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.
As the African continent is faced with the challenge of meeting a growing demand for milk and meat, the genetic diversity of livestock breeds is being lost at an alarming rate. Governments and agribusiness continue to promote exotic commercial breeds of livestock that are bred to gain more weight and produce more milk than traditional breeds. 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 farmers abandon their traditional breeds. For millennia, pastoralists have bred livestock that are well-adapted to local conditions. Understanding and preserving these breeds could be useful in helping communities adapt as their climates and environments change in the coming decades.
N'Dama is a hardy, disease-resistant breed of cattle indigenous to West Africa (Photo: ILRI)
N’Damais a hardy breed of cattle indigenous to the Fouta-Djallon highlands in the West African country of Guinea. N’Dama cows were domesticated around 8,000 years ago in the region and they have evolved to be resistant to local diseases and parasites. The breed is common throughout West and Central Africa, especially in areas infested by the tsetse fly—an insect known to transmit disease to both humans and livestock. According to the FAO, there are approximately 7 million head of N’Dama cattle.
N’Dama cows produce two to three liters of milk per day and their meat is renowned for its flavor. The breed is the most popular among West Africa’s small-scale, low-input livestock keepers. This is largely because they are heat tolerant, are docile and do well in harsh environments, and can survive on poor quality feeds.
Farmers could improve food and energy security by integrating crop and livestock systems (Photo credit: Willem van Weperen MSc)
Around 3 billion people, or half of the world’s population, rely on unsustainable biomass based energy sources, including wood, and around 1.6 billion people still lack access to electricity. With an Integrated Food Energy System (IFES), FAO believes that people will have access to sustainable and reliable energy.
Farmers can incorporate IFES in two ways. The first type of IFES uses intercropping or agroforestry, where farmers utilize the same plot of land to grow food and fuel-generating crops; the second type focuses on maximizing the connection between food crops, livestock, and the production of energy by using manure and crop residues.
In addition to improving food and energy security, IFES hopes to enable farmers to use their resources more efficiently and address the effects of climate change on agriculture, by focusing on soilconservation and increasing biodiversity. (more…)
As one of the world’s poorest and war ravaged nations, it’s hard to imagine that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could endure much more suffering. Yet 5 years ago, another threat emerged. This time, the threat is not from guns or violence, but from a highly-contagious plant disease called Banana Xanthomas Wilt (BXW), more commonly known as Banana Bacterial Wilt.
Committees elected by their villages are tasked with caring for healthy banana shoots, looking for signs of wilt and helping control the disease in the shared fields. (Photo Credit: Action Against Hunger)
First observed in Uganda nearly a decade ago, Wilt affects the vascular system of plants. In low-lying parts of eastern DRC, and in many of its east African neighbor states, banana plantations dominate the landscape. As both a staple food and cash crop for rural communities, the viability of the banana crop has an enormous impact on livelihoods. So when Wilt arrives, it damages more than just crops.
With bananas (which regenerate through a bulb or rhizome), yellowed leaves are the first sign of Wilt. The disease then rots the fruit and eventually the entire tree. Left unabated, Wilt can wipe out entire banana plantations, where many households earn up to 80 percent of their income.
In keeping with its mission to treat and prevent acute malnutrition, Action Against Hunger , a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger, has been working with residents of DRC’s North and South Kivu region to help address the short-term food security needs created by the spread of Wilt, while also ensuring long-term recovery of their livelihoods.
In their Wilt program, which is now in its third phase, Action Against Hunger is helping communities to construct wood-framed nurseries designed to grow healthy banana shoots that can replace diseased crops. To help farmers make it until these shoots have grown to maturity, Action Against Hunger has provided local community members with seeds to grow alternative crops, such as maize and beans.
With funding from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the program has flourished: nearly 14,500 farmer households have been involved in the awareness campaign; over 100 village-based nurseries have been established (plus 10 more underway); and 100 hectares of diseased banana crop have been uprooted and replaced.
Action Against Hunger has not worked with farmers alone. The organization has also been including local authorities in its training sessions, to order to bolster the government’s ability to address the problem through their own initiatives.
Yet, in the DRC and throughout the region, Wilt continues to spread. What’s needed to stop it, according to Muriel Calo, a Food Security and Livelihoods advisor at Action Against Hunger, is a committed, broad-based movement that involves all levels of the government, partnered with the United Nations, non-profit organizations and affected communities to develop a more coordinated effort to combat this menace over the medium and long term.