Partnering for Food Security in Dry Land Areas

By Janeen Madan

As world leaders gathered for the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN headquarters in New York last week, there were also a number of important side events taking place. On Friday September 24, the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) hosted “The Global Dry Land Alliance- Partnering for Food Security” event, which launched a global alliance aimed at strengthening cooperation among dry land nations. The event provided a much-needed forum to discuss challenges specific to dry lands which account for 45 percent of the world’s land area.

The newly formed Global Dry Land Alliance will constitute 45 to 60 nations with arid or semi-arid environments. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollock)

The issue of food security in dry land areas is extremely crucial to the global fight against hunger—60 percent of the world’s food insecure population lives in dry lands and over 80 percent of the rural population in these areas are dependent on crop agriculture and livestock for both food and income. Dry land areas suffer from land loss due to erosion, salinity, desertification, disappearing vegetation cover, loss of biodiversity and increasing water scarcity.

As Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), noted in his statement at the event, “land degradation damages the livelihoods of some 2 billion people living in dry lands.”

In the Sahel, a band of land that crosses Africa at the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert, 10 million people are threatened by food shortages. Furthermore, the Middle East, with 5 percent of the world’s population, accounts for 40 percent of the world’s cereal imports and experiences the highest level of water scarcity in the world. The recent food and financial crises have highlighted the need to support domestic agricultural systems in order to reduce vulnerability to volatile global markets. In regions where extreme weather threatens food supply, the answer is not short-term aid, but a global commitment to strengthening long-term food security.

According to Fahad al-Attiya, QNFSP Chairman, the newly formed Global Dry Land Alliance will constitute 45 to 60 nations with arid or semi-arid environments, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, the United States and India.

In 2008, Qatar launched its own national food security program after the country experienced high food price inflation. While national country-led programs such as QNFSP play a significant role in finding solutions to enhance domestic production, responsible foreign agricultural investments and regional partnerships in areas of trade, research and technology offer tremendous potential in securing global food systems. IFAD, for example, has invested over $3.5 billion to support agricultural and rural development in these areas. Between 2000-2007, the Mauritanian government, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization, launched the Rehabilitation and Extension of Nouakchott Green Belt Project to improve sand encroachment control and protect the infrastructure of its capital city, Nouakchott. This project stands as a model of success in halting desertification.

Sharing knowledge and expertise, however, is also important among farmers. Faced with harsh growing conditions, small-scale farmers in dry land areas are working to mitigate land degradation through innovative practices. Many of their approaches offer useful models for larger-scale efforts. In Niger, for example, farmers are restoring the Sahel’s degraded land through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs, farmers promote forest growth. While FMNR is a simple technique, it produces multiple benefits. This practice has helped improve up to 5 million hectares of land and is also practiced in other countries including Chad, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. To ensure that even more farmers know about FMNR and its benefits, the Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA), a joint project between African Re-Greening Initiatives (ARI), the Web Foundation, and VU Amsterdam, is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers.

To learn more about innovative efforts to mitigate land degradation in dry areas, see: “Re-greening” the Sahel Through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration, Putting a Stop to the Spreading Sands, and Aid Groups, Farmers Collaborate to Re-Green Sahel.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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Innovation of the Week: Giving Farmers a Reason to Stay

While the coast of The Gambia is a popular—and economically thriving— tourist destination for European vacationers, the inland portion of the country provides little means for young men to make a living. Many leave their villages for the coast or even other countries, in hopes of making more money in urban areas.

The Home Farm Project works with villages to break up community land and give it to young men who have expressed interest in farming.(Photo credit: Sandy Martin)

This economic disparity within The Gambia, coupled with its agricultural potential, is what inspired Sandy Martin to found the Home Farm Project in 2004.  The Home Farm Project works with rural communities to establish the basic training, tools and other resources needed to build a productive and income-generating farm, and give young men from the area a reason to stay.

“It really hurts the community when the men leave,” says Sandy. “Everyone suffers because of it.”

