and less dependent on their male counterparts as breadwinners.” And women share their knowledge with their children, “passing these skills to future generations” to create future farmers who are educated in a way that allows them to self-sufficient and well-fed.

To read more about integrating agriculture into primary school education see:  School Feeding Programs Improve Livelihoods, Diets, and Local Economies, and How to Keep Kids Down on the Farm.

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FANRPAN: Working to connect farmers, researchers, and policy makers in Africa

This is the first in a three-part series about the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network.

Danielle Nierenberg with Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of FANRPAN, and FANRPAN staff outside their office in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

The Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) lives up to its name by linking farmers,  businesses, academia, researchers, donors, and national and regional governments. “One thing that we {Africa} fail to do is form coalitions for a common cause,” says Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, the CEO of FANRPAN. But by connecting rural farmers directly to the private sector, to policy-makers, and to the agricultural research community, they’re trying to build a food secure Africa.

FANRPAN’s has national nodes in thirteen countries that help bring its members together, with a national secretariat hosted by an existing national institution in each country that has a mandate for increasing agricultural research and advocacy.

Another problem that plagues Africa, according to Dr. Sibanda, is that “we don’t know how to learn from the local.”  But she says “farmers know what to do” when it comes to dealing with climate change and other issues that impact agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, FANRPAN works to create dialogue and allow exchange of ideas directly between farmers in the field, researchers in laboratories, and policy makers in conference rooms and parliaments throughout Africa.

FANRPAN’s projects include everything from helping improve access to markets for women farmers through its Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project to helping develop and strengthen the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Regional Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact (See In Eastern and Southern Africa, Improving Trade and Identifying Investment Opportunities and Creating Game Plans for Investment and Policy to Improve Food Security.) They also recently completed the Africa-Wide Civil Society Climate Change Initiative for Policy Dialogues that brought together African NGOs and farmers groups at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change last December. And the Strategies for Adapting to Climate Change in Rural sub-Saharan Africa, to help the most vulnerable populations deal with climate change.

And while Dr. Sibanda says investment in research is important, “it’s not the panacea. For me, it’s about people driving investments.”

Stay tuned for more about FANRPAN’s projects later this week.

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One Acre Fund: Serving Rural Smallholder Farmers

By Stephanie Hanson

Stephanie Hanson (right) with Anne Wambulwa, a farmer working with One Acre Fund in Kenya. (Photo: Ebrahim Agevi Kigame)

Most people in sub-Saharan Africa are farmers with small pieces of land, large families, and poor crop yields. Their primary occupation is growing food, yet many do not grow enough to feed their families.

One Acre Fund was founded in 2006 to serve these farmers. Our mission is to provide rural smallholder farmers with the tools they need to feed their families and to increase their incomes. We currently work with about 23,000 farmers in Kenya and Rwanda, and hope to reach 40,000 farmers by 2011.

From the beginning, we have been talking to farmers to understand what they need to succeed. We knew that farmers needed seed and fertilizer, but we discovered that they also needed financing to purchase those inputs, as well as education on how to use them. And, they needed access to a market to sell their crop after harvest.

One Acre Fund offers a service model that addresses each of these needs: financing, farm inputs, education, and market access. When a farmer enrolls with One Acre Fund, she joins as part of a group of 6–12 farmers. She receives an in-kind loan of seed and fertilizer, which is guaranteed by her group members. One Acre Fund delivers this seed and fertilizer to a market point within two kilometers of where she lives, and a field officer provides in-field training on land preparation, planting, fertilizer application, and weeding.

Over the course of the season, the field officer monitors the farmer’s fields. Then, at the end of the season, he trains her on how to harvest and store her crop. One Acre Fund also offers a harvest buyback program that farmers can participate in if they choose. Final loan repayment is several weeks after harvest; 98 percent of our farmers repay their loans.

Before they joined One Acre Fund, many of our farmers in Kenya were harvesting five bags of maize from a half acre of land. After joining One Acre Fund, their harvests typically increase to 12–15 bags of maize from the same half acre. This represents a doubling in farm profit per planted acre—twice as much income from the same amount of land.

