Posts Tagged ‘Livelihood’


“We Plant a Seed, We Grow Our Future:” Larry Laverentz on Refugee Farmers in the United States

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In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States.

Larry has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from growing up on a cattle farm to working as an agriculture volunteer in Vietnam for International Voluntary Services. His experiences, including earning a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, have enabled him to run programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and prepared him for his current position at RAPP.

RAPP helps refugee farmers bring familiar and nutritious foods home to their families. (Photo credit: RAPP)

How was the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program created?

In 2003, the director of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement began to track the trend of agrarian backgrounds of refugees, and decided to create a project that would enable refugees to get in touch with their agrarian roots. The project officially started in San Diego and Phoenix, and soon spread into a national program through support from the Institute for Social and Economic Development. The program is currently in its third round of three-year grants, totaling 24 projects nationwide.

What sorts of challenges do refugees face when they come to the United States and try to make a living through agriculture?

Many refugees come to this country wanting to get involved with agriculture. While they may be well-versed in farming practices, marketing their products and making a livelihood from farming in this country are complicated processes. Those who have lived in refugee camps for many years typically have limited education and few English and literacy skills, making it difficult to communicate. This creates barriers, for example, in finding land to rent or getting loans for farm equipment. If refugees have no credit history or practice balancing a budget or repaying loans, they are susceptible to falling into debt. Most refugee farmers must also find an off-farm income to supplement what they make through agriculture.

What strategies does RAPP use to break down these barriers and help refugees?

RAPP aims to educate and assist refugees in areas where they did not have previous experience. Each project uses grant funding to hire a garden coordinator, recruit volunteers, access land and supplies, and assess projects. In the first year, the team will typically build an incubator training farm, focused on intensive production tied to marketing. Perhaps after the first year the project will grow, and refugees will be able to expand or even start their own small farms. In conjunction with the farms, we teach classes on record-keeping and financial literacy, invite guests such as master gardeners to come speak, or coordinate ESL courses structured toward agricultural vocabulary. We try to give them the tools they need to grow their businesses.

Are most of the program participants experienced farmers, or are they new to agriculture?

Most of them are experienced in agriculture but were subsistence farmers in their countries of origin. This means that if they farmed, they were not typically involved in marketing, and they are not used to selling excess crops. Refugee camps do not usually allow farming due to limited space, and technology has advanced from what they knew before—so even if they are experienced farmers, there is still a learning curve. The question that we are trying to answer is “How do you create independence for refugees?” Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts University created the nation’s first refugee farming project in 1998, which focused on teaching them how to transition from being gardeners, to market gardeners, to independent farmers. We hope that our program allows them to eventually take their own produce to market, operate their own stand, and know what to plant each season.



Whoever Controls the Food System Controls Democracy: Vandana Shiva’s Take on the Profit-Driven Food System

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By Ronica Lu

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. Tune in on the 28th via livestream: we will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Vandana Shiva is also the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. (Photo credit: BarillaCFN)

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s recent publication, Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, features an interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist and the founder of Navdanya—a movement for the conservation of biodiversity and rights of farmers.

According to Shiva, the rising number of hungry people, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the loss of soil fertility are being caused by a profit-motivated model of farming. This model, which is practiced all over the world, tends to forget, she says, “the nutrition of the soil and nourishment of the people, and essentially produces non-food,” such as maize and soybeans. This non-food, according to Shiva, becomes junk food which perpetuates obesity and chronic disease and contributes to environmental problems.

Developing countries should act now to prevent climate change and disease from getting worse by treating small farmers as valuable social capital, according to Shiva. Small farms produce a large share of healthy food, she says, including indigenous vegetables and grains. If small-scale farmers imitate the large scale industrial farming of the West, says Shiva, livelihoods of farmers will be destroyed along with food security.



Nourishing the Planet TV: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

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In this week’s episode, research intern Graham Salinger discusses the natural regeneration methods being used in the Sahel region of Africa to bring back indigenous trees and improve the livelihoods of traditional farmers.


