Currently over half of the world’s 7 billion live in urban areas and according to the United Nations (UN), that number is expected to reach 65 percent by 2050. Dramatic population growth strains food resources and raises the challenge of feeding urban dwellers, particularly the poor. According to the UN, poverty is now growing faster in urban areas than in rural areas—there are currently 1 billion people living in urban slums.
Urban agriculture is cropping up in major cities worldwide. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five cities and the organizations that are helping these cities become food-sufficient.
Dar es Salaam in action: The Mikocheni Post Primary Vocational School is training students how to make a sustainable living and grow food in the city. The vocational school has become a learning center for waste separation, composting, and urban farming. The composting chambers are built by the masonry students, the cooking and carpentry students contribute organic waste to the compost, and all students take turns attending the gardens. The school also offers free training seminars on composting to the local community.
Farmers who benefit from the Sauti ya wakulima project. (Photo credit: Sauti ya wakulima)
Using a laptop computer and smartphones, five men and five women gather weekly in Chambezi to document their daily practices, record their observations, and interview other farmers. The information collected is then published to a research blog website, which is accessed by the participants during weekly face-to-face meetings. This information is also available to researchers, agricultural officers, and policy-makers, thus helping to shape action around agricultural issues.
Eugenio Tisselli Vélez helped to initiate Sauti ya wakulima, and is currently the project’s general coordinator and IT person. He recently took the time to speak with Nourishing the Planet about Sauti ya wakulima and the lessons the world can learn from these African farmers.
The value of using technology to assist farmers and agricultural practices has only relatively recently gained attention. How did you become involved?
My involvement in Sauti ya wakulima is the fruit of two convergent interests. On one hand, I have always been interested about food and sustainability. I have studied this topic for some time, and I greatly value small-scale agriculture as a feasible and sustainable way for feeding ourselves in the future. On the other hand, during the last 7 years I have collaborated on projects that help groups use mobile phones and the Internet to express their issues and share their experiences. In 2011 there was the possibility of starting a new project with farmers in Tanzania and mobile phones, so I just went for it.
In the developing world up to 1 billion people rely on livestock for food and income. Livestock production is the fastest growing sector in agriculture worldwide and remains an important way to improve diets and increase incomes in the developing world. With the demand for animal foods projected to double in developing countries over the next twenty years, less well-known livestock breeds contain valuable resources that could be vital to food security. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that around 1,710 breeds of livestock—21 percent—are at risk of extinction worldwide. As animal breeds are shrinking, indigenous livestock breeds will play a critical role in future food security.
Indigenous to northern Tanzania, south central Kenya, and Uganda, the Red Maasai East African sheep could have a big impact on food security. (Photo Credit: ILRI)
The Red Maasai East African sheep, also called Tanganyika Short-tailed,is a hardy breed of sheep indigenous to northern Tanzania, south central Kenya, and Uganda. The Red Maasai, which are distinct for having red hair instead of wool, are used primarily for their meat.
While other sheep, known as Dorpers, were imported to East Africa from South Africa, Red Maasai have become a proven resource for farmers in recent years because of their resistance to worms and adaptation to semi-arid climates. Red Maasai are known to be resistant to a number of parasites, making them popular among the local population. Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have begun cross breeding the Red Maasai with Dorpers in efforts to pass the worm resistance on to other breed. Leyden Baker of ILRI predicts that farmers could see sales from wool and meat drop by as much as 40 percent as the worms grow resistant to drugs and sheep start to die prematurely.
Tonight, check out this broadcast of “Dan Rather Reports”, where they travel to Tanzania to investigate the issue of land grabs.
Photo credit: HDNet
With global population set to rise to 9 billion by mid-century and an estimated 90 percent of the world’s arable land already being cultivated, scientists worry that we could be on the brink of a global food crisis. And with the land going for pennies on the dollar, big U.S. investors have started putting money into agriculture in Africa. But, they are not just buying commodities or stock – investors are buying the farmland directly.
