Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Dec30

From Waste to Food to Fuel: Rice Production and Green Charcoal in Senegal

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By Andrew Alesbury

Inadequate management of human waste is a dire problem in much of the developing world. Swelling urban populations can make matters worse by exposing increasingly dense populations to illnesses carried by human waste. Some, however, are making good use of the surplus sewage. Rather than allow the urine and fecal matter to lie fallow, some have taken to utilizing it for agricultural purposes in lieu of synthetic or inorganic fertilizers. This practice not only makes fertilizer more readily available to farmers who might not have easy access to it in conventional forms, it is also significantly less expensive than using inorganic and synthetic fertilizers, which are often imported. Furthermore, the use of human fertilizer can sometimes be a crop-saving tactic when water is in short supply.

Leftover rice husks and straw can be used to produce green charcoal. (Photo Credit: agriculturalinvestments.net)

It is with these benefits in mind that groups like AgriDjalo, a small limited liability company focused on rice cultivation, are looking to start projects in Senegal that use urban biomass (primarily human waste) to fertilize rice fields. With over 40 percent of Senegal’s almost 13 million inhabitants living in urban areas, there is an abundant supply of human fertilizer.

AgriDjalo’s project could have the added benefit of decreasing reliance on rice imports. In 2012 alone, Senegal imported 820,000 metric tons of rice, accounting for over 6 percent of its total imports and presenting a considerable strain on the nation’s trade balance. As the second largest rice importer in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the top ten worldwide, Senegal has much to gain, both in terms of income generation and decreased import dependency, from an increase in domestic rice production.

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Dec22

Innovation of the Week: Community Animal Health Workers

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By Brandon Pierce

Animal health services for livestock owners in several parts of sub-Saharan Africa are limited because of poor infrastructure and high delivery costs. To address this deficiency, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has supported the training and use of Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) in these regions. CAHWs are community members who have been trained in basic animal health care. The FAO is taking steps to standardize how CAHWs are trained and to connect them with reliable sources of needed drugs and materials.

Community Animal Health Workers help livestock owners provide basic healthcare for their animals. (Photo Credit: iyufera.com)

In Ethiopia, government supply systems often run out of the drugs livestock owners need for animal healthcare, which makes it difficult for CAHWs to effectively care for livestock. To meet the high demand for drugs, the FAO has worked to establish private pharmacies in Ethiopia and establish partnerships with CAHWs. So far, these efforts have been successful: over 30 pharmacies have been established, and these pharmacies have been linked to 600 CAHWs. To further improve CAHW programs, the Ethiopian government has developed minimum requirements and standards—such as the availability of training manuals for workers.

Kenya has also benefitted from the FAO’s CAHW program. During the 1990s, many Kenyan livestock owners were unable to afford the cost of treatment for their animals. Today, various CAHW programs—including the Community Livelihood Empowerment Project—have improved the availability of animal healthcare, reduced the cost of treatment, and ultimately improved livestock owners’ livelihoods.

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Nov21

Iroko Trees Fight Climate Change

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By Kristen Thiel

Iroko trees are native to the west coast of Africa. Sometimes called Nigerian teak, their wood is tough, dense, and very durable. Their hardwood is so sought after that the trees are often poached and are now endangered in many regions of Africa. But a new scientific discovery may aid in reforestation efforts.

Iroko trees can serve as long-term carbon sinks. (Photo Credit: DJ Obruni)

Oliver de Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, has found that Iroko trees can serve as long-term carbon sinks and can potentially play a role in the fight against climate change. Iroko trees and microbes can turn carbon dioxide emissions into soil-enriching limestone, a process that packs a one-two punch: carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, and dry, acidic soil is made more fertile for agriculture.

When the West African Iroko tree is grown in dry, acidic soil and treated with microbes, it produces a very specific mineral. When the microbes are introduced, the tree combines the calcium already in the soil and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce a mineral limestone. This mineral limestone is then stored in the soil around the Iroko tree’s roots.

Normally, biomass (such as trees) does not store carbon dioxide—the gas is used in the process of decomposition. But carbon in the form of limestone has a staying time that may span a million years. This makes a great case, according to the Swiss researchers, for the preservation and sustainable management of tropical forests to fight against the greenhouse effect.

Iroko trees are just one of many species from Africa and the Amazon that can turn carbon in the atmosphere into mineral limestone. In this study, scientists looked at several microbe-tree combinations to identify which was best for locking up carbon dioxide as limestone, and the Iroko-microbe pathway showed the greatest results.