It’s not that women don’t farm too, explains Sandy. It’s just that, in addition to keeping gardens, women are responsible for caring for the children and other household chores. And it is the men who, without the proper resources to make a living from farming, find they have little recourse but to leave the villages in search of employment elsewhere.

The Home Farm Project works with villages to break up community land and give it to young men who have expressed interest in farming. The organization builds wells and provides pumps to make the water more accessible for irrigation. It promotes drought tolerant plants and trees, such as moringa, in order to diversify crops, create a year-round harvest, and provide resistance to the arid climate. Many of the trees and shrubs promoted by the project can also be used as “live fences” to keep out baboons and other animals in the area that often pillage small gardens and farms.  All of these plants and shrubs provide additional benefits such as fodder for livestock and help to sequester carbon in, and provide nutrients to, the soil.

The ultimate goal is to help farmers build a business and as much as possible, the projects source materials used to build home farms locally. Two farmers in the Kunkoto district, for example, have, with the help of the Home Farm Project, established a Sustainability Centre or nursery, to provide other local farmers with seeds and seedlings to build their own income generating farms.

“This isn’t about a hand out,” says Sandy. “It’s so important for these projects to become self-sustaining because that is what will provide food and income over the long run. And what will strengthen the community.”

To learn more about innovations that turn agriculture into a livelihood, see: How to Keep Kids “Down on the Farm,” Conversations with Farmers: Discussing the School Garden with a DISC Project Student, Cultivating a Passion for Agriculture, Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, and Helping Conserve Wildlife–and Agriculture–in Mozambique.

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Part 54: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

Each day we run three of your responses to the question: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

Danielle Nierenberg with Heifer International grantees in Rwanda (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

1. King-David Amoah, ECASARD, Ghana says:

“I believe that if we are really serious and concerned about poverty reduction and the eradication or extreme hunger, then we need to concentrate on the small holder farmers who constitute more than 60 percent of the population in the developing world who are worst hit by poverty and extreme hunger. The following are my suggestions: (1) Subsidizing Inputs for Family Farm holders (small scale Farmers) (2) Guarantee pricing for the small scale farmers produce (3)Providing Credits to the Women Farmers.

2. Tom Hager, University of Oregon, says:

“Almost all of the millions of tons of synthetic fertilizers in use today were developed in the 1950s-1970s. They work, but half of what is applied to fields ends up in waterways and the atmosphere, adding to nitrate pollution, Dead Zones, and air pollution. We need to find ways  to produce more effective, less polluting fertilizers more cheaply, thus making them available more widely, esp. in Africa. Greater uptake by crops and less waste and pollution could greatly ease world hunger without adding to energy or pollution problems.  A relatively small commitment here could revolutionize the  field and quickly yield great benefits.”

3. Jim Devries, Heifer International, USA says:

“In my opinion we need more funding to allow limited resource farmers and communities to develop social, technical and financial skills to improve their livelihoods and take social action to change policies that affect them. In addition small farmers need capital to invest in improving their production and to help process what they produce in order to capture more of the market value of their products.  More funding also needs to go to research specifically targeted to the needs and opportunities of small scale farmers.”

To read more responses, see:

Part 49: Quintino Cabral Quade (São Tomé and Príncipe), Jill M. Smith Warning (USA), and Kathleen Guillozet (Ethiopia)
Part 50: Njoh Wanduku (Cameroon), Brian Cady, Brian Nugent (Kenya)
Part 51: Gideon Behar (Senegal), Benjamin Tchoffo (Cameroon), and Stephanie Hanson (Kenya)
Part 52: Chris Reij (Netherlands), Matty Demont (Senegal), and Ann Waters-Bayer (Germany)
Part 53: Dennis Karamuzi (Rwanda), Mark Muller (USA), and @Peterballantyne (via twitter)

What is your answer? Email me at or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg

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“Smart Grids” Set the Standard for Our Future Energy Supply

Any discussion about a low-carbon future that relies on a significant share of renewable energy must necessarily focus on the idea of “smart grids.” But what does this mean in everyday terms? Let’s take a look at our near future.

