Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’


Innovation of the Week: PodPonics—Thinking Globally, Growing Locally

Pin It

By Jameson Spivack

PodPonics, an indoor urban agriculture project that grows lettuce in PVC pipes inside used shipping containers, is just one of a new crop of up-and-coming urban agricultural innovators. The U.S. company, created by Dan Backhaus and Mark Liotta, currently operates a collection of six “pods,” or containers, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, and is in the process of developing a plot of land next to Atlanta International Airport.

PodPonics minimizes harmful outputs and enables urban residents to grow fresh, nutritious foods locally. (Photo Credit:

According to Backhaus and Liotta, growing the produce in shipping containers has many advantages. The size and scale of the containers makes it easy to standardize the light, temperature, and watering of the plants. For this reason, the PodPonics model is applicable to many different locales and situations. Backhaus and Liotta call this the “local everywhere” approach—emphasizing local production and consumption while maintaining a global focus.

Part of this global focus includes a strong dedication to environmental responsibility. Standardizing inputs allows PodPonics to conserve resources that typically are wasted in large-scale production. The closed environment of the pods prevents fertilizer runoff and allows for the recycling of water and nutrients. The pods also use energy during off-peak hours, which utilizes leftover energy in the system, helping to stabilize the city’s energy grid.



Zeer Pots: A Simple Way to Reduce Post-Harvest Food Waste

Pin It

By Stephanie Buglione           

Post-harvest food losses occur mainly in the developing world, and can be attributed to poor storage facilities, inadequate distribution networks, and low investment in food production. Improved storage conditions could drastically reduce this food waste, yet technologies must be affordable and realistic to be sustainable in these regions.

Zeer pots can help to prevent post-harvest food waste. (Photo Credit: FC Eco Camp)

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in Guinea, where up to 80 percent of citizens depend on agriculture for their incomes, about 20 percent of crops are lost in the post-harvest stage. These losses reduce the profit for farmers and increase prices for consumers. In developing countries where the majority of disposable income is spent on food, post-harvest losses can be financially damaging.

In Zambia, storage containers are commonly built out of twigs, poles, or plastic bags. Unsealed, unrefrigerated containers such as these can allow contamination from pests, rodents, and fungi. In hot climates, perishable foods such as berries and tomatoes typically do not last longer than two days without refrigeration. Without proper storage facilities, rural farmers have to watch their ripened crops succumb to rot, infestation, and mold.

Practical Action, a nongovernmental organization that works with farmers in Southern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, encourages the use of earthenware refrigerators called zeer pots to help prevent post-harvest food waste. The pot-in-pot refrigerator design keeps fruits and vegetables cool by harnessing the principle of evaporative cooling. These pots can extend the shelf life of harvested crops by up to 20 days by reducing storage temperature.

The design consists of a large outer pot and a smaller inner pot, both made from locally available clay. Wet sand is added between the two pots and is kept moist. Evaporation of the liquid in the sand draws heat out of the inner pot, in which food can be stored.



Danielle Nierenberg Speaking at World Food Prize Foundation’s “DialogueNEXT”

Pin It

On Wednesday, October 17, Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg spoke about the role of innovation in agriculture at the World Food Prize Foundation’s “DialogueNEXT” in Des Moines, Iowa. Watch the full video here!


Inaugural Global Green Inclusive Innovation Summit Aims to Empower Businesses for Good

Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

For the first time ever, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, NGOs, academics, and investors will come together to discuss green, inclusive businesses at the Global Green Inclusive Innovation (G2i2) Summit. The G2i2 Summit will take place from October 25 to 26, 2012 at Infosys Technologies’ campus in Bangalore, India. In the spirit of global participation, the Summit’s location will rotate around the globe in future years.

