In this week’s episode, we discuss how incorporating an Integrated Food and Energy System (IFES) can give rural and impoverished communities better access to food and reliable energy. Farmers can incorporate IFES in two ways–by using intercropping methods and growing food and fuel-generating crops, such as acacia trees, or by integrating livestock onto their farms and using biodigesters from their manure to generate energy.
The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) recently released Global Hunger Index 2011 contains a wealth of information about the state of hunger across the developing world. Combining measures of undernourishment, underweight children, and child mortality, the study creates a picture of the severity of hunger on a nation-by-nation basis. The measure is designed to help policymakers focus attention on the regions that need it most. According to the latest report, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest levels of hunger, and progress over the last 20 years in these regions has been uneven.
Farmers in Ghana have benefitted from government investments (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Ghana was the only country in sub-Saharan Africa among the 10 best performers in improving their Global Hunger Index (GHI) score since ranking began in 1990. As rated by the index, Ghana has reduced the scale of hunger within its borders by 59 percent. IFPRI attributes this success to sustained investments in agriculture, rural development, education, and health, specifically immunizations. For his efforts on these fronts, former president John Kufuor was awarded the 2011 World Food Prize.
By all accounts, Ghana’s efforts, which included outreach to get more information to farmers, the provision of agricultural inputs, and infrastructure investments, had ripple effects that benefitted all levels of society. The government launched a program to improve the provision of food at its primary schools, using local produce to provide a hot meal to students, which significantly increased school enrollment. Their efforts were conducted alongside political reforms to expand the country’s democratic freedoms, supporting a virtuous circle that has pushed Ghana into the ranks of the world’s middle-income countries. Ghana today is a fast growing and politically stable country, a leading example of what is possible on the continent.
Adam Hochschild’s 1998 best-selling book King Leopold’s Ghostdescribes King Leopold II of Belgium’s 19th century colony in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Leopold amassed a personal fortune by brutally enforcing a rubber production quota, ironically named the Congo Free State, on the indigenous people of the colony. Rubber was a rare and valuable commodity in Europe in Leopold’s day, and the failure of local people to meet his rubber quota by tapping an indigenous latex-producing vine (Landolphia owariensis) often resulted in having their hands cut off by colonial guards.
Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novel Heart of Darkness was inspired by the colonial brutalities the author witnessed during a trip he took down the Congo River during King Leopold II’s reign. (Photo credit: AfrobeatRadio.net)
By the time Leopold was deposed, the Brazilian rubber tree had taken over the global latex market, and the African gumvine was never cultivated commercially. But in tropical Africa the vine is still tapped for latex to make rubber bands and patch tires, balls, and shoes. More commonly, rural communities harvest the abundant fruits—known as eta—that the vine produces. Planting the eta vine in agroforestry systems and along property boundaries and village common areas could improve food security and income opportunities in impoverished Central and West African communities.
Eta grows wild in tropical Central and West Africa, as a vine in the forest and a shrub in savannah areas. The fruit is reddish-brown with a woody shell and is the size of an orange. The pulp, which has a nice sweet and sour taste, is eaten fresh or squeezed to flavor food or drinks. Although more nutrition research is needed, eta is considered to be very healthy and likely contains high levels of Vitamin A. It is sometimes eaten to aid digestion. A beer is also made from the eta juice. Goat farmers in areas where it grows harvest leaves from the vine in the dry season to use as fodder for their goats.
You may know it as that pretty ornamental flower in your garden, but did you know that Celosia could also be a delicious snack? This beautiful plant with flame-like flowers is actually a common and important food in parts of tropical Africa, its original home.
Photo Credit: J.M. Garg
Because of its flavor and nutritional value, Celosia is widely consumed in several parts of Africa. It is an especially important food in Nigeria, Benin and Congo because of its affinity for hot and humid climates, and it is also commonly eaten in Indonesia and India. The leaves, young stems, and flowers a can be made into soups and stews, served as a nutty-flavored side dish with meat or fish or with a cereal-based main course such as maize porridge. Celosia has a pleasant, mild flavor, and lacks the bitterness of other leafy vegetables.
