Empowering Impoverished Communities with Compatible Technologies

By Matt Styslinger

World agriculture produces more food today than ever before. Since the 1960’s, massive funding has gone to new crop varieties, machinery, pesticides, and fertilizers—dramatically boosting yields in even some of the poorest parts of the world. Unfortunately, we’ve tended to ignore some simple—and inexpensive—tools, including grain stores, crop drying equipment, crates, and refrigeration that are needed to ensure that harvests make it to market. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that, globally, as much as 50 percent of crops go bad before they can be eaten.

A CTI grinder can produce in one hour the same amount of nutritious groundnut paste—peanut butter—that is produced in eight hours using traditional methods. (Photo credit: CTI)

In its effort to alleviate poverty and hunger in the developing world, Compatible Technology International (CTI) designs, builds, and distributes affordable post-harvest tools—such as a cool storage shed and food processing grinder—for rural farmers in the developing world. CTI’s devices can help farmers process, store, and sell their crops.

While many organizations are focused on improved seeds, access to fertilizers, and irrigation to improve crop yields, relatively few are focused on post-harvest improvements. But many poor farmers live on yields from a hectare or less of land and getting the maximum benefit from those yields can make up the difference between abject poverty and a livable income.

CTI’s technologies are scaled to fit the needs of small villages, families, coops, and micro-businesses. Extra attention is paid to developing safe, affordable, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and culturally compatible devices in the hope that they will be more widely adopted and facilitate lasting change in poor farming communities. CTI encourages craftsmen and entrepreneurs in and around these communities to build and sell their devices, reducing dependence on outside assistance once the technology has been adopted.

“We are empowering impoverished communities to free themselves from hunger and poverty,” says CTI Executive Director Roger Salway in the organization’s 2010 annual report. “This is not relief, but development and empowerment,” according to Gabrielle Vincent, Haiti’s Country Director for Sonje Ayiti women’s co-operative—who is using grinders from CTI to process roasted cocoa beans into chocolate.

In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, heat and humidity cause potato crops to spoil about a month after harvest. As a result, farmers are forced to sell their potatoes very quickly at low prices. But CTI developed a cool storage shed that extends the crop’s shelf life to as long as four months. It is ventilated and stores crops over a pool of water, cooling the air as the water evaporates. CTI also developed a potato peeler and slicer, allowing farmers to process their crop for drying. This not only extends the shelf life of farmers’ produce even further, it adds value to the crop, which can then be sold at greater profit.

In Jalapa, Guatemala, farmers often lose as much as half of their harvested maize crop before it can be sold. CTI volunteers developed a corn crib which elevates cobs off the ground, and away from moisture and rodents. A corn sheller was also developed so that farmers could store shelled kernels in metal silos, produced by CTI-trained local artisans. A women’s micro-lending program helps finance the purchase of the silos, and farmers are soon able to pay back the loans with increased profits from their crop.

CTI’s most widely used device is a grinder that can make flour from grains and a creamy paste from roasted nuts. As a result, farmers can store their produce for longer and sell more value added products, like nut butters and grain flours. The grinder is designed to be manufactured in the developing world and is currently produced and sold in Uganda.

The McKnight Foundation has recently awarded CTI—in partnership with Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)—a four-year $673,000 research and development grant to improve child nutrition and rural livelihoods in Malawi and Tanzania. The project will focus on developing a low-cost, locally compatible device to improve the processing of groundnut (peanut) harvests—adding value and reducing post-harvest losses. Once the appropriate technology is identified, the project aims to transfer the technical and manufacturing expertise to East African organizations.

“This project is essentially about collaborating with these farm families about the crops growing naturally in their environments,” said CTI Vice President of Operations, Bert Rivers in a press release to PR Newswire. “We are also being educated by the farmers about the realities of their living conditions and farming systems.”

Instead of offering temporary food relief, CTI is working to create a long-term path out of hunger and poverty for the two-thirds of the world’s impoverished who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. As CTI’s website states, “It’s not about hand-outs, but a hand up.”