“By taking advantage of this natural limestone-producing process, we have a low-tech, safe, readily employed and easily maintained way to lock carbon out of the atmosphere, while enriching farming conditions in tropical countries,” said Dr Bryne Ngwenya of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.

There is also great potential for reforestation projects to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the developing world. Reforestation schemes that involve the use of microbes and Iroko trees together could improve the carbon sequestration balance of carbon trading initiatives, improve soil fertility, and even promote the implementation of agroforestry projects to benefit rural communities.

Are you familiar with Iroko tree restoration efforts? Let us know in the comments section below!

Kristen Thiel is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture program.

Oct20

Feeding the Future: Ethiopia’s Livestock Growth Program

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By Kimberlee Davies

With one of the lowest GDPs and highest malnutrition rates in the world, Ethiopia desperately needs food security investment and innovation. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded a contract to CNFA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, to implement the Agricultural Growth Program–Livestock Growth Project (AGP-LGP) in Ethiopia. The program, sponsored by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, will encourage growth in the farming sector by increasing the competitiveness and value of Ethiopia’s livestock. CNFA expects the program to create roughly 2,600 new jobs and to improve the nutrition of 200,000 households.

CNFA has accepted a USAID contract to implement a livestock project in Ethiopia. (Photo Credit: ILRI)

In 2009, Feed the Future—a U.S. executive initiative resulting from the 2009 World Summit on Food Security—selected 20 countries, including Ethiopia, to work with on strengthening food security. Ethiopia was chosen for its high level of need and the Ethiopian government’s openness to partnership. Currently, Ethiopia’s annual per capita income is only US$170, and 30 percent of children under five are underweight. Livestock contribute to the livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the population.

CNFA already has enacted a similar livestock program in Kenya. The Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program (KDLDP) was one of the first programs implemented in Africa under Feed the Future, and has successfully increased livestock value and yields through improved production, marketing, and market access. Fattening animals and processing livestock products near production areas results in higher prices, thereby increasing local incomes and promoting employment among underemployed groups such as women, youth, and the elderly. AGP-LGP will apply CNFA’s past success to Ethiopia.

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Sep29

Sowing the Seeds of a Food-Secure Future

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By Dana Drugmand

Worldwide, 195 million children suffer from malnutrition, which adversely affects their development and overall well-being. Approximately 26 percent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. And according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the number of malnourished children in the region will rise 18 percent between 2001 and 2020. Fortunately, innovations such as school feeding programs and kitchen vegetable gardens are working to combat malnutrition and hunger in African children.

Schoolchildren in Uganda are learning how to grow fruits and vegetables in kitchen gardens funded by Seeds for Africa. (Photo Credit: Kellogg)

One organization, Seeds for Africa, has been instrumental in helping children gain access to local, nutritious fruits and vegetables. A central part of this organization’s work is teaching children the value of growing their own food by helping them to establish kitchen gardens and fruit tree orchards. Seeds for Africa funds kitchen vegetable garden development at primary schools in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

In Kenya, Seeds for Africa coordinator Thomas Ndivo Muema has helped primary schools in the Nairobi region establish vegetable gardens and orchards of 200 fruit trees and has also supplied water tanks. In Uganda, fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been established at 77 schools around Kampala, the capital city. And in Sierra Leone, Seeds for Africa coordinator Abdul Hassan King has helped oversee tree planting projects in 50 primary schools and advised kitchen vegetable gardens operating at 15 other schools.

In 2011, Kellogg UK donated £6434 (US$9,946) to Seeds for Africa to fund “breakfast clubs” in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia—clubs in which schoolchildren are fed breakfast if they attend class. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, some 60 percent of children come to school without having eaten breakfast, if they attend school at all. By providing a nutritious breakfast, the initiative helps to improve attendance as well as academic performance and student well-being. Results from breakfast club trials indicate that students who participated scored better on school tests and were happier overall than students who did not participate. School attendance also increased to 95 percent.

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Oct18

Five Examples of How Biodiversity Helps in the Fight Against Hunger

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By Dr. William Dar

Dr. William Dar is Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT.) He has had a long and distinguished career as an educationist, agricultural scientist, administrator, and humanitarian in his native Philippines and abroad in the Asia Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa.

