Reality show demonstrates how developing countries can make sustainability a reality

By Graham Salinger

Move over “Man V Food”, there is a new cooking show in town. “Stoveman” is a four part documentary series that follows the efforts of Greg Spencer, co-founder of The Paradigm Project, to bring environmentally friendly stoves to developing countries. The Paradigm Project was founded in 2007 to bring rocket stoves to rural communities in developing countries. To date, 13,136 stoves have been delivered and the aim is to deliver 5 million stoves to the by 2020. The video series offers viewers a glimpse of the challenges faced by those living in the developing world and ways that such challenges can be overcome through innovations like the rocket stove.

Greg Spencer carrying firewood with Kenyan women in the first episode of "Stoveman." (Photo credit: The Paradigm Project)

In many developing countries, up to 35 percent of income can be spent on fuel for cooking. The stoves that the Paradigm Project supplies help reduce this financial burden by decreasing the amount of oil required for cooking by 40-60 percent, which allows for more money to purchase seeds to grow nutritional crops. The project estimates that over five years, each stove saves almost USD 283.

In the first episode of “Stoveman,” Spencer and his colleague Austin Mann work with women in northern Kenya to gather wood. In the rural developing world, over 90 percent of energy consumption is either wood or other biomass. In the country of Kenya alone this leads to the consumption of over 100 million trees annually. The World Health Organization has also estimated that harmful stove smoke is the fourth worst overall health risk factor in developing countries, killing 1.6 million women and childreneach year. The Paradigm Project also trains farmers about the benefits of reducing carbon emission and stresses that harming the environment also harms crop yields.

In State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, contributing author Marie-Ange Binagwaho highlights a similar project that is underway in Senegal. The project aims to reduce pollution that results from a dependency on biomass fuels as an energy source. Through its efforts in Senegal, where biomass accounts for 57 percent of primary energy sources, Solar Household Energy Inc (SHE) is working to bring solar cooking technology to six cities. Similar efforts to introduce low-cost and low-input technologies have been introduced in Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, and Sri Lanka.

What are your thoughts about this project? Do you know of other innovative ways to spread awareness about innovations? Tell us in the comments section!

Graham Salinger is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To read more about environmentally friendly stoves, see: Afterthought for some, daily struggle for others, What Works: Putting Cooked Food on the Table, Innovation of the Week: Reducing the Things they Carry, and Building a Methane-Fueled Fire: Innovation of the Week.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Tackling Food Insecurity for Kenya’s Unseen Population: An Interview with Dr. Luchetu Likaka

By Emily Gilbert

Name: Luchetu Likaka, PhD

Affiliation: Founder and Executive Director, Centre for Ageing and Rural Development Kenya (CARD-K)

Bio: Dr. Likaka is the founder of the Centre for Ageing and Rural Development (CARD) Kenya. A firm believer in justice, he began advocating for the elderly in 2007, and established CARD-K in 2008 with little funding, but a lot passion and determination. Dr. Likaka lectures at the department of Sociology at Egerton University. He is an accomplished social policy analyst and development evaluation specialist.

 Location: Njoro, Kenya 

CARD-K is working to support Kenya's ageing population. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Why and when did you found CARD-Kenya?

I came across a blind older woman caring for a four month old baby in the western part of Kenya, a region ravaged by HIV/AIDS while on visit in 2007. This scene touched me deeply as I noted the elderly woman could hardly support herself, yet she was expected to take care of eight siblings left under her care by her daughter who had passed on due to HIV/AIDS.  Moreover, she was not receiving any support. This motivated me to start thinking about helping this special group of people. I started the Centre based on my desire to play a vibrant role in the promotion of welfare and rights of older persons through sustainable development programs for livelihood security and rural development, thereby offering them a new life.

I started supporting the elderly South Nyanza, Kenya with barely any resources, having to use my personal salary and family savings to provide care and support. I shared my concern with close friends and in February, 2008, I, along with Stephen Njogu, Maureen Odawa and Mary Maina started a monthly meeting where we contributed resources like cash or in-kind donations to support older persons in selected sites across the country.