To read more about creating self-reliance for small-scale farmers and reducing post-harvest losses see: Developing Local Solutions for Self-Reliance, What Works: Reducing Food Waste, Nourishing the Planet TV: Beating the Heat to Reduce Post Harvest Waste, It’s All About the Process, Reducing Food Waste, and Investing in Better Food Storage.

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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TransFarm Africa’s Initiative to Tap into Agricultural Potential

By Matt Styslinger

According to Joe Guinan—director of the TransFarm Africa Initiative at the Aspen Institute—agriculture is the largest contributor to gross domestic product (GDP), national income, and domestic consumption in sub-Saharan Africa. Agriculture is also the region’s biggest source of hard currency, savings, and tax revenues, and the main provider of industrial raw materials. Even so, according to Guinan, “agriculture has delivered little real benefit for most African farmers and consumers. Per capita food output in sub-Saharan Africa is about 19 percent of 1970 levels. Imports have soared—even in commodities Africa can easily produce—making the continent a net importer of food. As a consequence, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa generates $2 per day or less in income for the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people it directly supports.”

TransFarm Africa hopes to advance Africa’s ‘untapped potential’ by supporting equitable and sustainable commercial agriculture along development corridors. (Photo credit: Raïsa Mirza)

“But the picture is not entirely bleak,” explains Guinan. “The very statistics that underscore Africa’s agricultural underdevelopment can also be read as a source of optimism for the future.” TransFarm Africa (TFA) is an initiative to advance what the Aspen Institute sees as African agriculture’s untapped potential. By supporting equitable and sustainable commercial agriculture along development corridors, TFA aims to “measurably improve the income of smallholder farmers—particularly women—and integrate them into a dynamic, internationally competitive food economy, leading to increased food production and greater overall food security in Africa,” says Guinan.

“The size of the challenge and the opportunity is enormous,” says Guinan. “On its current course, Africa is headed for a vast humanitarian crisis. With 12 percent of the world’s population, sub-Saharan Africa is home to 44 percent of its hungry people and has the lowest caloric intake of any region in the world.” Guinan warns that population growth, resource depletion, and climate change will put further stress on Africa’s food systems. “The projections show that without intervention on an unprecedented scale, Africa will be home to 75 percent of the world’s hungry by 2025.”

Guinan explains that until recently, economists and development experts believed that Africa should bypass agricultural development and focus on other economic sectors, such as manufacturing and services. “African governments and donor countries and institutions have shown a relative lack of interest in agriculture,” he says. “Africa’s lack of functioning food markets has hampered broader economic development and continues to keep Africa on the sidelines of the global economy.”

Guinan believes that the breadth and nature of TFA’s success will depend on the response of international capital markets, the donor community, African governments, and—above all—Africa’s agricultural entrepreneurs. TFA, according to Guinan, is a demonstration project to show that it is possible for the development of Africa’s agriculture to produce both commercial and social returns—what he refers to as TFA’s double bottom line. “The goal is to send a signal to capital markets that there can be profit in commercial businesses that incorporate smallholder agriculture in Africa,” he says. “At the same time, TFA has an overarching social objective of improving small-farmer incomes. The most important indicator [of success] for TFA will be small farmer income. A strong upward trend will signify that the expected outcomes—access to markets, access to capital, increased productivity, and increased capacity in the value chain—are on track.”

TFA integrates two major components: investment and removal of barriers. Guinan believes that farmers themselves are the best qualified to identify the barriers they face—operating their businesses, growing, processing, or distributing food around Africa and overseas. “In the past, policy interventions to promote market-led development have been overly broad and have failed to identify and dismantle the specific barriers impeding market success,” explains Guinan. “By contrast, developed-country businesses have for years been able to bring highly specific concerns to relevant policy agencies in their countries and have those agencies respond in a targeted manner.”

TFA’s Removing the Barriers program focuses on interconnecting development initiatives along “development corridors”—allowing farmers and businesses along the corridors to support each other and benefit from each other’s success. “The development corridors are trade and transport routes that, with the right support, hold the potential to connect Africa’s landlocked countries into regional and international markets and bring farmers into a system that can move food and inputs and create new commercial opportunities,” Guinan says. “This consists of using existing roads and railroads linking mines and other investments with regional markets and ports to bring farmers into a system that can move food, goods, services and information and create new commercial opportunities.”