ICRISAT director general William Dar at the Melkassa Research Center in Ethiopia where local sorghum and millet varieties are being studied to identify traits for drought and pest resistance. (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The 11th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is happening this week in Hyderabad, India.  Two years after the missed ultimatum to slow down the loss of biodiversity, this international meeting hopes to mobilize consciences and resources of everyone from governments and corporate organizations to citizens.  We need to be “aware of the values of biodiversity” and act “to conserve and use it sustainably “, as described in the twenty biodiversity conservation targets of the new CBD roadmap for the decade 2010-2020.

These goals are challenging because biodiversity is an abstract and global concept that seems too far removed from the daily lives of citizens, when compared to the current worries of unemployment and declining purchase power.

As CBD shows through the global study ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB), many economic activities benefit enormously from biodiversity and its loss incurs huge costs for our society.

To illustrate the value of biodiversity for agriculture and food security, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) gives ten examples, 5 of which are described below, of the use of biodiversity for important smallholder crops, and its impact for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia.

1. Pearl Millet – Resistance to the downy mildew fungus

Downy mildew is a fungal disease that thrives in moist climates can result in massive crop damage with farmers often losing half of their yields.

ICRISAT scientists found mildew resistance in local farmer-evolved varieties (or landraces) from Africa and Asia, and could incorporate this trait in the improved varieties developed by the institute. Without such resistance, it would have been impossible to conduct the pearl millet hybrid selection.

In 1996 ICRISAT estimated that the annual benefits of the downy mildew resistant variety were worth US$50 million. Today they are far more, with a conservative estimate in India alone being almost US$200 million. We just need to think of this in terms of farmer livelihoods to see how crucial the impact of biodiversity is.

2. Sorghum – Resistance to grain mould

Cultivated sorghum encompasses five sub-types or ‘races’, including Caudatum sorghum,  a hardy and densely-packed grains landrace that emerged from farmer selection in Eastern Africa. High-yielding Caudatum varieties of sorghum can become mouldy when rains are unusually frequent, causing 30 to 100 percent yield losses, lower market value, and even health hazards such as aflatoxin contamination in humans that consume them. In 1992 ICRISAT estimated the annual economic losses in Asia and Africa as US$130 million. Moderately-resistant land races were found , while Guinea sorghum races are inherently resistant, enabling the production of grain mold tolerant hybrids, recently released in India.

3. Early maturity groundnut

Early maturation of the crop is a trait that is greatly appreciated by poor farmers worldwide. It enables them to harvest food and receive income sooner, and to escape many droughts. The  groundnut line most utilized in breeding this trait, ‘Chico’, has contributed earliness to cultivars released across Africa and Asia such as ICGV 91114, now having major impact in Anantapur district, India – the largest groundnut growing district in the world; and Nyanda (ICGV 93437), cultivated on about 50,000 hectares in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa.

4. Early maturity chickpea

Early-maturing chickpeas are having a major impact in EthiopiaIndia and Myanmar. Benefits to Ethiopia alone over the period 2001 to 2030 are projected to be worth US$111 million. The land area sown to chickpea in Myanmar, and also the grain yields per unit land area both doubled during 2001 to 2009.  In Andhra Pradesh state, India, the early-maturing varieties stimulated a fivefold increase in sown area plus a 2.4-fold increase in yield over the same period.

5. Hybrid Pigeonpea seed system

ICRISAT and partners utilized Cajanus cajanifolus, a wild relative species of pigeonpea, to develop the world’s first hybrid seed system for any grain legume crop, with on average 30 percent higher grain yield than the best available local variety. This will have an enormous impact and help restore Indian grain legume self sufficiency, as these hybrids are widely disseminated to farmers.

Protecting biodiversity is crucial for our future food security

These five examples are just a glimpse of what impact biological diversity has on our food security. Research innovations in molecular biology and genetics will certainly improve and quicken the study of these biological resources.

The current biodiversity crunch makes our world poorer and less resilient for coming generations. Recognizing the value of biodiversity should help put it at the center of governments’ agendas.

 

Sep15

From Farms to Families: Curbing Hunger in the Driest Regions

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By Hitesh Pant

This year the Convergences Conference in Paris is housing a photo exhibition that sheds light on new innovative agricultural practices that are enabling poor farmers in Africa and India to feed their families. “Innovate Against Hunger” focuses on the work of the International Center for Research in the semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its efforts to provide improved seed varieties, empower women and smallholder farmers, and introduce sustainable agricultural practices to combat famine in some of the most arid regions on the planet.