G2i2 Summit organizers hope to address climate change, reduce poverty, and improve the social impact of business. (Photo credit:

The G2i2 Summit will focus on accelerating the spread of innovative green and inclusive businesses around the world. A “green” business can be defined as one that demonstrates an explicit concern for the environment and does not negatively impact the local or global environment, community, or economy. A business is defined as “inclusive” when it aims to benefit low-income or other disadvantaged communities; businesses do this by actively including these communities in the business process, whether through job creation, offering affordable goods and services, or other means. While green and inclusive businesses may be either for-profit or non-profit in nature, they ultimately aim to do good through business.

By bringing together representatives from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, the G2i2 Summit aims to both foster innovative green, inclusive business partnerships and match these partnerships with funders. According to the G2i2 Summit website, “New green and inclusive businesses not only need desirable green products or guaranteed markets from companies; but also funding from public and private sector sources, social and infrastructure support from governments, on-going business and technical training from multi-laterals; and local market knowledge from NGOs and academia.”

The G2i2 Summit will feature keynote speeches by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Honorable Minister for Rural Development of India; Professor Rajeev Gowda, chairperson of the Center for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management; and NS Raghavan, co-founder of Infosys Technologies, a global consulting and IT services company based in India. The agenda will also include special pitch sessions for green and inclusive businesses aiming to scale or replicate in India and around the world.

One concrete outcome of the G2i2 Summit will be the launch of several innovative, green and inclusive businesses related to sustainable food, clean energy, water, waste management, and health in the following target countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam. Various companies, governments, and organizations are in support of this goal, including the UN Global Compact; multinational corporations Unilever, Novozymes, Nokia, and Greif; and the governments of the United States, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand.

By connecting companies and governments with complementary green, inclusive initiatives, G2i2 Summit organizers hope to address climate change, reduce poverty, and improve the social impact of business. Visit the G2i2 Summit website for more information.

How have you seen businesses have a positive impact on your community? Please share with us in the comments section.

Carol Dreibelbis 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.


Take Part in a Worldwide Dinner Party for Good

Pin It

By Carol Dreibelbis

The Feast, an organization that fosters social innovation for a better future, will be holding a Worldwide Dinner Party for Good as part of its first-ever Social Innovation Week in October. The Feast aims to engage the next generation of innovators and creative thinkers in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems through the Worldwide Dinner Party and other events.

Hundreds of people on six continents have already signed up to host a Worldwide Dinner Party on October 5th (Photo Credit: the Feast)

The Worldwide Dinner Party for Good will take place on October 5, 2012 at 7 p.m. local time. According to The Feast, each dinner party will center on a challenge: “Pick a challenge and by the end of your meal, commit to a project to make the world work better. On the big day, all diners will post their commitments online to create a giant feast on good.” The Feast both provides a number of challenges to choose from and allows diners to define their own.

The Data Challenge—presented by John Sherry, Director of Business Innovation Research at Intel—asks diners to, “design a tool that utilizes the data that is being or could be created in the public and private realms,” to improve people’s lives. Cell phone data, for example, has already been used to help farmers manage their land and animals.

The Open Design Challenge—presented by Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer at GE—asks diners to “use the open tools available today…to empower a new group of people to make something that improves their physical environment.” This challenge comes at a critical time, as climate change continues to alter the global environment, requiring farmers to adapt through innovation.



25 Youth Making Agriculture Cool

Pin It

Young people around the world are using their energy and creativity to build a brighter future for the planet. From farm-to-school networks to agriculturally focused cartoons, youth have created extremely innovative projects in sustainable agriculture that deserve recognition. Here are 25 individuals making agriculture both intellectually and economically stimulating for youth around the world:

1. Will Allen is the founder of Growing Power, Inc, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mr. Allen began Growing Power in 1993 to train urban farmers and to encourage community food systems. His organization has been on the forefront of the aquaponics movement, a farming technique mixing aquaculture and soil-less agriculture.


2. BCFN YES! is holding a competition for the best student idea focusing on “Food and Sustainability: How to reduce our impact on the environment, while securing health and access to food for all.” New entries closed on September 5, but public voting for semi-finalists began on October 1. Vote to help us choose the next Youth Making Agriculture Cool! The top 10 semi-finalists will present at the 4th International Forum on Food and Nutrition.