TFA targets what it calls the “missing middle” of African agriculture—growth-oriented, mid-scale commercial farms and agribusinesses.  Guinan says that through this approach small-scale farmers will benefit from becoming suppliers, customers, partners, or employees of mid-scale farms. He believes that TFA’s target constituency “will become a primary engine for the emergence of agriculture as Africa’s new source of economic dynamism over the next decade.” Guinan says that TFA’s market-led approach to supporting small-scale farmers is sustainable, while many government and aid-funded initiatives have failed or faded away. “When the donor support dries up, the farmers return to survival mode and are no better positioned to meet the basic needs of their families,” he says. “This has been the tragic outcome of millions of dollars in donor aid programs.”

According to Guinan, the onset of the current food crisis has put the world on notice that the future global food market will be a volatile one—and small-scale farmers will need to be able to cope with the volatility if they are going to prosper. “Small farmers, whose greatest asset is their own labor,” he explains, “will withdraw to subsistence strategies if they cannot count on a broad market for their harvests—further reducing the food supply. The World Bank is warning that another 44 million people have already fallen into poverty as a result of rising food prices since last summer.”

In the past, according to Guinan, African farmers have often dealt with the need to produce more food by expanding production onto new land, often clearing forests and further stressing depleted soils. “One way or another, Africa’s agricultural resources will be brought into production in the face of growing global demand for food,” Guinan warns. “The question is whether Africans themselves will share in the benefits.”

What strategies for supporting small-scale farmers do you think is sustainable and will tie poor farming communities into a dynamic, strengthening market? Tell us in the comments!

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Data Challenges in Green Economy and Green Jobs Research in China

In a previous post, we discussed the general challenges posed by China’s statistical system. Despite these challenges, the Chinese government has started making a serious effort to establish a credible data infrastructure. Before such a transparent and reliable statistical system becomes fully functional, any research involving Chinese data will not be easy. This is especially the case for new topics like green economy.

Improvement in basic statistics, such as employment data, could help stimulate growth of China's green sectors

This July, Worldwatch will be releasing a new report titled “Green Economy and Green Jobs in China: Current Status and Potentials for 2020,” the first output of a project sponsored by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. Given limitations on green economy data, we had to think creatively to come up with reliable estimations. Although the mixture of methodologies we developed can be improved as better data become available, our report represents the most in-depth sector-based study so far on the job creation potential of China’s green economy.

Although efforts have been made in China to establish a better green economy-specific  database, for instance through Green Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Accounting, reform of the statistical system may still take years to achieve its desired effects at the national level. Accordingly, for our study, the first challenge was to capture the “green” part of economic sectors where it was not separately measured by existing statistics. For example, increasing building energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to reduce nationwide energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Chinese government has enacted a set of policies, including a range of building energy standards, which have resulted in an emerging building energy conservation sector.

Because we found that there were insufficient precise and reliable data on its scale and employment, we had to leave the green building sector for future studies and focus our report on three other key green sectors: clean energy supply, green transportation, and forestry. In each of these sectors, to effectively differentiate economic activities that could be considered “green” and those that could not, we further select green sub-sectors (for a glimpse of our sub-sectors coverage, please read our previous blogs here, here, and here). For these sub-sectors, which still vary in data availability and reliability, we utilized different methodologies to estimate the economic scale and employment figures to the extent possible.

For instance, we found that there is no reliable first-hand information for China’s solar water heating industry regarding the total number of nationwide manufacturers, let alone a precise employment figure. This industry doesn’t have a nationwide association despite the fact that Chinese manufacturers in this sector now have a remarkable 90 percent share of the global market. We were able to collect estimations and projections by industry experts and organizations. Combining elements from all these sources, we were able to present a cohesive vision for the industry’s future.

China’s wind energy sector is relatively better off, with the existence of several industry associations. Although it was still difficult to generate sector-wide employment numbers, we were able to estimate an employment factor, defined as number of operational personnel needed for every unit of wind power generation capacity installed, based on existing industry survey data from China.