Bounty chickpea harvests from improved seeds in Ethiopia (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The exhibition also shows how partnerships between farmers, local governments, NGOs, and the private sector can ensure that agricultural innovations are accessible throughout poor, remote communities.

ICRISAT’s research has helped farmers adopt new resource management techniques, increase the market demand for pest resistant varieties and reduce hunger.

Check out these pages to preview some of the images that will be part of “Innovate Against Hunger” and learn more about ICRISAT’s work:

http://www.cgiar.org/consortium-news/innovate-against-hunger-access-and-adoption-of-tools-practices-and-opportunities/

http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2012/09/PHOTOS-How-to-Help-Farmers-Fight-Hunger

Hitesh Pant 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.

Sep10

Fonio: Feeding the Future with an Ancient Crop

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By Jameson Spivack

For many, crabgrass is a nuisance and a pest, an unwanted weed in gardens and lawns. However, its relative, fonio, is a delicacy in Africa with significant nutritional, agricultural, and economic benefits. Grown primarily in Western Africa, it is considered the oldest cereal in the region.

Fonio is a delicacy in Africa and has significant nutritional, agricultural, and economic benefits (Photo Credit: Fonio Bio)

Until recently, fonio was considered by many crop breeders and agronomists to be an inferior grain due to its small seed size. People are now discovering, however, the potential it has to provide nutrition to those in Africa who struggle to obtain proper nutrients.

Fonio can be grown in soils that are sandy, acidic, or low in nutrients. This flexibility makes it suitable for growing in regions that typically cannot support agriculture. It is also highly nutritious, providing the body with amino acids, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and other important minerals. Because fonio doesn’t contain any glutenin or gliadin proteins, which comprise gluten, those with gluten intolerance may consume the crop. And it is a tasty cereal with a variety of options for preparation.

In terms of growing the crop, there are added benefits. The crop comes in different landraces, or traditional breeds, with varying growing times. Since some breeds take a long time to grow and others a short time, farmers can ensure a continuous supply of produce, even in times of change or unreliable growing conditions. Also, the small size prevents insects from developing inside the grain, which makes it easier to store in facilities with conditions that are not optimal.

This small size does pose some challenges, however, for producing fonio on a large scale. Its size makes post-harvest processing more difficult, with de-husking and cleaning requiring large amounts of time and effort. According to the World Bank’s Olivier Durand, however, “New techniques will improve the productivity while reducing the work hardship for women.” Developing threshing and dehulling techniques would decrease the amount of labor needed to produce fonio, allowing the crop to be grown in higher quantities.

With its high nutritional content and flexible growing capacity, fonio has the potential to provide many in Africa with the nutrients needed to remain healthy.

Jameson Spivack is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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

Aug21

Five food guides that are combating malnourishment

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By Jenna Banning

If you are what you eat, our world is certainly unhealthy. People across the globe are not getting the nutrients that they need, resulting in high levels of both hunger and obesity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 925 million people were undernourished in 2010. At the same time, the World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people are overweight, and at least 300 million obese. (Such estimates are based on Body Mass Index measurements, which compare one’s height and weight. Individuals with BMI’s over 25 are considered overweight, and over 30 are obese).

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can prevent obesity and malnutrition (Photo Credit: Carol Lee)

In order to tackle this issue, food pyramids and other guides have been used by organizations and governments to suggest better nutrition for the needs of their populations for many years. Today, Nourishing the Planet shares visual food guides from five countries (and one organization) being used across the world.

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Jul31

Five Indigenous Livestock Breeds You Have Never Heard of

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By Sheldon Yoder

Approximately 21 percent of indigenous animal breeds around the world are in danger of extinction, according to the FAO. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Indigenous breeds of livestock have fed and clothed humans for thousands of years. Many of them have unique adaptations for survival in harsh environments and for tolerating specific diseases.

Regrettably, while it took millennia to create the rich genetic wealth of indigenous livestock breeds, that diversity is in danger of being lost forever as farmers are encouraged to switch to commercial livestock or cross-breed indigenous livestock with exotic breeds.

The following are five breeds of livestock in Africa whose genetic diversity deserves to be protected.

1. Ankole Cattle: The Ankole is a breed of cattle native to Eastern Africa that is not only beautiful but valuable because of its ability to survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—a trait that is increasingly useful as sub-Saharan Africa becomes drier and hotter. These animals have striking, long, large-diameter horns, which help circulate blood and keep them cool in hot climes. The animals are renowned for their hardiness, allowing them to forage on poor quality vegetation and live off limited amounts of water. (more…)