What are some of the difficulties being faced by the elderly and ageing populations in Kenya?

Older persons in Kenya face a number of challenges: lack of adequate food, lack of income, poor access to health care, inadequate shelter, among others. Older person’s challenges are further compounded by their second parenting roles for HIV/AIDS orphans. This poses wider problems since they themselves require care and support.

According to the 2010 National Population and Housing Census Report, the population of persons aged 60 years and above was about 1.5 million, representing 4 percent of the total population. According to the demographic projections, it is expected to reach over 2 million by the year 2020. In terms of socio-cultural profiles, various communities in Kenya differ in their treatment of older persons. While some communities revere old age and where older persons make strategic decisions, a few do not regard old age in the same esteem. The socio-cultural attitudes held by the society, the socialization processes and older people’s perception of their own status, roles and rights are of particular significance in determining the status of older persons within the society. In rural areas, for instance, older persons are left behind without traditional family support and financial resources. Older women are the majority in rural areas and are the most disadvantaged as they have little or no control over economic resources and are disempowered by traditional practices. Policies and programmes for rural development, food security and agricultural production do not take into account the implications of this ageing rural population.

On the other hand, in urban areas, many older persons are crowded in slum areas. Urban development policies and programmes rarely to targets the interests and needs of these older persons. As population continues to expand, the number of dependants continues to rise. The demand created by a large dependant population; the young and older persons particularly in terms of health, education and employment presents a major challenge. In the 1990s population growth rate outstripped economic growth rate resulting to continued deterioration in the standard of living among the majority of Kenyans. The challenge now is to reverse this trend so that Kenyans, especially the vulnerable and marginalized elderly, can enjoy higher standards of living. This gave rise to founding of Centre for Ageing and Rural Development, Kenya (CARD-K).

HIV/AIDS has had a significant toll on the changing social fabric in Kenya.  What are other factors contributing to this?

The deteriorating economic conditions and HIV/AIDS pandemic have led to the increase in the number of children in need of care and the unprecedented involvement of the elderly in caretaking responsibilities. Poverty is often seen as the main factor leading to risky behaviors that expose socially and economically marginalized groups to risk of HIV infection, reducing the capacity of such households to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS.

The main cause of poverty is the lack of access to resources and assets. Land is the most important asset for the rural poor as most rural communities depend on it for their livelihoods. Furthermore, there are pronounced rural-urban disparities in economic development with subsequent extreme income inequalities between the rural and urban communities. In addition, gender disparities in income distribution, particularly with ownership and access to productive assets, continue to negatively impact poverty rates among women. Poverty rates among women continue to increase with age. The situation is further exacerbated by the overall income inequality in the society.

Traditional family and community structures included in-built support and welfare systems that catered for all members of society. The role of older persons traditionally included leadership, guidance and advice. In return, they were assured of total support from the family and community. Although family and community remain the most effective and important institutions in caring for older persons, their effectiveness is under pressure.

Food security and nutrition are critical factors affecting the lives of older persons.  Good nutrition in childhood and throughout life affects health and nutritional status in older years.  In rural areas, older persons, in particular older women, produce food for their own consumption and sell any surpluses for income. However, food production, consumption, and marketing programs usually exclude older persons. Very little is known about the nutrition situation and needs of the older persons.

Do you feel that these issues are receiving attention from the Kenyan government? If not, why?

These issues have received very little attention from the government and that is why we formed CARD-Kenya, to raise the voice and advocate on issues affecting the elderly. This has included advocating in national strategic plans, policies and guidelines, promoting research on ageing and rural development, and engaging civil society, government, public and private sector to include the elderly in the policies and programs for sustainable and equitable development.

How will addressing the needs of the elderly, or giving this group a voice, improve food security and sovereignty?