The forestry sector provided the most reliable and precise data. With access to State Forestry Administration (SFA)’s data system, we were able to estimate the work time needed for forestation activities. We were also able to estimate job creation in the forest management sector due to the existence of the SFA work load standard, which states that each full-time forest management worker should oversee no more than 150 hectares of forest per year.

For sectors lacking direct industrial data, we used an Input-Output (I/O) model to estimate the job creation effect. A quantitative economic technique for representing the interdependence between different sectors, I/O models can estimate the direct and indirect employment effect of different branches of national economy. The methodology is rather simple and calculations are quite straightforward as long as the most up-to-date I/O table is presented, and our Chinese partner used the latest version of the China I/O Table, published in 2007. Because the categorization of economic departments in the 2007 I/O table was done in accordance with existing statistical standards, some new green sectors such as wind power generation and solar PV manufacturing don’t have an exact fit. We were able to make estimates by choosing similar sectoral categories as proxies.

China’s data challenges are partially due to the unprecedented growth of its green sectors. The sheer number of emerging green companies and their unstable status make consistent monitoring and tracking difficult. For example, because China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and its provincial and local subsidiaries only count economic activities from entities above a designated size, many small companies do not make it onto their radar. Even the country’s central planning entity, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), doesn’t know exactly how many companies are in operation in these fast-growing green sectors, which raises further challenges for job estimation. Moreover, due to their relative “invisibility,” the pool of small companies presents a challenge to the effectiveness of the country’s industrial developing plans. The influx of small clean-tech equipment manufacturers could lead to overcapacity in those sectors, a danger which has been noted by the industry and the government.

Better data collection and reporting in the form of a nationwide statistical system reform is critical for government and civil society to provide better guidance for their development. There are also smaller, concrete steps that can be taken to improve data availability and quality in the near term. Industry organizations and associations can and should play a vital role in providing more reliable data for China’s emerging green sectors.  With a proper amount of capacity-building, we believe China could significantly improve its statistics; we hope then to get the chance to update and expand our China green economy and green jobs study .

This concludes our series of blog posts on findings from a forthcoming Worldwatch Institute report on China’s green economy. Read the first blog on the forestry sector here, the second on the transportation sector here, and the third on the energy sector here. Please stay tuned for the release of this report in mid-July 2011.


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Nourishing the Planet TV: Reducing Pest Damage Without Damaging the Environment

In this episode, research intern Janeen Madan discusses how an alternative method of pest and disease prevention called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is helping to reduce farming costs, improve harvest quantity and quality, and increase farmer income, while also protecting the environment.

Video: http://youtu.be/l2tXhSKzxtM

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of Our Abundance

According to staggering new statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), roughly one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to some 1.3 billion tons per year. In the developing world, over 40 percent of food losses occur after harvest—while being stored or transported, and during processing and packing. In industrialized countries, more than 40 percent of losses occur as a result of retailers and consumers discarding unwanted but often perfectly edible food.

Reducing the amount of food we waste can help alleviate global hunger and protect the environment. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

At a time when the land, water, and energy resources necessary to feed a global population of 6.9 billion are increasingly limited—and when at least 1 billion people remain chronically hungry—food losses mean a waste of those resources and a failure of our food system to meet the needs of the poor. The Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project  is highlighting ways to make the most of the food that is produced and to make more food available to those who need it most.

According to Tristram Stuart, a contributing author of Worldwatch’s State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet report, some 150 million tons of grains are lost annually in low-income countries, six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world. Meanwhile, industrialized countries waste some 222 million tons of perfectly good food annually, a quantity nearly equivalent to the 230 million tons that sub-Saharan Africa produces in a year. Unlike farmers in many developing countries, however, agribusinesses in industrial countries have numerous tools at their disposal to prevent food from spoiling—including pasteurization and preservation facilities, drying equipment, climate-controlled storage units, transport infrastructure, and chemicals designed to expand shelf-life.

“All this may ironically have contributed to the cornucopian abundance that has fostered a culture in which staggering levels of ‘deliberate’ food waste are now accepted or even institutionalized,” writes Stuart in his chapter, “Post-Harvest Losses: A Neglected Field.” “Throwing away cosmetically ‘imperfect’ produce on farms, discarding edible fish at sea, over-ordering stock for supermarkets, and purchasing or cooking too much food in the home, are all examples of profligate negligence toward food.”