Action Matrix of Smart Grids – Source: "The German Roadmap. E-Energy / Smart Grid"

At 5:45 p.m., John Doe comes home from work and eats dinner. He puts his plate in the dishwasher and gets ready to run it. But then he looks at his Smart Meter and realizes that 6 p.m. is energy “rush hour,” a time everybody comes home from work, watches television, washes their clothes, bathes their children—and runs the dishwasher.

John’s Smart Meter provides minute-by-minute information about energy prices, the type of energy used (renewable or fossil fuel energy), and its provider. Obtaining this information requires that power consumers, generators, and those who are both (John’s office has solar PV cells on its roof) are linked via Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). An online platform (the “Energy Internet”) collects the data and makes it transparent (“Smart Architecture”).

Armed with this information, John decides to run his dishwasher later, when the price of energy is lower (typically at night) and when he can use power that is produced only from renewable energy sources (“Smart Demand”). There is no doubt by now that John is a smart cookie. Because his dishwasher is connected to the Smart Meter, he can program it to make sure that the dishes are clean by breakfast the next day (“Smart Appliances”).

After dinner, John wants to watch his favorite Western film. Energy prices are still at their peak. John’s electric car parked in the driveway automatically connects to his Outlook Calendar and checks his appointments for tomorrow (“Smart Wheels”). It recognizes that John has no outside appointments and needs only enough energy to drive 10 miles to his office, where the car can be recharged with the company’s PV-generated electricity. Therefore, the car is able to power John’s television while he watches “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Meanwhile, the evening turns pretty stormy. The wind park located in the next county over begins to produce a lot of energy. Using the data interface on the Energy Internet, a “Smart Market” is established. Excess energy is transported via interconnected pipelines to the pumped storage plant in John’s city so that the wind energy now being produced doesn’t need to be curtailed.

Think Smart Watts are science fiction? Check this out: The European Union plans to publish a new Energy Infrastructure Plan this November that focuses on how to establish interconnected smart grids that will eventually lead to a closely integrated European energy market. In the United States, Cisco and Xcel Energy are betting heavily on smart grids, and the city of Boulder, Colorado, became America’s first smart-grid city in 2008!

Meanwhile, a new German government program known as “E-energy” provides funding to help six model regions adopt completely integrated smart grids by 2012.

Video: A Glance Into a Smart World (Source: German Government\’s E-Energy Initiative)

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What Would You Sacrifice for a Secure Future?

Sacrifice has become a dirty word in environmental politics. But we sacrifice all the time. Two-thirds of Americans have sacrificed their waistlines and lifespans for cheap food and high profits for food companies, often without actively making this choice. Is there a way to reclaim the word to get people to start “sacrificing” to sustain a healthy relationship with Earth—or to at least stop sacrificing to the modern god of growth?

In popular culture, sacrifice conjures up ugly images of human dismemberment and the like (personally, I’ve got a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in my head—Kalima!). But at its etymological root, to “sacrifice” means to make sacred. And the act of “giving up something” in that ritual context is not simplify to practice extreme altruism; rather, it begets something more—whether closeness to one’s deity or respect, honor, or gratitude.

During times of drought, the Olmeca-Xicalanca people made ritual sacrifices of children—something we believe we’re beyond today; however, we are actively (albeit often unintentionally) making children in other parts of the world into unwilling sacrifices of our worship of high consumption lifestyles (and all the externalities that these bring).

So why has sacrifice become a dirty word? Perhaps consumer cultures, which prioritize comfort above all else, have made us hesitant to sacrifice—and maybe even disgusted by the idea. The sacred act of sacrifice, ironically, has been made taboo by modern cultural norms.

Or perhaps the environmental community has failed to effectively describe just how much we currently sacrifice to maintain the consumer economy. I’m not just talking about long-term security, where climate change will inundate cities and coastlines at some point in the future. I’m referring to the sacrifices we make every day: to our physical health, as we grow fatter and sicker; to our mental health, as social isolation and chemicals in our environment trigger depression and neurological diseases; to our safety, as our mobile culture puts the rights of vehicles over pedestrians and as more drivers decide that it’s ok to text while driving even though studies suggest this is far more dangerous than driving drunk.