Food is a basic human need that affects people’s quality of life and their ability to contribute socially and economically to the family and community. In Kenya, it is a fact that very little is known about specific nutritional and food needs of older people. In times of food shortages, which are a perennial problem in Kenya, older people often suffer food deprivation and are discriminated against in intra-household food distribution patterns. We are working to give the elderly a voice on matters of food.

How does your organization focus its work on issues like food security to ensure that the elderly are represented?

One third of Kenya’s population is food insecure, and ensuring food security and nutrition in Kenya is a critical challenge. Food and nutrition insecurity is closely linked to poverty. About half of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line.

Kenya’s past food policies have had limited success in addressing the country’s food insecurity due to several reasons. Chief among these are inadequate budgetary allocations, unstable macro-economic conditions, limited involvement of the private sector, limited stakeholder participation, and lack of a strategy. CARD-Kenya works with different stakeholders in an attempt to alleviate and reduce these challenges through participatory approaches from the household and community levels. We also promote sustainable agricultural production methods by use of traditional and indigenous knowledge, coupled with innovations that allow production of drought-resistant and less labor-intensive crops.

Emily Gilbert is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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12 Simple Steps to Go Green in 2012

Check out our latest op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune, one of the largest and most respected newspapers in the United States with daily circulation of more than 500,000 and large-scale reach across the Midwest.

The article highlights 12 resolutions that you can take to go green in 2012.

Click here to read the full article.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Innovation of the Week: Exchanging Bold Ideas to Empower Urban Farmers

By Janeen Madan

Julius Musimenta, from the Agency for Integrated Rural Development in Kampala Uganda, spent 6 weeks in April working at Growing Power, a U.S. nonprofit working to improve access to healthy and safe food. At the headquarters based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julius conducted vermi-composting projects, using worms to improve soil fertility, and worked on backyard poultry projects.

Food security fellows share ideas on practices in urban agriculture that are working on the ground. (Photo credit: Supriya Kumar)

Julius is one of 53 Professional Food Fellows in Food Security – an exchange program that brings together young leaders from the U.S. (Wisconsin, Colorado, and Indiana) and Africa (Uganda and Kenya), who are working to alleviate hunger in their home communities. They are involved in a wide range of agricultural projects, including expanding extension services, improving nutrition, and raising livestock and poultry in urban areas.

The program is supported by Bold Leaders—a Denver-based non-profit that provides training services for young leaders around the world—in partnership with Growing Power, Mazingira Institute, and Environmental Alert. It aims to foster collaboration among farmers, activists, and educators, working in the field of urban agriculture and encourages them to share ideas of what’s working on the ground.

During the two-year fellowship program, fellows visit each other’s countries twice a year, where they participate in training workshops, meet local organizations, and engage in discussions on the social, economic, and political factors that impact urban farming. The program hosts an interactive online forum where fellows can stay connected with each other and continue to share ideas, discuss best practices, and ask for advice.

The program is empowering fellows to make direct impacts on food security issues in their communities. After sharing his ideas and learning from other fellows, Stephen Makere Alexander developed a plan to start a school poultry farming project in his home community in Tanzania. The project will teach students to raise poultry, boosting nutrition and enabling them to earn extra money to pay for school supplies and uniforms.

The program emphasizes protecting environmental resources that small-scale farmers depend on for their food and income. According to Julius, food security has a symbiotic relationship with the environment. During his experience working with Growing Power, Julius worked with other fellows to find practices that can sustainably rebuild soil fertility.

Rather than silver bullet solutions, the program emphasizes the value of local innovations and seeks to find ways to connect farmers with ongoing research, says Alex Zizinga, founder and coordinator of  The Community Garden Project in Uganda. He adds that researchers—especially in Africa—are focused on scientific knowledge and often ignore the vital local knowledge of farmers.

This experience has enabled the visiting fellows to share lessons from their own work and to learn about similar food security issues facing communities in the U.S. “We shared our experiences with them and they told us what’s working. Now we’re taking a lot back home,” said Sylvia Galuoch, an urban farmer from Nairobi, Kenya.