Nourishing the Planet researchers traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, meeting with 350 farmers’ groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists. “This amount of loss is shocking considering that many experts estimate that the world will need to double food production in the next half-century as people eat more meat and generally eat better,” says Danielle Nierenberg, Nourishing the Planet project director. “It would make good sense to invest in making better use of what is already produced.”

“Humanity is approaching — and in some places exceeding — the limits of potential farmland and water supplies that can be used for farming,” notes Worldwatch Institute Executive Director Robert Engelman. “We’re already facing food price spikes and the early impacts of human-caused climate change on food production. We can’t afford to overlook simple, low-cost fixes to reduce food waste.”

Nourishing the Planet offers the following three low-cost approaches that can go a long way toward making the most of the abundance that our food system already produces. Innovations in both the developing and industrialized worlds include:

  • Getting surpluses to those who need it. As mountains of food are thrown out every day in the cities of rich countries, some of the poorest citizens still struggle to figure out their next meal. Feeding America coordinates a nationwide network of food banks that receive donations from grocery chains. Florida’s Harry Chapin Food Bank, one of Feeding America’s partners, distributed 5.2 million kilograms of food in 2010. In New York City, City Harvest collects some 12.7 million kilograms of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to nearly 600 New York City food programs. Similarly, London Street FoodBank utilizes volunteers to collect unused food items from London businesses and get them to food banks around the city.
  • Raising consumer awareness and reducing waste to landfills. Those who can easily afford to buy food—and throw it away—rarely consider how much they discard or find alternatives to sending unwanted food to the landfill. In 2010, however, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate both recycling and compost from garbage. By asking residents to separate their food waste, a new era of awareness is being fostered by the initiative. Nutrient-rich compost created by the municipal program is made available to area organic farmers and wine producers, helping to reduce resource consumption in agriculture. The Love Food Hate Waste website—an awareness campaign of the U.K.-based organization Wrap—provides online recipes for using leftovers as well as tips and advice for reducing personal food waste.
  • Improving storage and processing for small-scale farmers in developing countries. In the absence of expensive, Western-style grain stores and processing facilities, smallholders can undertake a variety of measures to prevent damage to their harvests. In Pakistan, the United Nations helped 9 percent of farmers cut their storage losses up to 70 percent by simply replacing jute bags and mud constructions with metal grain storage containers. And Purdue University is helping communities in rural Niger maintain year-round cow pea supplies by making low-cost, hermetically sealed plastic bags available through the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) program. Another innovative project uses solar energy to dry mangoes after harvest; each year, more than 100,000 tons of the fruit go bad before reaching the market in western Africa.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


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Texas Becomes Latest State to Require Disclosure of Chemicals Used for Hydraulic Fracturing

Texas has been the heart of the U.S. oil and gas industry for decades.

On Friday, June 17, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill that mandates public disclosure of the chemicals that operators use during hydraulic fracturing in the state of Texas. With this legislation, Texas joins a growing list of states, including Montana, Arkansas, Michigan, and Wyoming, that have passed or are discussing legislation requiring the disclosure of the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids.

The bill, H.B. 3328, will require operators to report the total volume of water as well as the chemical ingredients used for each hydraulic fracturing job through the website FracFocus.org. This website, jointly administered by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Inter-State Oil and Gas Compact Commission, was launched in late 2010, and participating companies have begun to voluntarily post records of wells fractured after January 1, 2011. Texas’s new law will require operators to post their well reports on the website beginning in July 2012, with the reporting of additional chemicals not included on the website’s form (which only includes chemicals regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as reported on Materials Safety Data Sheets [MSDS]) to begin in July 2013.

Under H.B. 3328, operators will be able to withhold specific Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) Numbers and/or concentrations of chemicals that are considered trade secrets under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s provisions on MSD sheets. Because MSD sheets are already required by law to be posted at drilling sites, the new rules’ treatment of the chemicals not regulated by OSHA will determine the extent to which Texas’s disclosure law amounts to a measure that mainly makes information that is already publically available more publically accessible.