Celosia grow easily, require little care, and often reseed themselves making them high yielding, cheap and simple to grow. Having proven widely tolerant to both tropical and dry conditions and usually unaffected by pests, diseases, or soil type, this crop is among the most flexible greens for harsh growing conditions.
In addition to their nutritional and aesthetic value, Celosia may also help repress striga, a parasitic weed which devastates other crops such as sorghum, millet and maize. Though the research on this trait is still far from clear, farmers call it “striga chaser”.
With the potential to increase food security, Celosia is valuable in more ways than one. When cultivated near homes, the colorful flowers will brighten villages and local cooks can also pluck off some leaves each day to add to dinner or for a snack.
Amanda Stone is Nourishing the Planet’s Communications Assistant.
Every year, 5 million children worldwide die from malnutrition-related causes, including immune-system deficiency, increased risk of infection, decreased bone density, and starvation. But a variety of local efforts are hoping to turn things around.
The New Frontier Farmers and Processor group in Ghana is processing the leaves of moringa trees, which are high in protein and other valuable nutrients, into powder that can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country struggling with internal conflict, food shortages, and poverty, thousands of lives are threatened by acute malnutrition. When a child is brought to one of the therapeutic Stabilization Centers at regional hospitals, run by the Congolese Ministry of Health with support from the organization Action Against Hunger, they receive rations of specially formulated Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF). RUTF—such as Plumpy’nut, a peanut butter-based food produced by the French company Nutriset—is infused with vitamins and minerals and is used to quickly rehabilitate children suffering from malnutrition.
RUTF is packaged and requires no preparation or refrigeration. It can be administered at home, allowing families to avoid having to travel to far-off medical centers or pay for long and expensive stays at hospitals. It is also very effective. After about 40 days of two or three servings of RUTF per day, a child can reach a healthy weight. During the 2005 food crisis in the Maradi region of Niger, the non-profit Doctors Without Borders treated 40,000 severely malnourished children using RUTF and saw a recovery rate of 90 percent.
In addition to obtaining Plumpy’nut from UNICEF or directly from Nutriset in France, Action Against Hunger purchases it from Amwili, a local producer that has partnered with Nutriset. By providing a local source of RUTF, Lubumbashi-based Amwili frees the treatment centers from dependency on supplies imported from Europe. Local production also improves livelihoods by creating jobs, and many organizations around the world are working to link local farmers to RUTF production in order to provide an improved and consistent source of income.
In Haiti, the Zanmi Agrikol Program, run by the organization Partners in Health, is improving agricultural capacity and household food security, in addition to treating malnutrition, by training and contracting with local peanut farmers who provide the ingredients for locally produced RUTF. Currently the project provides malnutrition treatment and prevention for 5,000 children; agriculture training and support to 1,240 families; and has contracts with over 100 local peanut farmers. Additionally, the organization Meds & Food for Kids relies on local ingredients and Haitian producers to make its own brand of RUTF, called Medika Manba or “peanut butter medicine.” Meds & Food for Kids saw a significant increase in demand for Medika Manba after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year, and many malnourished children were treated with a locally made RUTF that provides the additional benefit of helping to restore the country’s fragile economy.
Companies like Nutriset in France and Valid International in the United Kingdom offer instruction manuals for local production of their specific RUTF products and partner with local producers in countries struggling with malnutrition across sub-Saharan Africa. Action Against Hunger, for example, also purchases Plumpy’nut from a producer in Nairobi, Kenya, called INSTA—a partner of Valid International—to distribute RUTF to its programs throughout East Africa.
In Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is processing the leaves of moringa trees, which are high in protein and other valuable nutrients, into powder that can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. This effort, along with other crop-processing projects, is helping to add value to small-scale farmers’ crops and improve the livelihoods of the nearly 5,000 participating farmers.