To read more about farmer-managed natural regeneration, see: Innovation of the Week: “Re-Greening” the Sahel through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Farmers of the Future – Building the Curriculum

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Check out Eliminate Poverty Now’s work with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Pencils for Kids to develop Farmers of the Future, a project that is using the classroom and small demonstration gardens to teach children in West Africa about farming techniques that will improve diets and livelihoods. Below is a post written by Eliminate Poverty Now’s John Craig for the project’s blog that discusses how he and his partner, Judy, are working to develop the classroom curriculum for the pilot program. To learn more about Farmers of the Future, check out Nourishing the Planet’s interview with Robin Mednick, Executive Director and Vice President of Pencils for Kids and John Craig last October.

Eliminate_Poverty_Now_ICRISAT One of the four major strategies of Eliminate Poverty Now is to promote economic development through agriculture, to encourage farmers to make the leap from subsistence farming to agribusiness. It requires changing what they grow, how they grow it and how they sell it.There’s a more detailed description at our website if you’re interested.

Problem is, many adults resist the change. They’ve raised the same crops in the same way for generations and they’re often set in their ways. But children are open and receptive to new ideas. (more…)


Harnessing Local Resources for Community Development: An Interview with Salibo Some

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Interview by Abby Massey

Salibo Some is the Director of the Africa Sustainable Development Council (ASUDEC) in Burkina Faso. This interview is the second post in a series about Salibo and his work with ASUDEC. To read the first part of this series, see Transitioning from Subsistence to Entrepreneurship.

What are the main obstacles that small scale farmers face in sub-Saharan Africa—and specifically in Burkina Faso?

Salibo Some is the Director of the Africa Sustainable Development Council (ASUDEC) in Burkina Faso. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Farmers’ problems cannot be singled out off the global development problems.  To me, there are 3 fundamental development problems that are faced in sub-Saharan Africa:

1)      Water control:  Water is a source of life; meaning that wherever there is water, food security, biodiversity and overall livelihood can be enhanced.

2)      Population growth: Birth is a desperate solution to insecure life in poor communities or a genuine religious weapon for some religious groups.  While in the first case any death is seen as a big loss, in the second case, death is generally endorsed to God and life is unvalued.  In both cases however, continued birth is guided by fatalism, and leads to chronicle hardships and unsustainability.  Family planning is critical to maintain a balanced population/resources ratio that will enable durable food security, biodiversity, overall livelihood and global peace.

3)      Education: Education is the panacea to all problems.  I mean by “education”, awareness improvement, literacy, skill development, and civic education.  Good education improves the hearth, the head and the hands of the learner so as to promote wisdom, knowledge and skills.   A good education should provide the basic understanding that environment is everything, including oneself, his “likes” and “dislikes” and that every element of the environment has a critical role to play and therefore, must be preserved and valued.  Education must be promoted by all means in order to ensure long term resiliency of the world community and to preserve humanity. (more…)


Transforming Vegetables into Products

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Vegetables are not only nutritious, but add taste and variety to staple foods, such sorghum, rice, and maize. But tomatoes, okra, and leafy greens, including amaranth, spiderwiki and other vegetables indigenous to Africa tend to have a short shelf life. Most are only available part of the year. During the “hungry” season before the rains come, rural communities have few ingredients available to add flavor to the staples they depend.

Danielle Nierenberg meets with staff at The World Vegetable Center in Bamako, Mali. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

At the AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center office outside of Bamako, Mali, however, researchers and scientists are working with farmers to make vegetables  available year-round through different preservation techniques. Theresa Endres, a community development specialist, is working with women farmers to determine not only which vegetables can be “transformed” into different products, but what products the women will actually want to use. Okra powder, for example, which is made from drying and then grinding okra, is commonly used in Mali for sauces; powdered tomato products, however, aren’t and the women prefer using fresh tomatoes for cooking.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), up to 50 percent of crops is wasted before it ever reaches the dinner table in Africa, making it more important than ever to find ways to preserve and transform food so that it’s available all year long.

Stay tuned for more on innovations that prevent waste in the food system State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which will be released in January 2011.


Banana Wilt: The Spreading Menace

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By Abisola Adekoya

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.

For more on managing plant disease, see:   The Birds, the Bees…and Plants and Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Follow Nature’s Need.

Abisola Adekoya is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.


