Archive for the ‘Insurance’ Category


Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty

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By Catherine Ward

Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide—about 34 percent of global workers—making it the second-largest source of employment globally. Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”

Agricultural workers are one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world (Photo Credit: Planet Matters)

In many countries, up to 60 percent of agricultural workers live in poverty and less than 20 percent have access to basic social security, according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative. The agricultural sector also has the largest numbers of child workers—nearly 130 million children between the ages of 5 and 17.

Innovations to lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty can simultaneously promote sustainable agriculture and international development. Today, Nourishing the Planet offers six solutions to help lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty:

1) Support organized labor. Labor unions play an important role in minimizing exploitation among agricultural workers by advocating for higher wages, improved living conditions, and safer work environments. Agricultural workers are often one of the most disempowered groups within societies, and in many countries they lack access to basic healthcare, education, and participation in government. Unions advocate for worker rights, and fight to stop the exploitation of children.

In Ghana, 70 percent of the country’s 23 million inhabitants are involved in the agricultural sector. The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) is the largest union in Ghana and represents many marginalized agricultural groups. The union supports rural communities by providing support in training, learning new skills, and microcredit. GAWU is currently investing in a youth development center, and organizes training workshops for union members. The union has campaigned for better farm wages, so that families don’t have to send their children to work in the agricultural sector.

By supporting community-based organizations, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), consumers in the United States can help ensure that farmworker’s rights are recognized and enforced. The CIW is a coalition of farmworkers working low-wage jobs in the state of Florida, and is responsible for advocating farmworker rights via hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches.  The CIW is organizing a Labor Day Weekend of Action and is calling on the public to actively protest Publix in your state.

2) Include women in agricultural development. Innovative technology solutions can help disadvantaged agricultural workers ease their work burdens and increase productivity. Women make up over 40 percent of the global agricultural workforce, yet are one of the most vulnerable groups amongst these workers. Female agricultural laborers form an invisible workforce, as they often work on the fringes of the formal economy assisting their husbands with manual labor, or producing food to feed their families as opposed to food for sale.

In India there are over 258 million people working in the agricultural sector, and up to 70 percent of rural women are engaged in the agricultural workforce. There have been some noteworthy success stories in India around the creation of innovative technology solutions for agricultural workers. An Indian midwife, Arkhiben Vankar, became known as the pesticide lady when she developed an herbal pesticide that was efficient, low-cost, and toxin-free. This innovation provided Indian women engaged in agricultural work with an alternative to harmful chemical pesticides. Another technological innovation was designed by Subharani Kurian, who developed a bicycle-operated duplex pump to draw up ground water. The innovation assists women based on the idea that leg muscles are more powerful than hand muscles, making a bicycle pump more effective to operate.

Lack of communication, education, and access to technology among women, particularly in developing countries, has often prevented women from receiving the same benefits and opportunities as men in the agricultural sector. For the last 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped to bring scientific knowledge and technology to poor agricultural workers in developing countries through initiatives like the Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). According to USAID, “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people”.

3) Support worker advocacy organizations. Research can be a useful tool to examine risks associated with the agricultural industry and how to mitigate them in the future, thus ensuring that vulnerable workers do not risk losing their livelihoods. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in due to hazardous machinery, livestock, extreme weather conditions, dehydration, and exposure to pesticides.

In China there are an estimated 225 million agricultural workers, but farms are increasingly worked by the youngest and oldest residents of rural communities, as many middle-aged wage workers seek employment in cities. Injuries are abundant due to use of heavy machinery, and result in millions of deaths and disabilities among farmworkers each year. A collaborative research project  between the Colorado Injury Control Research Center, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Ohio State University, and the Tongji Injury Control Research Center was undertaken between Chinese and American researchers to find solutions to reduce agriculturally related injuries in China. The program has trained over 80 researchers, published studies on agricultural injuries, and opened a center for injury prevention in China. The project aims to provide insights on how to train agricultural workers to safely handle new machinery to avoid future injuries and deaths.

Consumers can make a positive contribution towards the health care of farmworkers in the United States through non-profit organizations such as the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH). The organization is dedicated to improving worker health in the United States by providing services like resources for migrants, training programs, and education and policy analysis. The public can get involved through NCFH’s Gift of Health program, which accepts donations that are invested in promoting the health of America’s farmworkers.

4) Get involved and be aware—locally and globally. Local initiatives that invest in the well-being of vulnerable communities can effectively help change the conditions of agricultural workers. Farmworkers are often described as hidden people, usually subjected to impoverished living conditions, with limited access to basic services like water and electricity.