3. The Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at the Cape Coast University in Ghana is attempting to improve agricultural extension services throughout the country. The program chooses extensionists already working with farmers from all over Ghana, the majority of whom would not otherwise have the resources to attend college. The extension workers learn how to communicate and collaborate with farmers to determine the best solutions for each community. Listen to Nourishing the Planet’s interview with Professor Festus Annor-Frempong to learn more about how Cape Coast University is improving Ghanaian agriculture.

4. Earth University, in Costa Rica, offers four-year bachelor degrees in agricultural sciences and natural resources management. The University focuses on international students from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. Nearly one quarter of the University’s alumni go on to become entrepreneurs. Whole Foods, which has a long-running relationship with the school, distributes several Earth University products, allowing students’ ideas to influence the supply process.

5. Diana Fan won the 21st International Children’s Painting Competition on the Environment in 2012. The event, organized by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), encouraged children to depict “Green Communities.” Diana’s painting, above, won her US$2,000 and a free trip to next year’s International Children’s Conference on the Environment. Finding a way to gain children’s interest in the environment and agriculture, such as the Painting Competition, is integral to sustainability (Painting by Diana Fan).

6. Food Corps places volunteers in high-obesity, limited-resource communities to encourage healthy diets and gardening among children. By teaching kids what healthy food is and how it is produced, children can grow up making informed decisions about their diets. Volunteers serve for one year and are eligible for a $15,000 living allowance.


7 and 8. Amie Frisch and Mark Anthony Medeiros co-founded Veggielution, a two-acre urban community farm, after graduating from San Jose University in California. The farm offers local food and a chance for the community to gain hands-on farming experience through volunteering. The group also provides part-time summer jobs to high school students through the “Dig It” program.


9. Jonathan Glencross spearheaded McGill University’s Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) along with the McGill Food Systems Project (MFSP) in 2009. SPF has helped sponsor several projects throughout the University. MFSP has also worked with the dining halls at McGill University to buy food supplies from local sources.


10. Ellen Gustafson co-founded the FEED Projects in 2007 and launched the 30 Project in 2010. FEED sells a popular brand of handbags, donating a portion of each sale to the United Nations World Food Program to fund school lunches. The 30 Project brings together key organizations and activists in agricultural development to work together to transform our agricultural system over the next 30 years. Gustafson also provided an interview in Eating Planet: Nutrition Today—A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, a new book by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition.

11. Sarah Elizabeth Ippel started the Academy for Global Citizenship. In 2005, when Sarah was 23, she proposed the environmentally friendly charter school to the Chicago Board of Education. By 2007 she received approval. The charter school provides a holistic approach for students to learn global stewardship: from running off renewable energy, to offering all-organic meals and a student garden. In 2010, Sarah received Chicago Magazine’s Green Award.

12. Rowen Jin is a project manager for World Water Relief, a non-profit organization focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in Hispaniola. Having recently received her Bachelors degrees in Biology and English, Rowen began working for World Water Relief in Haiti this year. Rowen first visited Haiti in 2011 as a disaster relief volunteer. World Water Relief focuses on helping individual communities where tangible improvements can be achieved. Projects range from school hand-washing to improved sanitation stations.

13. Paul Peter Kades is an actor for ShujaazFM, a Kenyan comic focusing on agricultural innovations. Paul is the voice of the main character, Boyie, and the host of ShujaazFM. Shujaaz means ‘heroes’ in Sheng, emphasizing the importance of the comics’ agricultural lessons. One issue explains the importance of vaccinating chickens to protect them from Newcastle Disease. With roughly 12 million readers each month, Paul’s program helps teach sustainable agricultural practices in a fun and interesting way.