Sharing ideas of what’s working and learning from each others’ experiences is an important first step in finding concrete solutions to the common challenges that urban farmers face.

Do you know of other exchange initiatives that foster collaboration among farmers across borders?

Janeen Madan was a communications associate with the Nourishing the Planet project. She is currently working with the World Food Programme in Dakar, Senegal.

To read more about the BOLD Food Leaders, see: Community Livelihood Strengthens Food Security at Grass Root Level

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discount, please click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Going Green: 12 Simple Steps for 2012

As we head into 2012, many of us will be resolving to lose those few extra pounds, save more money, or spend a few more hours with our families and friends. But there are also some resolutions we can make to make our lives a little greener. Each of us, especially in the United States, can make a commitment to reducing our environmental impacts.

Here are 12 simple steps that you can take be more green in the new year. (Photo credit: Julie Carney, Gardens for Health International)

The United Nations has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Broadening access to sustainable energy is essential to solving many of the world’s challenges, including food production, security, and poverty.

Hunger, poverty, and climate change are issues that we can all help address. Here are 12 simple steps to go green in 2012:

(1) Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, helping to save energy and protect the environment. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs. As a result, more than 75 percent of all material collected is being recycled, diverting 1.6 million tons from the landfills annually—double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!

What you can do:

  • Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

(2) Turn off the lights

On the last Saturday in March—March 31 in 2012—hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

  • Earth Hour happens only once a year, but you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

(3) Make the switch

In 2007, Australia became the first country to “ban the bulb,” drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs. By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out, and, according to the country’s environment minister, this simple move has made a big difference, cutting an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. China also recently pledged to replace the 1 billion incandescent bulbs used in its government offices with more energy efficient models within five years.

What you can do:

  • A bill in Congress to eliminate incandescent in the United States failed in 2011, but you can still make the switch at home. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use only 20–30 percent of the energy required by incandescents to create the same amount of light, and LEDs use only 10 percent, helping reduce both electric bills and carbon emissions.

(4) Turn on the tap

The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled—they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. And while public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products. According to a study, 10 of the most popular brands of bottled water contain a wide range of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue, and arsenic.

What you can do:

  • Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

(5) Turn down the heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

  • Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

(6) Support food recovery programs

Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries, and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations, like City Harvest in New York City or Second Harvest Heartland in Minnesota.
  • Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

(7) Buy local

“Small Business Saturday,” falling between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

  • Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

(8) Get out and ride

We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. Now, cities across the country are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses. Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. have major bike sharing programs that allow people to rent bikes for short-term use. Similar programs exist in other cities, and more are planned for places from Miami, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin.

What you can do:

  • If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!
  • Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

(9) Share a car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009. According to the University of California Transportation Center, each shared car replaces 15 personally owned vehicles, and roughly 80 percent of more than 6,000 car-sharing households surveyed across North America got rid of their cars after joining a sharing service. In 2009, car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. Innovative programs such as Chicago’s I-GO are even introducing solar-powered cars to their fleets, making the impact of these programs even more eco-friendly.

What you can do:

  • Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles. Even if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

(10) Plant a garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the FAO and the United Nations Development Programme estimate that 200 million city dwellers around the world are already growing and selling their own food, feeding some 800 million of their neighbors. Growing a garden doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, and in light of high food prices and recent food safety scares, even a small plot can make a big impact on your diet and wallet.

What you can do:

  • Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

(11) Compost

And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

  • If you are unsure about the right ways to compost, websites such as and organizations such as the U.S. Composting Council, provide easy steps to reuse your organic waste.

(12) Reduce your meat consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Yet global meat production has experienced a 20 percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms.

What you can do:

  • You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way. Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

The most successful and lasting New Year’s resolutions are those that are practiced regularly and have an important goal. Watching the ball drop in Times Square happens only once a year, but for more and more people across the world, the impacts of hunger, poverty, and climate change are felt every day. Thankfully, simple practices, such as recycling or riding a bike, can have great impact. As we prepare to ring in the new year, let’s all resolve to make 2012 a healthier, happier, and greener year for all.