Although the details of Texas’s bill differ from those of other states’, it’s notable that many of the disclosure requirements have been passed in states that are generally considered to be friendly territory for oil and gas companies, and that the measures have been supported by many members of the industry. (Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, has been quoted as saying “We’ve seen the light.”) While this may seem surprising given the industry’s opposition thus far to federal legislation requiring the full disclosure of the contents of fracturing fluids, the momentum for mandating disclosure derives at least in part from a desire on the part of state regulators and policy-makers to pre-empt federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

Regardless of whether one’s ultimate goal is state, federal, or a combination of jurisdictions over hydraulic fracturing, each new state’s rules on the disclosure of fracturing chemicals provides an additional reference point that can be used to guide new legislation, whether at the state or national level.

Many environmental organizations have welcomed the progress towards transparency that H.B. 3328 represents, but still argue that it does not set a high enough standard for other states to imitate. In a press release, the Environmental Defense Fund stated that it “must oppose adoption of the Texas legislation by other states or by the federal government because the measure has serious limitations. It does not even provide a simple, statewide list of what chemicals are used by who and in what quantities. The Railroad Commission can enforce the bill only if it can prove a chemical was used intentionally for a particular purpose. And it may be the middle of 2013 before the bill takes full effect – an absurdly long time for implementation.”

Worldwatch has argued that greater industry transparency is critical to building public understanding of hydraulic fracturing. Texas’s new law represents a meaningful step in that direction. Nonetheless, the national conversation about disclosure of the content of fracturing fluids is far from over. The thorny issue of the industry’s proprietary chemicals has yet to be fully resolved. Even the proposed FRAC Act, a bill that would mandate public disclosure of fracturing chemicals and constituents at the national level, explicitly does not give states or the EPA the authority to require “public disclosure of proprietary chemical formulas.”

In the meantime, however, it’s helpful to see some states and companies taking steps to make fracturing information more accessible. The documentation submitted to FracFocus.org has the potential to shed light not only on the types of chemicals used in each fracturing job, but also the amount of water, a critical issue for water-poor regions. Moreover, this information can be a critical resource for policy-makers and analysts outside the United States who are considering whether and under what terms to permit hydraulic fracturing. As Worldwatch has written, mandatory disclosure represents an important opportunity for the natural gas industry to show rather than tell the public what hydraulic fracturing entails and what environmental and public health risks it does and doesn’t pose.

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N’Dama: Ancient West African Cattle

By Matt Styslinger

As the African continent is faced with the challenge of meeting a growing demand for milk and meat, the genetic diversity of livestock breeds is being lost at an alarming rate. Governments and agribusiness continue to promote exotic commercial breeds of livestock that are bred to gain more weight and produce more milk than traditional breeds. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that around 1,710 breeds of livestock—21 percent—are at risk of extinction worldwide as farmers abandon their traditional breeds. For millennia, pastoralists have bred livestock that are well-adapted to local conditions. Understanding and preserving these breeds could be useful in helping communities adapt as their climates and environments change in the coming decades.

N'Dama is a hardy, disease-resistant breed of cattle indigenous to West Africa (Photo: ILRI)

N’Dama is a hardy breed of cattle indigenous to the Fouta-Djallon highlands in the West African country of Guinea. N’Dama cows were domesticated around 8,000 years ago in the region and they have evolved to be resistant to local diseases and parasites. The breed is common throughout West and Central Africa, especially in areas infested by the tsetse fly—an insect known to transmit disease to both humans and livestock. According to the FAO, there are approximately 7 million head of N’Dama cattle.

N’Dama cows produce two to three liters of milk per day and their meat is renowned for its flavor. The breed is the most popular among West Africa’s small-scale, low-input livestock keepers. This is largely because they are heat tolerant, are docile and do well in harsh environments, and can survive on poor quality feeds.

But the most important quality of N’Dama is its resistance to trypanosomiasis, a widespread African cattle disease spread by the tsetse fly. In the areas of Africa with the greatest potential to increase domestic livestock production, trypanosomiasis is a major constraint. Because of its natural resistance to the disease, N’Dama cows do not require expensive antibiotics to be healthy. For this reason, N’Dama is seen as the breed of choice to help West and Central Africa meet the increasing demand for meat and milk products.