14. Edward Mukiibi founded the Uganda-based Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) in 2006. The non-profit helps Ugandan primary schools grow fresh, clean produce. The first program of its kind in Uganda, Edward intends to make agriculture fun for children. This year, Reuters AlertNet named Edward among the “top 10 food trailblazers.”


15. Sithembile Ndema is a program manager for Food and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in Southern Africa. Sithembile manages FANRPAN’s WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) project, which uses theater to empower women farmers in southern Malawi and Mozambique. The production facilitates community discussions about the issues addressed in each performance. Sithembile was also a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

16. Andrea Northup founded the Washington, D.C. Farm to School Network. The organization promotes sourcing local and fresh foods in D.C. schools. Andrea helped promote the legislation to incentivize the use of fresh food in schools. This year, the National Resources Defense Council named her the Young Food Leader of the Growing Green Awards.


17. Molly Rockamann founded the farm EarthDance in Ferguson, Missouri in 2008, at the age of 26. EarthDance offers an innovative Organic Farming Apprenticeship program, allowing urban dwellers to connect with the agricultural process. There will be 28 farm apprentices this year alone. The farm even held a benefit concert this summer, entitled “Farms Rock!” Molly received the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2011 Growing Green Award for Young Food Leader.

18. Danielle Sewell was a Peace Corps Volunteer working with the Farmers of the Future project in Western Africa. Farmers of the Future—an International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics’ (ICRISAT) project—teaches children agriculture skills through both traditional classroom lessons and hands-on experience. Danielle served as an agricultural worker for the project and conducted a survey analyzing the programs results. The Farmers of the Future project distributed four trees to each student (including a “Sahelian Apple” tree and a mulberry tree). Those students with the best-cared-for trees received prizes. Danielle’s experience demonstrates the wide-array of programs through which young people can make agriculture cool.

19. Tristram Stuart is a writer and food activist. He is the author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal and The Bloodless Revolution, he founded Feeding the 5000, and he wrote Chapter 9 of World Watch’s State of the World 2011. Tristram exposes the vast waste of food around the world: roughly one-third of food produced is lost or wasted annually. He explains how we can drastically reduce our waste, and our impact on the environment, by buying less food, keeping an eye on expiration dates, and voting with each food purchase to discourage business waste. Feeding the 5000 is an annual event that feed 5000 people on perfectly healthy food that would otherwise have been thrown out. Our food choices have a major environmental impact.

20. Shawn Sweeney leads Youth Outreach and Engagement for Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots. Roots and Shoots connects thousands of young environmental activists around the world, helping members with service projects and campaigns. Shawn strives to connect these young activists through digital networking and to engage them with social media.


21. Aurelia Weintz is the Program Coordinator in Egypt for Slow Food’s “A Thousand Gardens in Africa.” The goal of the project at large is to create 1,000 school gardens in 25 African countries. Nearly 800 communities have already been involved, including four in Egypt. Aurelia has a background in environmental education, drawing her to this program. Her projects target ordinary people, proving the urban dwellers can participate in food production.

22. Nicole Wires is the Food System Change Coordinator at Collective Roots, a non-profit in East Palo Alto, California. Collective Roots teaches local students in gardening and encourages decentralized urban farming. Nicole began working with Collective Roots as an intern before moving into her current role. She works with this low-income district of Palo Alto to promote sustainable food systems through communal labor and decentralized farming.

23. In 2007, the World Cocoa Foundation began Empowering Cocoa Households with Opportunities and Education Solution (ECHOES). Its programs provide education to youth in cocoa communities. ECHOES currently offers educational opportunities throughout 79 communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Educational facilities include vocational agriculture training, functional literacy training, and family support scholarships. Such programs encourage youth to remain in their agricultural communities.


24. Ramon Zepeda is the Youth Organizer for the U.S.-based Student Action for Farmworkers (SAF). He began working with SAF in 2005 through the Fields Internship Program. Ramon has since helped organize several youth events supporting the farmworkers’ rights.