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Farmers embrace new technologies to get healthy banana planting material

By Catherine Njuguna

Catherine Njuguna is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture‘s  (IITA) Regional Corporate Communications Officer for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Kagimbi Tharcisse, a farmer in eastern Burundi, lifts up the transparent polythene sheet and delicately pulls back some soil to proudly show the tiny banana plantlets growing underneath. Small and delicate, they will be gently taken care of for two months. Each will then be replanted in polythene bags, to grow bigger and stronger and in three months, it will be ready for the farmers’ fields.

Tharcisse proudly shows the little banana plantlets in the special sterilized chamber. (Photo credit: Catherine Njuguna)

The banana plantlets were obtained through a more complicated process compared to the traditional way of growing banana using suckers—these are the daughters growing at the base of the mother plant that farmers uproot from their own farms or buy from a neighbor. It is a slow method of obtaining planting material and it easily spreads pests and diseases from one farm to another if the suckers are not properly selected and treated.

However, this new technology, known as macropropagation, aims at overcoming these two challenges—it allows the rapid production of pest-free planting material. In this new procedure, Tharcisse explains, one starts by selecting a vigorous healthy-looking sucker—the type that only has very thin pointed leaves—and using a large knife peels off the dirt and roots. Next, it is immersed in hot boiling water for 30 seconds to kill any pests. The outer leaf sheaths are then carefully peeled off to expose the meristem—the growing part at the center of the plant.

The meristem is cut into pieces which are then placed in special sterilized chambers lined with transparent polythene sheets for extra warmth, humidity, and light for 15 days during which they will sprout many little plantlets. These plantlets are carefully detached once they grow 2 to 3 leaves and planted in pots with sterilized soils to acclimatize. They are ready for field planting after 2 to 3 months.Using this method, a sucker can produce up to 20 plantlets instead of just one.

Tharcisse is a member of a farmers’ association in Muyinga, eastern Burundi, known as the ‘Tukarukire Gitok’ meaning “let us rehabilitate banana” in the local language. The group received training on macropropagation from the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) project as part of efforts to ensure that farmers have adequate healthy planting material of their desired varieties, whether local or improved varieties, to curb the spread of pests and diseases. The group then used its own funds to start the macropropagation to meet their demand for clean planting material.

The CIALCA project brings together various partners and donors to improve farm-level productivity through, among others, promoting integrated pest and disease management. It is led by Bioversity International, IITA, and Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT).

Bakame Pankris, another member of the group, is eagerly awaiting the new planting material. “Our bananas were getting diseases and we were getting very poor yields. Then we discovered these new FHIA varieties which are high yielding and are not attacked by diseases. With FHIA, we are getting even up to 100 kg per bunch while most of our local varieties rarely exceed 25 kg,” he says. “I now want to increase the banana in my farm as we are doing very good business with traders from Tanzania who come to buy in the farms.”

Pankris explains that by using the plantlets most of his banana will grow uniformly and be ready for harvest almost at the same time. He will then call the traders for collection. However, when using the traditional method, the bananas grow at different rates.

FHIA are a range of hybrid banana varieties from and named after the Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation (Fundación Hondureña De Investigación Agrícola) that CIALCA and its partners are promoting in the region as field trials have shown they are high yielding, have varieties that are suitable for the different banana uses—cooking, dessert, juicing, and making beer, and are well accepted by farmers.

Deadly banana diseases

In Burundi, banana is one of the important sources of food and income for farmers. However, the crop is under attack from a plethora of diseases and pests. Of special concern are tanana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) and Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) which have the potential to wipe out this important food and income crop as all banana varieties are susceptible.

BBTD—once described as the banana version of AIDS by Lava Kumar, a plant virologist with IITA—leads to stunted plants which do not produce fruits and eventually die. It has been spreading havoc on the crop through West and Central Africa including Burundi and neighboring DR Congo and Rwanda.