Making Sure the Food Industry Works for its Employees

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This is the first in a series of blogs Nourishing the Planet will be writing about workers in the food system.

There is a growing awareness about the importance of making food choices that are both good for our bodies and for the environment. Organic and locally grown food are increasingly popular among foodies, as are the grocery stores and farmers markets that sell it. But, as a recent article from Food First highlights, one link missing from this socially and environmentally conscious food chain is the workers who grow, process, prepare, and serve that food—and who are often underpaid and mistreated.

Food preparation and serving related jobs are the lowest paid of any industry, meaning that food and agricultural workers often can't afford to buy food. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Many people employed by the food industry are unable to afford the price of the very food they prepare and serve. Food preparation and serving related jobs are the lowest paid of any industry, meaning that food and agricultural workers often can’t afford to buy food–in 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 45 percent of farm workers were found to be food insecure and 48 percent were on food stamps.

In addition, the threat of deportation and aggressive anti-union campaigns help to exploit and isolate undocumented immigrants, the most vulnerable—and fastest growing—sector of workers in food preparation and service. In the meatpacking industry alone, 20 to 50 percent of workers are undocumented and research from 2006 showed that 24 percent of farm workers, 12 percent of food preparation workers, and 27 percent of butchers and food processors were also undocumented.  Meanwhile, nationwide, union density has dropped from 35 percent in the 1940’s to the current 12 percent.

While state laws—such as the recent one passed in Arizona demanding the arrest of people unable to produce documentation of citizenship— call for harsh punishment for undocumented laborers, the food industry benefits from the unequal dynamic between these same workers and their employers. In California, for example, undocumented workers “gross economic contribution through sales, income, and property taxes, was $45,000/person (including children) in 1994.” But the workers themselves each made on average, only $8,840 per year.

If the mainstream media isn’t yet talking about the injustice in the food industry’s treatment of food and agriculture workers, then workers, farmers, and other activists are taking up the call themselves.  In Florida, for example, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers— a community-based organization comprised mainly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs in Florida— is working to promote fair wage, improved safety regulations, and the right to organize on the job, among others. In California, Swanton Berry Farms, an organic farm that promotes fair labor practices, makes sure all of its employees are members of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) affiliated union, United Farm Workers of America (UFW). And nation-wide, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition of worker-based organizations that include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is working to promote fair wages and working conditions for all members of the food industry.


Girl Up: Helping Girls around the Globe Help Each Other

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Through Girl Up, girls in the United States can find information about, and provide monetary donations to, projects that help girls in developing countries gain access to education, healthcare, clean water, food, and more. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In the Amhara area of northern Ethiopia half of adolescent girls are married by the age fifteen. Sesuagno Mola, for example, a young woman growing up in the region, was married at the age of five and was only fourteen when she had her first child.

In the United States most adolescent girls lead very different lives than girls in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the developing world. Most are not married and raising families. And most— unlike the 600 million girls growing up in developing countries all around the world— have access to education, basic health care, clean drinking water, and proper nutrition. In order to help connect these two very different groups of young girls, the United Nations Foundation (UNF) recently started the Girl Up campaign.

Since 1998, UNF has raised funds to support United Nations (UN) run programs and causes around the world. Through Girl Up, girls in the United States can find information about, and provide monetary donations to, projects that help girls in developing countries gain access to education, healthcare, clean water, food, and more. This additional funding for development programs targeted towards young girls is especially important because, according to Girl Up, the majority of current global development funding does not reach girls. (See Panelists Call for Women’s Important Role in Alleviating Global Hunger to be Reflected in Agriculture Funding and Women Farmers: An Untapped Solution to Global Hunger )

“One of the things I think is important for girls in the US to know is that not every girl living in every country has the same opportunities that [they] do,” says Girl Up Campaign Director Kim Perry in a promotional video on the organization’s website. Girl Up also provides tool kits that include photos and video so that girls can inform their family, friends, and peers about the importance of supporting international development programs that focus on empowering girls.