Our farmers use this additional income to feed their families, pay school fees and health expenses, and buy livestock. Their long-term goals, however, are much bigger. At the first training session of the season, our field officers ask the farmers to write down the dreams they hope to achieve if they have a good harvest. This January, I attended some of these trainings. Some farmers dreamed of building new houses, buying cars, or opening small businesses. One farmer, Martha Barasa, dreamed of buying a posha mill to grind maize into flour. Another, Simon Munai, dreamed of opening a private school to educate the community’s children.

These dreams are the force that drives our field officers to spend six days a week in the field with their farmers. They are the force that motivates our innovation team to develop improvements to our program model, and the force that keeps our leadership team—including One Acre Fund’s founder—based in rural Kenya and Rwanda.

One Acre Fund is part of the new movement of nonprofits that approaches development work with business strategy and market-based solutions. We are rigorous about evaluating our work and we are always thinking about whether our programs can be replicated to serve millions of farmers. We focus on three primary metrics: scale, impact, and sustainability. We aim to reach a lot of people, to have high-quality impact, and to do so cost-effectively.

By 2020, we hope to serve 1 million farmers. We plan to reach this goal through an unflagging focus on customer service: building strong relationships and understanding what our farmers want and need. We are lucky enough to be able to draw on the advice and accomplishments of other talented individuals and innovative organizations that are working to spur a Green Revolution in Africa. Our contribution to this revolution can be summarized in two words: Farmers First.

Stephanie Hanson is the director of policy and outreach at One Acre Fund. From 2006 to 2009, she covered economic and political development in Africa and Latin America for, the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2008, she won a News and Documentary Emmy for Crisis Guide: Darfur, an interactive media guide that explores the history and context of the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

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Giving Farm Workers a Voice

Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Getrude Hambira, General Secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe in Harare. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

Gertrude Hambira doesn’t look like someone who gets arrested regularly. Nor do the other women and men in suits who work with her at the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), formed in the mid-1980s to protect farm laborers. But arrest, harassment and even torture have been regular occupational hazards for Gertrude—the General Secretary of GAPWUZ—and her staff for many years.

Unfortunately, things have not gotten much better since the 2008 elections when President Mugabe refused to cede power to the democratically elected Morgan Tsvangirai, a former union leader himself. The resulting power-sharing agreement has left the two sides battling for control as the nation plummets deeper into unemployment and poverty. At least 90 percent of the populati0n is not part of formal workforce.

Meanwhile, land reform policies have left many farm workers (about 1.5 million) without a source of income as farms are divided up—with many tracts given to Mugabe supporters.  While Zimbabwe’s land reform was initially intended to decrease the number of white-owned farms in the country and provide land to the landless, it’s done little to help the poor in rural areas. “Land was taken from the rich and given to the rich,” says General Secretary Hambira. The rich farmers are, however, not utilizing the land, she notes, leading to lower agricultural productivity, higher prices for food, and widespread hunger.

Hambira says that as rural areas become a target for government reforms, “farm workers have become voiceless.” But giving them back their voice is what GAPWUZ is trying to do by helping reduce child labor, by educating members about their rights in the fields and on the farm, by educating workers about HIV/AIDS , and by helping women workers gain a voice in decision-making. And, unfortunately, that’s why General Secretary and her staff often get arrested.  Shortly after I met with her, the GAPWUZ office was raided by government police and she was forced to go in hiding to South Africa for several weeks.

But GAPWUZ isn’t just working to protect the rights of farm workers in Zimbabwe, says Hambira.  By “looking at the plight of farm workers,” the union is helping to build productivity on the farm and to build a strong agricultural sector—one that will be needed more than ever as Zimbabwe struggles to rebuild and restore democracy.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: Hans Herren

In this regular series, we profile advisors to the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Hans Herren, President of the Millennium Institute.