South Africa’s wine and fruit industry alone generates US $3 billion a year for the South African economy. Yet, according to a Human Rights Watch report, farmworkers benefit very little from the profits, and are often forced to live in substandard housing. Solms-Delta is an example of a South African wine estate that has established its own initiative, the Wijn de Caap Trust, to break the cycle of poverty among farmworkers on the Solms-Delta estate. The trust receives 33 percent of profits from the estate’s wine sales, which aims to improve the lives of farmworkers by providing quality housing, investing in education facilities for children, and providing medical care to families.

Consumers in the United States can also become directly involved in community farming enterprises by volunteering or working at local farmers’ markets, participating in volunteer days at nearby farms, or even apprenticing on a farm for a season. Visit to learn more about on-farm opportunities in the United States and Canada.

5) Promote universal education. Education can be used from a grassroots level to dispel ignorance and empower local communities. Agricultural workers often migrate in search of seasonal or temporary work, and can be unaware of their rights due to poor education, isolation within rural areas, and fragmented organization. Education programs can also help inform consumers on ethical considerations of food production, and educate young leaders on policy formulation and advocacy.

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) is an innovative nonprofit organization, which uses popular education to raise awareness of issues around farmworker conditions in local U.S. communities. SAF works with farmworkers, students and advocates alike, and has provided support to over 80,000 farmworkers to gain access to health, legal, and education facilities.

6) Vote with your dollar. Consumers can choose products produced in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. By purchasing products that are not linked to the exploitation of agricultural laborers, it sends the message to agricultural employers that consumers do not support abusive labor conditions, and that they are willing to pay an often-higher price for ethically produced goods. This helps ensure that workers are paid fairly and do not work under poor conditions.

Fair Trade USA is an international movement that allows customers to buy products from all over the world that support poverty-reduction projects, relieve exploitation, and endorse environmental sustainability.  The Fair Trade standards enable agricultural workers to work in safe and inclusive environments, follow economic trade contracts with fair pricing, improve their own living conditions, and avoid child labor. There is growing demand from consumers for socially responsible food production; North America will soon implement its own Food Justice label. This label will also help lift American workers out of poverty by guaranteeing fair wages, adequate living conditions, and reasonable contracts.

Agriculture will not be viable while the vast majority of its workforce lives in poverty around the world, and innovative measures to break this cycle of poverty, along with your contributions, are crucial to fostering a healthier food system.

Do you know of any innovative projects that are assisting impoverished agricultural workers? Let us know in the comments below!

Catherine Ward is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project     

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


New UCS Report: Improve Crop Insurance and Credit Availability

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 By Jameson Spivack

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the biggest obstacles in the way of achieving healthier eating in the United States are the current farming laws. In its latest report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” UCS recommends reforming policies that make it more difficult for farmers to grow healthy crops like fruits and vegetables.

A new UCS report urges more financial incentives for farmers to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. (Image credit: UCS)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s new dietary guideline, “MyPlate,” states that 50 percent of our diets should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. But Americans don’t consume enough of either—instead, American consumers eat large amounts of refined grains, sugars, meat, and fat. In fact, according to the UCS report, only two percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables.

The major reason for this, says the UCS, is because of farm policy. Currently, farmers are financially discouraged from planting healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and instead opt for subsidized commodity crops like corn and soybeans. These crops mostly end up as inputs for meat production, processed foods, and non-food products. In addition, laws prevent subsidized commodity crop farmers from planting fruits and vegetables, and these laws are supported by large fruit and vegetable producers who wish to keep prices high.

The USDA typically only offers crop insurance to farmers who grow commodity crops. Since there is limited data on “healthy food” crops, it is harder to develop an insurance policy. While there is a pilot program—“whole-farm-revenue insurance,” which offers insurance to farmers growing fruits and vegetables—it is expensive and limited to certain geographical areas.



Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture

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By Supriya Kumar

Women comprise about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, yet they face considerable inequalities, such as limited access to important resources. The recently published State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presents the potential gains of reducing the gender gap in agriculture and rural employment – gains that will not only benefit women farmers, but also the agricultural sector as a whole.

Improving women farmer’s access to inputs could increase global food security (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

On average, female farmers produce less than their male counterparts, not because they are less efficient, but because they have limited access to necessary inputs. Access to land is a basic requirement of agriculture, but in North and West Africa, women represent fewer than five percent of all agricultural landholders. Not only are men more likely to own land, but on average male-headed households own larger plots of land, according to the FAO.

Cultural norms and government policies normally dictate land ownership in developing countries, but FAO suggests that a key step is to both review and reform relevant national legislation. Since tradition plays an important role, simply changing a law might now achieve immediate results. It’s important, therefore, to recognize local customs and work with community leaders to increase and protect women’s access to land.

Another input that women farmers have limited access to is financial services such as credit and insurance. Legal and cultural barriers mean that women generally cannot have bank accounts or sign off on any financial contracts and, as a result, are less likely to use credit. In Nigeria, a mere five percent of women obtain formal credit, compared to 14 percent of men.