The International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) has launched an N’Dama improvement program in The Gambia. The program uses 400 breeding cows to try and select larger, higher milk-producing animals that retain disease-resistant qualities. A company in the Democratic Republic of Congo called Jules VAN LANCKER, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), has used its herd of over 40,000 purebred N’Dama to breed desirable qualities without losing hardiness. According to ILRI, the company has increased the average weight of its N’Dama cattle by 30 to 50 kilograms per animal through selective breeding.

Economically, livestock production is the fastest growing sector in agriculture worldwide. Livestock-keeping can be an important way to improve diets and raise incomes in the developing world. Less well-known livestock breeds contain valuable resources that could be vital for food security and help farmers deal with the challenges of climate change, animal disease, and dwindling water supplies.

What are some less well-known livestock breeds that you know about? Let us know in the comments!

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about indigenous agricultural genetic resources, see: Five Vegetables You’ve Never Heard of That are Helping to End Hunger, Guar: Food, Fodder, Fertilizer & More, The Dogon Shallot: An Underground Favorite, Spider Plant: A Hardy Nutritious African Native, and Celosia: Nature’s Prettiest Vegetable.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Zimbabwe’s Land and Labor Movement

In this recently published article in the New Labor Forum Magazine, we discuss the need for better land reform policies in Zimbabwe.

Photo credit: Bernard Pollack

While Zimbabwe’s land reform movement in 2000 was initially intended to reduce 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. Read about how organizations, such as the Zimbabwe Congress Trade Union (ZCTU), are working to improve workers’ and farmer’s rights, and bringing the land back to the people.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Cracking the Nut: Addressing Challenges of Rural and Agricultural Finance

By Dana Drugmand

Addressing obstacles to rural and agricultural finance was the focus of a two-day conference held June 20-21 in Washington D.C. The Cracking the Nut Conference brought together private sector professionals, policymakers, educators, funders, researchers and others working in the rural and agricultural finance sector. The conference included presentations and workshops centered around five main themes, including making markets work for rural and agricultural finance, forging agricultural finance innovations, reducing the cost of rural outreach, managing risk effectively, and attracting private investment.

Image credit: Cracking the Nut

“The rural sector has long housed the majority of the poor who have been largely ignored by the financial sector,” said Kurt Focke in the conference’s opening remarks. Focke, who works in Chief Capital Markets and Financial Institutions Division for the Inter-American Development Bank, talked about four global crises we are currently facing – a food crisis, an energy crisis, a water crisis, and a climate change adaptation and mitigation crisis. In highlighting each of these four issues, Focke emphasized why the financing of agricultural developments and innovations is critical. Financing irrigation technologies, for example, is an integral part of improving agricultural productivity. “Finance will be needed to support irrigation and water conservation practices,” Focke said.

The afternoon plenary session, titled “How Can Rural and Agricultural Finance Be Used to Improve Food Security?” featured panelists Margaret Enis from USAID, John Coonrod, Executive Vice President of The Hunger Project, and Mark Cackler from the World Bank.  Coonrod highlighted an initiative implemented by The Hunger Project that is using finance to address gender inequality. This microfinance initiative has empowered women by encouraging rural farmers in Africa to create women-owned credit unions. “The women who participate in the microcredit program in this system now have a real voice in society,” said Coonrod. Cackler talked about the role banks play in addressing three aspects of food security, including availability of food, access to food, and better nutrition and utilization of food. “Without improving incomes, and particularly farm incomes, we won’t be able to improve the kind of access to food that is needed to address the challenge of food security,” he remarked. Coonrod also emphasized the need for better financial services, including loans and credit, and putting it all together in an integrated system to address the three pillars of better food security. Finally, Enis highlighted the issue of risk, which is very costly in low-income rural economies. USAID has been working on developing effective and appropriate insurance products as part of a broader framework for risk management and reduction. USAID’s Bureau for Food Security is promoting improved agricultural practices, and, according to Enis, “many times implementing these improvements requires investments made possible through financial services.”

Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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