Photo: The Millennium Institute

Name: Hans Herren

Affiliation: The Millennium Institute

Location:  Arlington, VA, United States

Bio: Hans Herren is President of the Millennium Institute (MI). Prior to joining MI, he was Director-General of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya. He also served as director of the Africa Biological Control Center of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Benin. At ICIPE, Hans developed and implemented programs in the area of human, animal, plant, and environmental health (the 4-H paradigm) as they relate to insect issues. At IITA, he conceived and implemented the highly successful biological control program that saved the African cassava crop, and averted Africa’s worst-ever food crisis. Hans also was a chair of the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a four-year long assessment of world agriculture. Over the years, Hans has moved his interests toward the policy aspects of integrated sustainable development, in particular, linking environmental, plant, animal, and human health issues.

On Nourishing the Planet: There has been much talk about local empowerment in making development policy decisions from the international donor community. It is now high time to follow the talk with action, to strongly support capacity and institutional development in integrated and systemic planning in developing countries.

What do you see as the relationship between agriculture and the environment? Sustainable agriculture depends fully on its environment, into which it has to be “organically and harmoniously” integrated. In the medium and long term, agriculture will be more dependent on the biodiversity it has been destroying, the water it has been overusing, and the people it should have trained to nourish a growing and more demanding population. A change in paradigm, as recommended by the IAASTD report, is no longer an option; it’s a prerequisite to the future of humanity.

What role can agriculture can play in alleviating poverty and hunger worldwide? Agriculture is multifunctional; it services the many different needs of humanity, including the provision of jobs, which will help on both counts, hunger and poverty. Agriculture is at the basis of any development agenda and needs to be given the appropriate importance by investments in the many facets of this key economic sector.

What sort of policies and projects would you like to see implemented immediately to address issues of global hunger and poverty? Major investments must be made in sustainable agricultural research and development, in particular agronomy and soil sciences. No matter what crop varieties with high-yield potential exist, the number one issue is soil fertility. Soil restoration and permanent rebuilding are essential to produce food where it is demanded, and by the people who need both the food and job opportunity.

What could be done to encourage greater agricultural investment to help alleviate poverty and hunger? Make it clear to policymakers at the international and national levels that hunger and poverty will only be overcome by a sustainable agriculture, supported by knowledge, science, and innovations.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? The consumption pattern in the U.S. is not sustainable in the short and long term. The Earth is one, and what happens in one part of it inevitably affects others. From many different angles, from climate change to world peace, there is a need to assure food security and sovereignty in developing countries, while also assuring sustainable agriculture in industrialized nations.

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Moving Towards Partnership and Discussion for Sustainable Agriculture Aid

by Abby Massey

Danielle Nierenberg (left), project co-Director of Nourishing the Planet, with members of a women's farmers group in Abokobi, Ghana. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

At a discussion on the state of agricultural aid in Africa hosted by Oxfam International in Washington, DC yesterday, Jean-Pierre Crola, author of the report Aid for Agriculture: Turning Promises into Realities on the Ground,  emphasized that donors should “move away from ownership, towards partnership and discussion” with the countries receiving aid. Reviewing case studies from Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger, Crola called for international aid needs to be a ‘country led process’ where international donors and governments create programs that can be easily sustained when aid is no longer needed or available.

To read more about creating sustainable aid programs, see Bringing High-Quality Food Aid Closer to Home, Creating Game Plans for Investment and Policy to Improve Food Security, To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector.

Abby Massey is a food & agriculture research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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The Earth Still Parties Like its 1999, B.C.

Don’t wish the Earth a happy Earth Day; it doesn’t want to hear it. Earth Day is when humans get together and unify their call for environmental care and concern. The Earth has never called for help from anyone—it’s fine taking care of itself, thank you very much. Whether the year was 1970, or 1999 B.C., the Earth “system” has utilized a roughly constant set of resources for sustaining life: solar energy and the multitude of elements available for assembling objects and organisms. It’s a dynamic set of resources, but it is finite.