Much like improving access to land, access to financial services for women will require legal and social changes in developing countries. In addition, promoting financial literacy among women and simplifying financial literature will also improve women’s access to these valuable services.



Safety in Numbers: Tamil Nadu Women’s Development Project

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By Elena Davert

In the last two decades, women in rural India have found “safety in numbers” through group workshops and finance education that have given them economic safety. In a political and social atmosphere typically adverse to women’s equality, Tamil Nadu Women’s Development Project has worked with groups of Indian women to help them gain confidence and equal economic opportunities through micro-loans.

As in many developing countries, women play a hugely important role in India’s economy, especially in poorer areas. (Photo credit: IFAD)

As in many developing countries, women play a hugely important role in India’s economy, especially in poorer areas.  Although social pressures can make it impossible for women to become financially independent, rural women are the sole providers in 20-25 percent of households.

In 1987, the Indian Government made an effort to address the faulty infrastructure that was preventing women from progressing.  The national government, along with the state government of Tamil Nadu, contacted the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to come up with an effective way to help rural women empower themselves.

In getting women to become more financially independent, the Women’s Development Project faced a large obstacle: the women were often extremely hesitant about entering financial commitments. Many women had never had the freedom to request loans on their own, and the few who had borrowed money had been subject to unfairly high interest rates.  Even aside from hesitation regarding finances, many of the women had never been encouraged to take initiative in making their own choices.

To combat the women’s inexperience with the microloan programs, the Women’s Development Project worked together with 27 preexisting NGO’s to form counseling groups in individual rural communities. The NGO’s were largely responsive and helped form 4,602 groups that involved over 100,000 women across the state of Tamil Nadu. Not only did the group meetings help build cohesion amongst groups of women in the same communities, they also helped build trust and confidence that the women needed to empower themselves in the financial world. (more…)


In Africa, Harvesting Hope Starts With Reducing Risk

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The following is a guest post by Dr. Marco F.  Ferroni, Executive Director, Syngenta Foundation. An expert in international agriculture and sustainability issues, Dr. Ferroni joined the Syngenta Foundation in 2008, after a career in multilateral institutions and government. Before joining the Foundation, Dr. Ferroni worked at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank in Washington DC. As a Deputy Manager of the Sustainable Development Department of the IDB, he had responsibility for regional sector policy and technical support to the Bank’s country departments. As a senior advisor at the World Bank he advised on donor relations and directed work on international public goods and their role in foreign aid and international affairs.

Earlier in his career, Dr. Ferroni was an economist and division chief in the government of Switzerland, working in development cooperation. He holds a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University. Dr. Ferroni has worked in Latin America, Africa and Asia and is a frequent lecturer and guest speaker on topics that include agriculture, food security, development finance, and trade

Today, there is widespread agreement that improving agriculture is critical to dealing with crushing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, which has hovered at a stubborn 50 percent for decades. The reasoning is simple: the vast majority of Africa’s poor are smallholder farmers who depend on crops cultivated on modest plots of land to feed their families and earn a little money.

The vast majority of Africa’s poor are smallholder farmers who depend on crops cultivated on modest plots of land to feed their families and earn a little money. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In the area of finance, giving farmers small loans—something known as “microfinance”—for purchases of high-yield seeds and inputs has been touted as a “silver bullet” for African farmers. Microfinance has been widely hailed as an opportunity for farmers to invest in their own harvests. But many farmers viewed taking on debt as just compounding the many risks they already face—chief among them being a reliance on rains to nourish their fields.

Thus, the essential dilemma remains: how can a farmer minimize risk so she can maximize production in a world where weather trumps all? Today, the hot idea in developing country agriculture is to create inexpensive insurance plans—micro-insurance instead of microfinance—that can give farmers the protection they need to make investments in production without burdening them with another risk.

Last year, the risks inherent in African agriculture were on display in Kenya as a crushing drought scorched fields and pushed millions to the brink of hunger. But at least 200 Kenyan farmers emerged from the drought in a much stronger position than usual. They had participated in a pilot program in which a five percent surcharge on the price of seeds or fertilizer bought drought insurance. When the drought hit, the insurance allowed them to recoup much of their investment and begin the 2010 season with high-yield seeds and soil inputs that offer a rare opportunity to make a rapid recovery. (more…)


Innovation of the Week: Banking on the Harvest

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In the Maradi area in south central Niger, where 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the months before the harvest are called “the hunger season.” From mid-July to mid-September, food supplies are at their lowest and most families only eat one meal a day.

Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Since the 1960’s, the entire Sahel region which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, has been experiencing increasingly extreme drought and hunger. The Maradi region has been hit especially hard and cereal harvests have dropped by nearly a third. Strained or empty grain reserves cause many families to sell tools, seeds, and livestock in order to raise money for food and the next planting. Farmers with nothing to sell are forced to work for others to earn an income. Some even leave their homes in search of work in other villages, leaving behind their wives and children to tend to the farm and home on their own.