These investments have posed the underlying question: Will these massive farms help feed the continent or are they just “land grabs”?
The broadcast will be at 8 PM on HDNet. Click here for more information on the program.
What do you think? Are large-scale land investments a problem or a solution to food insecurity in Africa?
To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.
Deforestation, soil erosion, degradation of water resources and loss of biodiversity, pose a tremendous threat to Tanzania’s economy. The agricultural sector employs nearly 80 percent of Tanzania’s labor force and generates 42 percent of the nation’s income, making environmentally sustainable practices more important than ever.
Farming is an important sector in Tanzania, but land degradation has put a severe strain on food security there. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Unfortunately, not enough is being done to safeguard Tanzania’s ability to feed itself. Inadequate crop rotation practices, deforestation, and overgrazing are just a few of the causes of land degradation throughout the country. As a result, 40 percent of the Tanzanian population is susceptible to chronic food deficiency.
But it isn’t all bad news. Throughout Tanzania, agricultural experts, farmers, and everyday citizens are working to address these issues and at Nourishing the Planet, we are trying to raise the profile of these efforts.
While traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa, assessing the state of agricultural innovations from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy—with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, we have uncovered a whole slew of innovations aimed at addressing the continent’s agrarian crisis.
This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!
Microcredit is the lending of small loans to the very poor to allow them to start or expand small entrepreneurial projects. In order to bring financing appropriate for the poor to impoverished communities, micro-lending organizations make small loans to women with little or no collateral by doing rural outreach—unlike traditional banks. Poor farmers can use loans to purchase seeds or farming tools and other inputs they need. With the extra profit from bigger harvests, the farmers can pay back the small loans and increase their incomes.
BRAC women’s microfinance meeting in the Korail slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo credit: Matt Styslinger)
But several micro-financing organizations have been criticized for charging high interest rates and making huge profits that outweigh the benefits seen by the poor families who take their loans. Sam Daley-Harris—founder of the micro-lending group Microcredit Summit Campaign—says he hopes that the future of microcredit will be guided by “redemption” instead of profit. In a July 2010 TEDx talk, Daley-Harris tells the story of an ex-gang leader in Kenya who was approached by a grassroots microfinance organization in Kenya to rebuild a market that his gang had destroyed during the post-election violence in 2007. The organization paid the gang members to build the market during the day and to guard the building materials at night. And once the market was complete the organization provided the gang leader and approximately one-third of the gang members with a loan to create a small business producing small metal cases for children’s school supplies.
In this episode, Nourishing the Planet research fellow Molly Theobald discusses how helping farmers to benefit from wildlife conservation can improve diets, increase livelihoods, and protect the environment. Organizations, such as the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe, are helping farmers grow their crops in harmony with the surrounding environment and wildlife.
Despite the crippling effects of the recent economic slowdown on many industries, the organic agriculture sector not only sustained itself during this period but also showed signs of growth. “In 2009, organic farming was practiced on 37.2 million hectares worldwide, a 5.7 percent increase from 2008 and 150 percent increase since 2000,” writes policy analyst E.L. Beck, in the latest Vital Signs Online release from the Worldwatch Institute.
Organic agriculture has the potential to address our environmental and food security challenges. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) defines organic agriculture as: “a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment.”
Although organic agriculture is practiced around the world, certified organic agriculture tends to be concentrated in wealthier countries. The Group of 20 (G20), comprising both developing and industrialized countries, is home to 89 percent of the global certified organic agricultural area. But nongovernmental organizations, including Slow Food International and ACDI/VOCA, are working with farmers to promote organic agriculture in developing countries as a means of bettering livelihoods and rejuvenating the land.
In western Tanzania, organic agroforestry practices have helped rehabilitate some 350,000 hectares of desert land over the span of two decades. And in Ethiopia, coffee farmers are learning how to protect wild coffee plants, fertilize them using organic compost, and process them in a manner that retains the quality of the crop, without damaging the environment.