So, despite it being the 40th “anniversary” of Earth Day, the Earth isn’t any bigger or more bountiful than it was when DNA first wiggled its little strands around, or when primates started standing upright on two feet. What has grown quite significantly in those 40 years is human’s appropriation of natural resources. Since 1970, world population has almost doubled from 3.6 billion to 6.9 billion, and each  human now demands a greater share of natural resources to support his or her way of life. This all adds up to massively unsustainable growth.

Growth like this is not normal or healthy for any organism. The Impossible Hamster—a short video by the New Economics Foundation—illustrates this well: “There is a reason why, in nature, things grow only to a certain point.” If a hamster grew constantly at the rate it does in its first few weeks of life, it would weigh 9 billion tons by its first birthday, and there wouldn’t be enough grain on the planet to feed more than a couple of hamsters this size, let alone other species.

Earth Day isn’t necessarily about celebrating the Earth but about preserving the Earth as we know it—the diversity of organisms, the ecosystem services, and our human civilization. To this end, an increasing body of literature and even political voices are calling into question the current mode of economic growth. Measurements of human wellbeing and development must move beyond growth in GNP, imports, and exports, and toward measures like the Ecological Footprint or Happy Planet Index. A recent report titled “Growth Isn’t Possible” says our aim should be to reach a steady-state economy in which everyone lives a “one-planet” lifestyle—one that demands only a realistic share of natural resources for the human species.

If everyone on the planet lived like the average North American, we would need five Earths to provide the necessary materials to keep everything going. But we don’t have five Earths. So not only is growth impossible, but humanity needs to do some serious shrinking of lifestyles and economic ambitions. That’s something to consider as you celebrate your one Earth today.

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Honoring the Farmers that Nourish Their Communities and the Planet

Thuli Makama with villagers affected by the game park (Photo: John Antonelli for the Goldman Prize)

At yesterday’s Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony, innovative farmers took center stage as four of the six grass roots activists and community leaders from around the world were honored for their work to alleviate hunger and poverty through environmentally friendly innovations in agriculture. And the first recipient to speak, Thuli Brilliance Makama, set the tone of the evening when she emphasized the need for more “small initiatives at the local level” to nourish both people and the planet.

“We must manage our environment in an inclusive manner,” Makama, a public interest environmental attorney in Swaziland who works with poor, rural communities living on the fringes of big-game preserves, explained. Fighting, and winning, to gain a voice for these communities— forced off their land and faced with violence and intimidation for gathering the food they need for survival – Makama is hoping to create a more inclusive government decision making process that will preserve Swaziland’s wildlife while allowing people, who have traditionally benefited from the preservation of that wildlife, to thrive as well. To read about the ways farmers and wildlife can benefit from each other see: Helping Farmers Benefit Economically From Wildlife, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife—and Agriculture—in Mozambique,   Building Roots in Environmental Education and In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Conservation.

In Cuba, Humberto Rios Labrada, a folk musician, scientist and biodiversity researcher, is working closely with farmers to improve crop diversity and exchange best practices. Believing that “if farmers are the ones making innovative decisions, Cuba can overcome its food problems,” Labrada encourages “alternative methods to alleviating poverty” that involve farmer participation and bring back something he calls “true agri-culture.” Thanks to his work more than 50,000 farmers are improving crop diversity and creating a more sustainable culture of food production—one that values knowledge and the needs of those that will most benefit from it: Cuba’s farmers themselves. To read more about the benefits of farmers groups and crop diversity see: Farmers Learning From Farmers, Reducing Waste Water Contamination Starts with a Conversation, Malawi’s Real “Miracle”, and Listening to Farmers

Lynn Henning accepted her award for identifying and drawing government attention to the thousands of environmental violations committed by the 12 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that operate within a 10 mile radius of her farm in Michigan. “It’s time to produce food with integrity,” she said, “[like the family farmers who have safely] and successfully fed our communities for generations.”

To read about how farmers, activists, academics, and journalists will contribute to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish Our Planet and collectively challenge the global food community to identify win-win-win solutions that can better feed sub-Saharan Africa see Jumpstarting the Global Discussion About Solutions to Hunger in Agriculture.

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