Is the solution as simple as encouraging people to “Stop Sacrificing”? In other words, encouraging people to no longer “sacrifice” their time by working long hours and commuting long distances so that they can afford more stuff, or sacrifice their money and health to boost the bottom lines of corporate purveyors of toxic products, from junk food and cigarettes to fancy cars and big homes. That approach seemed to work pretty well for, which aims to convince teens that cigarette companies are manipulative and therefore teens shouldn’t be companies’ sacrifice to profit, but not as well for the “voluntary simplicity” movement, which tries to get people to agree that less is more and to simplify their lives accordingly. (Maybe this variable success rate is simply due to their differences in tone.)

Or, is there an even deeper reason why the notion of sacrifice has become taboo? Maybe it’s because of the ongoing schism in the environmental community—between traditional environmentalists, who call on people to sacrifice their comfort and consumer freedom (a shift that is often interpreted as deprivation), and environmental optimists, who say that we just need to redesign how products are made and how energy is generated, and then we’ll be able to maintain our way of life as-is. When environmentalists say that all we need to do is tweak our energy systems and we’ll be able to maintain our consumer lifestyle, then why sacrifice?

Or, have we gotten so used to this way of living as consumers that although we make many sacrifices each day, they’ve become so naturalized that they don’t feel like sacrifices, whereas giving up our air conditioners and iPhones definitely would. Otherwise, why would Stan Cox, when writing about giving up AC in the Washington Post, receive death threats from unhappy District residents? But I’m living in D.C. without an air conditioner (or an iPhone for that matter) and I can say that it is not really even much of a sacrifice. Not in the big scheme of things—when considering all those living in abject poverty—nor even in the small scheme; our bodies naturally adjust to being warm all the time if we just let them.

Or perhaps we’re too far removed from the root of the word “sacrifice”—i.e., sacred—because of the rampant individualism that is embedded in consumer cultures. Maybe we are so completely disconnected from spirituality and a purpose higher than our own happiness that it’s hard to justify giving up any of the latest consumer comforts, because the only joy we now have is experiencing the newest product, TV show, or movie.

Honestly, I don’t have an answer. It’s probably a combination of all these factors, and many others (please add your thoughts in a comment below). But I do know that this question is thoughtfully and thoroughly discussed in The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice, from which I drew heavily to even ask the above questions. The book opens an important dialogue that the environmental community should actively continue—assuming that it truly wants to move people beyond unsustainable cultural systems centered on consumerism. But if we don’t deal with this word—by either reclaiming it or reframing it—then we won’t be able to usher in new, sustainable cultures: cultures that quite probably would resanctify certain types of sacrifice, while forbidding others. And if we fail to achieve this cultural shift? Well, then most likely we will have made Earth and future generations into our unwilling sacrifices. Kalima!

A quick P.S.: If anyone lives in the D.C. area and wants to wrestle with this question further, we’ll be discussing sacrifice tonight (Thursday, September 30th,) at American University. Click here for time, details, and directions.

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Keeping the Bees

By Amanda Stone

Entomologist Marla Spivak is one of this year’s 23 MacArthur Fellows , awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

photo credit: MacArthur Foundation

Spivak, the Distinguished McKnight Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota St. Paul, is working to protect honey bee populations from some of the diseases that have been causing them to disappear at alarming rates in recent years. Click here to see Spivak discuss the importance of honey bees to our food quality and food security as pollinators with an enormous impact on both vegetable crops and the livestock industry.

Amanda Stone is Nourishing the Planet’s Communications Assistant.

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NtP TV: Makutano Junction

In this regular video series, we bring you images, interviews and more in-depth information about different agricultural innovations. Get to know the NtP team and the innovations we are highlighting regularly, and stay tuned for more NtP TV in the coming weeks!