Although the global organic market has shown growth in the past few years, the rate has slowed since 2000, and there are several challenges that impede large-scale expansion of organic practices. The price premium on organic foods, for example, may dissuade many consumers from buying organic products, despite the potential environmental, ethical, and health benefits these products provide.
At a fundraiser for the 2Seeds Network in Washington DC on May 19th, former Congresswoman Nancy Johnson (R-Ct.) exclaimed that, in a diverse world, conflict is inevitable. She noted that if we can build a foundation of shared prosperity and understanding, we can build a pathway towards a more peaceful world. Building that foundation, Johnson claimed, should be the goal of this Millennial Generation.
2Seeds Co-founder and Director, Sam Bonsey, speaks with a local farmer in Korogue, Tanzania about a collaborative agricultural development project. (Photo credit: 2Seeds)
The 2Seeds Network, a non-profit based in Washington DC, is empowering young people to work towards that goal by providing them with the opportunity to examine and act upon the root causes of hunger and poverty in rural Tanzania. Specifically, 2Seeds places passionate and creative recent graduates in Tanzania for nine months, during which they work collaboratively with local farmers develop sustainable agricultural and market solutions to local food and income insecurity.
James Meeks, chairman and co-founder of 2Seeds, claims the strength of the program comes from its ability to harness the inspiration and energy of specifically non-experts. Most of their project coordinators, Meeks claims, have little to no background in agriculture, international development, or African history. They do, however, have strong leadership and listening skills that enable them to build meaningful relationships based on trust and mutual understanding. These relationships result in responses to local food insecurity that can be more effective and sustainable than those conceptualized on Capitol Hill or in the offices of multilateral organizations.
Food prices have soared to record highs and are projected to increase further in the coming decade, pushing millions of people into hunger — and fueling political unrest around the world.
Diversifying food production to include local and indigenous vegetables can help communities boost their self-sufficiency and protect vulnerable populations from price shocks. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
But diversifying food production to include local and indigenous vegetables can help communities boost their self-sufficiency and protect vulnerable populations from price shocks.
Abdou Tenkouano, director of AVRDC- The World Vegetable Center’s Regional Center for Africa in Tanzania, highlights important policy recommendations in his chapter, “The Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables,” in the recently published State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. The accompanying policy brief is available here.
Vegetables can offer a sustainable solution for a diverse and balanced diet. Growing vegetables can help address the “hidden hunger” of micronutrient deficiencies that affects some 1 billion people worldwide, and also brings multiple benefits for farmers. “Vegetables have shorter cycles, are faster-growing than cereal crops, and require little space,” says Tenkouano.
Here are three recommendations to boost worldwide interest in and availability of indigenous vegetable varieties:
Listen to farmers. Organizations like AVRDC and the International Development Research Centre hold periodic workshops and field days, bringing together farmers, consumers, businesses, and communities to identify varieties of onion, tomato, eggplant, and okra that grow the best, taste the best, and perform best at local markets. This helps researchers develop more nutritious and locally adapted varieties that enhance and complement specific food preparations.
Get seeds to farmers. The seeds of preferred vegetable varieties are being made more widely available in Africa and elsewhere. Better seeds mean more vitamins in the food, better-tasting food, and ultimately less hunger and malnutrition. After scientists at AVRDC developed two higher-yielding tomato varieties with thicker skins—making them less vulnerable to pests and damage—farmers growing these varieties raised their incomes by 40 percent.
Take advantage of what’s local. As the impacts of climate change become more evident, indigenous vegetables that have been neglected for decades are regaining attention because of their tolerance to drought and resistance to pests. Researchers have developed improved varieties of amaranth, African eggplant, African nightshade, and cowpea that are now widely available in many parts of Africa. In Uganda, Project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation), supported by Slow Food International, is reigniting an interest in these foods by teaching students how to grow and cook indigenous vegetables.
Investing in agricultural development, especially indigenous vegetable crops, could help feed communities in Africa and worldwide, boosting their resilience to price shocks while helping farmers protect biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change.