Posts Tagged ‘Farmer’

Oct20

New Rice for Africa: Shades of Both a Green Revolution and Food Sovereignty

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Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. A contributor to Nourishing the Planet and PolicyMic.com, he is currently studying in the Gambia with St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange program.

The New Rice for Africa variety has become part of the debate over whether a Green Revolution is the best approach to ensure food security in Africa (Photo Credit: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research)

JAMBUR, The Gambia—The dissemination of the high-yielding New Rice for Africa (NERICA) seeds has sparked contention that is a microcosm for a central debate in global agricultural development: does Africa need its own Green Revolution, an effort that 50 years ago saw dramatic productivity increases through the use of new crop technologies in Asia and Latin America?

NERICA, developed by 2004 World Food Prize winner Dr. Monty Jones, is being promoted by the Africa Rice Center mainly in West African countries where rice is a staple food. It is a cross between an Asian variety, responsible for the high yield, and an African variety, which ensures its local adaptability.

West African governments have touted NERICA as a hallmark of a new Green Revolution and as a path to boosting rice self-sufficiency, especially after the 2008 food price spike exposed the dangers of import dependence. On the other side, advocates of “food sovereignty”—centered on farmers’ control over food systems—have voiced strong opposition. The advocacy organization GRAIN has labeled NERICA a “trap for small farmers” who will become vulnerable to expensive chemical fertilizers and seeds, a situation widely cited by critics of the 1960s Green Revolution.

What I’ve found in Jambur, which in 2002 became the first Gambian village to access the new crop, is a much more nuanced picture, one that in fact incorporates elements of each side of the debate. This suggests what a tactical misstep it would be for food sovereignty loyalists to completely remove themselves from engaging with a new variety just because it has become embedded in the discourse of a new Green Revolution.

I have observed, in one respect, an outcome that reveals the dangers of making small-scale farmers dependent on high-input seeds: the expensive price of chemical fertilizer. Farmers here say that in most years they have applied fertilizer at the rate of 4 bags of NPK and 2 of urea per hectare, the amount recommended to them by the National Agricultural Research Institute. But this year fertilizer’s price has jumped and they are cutting back usage by more than half, and seeing yields shrink as a result.

Here lies the problem with the notion that higher yields alone will end hunger in developing countries. A standard mantra talks about addressing the “yield gap” whereby resource-poor farmers are achieving lower yields than farmers of the same crop in the world’s most productive regions. But the yield difference is due in large part to the inability of African farmers to access the very inputs that enable such high production in wealthy countries. So boosting yields simply to close a “yield gap” may involve jeopardizing farmers’ own livelihoods, which is not the right path for agricultural development, especially since it is small farmers themselves who are the most vulnerable population.

Despite that downside, alternative food movements can find in NERICA a characteristic that is a pillar of their agenda: ‘seed sovereignty,’ or farmers’ right to save their own seeds, as opposed to having to purchase seeds. Unlike the hybrid seeds of the Green Revolution, farmers can harvest and re-plant NERICA every season. In Jambur, they are trained on how to harvest the highest quality seeds by the village’s resident farmer expert on NERICA, Omar Bojang, who claims that “nobody in The Gambia knows more about NERICA” than himself—a sign of the farmer-to-farmer knowledge dissemination that, it turns out, is also a top priority of food sovereignty folks. So as outspoken critical voices invoke Vandana Shiva’s notions of “biopiracy” to warn about the African Green Revolution’s erosion of farmers’ control over seeds, we would do well to remember that this simply doesn’t apply to NERICA.

If the movement for a new model for global agriculture becomes intent on attacking anything that has ever been praised by proponents of an African Green Revolution, then it risks missing opportunities to influence the implementation of new varieties in ways that benefit small-scale farmers. Nowhere is this idea better encapsulated than in anthropologist Glenn Stone’s concept of a “science of the gray.”

“This is an odd corner for researchers ethically committed to the welfare of Third World farmers to have painted themselves into—opposing potentially beneficial agricultural strategies or technologies because they might impede a complete transformation of the agricultural system,” Stone writes in a 2005 article. “If the complete transformation never comes, one has relinquished the ability to mitigate the excesses of the extant system.”

Applying this wisdom to NERICA, we must realize that the thrust toward another Green Revolution, associated as it is with some of the most powerful institutions in the world, isn’t going away any time soon. But there are ways to “mitigate the excesses”—pushing for more research on agro-ecological production, and training farmers in seed production and in farmer-to-farmer dissemination.