But with the help of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), many women are taking local food security into their own hands. In response to the food crisis in the area in 2005 when severe locust attacks compounded with drought to put 3.5 million people in the Sahel at risk of starvation, IFAD’s Project for the Promotion of Local Initiative for Development in Aguie helped to create a new kind of bank, run entirely by women, that dispenses loans in the form of cereal instead of money.

Called the soudure bank, or pre-harvest bank, IFAD’s project is based on exchange. Every week during the pre-harvest season, poor farmers receive cereal as a credit. At the end of the season, farmers can pay back the loan with their own crops with 25 percent interest—an interest rate that the villagers picked on their own.

The banks have already made a huge difference. Today there are 168 soudure banks throughout Niger, managed by over 50,000 women and storing over 2,800 tons of millet—enough to feed 350,000 people for at least a month.  During the 2008 global food price crisis, when 90 percent of the population living in Niger was at risk for starvation, villages with a soudure bank were able to sustain themselves through the harshest period of the year.

One bank client, Rabia Ada, quoted on the project page, says that “from the bank I had 56 kilograms of millet that helped us cope for one month and gave us something to eat other than just leafy vegetables.” Adds another client, Nana Ayouba , “if we didn’t have the banks, our alternative strategies would have been to borrow from our neighbors or to send the men away in search of jobs.”

And the banks help to empower women who are otherwise left out of community-wide organizations and decision making. In their new roles as bank managers, with the support of their husbands, women can now play an integral role in improving local food security, diets, and livelihoods.

To read more about innovations that keep farmers on the farm, empower women, and improve food security, see: Giving Farmers a Reason to Stay, How to Keep Kids “Down on the Farm,” Conversations with Farmers: Discussing the School Garden with a DISC Project Student, Cultivating a Passion for Agriculture, Turning the Catch of the Day into Improved Livelihoods for the Whole Community, Women Farmers: An ‘Untapped Solution’ to Global Hunger and Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value.


Nourishing the Planet in the India Tribune

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Check out this Letter to the Editor Nourishing the Planet had published in the India Tribune.  As farmers worldwide face increasingly harsh weather conditions due to a changing climate, such as the recent flooding in the three Indian districts of Ambala, Kurukshetra and Kaithal, the threats of failed harvests, lost income, and hunger become more real.  While local governmental support of farmers with crops insurance is an important way to protect livelihoods, using sustainable agriculture practices, including planting traditional crops that are better adapted to local condition, can help mitigate the effects of flooding and drought.

To read more about agriculture practices that are adaptive in the face of climate change, see: Food Systems Can Sink Us or Save Us, Turning the Catch of the Day into Improved Livelihoods for the Whole Community, Innovation of the Week: Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities, Homegrown Solutions to Alleviating Hunger and Poverty


Innovative Insurance to Protect Farmers

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By Abby Massey

Dry soil because of drought in Samburu, Kenya (photo credit: Brendan Buzzard)

Farmers hit hard by last year’s drought in the Sahel region of Africa are facing another hard season. Nigeria, which is already suffering from a devastating drought, will need up to $130 million, according to the United Nation’s humanitarian chief John Holmes, to prevent widespread hunger. Such catastrophes make agriculture a risky business for farmers and insurers. And farmers across sub-Saharan Africa consistently have trouble finding access to insurance because the risks that they face are not only high, they are hard to assess.

A report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food ProgrammeThe Potential for Scale and Sustainability in Weather Index Insurance, analyzes index insurance and its ability to be scaled up, including case studies and examples of communities benefiting from the insurance. Typical crop insurance, which is hard for poor farmers to come by in sub-Saharan Africa—requires that insurers travel to farms to assess damages from a weather related event. Index insurance, on the other hand, utilizes an index or scale based on local yields and a specific weather event that will then provide the correct amount to be paid out.  This reduces cost for the insurer, making them more likely to provide service to a “risky” client such as a smallholder farmer. And, more importantly, it gives farmers the chance to survive weather catastrophes that could potentially devastate a community.

The report states that although index insurance is cost effective once implemented, it has high start-up costs and farmers not familiar with insurance can be skeptical about the system.  The report calls on NGOs, the private sector and multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank and World Food Programme, to give aid to private insurance companies who are hesitant to provide the insurance.

For more information see Improving Food Security with Crop Insurance and Innovation of the Week: Index Insurance.

Abby Massey is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.


Improving Food Security with Crop Insurance

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Photo: Bernard Pollack

Photo: Bernard Pollack

Check out this article in Business Daily about the food-security benefits of crop insurance. For small-scale farmers, a single crop failure can be devastating to their diets and livelihoods as well as to the future of their farms. But crop insurance provides a safety net and a means for farmers to cover the costs of a lost year.