In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet research Intern, Janeen Madan, introduces an entertaining way to spread information about agricultural innovations, health, politics, and other important issues: the television soap opera. Broadcast throughout sub-Saharan Africa and with 7.2 million viewers in Kenya alone, Mediae Trust’s “Makutano Junction” is doing just that, proving to be a soap opera that people love to watch and learn from.

To learn more about entertaining ways of spreading agricultural innovations, see: Makutano Junction Soap Opera, Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmers, Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another, Improving Women’s Access to Agriculture Training, A Sustainable Calling Plan and Staying Tuned for More Innovations.

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Part 53: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

Each day we run three of your responses to the question: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

1. Dennis Karamuzi, Heifer International, Rwanda says:

“I believe more agricultural funding should be directed towards supporting farming enterprises particularly the small scale livestock and crop integrated projects. This ensures the agricultural support especially in Africa reaches the target subsistence farmer populations on which most families rely. This ensures a sustained growth with potential for surplus production that will be sold to earn income thereby overtime creating self sufficiency”

2. Mark Muller, Institute for Agriculture and Trad Policy (IATP), USA says:

“The fundamental challenge is that innovations that can be patented and financially lucrative are seeds and chemicals. Yet the most potential and opportunity for addressing global hunger issues lies in innovative cropping systems, a research need that has not been appropriately incentivized. Rather than directing more funding into innovative cropping systems, I think the USDA and other corresponding organizations could provide a tremendous benefit by using financial rewards, contests or some other method of supporting innovative farmers and researchers to study and document the benefits of diverse, integrated cropping systems.”

3. @Peterballantyne (via twitter), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says:

“More agricultural funding is needed to properly document, share, & communicate our ag knowledge, bottom to top”

To read more responses, see:

Part 48: @FoodSecurityNet, Howarth Bouis, & Roger (Uganda)
Part 49: Quintino Cabral Quade (São Tomé and Príncipe), Jill M. Smith Warning (USA), & Kathleen Guillozet (Ethiopia)
Part 50: Njoh Wanduku (Cameroon), Brian Cady, & Brian Nugent (Kenya)
Part 51: Gideon Behar (Senegal), Benjamin Tchoffo (Cameroon), & Stephanie Hanson (Kenya)
Part 52: Chris Reij (Netherlands), Matty Demont (Senegal), & Ann Waters-Bayer (Germany)

What is your answer? Email me at or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg

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Disaster Prevention to Improve Livelihoods and the Economy

This past August marked some of the worst flooding Ethiopia has ever seen. AllAfrica reports that days upon days of heavy rain forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes and washed away miles of planting in the fertile farmland along rivers.

Governments can do more than just ward off national disasters. They can work together with farmers to create a a thriving, food secure country. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In the aftermath, many farmers are unable to afford new seeds to replant. And with extreme weather events on the rise due to climate change, many experts fear this is a sign of what’s to come instead of a one time occurrence.

But the government is working on a new disaster prevention plan. After years of being known as the country that receives aid from others, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, hopes the new strategy will lead to a more food secure future. By 2015, he recently announced, Ethiopia will no longer need outside food aid.

A driving factor of the government’s new focus on perennial disaster prevention and mitigation is the desire to transform Ethiopia’s international reputation for being hungry and vulnerable. This has caused some aid workers to express concern that Ethiopia will focus too much on superficially minimizing the problem instead of actually addressing it. Although, it could only take another flood or a drought or a  bad harvest year to reveal the country’s true disaster relief readiness.

But governments that invest more in agriculture—and in disaster relief and prevention—can benefit in more ways than by just improving a bad international reputation. Agricultural growth has been shown to improve local economies as well as farmers’ livelihoods, access to education, and diets.

Governments can do more than just ward off national disasters. They can work together with farmers to create a a thriving, food secure country.

To read about how investment in agriculture can help countries rebuild economies, restore peace, and maintain political stability, see: Women Farmers: An Untapped Solution to Global Hunger, Agriculture Makes the Front Page, Urban Women Grow Food in Sacks, Women Farmers Are Key to Halving Global Hunger by 2015, An Agricultural Success Story, Putting a Stop to the Spreading Sands, and Obama Says Teach A Man to Fish.

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