I’ve heard the argument from activists that playing by the rules of the pro-Green Revolution institution risks co-optation and ultimately dissolution of reform movements. But I’d say that contributing to the prevailing system—no matter how strongly you disagree with its underlying ideals—can actually raise the profile of alternative models, if only because you’re given the space to demonstrate their success.

So as the debate over an African Green Revolution continues to rage, it’s important to keep in mind that the reality will almost certainly lay in the “gray” area, rather than exactly matching one side’s ideological perspective.

In your own work, where have you encountered examples of the “gray” area that may characterize new agricultural technologies? Share them with us in the comment section below.

 

Oct09

Investing in Global Food Security: CGIAR Food and Agriculture Research Agenda Worth US $5 Billion

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By Sophie Wenzlau 

According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest publicly funded global agricultural research partnership, “feeding a global population of 9 billion people by 2050 will require at least a 70 percent increase in global food production and a 50 percent rise in investments in the agricultural sector.” At the Fourth Agriculture and Rural Development Day gathering, CGIAR unveiled a new global research portfolio worth US$5 billion over five years. The announcement was made two days prior to the commencement of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, where food security and sustainable agriculture were identified as international priorities. According to the UN, “a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today’s 925 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050.”

CGIAR research aims to increase the productivity of small farmers in developing countries (Photo Credit: CGIAR)

This past summer the partnership officially launched 15 new programs, which include research intended to mitigate climate change, enhance agricultural productivity and boost food security; intended to promote the conservation and restoration of water, land, forests, and ecosystems; and, more specifically, to augment the cultivation of rice.

CGIAR’s ambitious portfolio aims to “deliver the scientific, policy, and technological advances needed to tackle the major global development challenges of the century for the benefit of the poor and the planet.” A top priority of the new research agenda is to increase the productivity of small farmers—who, according to CGIAR, provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries—without damaging the environment.

CGIAR researches ways to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve health and nutrition, and ensure the sustainable management of natural resources. The CGIAR Consortium is composed of fifteen member centers, which are responsible for conducting research on behalf of the partnership. For the past 40 years, CGIAR’s research has promoted the conservation, revitalization and sustainable management of natural resources, and has simultaneously boosted yields on farms around the world.

Frank Rijsberman, the new CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, claims that, “science and the environment need to be best friends if we are to achieve a food secure future.” He notes, “investing in agricultural research is a critical first step to kick-start the innovation engine for a sustainable, food secure future.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a research associate with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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

Sep05

Nourishing the Planet TV: Aqua Shops

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In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet discusses FARM-Africa’s aquacultural initiative in western Kenya, which has established an Aqua Shop franchise that provides farmers with technical advice about aquaculture practices and give them the necessary materials to set up and maintain healthy fish ponds.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOR8RJC9BSk&feature=plcp

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

Sep01

We Need a New Paradigm for Investments in Agriculture

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By Renatto Barbieri and Daniel Bornstein

Renatto Barbieri is the Portfolio Manager of the Galtere Global Agribusiness Fund (Galtere is a financial investment advisory firm based in New York). An agronomist by training, Mr. Barbieri has 20 years’ experience in commodity trading, structuring, financing, investment, and business development.

Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in anthropology and environmental studies. He has written articles on global food security for Nourishing the Planet, PolicyMic.com, and College News Magazine.

A growing social movement, led by a large number of sustainable farmers all over the world, is fighting daily in order to bring nutritious, clean produce to our tables (Photo Credit: Kyle Woollet)

The most recent price report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned of climbing food prices, a worrying reminder of the precarious state of the global food situation. Whenever corn and soybean prices climb in the various exchanges, investors—in the form of finance companies, pension funds, university endowments, trading companies, seed processors, fertilizer and chemical manufacturers—rush to take advantage of perceived bottlenecks in agricultural production in order to extract a monetary gain. Unfortunately, most of them will have contributed to accelerating the destruction of some of our most precious natural resources and the livelihood stability of rural communities all over the world.

Little notice is paid to the fact that over 90% of soybeans are dedicated to animal production and industrial uses, a figure acknowledged by the United Soybean Board, which is charged with maximizing profit opportunities for U.S. farmers. A large amount of corn finds its way into ethanol production, industrial foods and animal feeds.