Thanks to funding from the Girl Up campaign—Sesuagno, along with other girls in the Amhara region, is receiving education and support from the Berhane Hewan project. Berhane Hewan is working to delay marriage and support adolescent girls in the area by promoting education. The project offers basic literacy classes, information about family planning, agricultural training, instructions on how to improve daily household chores, and money saving tips. Berhane Hewan also provides incentives to families—such as a sheep —to encourage them to send their daughters to school. In addition, the organization offers similar opportunities for girls who are already married.

Berhane Hewan training, for example, provided Sesuagno with the skills to build a more efficient cooking stove for her kitchen. The stove burns longer and with less fuel, and emits smoke out the back instead of the front— reducing the time Sesuagno spends collecting firewood and the risk of diseases caused by smoke inhalation. (See Building a Methane-Fueled Fire and Got Biogas? )

For more on innovations that are engaging people in the United States to alleviate global hunger and poverty, and on the importance of supporting women farmers, see Creating a Roadmap for Environmentally Sustainable Meat Production, Dishing Up New Ideas in Davos: What a Greenmarket Chef has to do with Hunger, Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women, Farming on the Urban Fringe, Building a Methane Fueled Fire, Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value, Women Farmers Are Key to Halving Global Hunger by 2015, For Many Women, Improved Access to Water is About More than Having Something to Drink, and Reducing the Things They Carry.


Innovation of the Week: “Re-Greening” the Sahel Through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

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(Photo: Chris Reij)

For centuries, farmers in the Sahel—a band of land that crosses Africa at the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert—used rotational tree farming to provide year-round harvests and a consistent source of food, fuel, and fertilizer. But severe droughts and rapid population growth in the 1970s and 80s significantly degraded the Sahel’s farmland, leading to the loss of many indigenous tree species and leaving the soil barren and eroded. With the loss of the trees went the knowledge, traditions, and practices that had kept the region fertile for hundreds of years.

To save the land as well as local livelihoods, many traditional management practices are now being revived. One inexpensive method of farming that helps to restore the Sahel’s degraded land is so-called Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) (see also Millions Fed: “Re-Greening the Sahel: Farmer-led Innovation in Burkina Faso and Niger”). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs, farmers can promote forest growth and take advantage of a naturally occurring source of fuel, food, or animal fodder.

The trees produce fruit rich in nutrients and help to restore the soil by releasing nitrogen and protecting the ground from erosion by wind and rain. The cultivated but naturally occurring forest also creates a local source of firewood and mulch, reducing the time spent in gathering fuel for cooking meals and cleaning households (see Reducing the Things They Carry). The practice also cuts down on deforestation as the trees that are used for fuel are replaced with seedlings and tended by farmers.

“Farmer-managed natural regeneration is a fairly simple technique, but it produces multiple benefits,” explained Chris Reij, a natural resources management specialist with the Center for International Cooperation (and advisor to the Nourishing the Planet Project), at an Oxfam-hosted panel on locally driven agriculture innovations in Washington, D.C., last October. “Sometimes planting trees make sense, but in terms of costs and long-time success, in many cases it makes more sense to use natural regeneration.”

As important as the technique itself is, even more important is making sure that farmers in the Sahel know about it. When farmers learn how they can benefit from the practice, they are quick to adopt it, improving their own livelihoods and food security while regenerating local forests. Reij attributes the overwhelming success of FMNR in Niger—where many villages have 10–20 times more trees than 20 years ago—to the reduced central-government presence in rural areas. With the government distracted by political conflict, forest management now belongs almost completely to the local farmers who benefit from FMNR the most. (See also Aid Groups, Farmers Collaborate to Re-Green Sahel.)

To ensure that even more farmers know about FMNR and its benefits, the Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA), a joint project between African Re-Greening Initiatives (ARI), the Web Foundation, and VU Amsterdam, is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers. Meanwhile, the organization SahelEco has initiated two projects, Trees Outside the Forest and the Re-Greening the Sahel Initiative, to encourage policymakers, farmers’ organizations, and government leaders throughout the region to provide the support and legislation needed to put the responsibility of managing trees on agricultural land into the hands of farmers.

To read more about agroforestry and other ways that agriculture can restore degraded land, see: An Evergreen Revolution? Using Trees to Nourish the PlanetIt’s About More Than Trees at the World Agroforestry Centre, Trees as Crops in Africa, and Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use.