BXW, whose symptoms include wilting of leaves, premature ripening of bunches, and rotting of fruit, and eventual death of the plant, is destroying banana in East African countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Dr Congo. In Burundi, both diseases are present with recent confirmation of BXW in parts of the country; frantic efforts are under way to control their spread.

The diseases are mostly spread through the exchange of infected planting material and use of infected farm tools. Control measures include uprooting and burning any infected plant to stop their spread, timely removal of male bud, and disinfecting farm tools.

According to Emmanuel Njukwe of CIALCA, due to the threat to banana posed by the two diseases, there is an increased demand for healthy planting material and good management practices. Use of tissue culture planting material is the most effective and safest way to get clean planting material. However, it is a complicated and costly technology.

“The plantlets are expensive, with a single plant costing up to US$1 although most farmers receive them through development organizations. They are fragile and need a lot of care, like babies,” he says. “Untrained farmers often have bad experiences with the delicate tissue culture plantlets in the past and do not want anything to do with them.”

Njukwe, however, says they should not avoid the use of clean tissue culture plantlets and the project is therefore finding ways of integrating it with macropropagation.

“We are promoting macropropagation as an alternative and to complement tissue culture. We are working with NGOs and farmers’ groups as our go-between with the farmers. We give them healthy tissue culture plantlets of the varieties they want, local or improved. They then take care of them in mother gardens and after 6 to 8 months, they start to field multiply using decapitation techniques or macropropagation to obtain more plants for distribution to farmers,” he says.

“To ensure they are indeed disease free, we first send samples to IITA at Ibadan, Nigeria, or Kawanda agricultural research station in Uganda for disease testing and virus indexing and discard any that is infected,” he explains.

One such development partner is the Post-conflict Program for Rural Development (PPCDR) funded by the European Union which has hired 12 technicians who will work with CIALCA, farmers’ associations, and NGOs to promote the use of tissue culture banana and rapid propagation techniques.

According to Piet van Asten, IITA agronomist working on the project, Burundi is one of the countries that is food insecure as a result of a high population density, increasingly smaller farm sizes, and low yields. All efforts must therefore be made to increase production and protect farmers’ harvests from pests and diseases.

And farmers like Tharcisse and Bakame are ready to embrace new and better ways of farming to increase their production and improve their livelihoods.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Five Innovations that are Working to Empower Women

By Dana Drugmand

At a time when world resources are dwindling and global population is growing rapidly, finding sustainable solutions to nourish people and the planet is more important then ever. Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.

Members of the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad, India. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.

Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system.  According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:

1. Vertical Farming: Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, over 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land. Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to 4.33 US dollars).

Vertical Farming in Action: This innovation has already proven successful in providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food crisis that hit Kenya in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the Nairobi slums. People in Kibera who grew their own food with the vertical farming technique were self-sufficient and did not go hungry.

2. FANRPAN’s Theatre: Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit and technology and have the access to policymakers that women lack. The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers. FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the programme manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”

FANRPAN’s Theater in Action: After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.

3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance. SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets. “We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, Director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.

SEWA in Action: SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.

4. Women’s Collective: Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The Collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims. Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.

Women’s Collective in Action: Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions. Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.

5. GREEN Foundation: Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Saver’s Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants for their families. Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The Foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food, and better livelihoods.

GREEN Foundation in Action: The Foundation’s kitchen gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women. Mahadevamma is one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and any excess vegetables and seeds she sells to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2000 rupees (44.61 US dollars) just from her kitchen garden.

Do you know of other innovations or projects that are working to help empower women farmers? If so, please let us know in the comments section.

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

To read more about innovations that are working to empower women, see: Community Seed Banks to Empower Women and Protect Biodiversity, Innovation of the Week: Using Traditional Strategies to Address Water Problems, SEWA: A Movement to Transform Women’s Lives in India and Beyond, To Bring an End to Hunger, Finding What Really Works, Innovation of the Week: Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women, Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture, Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Tanzania: Development or Detriment?