In response to rising demand for meat in developing countries, Brazil has converted the Cerrado region into massive soybean plantations.  The notion that the land is simply being “transformed” is a convenient euphemism for this disaster: continued tree felling, local communities’ displacement, the depletion of water resources, and soil degradation—all for the purpose of export production, not local food consumption. Brazil has become one of the world’s largest users of chemical fertilizer, standing as the world’s second-largest importer of phosphate and potash fertilizers, according to Corn and Soybean Digest. This leaves farmers susceptible to international price volatility and exacts a heavy toll on the environment.

The Brazilian government’s initiative to boost domestic fertilizer production, in response to the price volatility issue, only continues down this unsustainable path and distracts attention from alternative approaches. At the same time, vast sugarcane plantations for ethanol production—touted as an alternative to fossil fuel energy—are not only extending chemical-intensive agriculture, but displacing local food production.

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Aug24

From a Garden in South Africa, to a Cafeteria in California: Sharing Meals and Good Ideas

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By Molly Theobald

Usually a conversation about world hunger conjures images of starving children in Africa. But while sub-Saharan Africa may be the epicenter of world hunger, the U.S. has a lot to learn from the agricultural practices in use there.

Right now there are countless organizations working on the ground to improve access to food, increase incomes, and provide nutritional education. And their successes hold lessons that we can benefit from right here at home.

Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to end hunger in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo Credit: Marie Viljoen)

The organization Abalimi Bezekhaya, for example, a non-profit organization working in the informal settlements outside Cape Town, South Africa, is just one of many organizations that has found its own way to reduce local hunger in Africa.  Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to turn the settlements into areas that produce food—and money—which in turn generates green spaces in order to alleviate poverty and protect the fragile surrounding ecosystem.  Providing training and materials, Abalimi Bezekhaya helps people to turn school yards and empty plots of land into gardens. Each garden is run by 6 to 8 farmers who, with support and time, are soon able to produce enough food to feed their families.

But while Abalimi Bezekhaya is bringing agriculture and food into the townships, it is also helping the townships to bring fresh produce into the city. With support from the Ackerman Pick n’ Pay Foundation, and in partnership with the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship (SAIE) and the Business Place Philippi, Abalimi Bezekhaya founded Harvest of Hope (HoH) in 2008. HoH purchases the surplus crops from 14 groups of farmers working in Abalimi Bezekhaya’s community plots, packages them in boxes and delivers them to selected schools where parents can purchase them to take home.

For families in Cape Town, HoH means fresh vegetables instead of the older, and often imported, produce at the grocery store. And for families of the farmers working with Hope of Harvest, it means a source of food, income, and improved quality of life.

There are similar projects in the Bay Area of the United States. Since 2001, for example, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has been helping to coordinate relationships between school cafeterias and local food producers. These relationships bring nutritious meals to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them, and provide a consistent source of income for local small-scale farmers who are struggling to make a living in the face of a national agricultural system that increasingly favors large, industrial farming operations. The Veggielution Community Farm is working with volunteers and youth to create a more sustainable food system in the Santa Clara Valley and in East San Jose.

Other cities are taking notice. In Washington, D.C., for example, the local farm to school program spent almost a year looking at programs all over the United States, including those in Portland, Oregon and others on the West Coast, as models to follow.  “There are so many people and organizations involved that it takes a lot of care and trial runs and screwing up to develop a successful farm to school program,” said Andrea Northrup, the Program Coordinator for the Farm to School Network in DC. “But it’s so valuable for the students, the farmers, and the entire community that we really wanted to get it right. So we looked to other cities and other programs for guidance.”

The DC program has learned valuable lessons and experienced success. Founded in 2008, it has already held a Farm to School Week in order to introduce farmers to schools and parents, and students to local food producers. This year the Farm to School Week plans to engage all 123 city public schools and all 70 charter schools and has plans for a more permanent program that would bring 60,000 meals containing fresh produce to the DC public school system every day during the school year.

In Cape Town, Washington, D.C., California, and all over the United States, successful programs are working on the ground to alleviate global hunger and poverty, improve livelihoods, and teach children healthy eating habits. Instead of viewing world hunger as a distant problem with no solution, we should pay attention to those fighting it all over the world. We just might learn a thing or two.

Molly Theobald is a Food and Agriculture research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

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

Aug23

Mark Bittman: Celebrate the Farmer!

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Check out this recent article, “Celebrate the Farmer!”  by Mark Bittman on The New York TimesOpinionator blog. In the article, Bittman argues that to make fresh, healthy food available to all consumers, civil society and policymakers must address issues core to the agricultural system.