25. Alex Zizinga is the founder and coordinator of The Community Livelihood Project, a BOLD Food Fellow, and a Natural Resource Scientist. As a BOLD Fellow, Alex received training in food security and participated in an U.S.-African exchange program. The Community Livelihood Project works with farmers in Nangabo, Uganda to provide training and to incorporate indigenous plants into their crops, leading to year-round harvests and surplus yields. This program helps struggling families overcome seemingly insurmountable agricultural barriers.

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


From Farms to Families: Curbing Hunger in the Driest Regions

Pin It

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:

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.


Mobile Technology Helps Farmers save Time, Water, and Electricity

Pin It

By Sarah Alvarez

Managing irrigation pumps and water systems is a difficult and costly task for many farmers in developing countries. The amount of time and energy farmers spend watering their crops often compromises time that could otherwise be used for family and community obligations. It also compromises their safety at night, when they are most vulnerable to animal predators. A new innovation from the India based company, Ossian Agro Automation, called Nano Ganesh seeks to transform the way farmers manage their water systems by giving them the freedom to turn pumps on and off, from any location, with their mobile phone.


Nano Ganesh aims to assist farmers in managing water pump systems, similar to this one (Photo credit: Neil Palmer)

Santosh Ostwal, Co-Founder of Nano Ganesh, created mobile based technology that gives farmers the flexibility to remotely switch water pumps on and off from any distance using cell phones or landlines. Ostwal, an electrical engineer by trade, had a personal connection to the plight of farmers. After observing the hardships his 82 year old grandfather faced in tending his farm and monitoring the availability of electricity to operate water pumps, he began to construct a remote control that farmers could use within two kilometers of the farm. He later modified the remote control by expanding its range to 10 kilometers. In 2008 Ostwal altered the technology so that it could function over an unlimited range granting farmers the flexibility to start and stop the flow of water from anywhere there is a mobile connection.

Nano Ganesh also allows farmers to check the availability of electricity to the pump and verify the on and off status of its operation. Both of these features offer cost-saving benefits to farmers who otherwise may not be able to shut their pumps off before their fields have become overly saturated. This is important for two reasons. One is that over-watering can lead to soil erosion and nutrient depletion. The second reason is that the inability to remotely shut-off water pumps leads to unintentional water and electricity waste. With the help of Nano Ganesh farmers will be able to conserve water and electricity more effectively. This will minimize the environmental and financial costs of farming. In fact, the product description suggests that farmers can recover the cost of the technology in just 11 days from the water and electricity savings it will produce.

So far, Nano Ganesh has assisted 10,000 farmers in India and is now being used in Australia and Egypt. The innovation received international recognition from the Global Mobile Awards in 2010 and Nokia’s Calling All Innovators Contest in 2009. Nano Ganesh has also received acknowledgement from several institutions in India including the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture.

Sarah Alvarez 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.



Chase Campaign: Empowering Women

Pin It

By Devon Ericksen  

As the Worldwatch Institute celebrates women and youth in September, Nourishing the Planet highlights the many ways that women contribute to agriculture all over the world. Women play a crucial role in creating a just and sustainable future, but still face significant barriers around the world. They are underpaid, typically earning about 17 percent less than men, and undereducated, comprising two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. And although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland. Because women make up such a large part of the agricultural workforce, and yet have significantly less access than men to resources such as education and technology, women’s empowerment must be an important part of future agricultural development policy.

Although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland (Photo Credit: UNEP)

Our post, “Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty,” shows that although women often lack access to the same educational and technological opportunities as men, they are just as innovative when it comes to solving problems, such as inventing safer and more efficient technologies that help female farmers.

In August we posted an article by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Information Health Network, previewing the Women’s Congress for Future Generations to be held in September in Moab, Utah. Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress focus on the idea that women have an important role in restoring the ecology of the Earth, and that their voices must be heard in order to do so. From political discourse in the United States to the farms of developing countries, Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress call for a new civil rights movement where women’s voices can speak on behalf of future generations.



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

Pin It

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.