By Jenny Beth Dyess

Rukwa is a beautiful region in western Tanzania that has seen many people come and go. Over the years it has housed refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. But for many of the 162,000 people who now live there and will be displaced over the next ten years to make way for the AgriSol Energy project, the area is simply home.

A 2010 analysis by the World Bank shows large-scale agribusiness investments rarely have any beneficial effects on the local community. (Photo credit: Jenny Beth Dyess)

Bruce Rastetter, owner of the Iowa-based company AgriSol Energy, is moving forward on a project to build an 800,000 acre farm in Rukwa. Using modern, large-scale farming techniques Rastetter plans on planting corn and soybeans on part of the land in 2012.

AgriSol Energy will sign a 99-year lease with the government of Tanzania for possession of the farmland, an area slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island, and will own all of the crops produced. AgriSol Energy says its farm will create jobs and will help with food shortages by selling crops locally in Tanzania.

But local people are skeptical of Rastetter’s plan. In a recent article by the Guardian, residents of nearby villages claim they were never consulted or even informed about the massive land deal in their backyards. Agricultural extension officer Moshi Muzanye said if the government had consulted him he would have advised reserving it for locals, who could use the space to ease pressure on crowded village land.

Jumanne Maghembe, Tanzanian Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, defends Rastetter’s project in the Des Moines Register saying he believes this project will supplement local food production and help feed the country. AgriSol Energy asserts that their presence in western Tanzania is to help satisfy the demand for food in Tanzania and to train Tanzanian farmers by teaching them modern agricultural techniques.

Iowa State University (ISU) intended on partnering with Rastetter to conduct the small-farmer training program. But a recent report Dan Rather found that ISU pulled out of the project that they would have an advisory role only. Dr. Dennis Keeney, Professor Emeritus of Agronomy and Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering at ISU was appalled when he first became aware of Rastetter’s project at how dehumanizing the corporate world can be. He is concerned but doubts ISUs withdrawal will make much difference to Rastetter’s program since he doesn’t believe Rastetter took “training” seriously anyway.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute and a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, is also skeptical of Rastetter’s project. After conducting a study into Rastetter’s plan she labels it a “land grab,” an exploitive land transaction by a foreign government or private investor for the purpose of agricultural production and export. Mittal also is concerned about demands in AgriSol Energy’s proposal to Tanzania requiring permission to cultivate GMOs and guaranteed access to export markets.

A 2010 analysis by the World Bank shows large-scale agribusiness investments rarely have any beneficial effects on the local community. AgriSol’s project will likely displace thousands of people from their homes and farms and while some will be employed as laborers, most of the managerial positions will probably be given to foreigners.

The government of Tanzania is moving forward with the project despite local outcry. John Julius, Director of Tanzanian NGO ROSDO, says allocating Rastetter such a large tract of land is a disgrace to the government of Tanzania. Julius draws attention to the deeper problem in Tanzania—an inability for most to afford the food that is grown. The problem in Tanzania is not a food shortage, but because of poor infrastructure and little support for farmers people are often too poor to purchase the food that is available.

Bashiru Ali, a senior lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, is also concerned about the effects on the local community. In The Citizen, a Tanzanian newspaper, he says, “We need to look into our land laws and strengthen them so that they adequately protect the rights of indigenous Tanzanians.”

After signing the agreement Tanzania will have little power to protect local rights; already hard-pressed locals fear their children will not have land to farm in the future. Mr Ahmed Simba, a Kigoma-based peasant, complains in the article in The Citizen that the government is allocating tracts of land to foreign investors while refusing the same land to local groups, “I’m afraid we will end up being cheap laborers in such plantations, why does the government prefer foreign investors to local ones?”

Ultimately, the decision to accept Rastetter’s proposal is in the hands of the Tanzanian government. Maghembe stated, “we want to make it well-known to the world that the decisions in relation to the people investing in Tanzania are made by us.”