Mark Bittman advocates a more sustainable U.S. farming system. (Photo credit: The New York Times)

In essence, Bittman writes, “We need to encourage both new and established farms to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, to raise animals in sensible ways and, using a combination of modern and time-tested techniques, treat those animals well and use their products wisely.”

Read the full article here.

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

Dec22

Airwave Agriculturist

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Check out this article in the Guardian about a Nigerian radio host, who uses his show to teach sustainable farming practices, including crop rotation and rainwater harvesting techniques, to smallholder farmers.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu (Photo credit: the Guardian)

“The most simple ideas can solve the greatest challenges,” said Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, who also believes in locally applicable solutions, such as seed sharing between farmers. The station reaches about 250,000 listeners each day.

Click here to read the full article.

Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet at a 50 percent discountplease click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Dec17

Fred Kirschenmann: Farmer, Educator, Philosopher

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By Kim Kido

In 1976, Dr. Fred Kirschenmann left his work as a dean at Curry College to return home to North Dakota. His father was recovering from a mild heart attack, and someone had to run the 3,500 acre farm that his family has had since 1930. Kirschenmann didn’t stop at taking over the operations – he was determined to convert the farm to organic cultivation, a concept one of his former students, David Vetter, introduced him to in the 1960s.

Photo credit: Living on Earth

At first, crop yields dramatically declined, but through five years of trial and error they eventually recovered. Today, about a third of the farm consists of native prairie used to graze cattle, with the rest used to grow nine different grain crops in three rotations.

A farm manager recently took over the day-to-day operations in North Dakota so Kirschenmann can spend his time in Ames, Iowa where he is a distinguished fellow and former director of Iowa State University‘s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Pocantico Hills, New York where he serves as the President of the Board for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Kirschenmann won a Natural Resources Defense Council‘s “Growing Green” award in 2010 for his work at Stone Barns, an 80 acre farm and educational facility.

Kirschenmann is also part of the Agriculture of the Middle project, an initiative started in 2003 to help mid-size farms that are too big to sell directly to consumers, yet too small to get involved in commodities markets, with brand development and marketing. About 80 percent of farmland in the U.S falls into this category, which Kirschenmann has called the “disappearing middle” because so many are going out of business.

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Sep08

Innovation of the Week: A New Addition to the Uruguayan Potato Family

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By: Kaia E. Clarke

Potatoes are enjoyed in various authentic international cuisines, specifically in Latin America countries. For centuries, the potato has been the main source of income for farmers and their families. In Uruguay, potatoes help to improve the countries economic status by being a major exporting crop in their agriculture market.

Scientists used a 75-year-old technique to save the Uruguayan potatoes. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In 2001, Uruguayan’s exporting began declining because of a plant disease called Bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum). It was found in 39 percent of samples from Uruguayan potato farms and forced the country to import potato seed. This fungus is extremely difficult to get rid because it multiples quickly in high moisture environments such as South America. It has also been found to infect other crops such as sweet potato and cassava, which are common in other developing countries.

In order to completely eliminate the fungus, farmers have to suffer the loss of their main source of income for their families and make the difficult decision to remove their entire yield. It is necessary for farmers to quickly choose their plan of action because the permanent wilting of the crop causes crops to die in a short period of time. Otherwise, the fungus has the potential to spread among farming supplies, soils, and water irrigation systems.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) recognize that sufficient funding is an impediment for many poverty-stricken countries. In addition, implementing sustainable agricultural development is very challenging when their economic status is at risk.  In 2008, the ITPGRFA Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund Project  granted funding for 11 projects, including the Uruguayan potato research which was the first project to be approved.

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Aug30

New report urges the government to invest in farmers markets

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By Graham Salinger 

Every economist knows that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you buy the ingredients for your lunch–or breakfast or dinner–at a farmers market you could help provide a much needed boost to the economy.

Investing in farmers' markets could help boost the economy, according to this new report. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A  report by the Union  for Concerned Scientists  stresses the importance of farmers markets in generating local revenue and creating jobs and identifies a number of steps the federal government should take to encourage the growth of farmers markets.  While the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 2,863 to 6,132, the report’s author, Jeffrey O’Hara, argues that more government resources could be used to support farmers markets. “On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” O’Hara points out. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local. That helps stabilize local economies,” explains O’Hara.

But If the government is going to make good on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s request  to help provide entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets in efforts to get 100,000 Americans to become farmers by next year, the government is going to need to use the 2012 Farm Bill to prioritize funding for farmers markets.  Last year the USDA spent nearly $14 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments to support industrial agriculture, while less than $100 million was spent on supporting local food producers.

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