What do you think will be the environmental, social, and economic impacts of Rastetter’s proposal? How can we find a way to respect private rights without allowing a trampling of human rights for thousands? Join the conversation and tell us what you think in the comments section!

Jenny Beth Dyess is a Research Intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

To read more about land grabs, see: Innovations in Access to Land: Land Grab or Agricultural Investment?, Innovation of the Week: land Grabs, Leaked World Bank Report Highlights Extent of Land Grab Problem, and United Nations Body Fails to Back “Land Grab” Code of Conduct

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Urban Farming can Feed the Future

Check out our latest op-ed on urban agriculture that was published in the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico’s largest circulated daily newspaper.

Albuquerque is home to several urban farms, including the Rio Grande Community Farm and the Growing Awareness Urban Farm, which provide fresh produce and education on urban agricultural practices for interested community members.

Click here to read the full article.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Groundswell International: Strengthening Rural Communities from the Bottom Up

By Supriya Kumar 

“We believe that in order to address our broken agricultural and food system, and create one that is better for human beings and the planet, family farmers around the world can be and need to be lead actors in that process.  We need to support their capacity and power to spread sustainable agricultural and local food systems solutions,” says Steve Brescia the International Director of Groundswell International. Created in August 2009, Groundswell International is a partnership of NGOs that is working with small scale farmers in seven countries –Burkina Faso,Ecuador,Ghana,Guatemala,Haiti,Honduras, andMali – to scale up healthy and agroecological farming practices from the bottom up.

Steve Brescia (Photo credit: Groundswell International)

“Globally we now have over 60 years of experience with industrial agricultural approaches, and we can see the trends in terms of hunger, climate change and concentration of resources and wealth.  As many studies are now confirming, it is time to scale up more appropriate agroecological farming approaches that can help create more positive trends. Groundswell International works with local farmers’ organizations and movements to help build local capacity to spread those alternatives,” said Brescia. They do this by encouraging farmer experimentation – for example, farmers in Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti experiment with soil conservation, cover crops and improved local seed on small sections of their land to discover what works without risking an entire season’s harvest. They also encourage farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing. InBurkina Faso, for example, Groundswell supports exchange visits between village women’s groups and expose them to successful farming practices. In this way, farmers become leaders and change agents for their own communities.

Groundswell International also works with partners to monitoring and evaluating their programs so that they can continuously be improved. Since the main goal is to strengthen local capacity, Groundswell partners work to strengthen farmers’ organizations to plan and evaluate their own development processes.  For example, these organizations assess their progress and strategies through the use of participatory tools that measure changes in household food security, levels of savings and seed bank reserves, and household economic status, to name a few. This approach to evaluation has helped improve various local initiatives, from promoting knowledge sharing in Burkina Faso to the strengthening of local peasant associations in Haiti.

According to Brescia, partners in sub-Saharan Africa are emphasizing the need to address the food crisis through long-term solutions to improve soil fertility, through conservation and recovery practices such as the use of zai pits, composting and contour barriers.  Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) of trees is a promising practice contributing to re-greening of the landscape. Already in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, FMNR is helping to regenerate the soil, increase crop production and animal fodder, while also reducing women’s workload by providing a source of firewood.  Many rural families have depleted their assets due to the chronic crisis, and these need to be rebuilt according to Brescia, for example by supporting the creation of local food banks and reserves managed by farmers groups.

By empowering farmers to take charge of their own prosperity, through support for agroecological farming practices and the creation of knowledge sharing networks, Groundswell International is strengthening the capacity of small-scale farmers to improve their food security and livelihoods, from the bottom up.

Do you know of other projects or organizations that are working with local communities to improve food security and raise incomes? Let us know in the comments section!

Supriya Kumar is a research fellow with Nourishing the Planet. 

To read more about building local capacity, see: SEWA: A movement to transform women’s lives in India and beyond, Empowering the Women of India’s Poorest Region, Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farmer and Producer Organizations, and Putting Development Back into the Hands of the Community.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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