In rural Africa, over 90 percent of people do not have access to electricity. To address this problem, Solar Nexus International (SNI) has designed a contained system of solar power generation that can be installed relatively quickly and easily.
Solar Nexus connects all the distinct components of an off-the-grid electricity system. (Image credit: Solar Nexus International)
The heart of this operation is the SolarNexus, a small device that links wires, transformers, converters, inverters, and batteries required in an off-grid electricity system. Through this device, Solar Nexus hopes to fulfill its mission for “solar empowerment through market-based development of local solar energy resources worldwide.”
Typically, it takes a fair amount of knowledge and training to set up an electricity generating system. Whether solar, hydropower, or wind, transforming captured energy into useful electricity requires a variety of different hardware, not always available in developing countries. If any of this hardware is improperly installed, or if wires are not the proper size, the efficiency of the system suffers severely. When these systems are installed in developing countries, high-grade wires are usually not used because they are too expensive or not available, and as a result less electricity is available for use. In order to overcome this problem, Solar Nexus International custom-designs a system for each client, and then ships out a container that includes all the wires and materials needed for a U.S. code-compliant system. Once the shipment is received, the provided instructions allow local electricians to install the system. As a result of high quality and correctly sized wiring and components, communities will be able to get as much energy as possible from the unit, sacrificing nothing to poor wiring.
In this week’s episode, we discuss school feeding programs that are helping children and their families in many parts of Africa, where 60 percent of children come to school in the morning without breakfast, if they attend school at all. But, programs such as the The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), are helping to provides school meals for about 20 million children in Africa.
In March 2011, the Equal Exchange banana team traveled to northern Peru to learn more about two cooperatives of small-scale banana farmers: APOQ (made up of 440 farmers) and CEPIBO (made up of 1400 farmers).
Watch this short video to learn more about small-farmer supply chains, how bananas grow, and how Equal Exchange and small farmers are working together to offer a different banana.
In this week’s episode, research intern Christina Wright discusses Sylvia Banda’s entrepreneurial efforts in Zambia. Since 1986, Banda has created small businesses like Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited. Her businesses have successfully created markets for local farmers and emphasized local cooking methods.
More trusted than the evening television or the internet, newspapers and radio broadcasts are consumers preference for their news. But what if it also helped put food on our plates and increased our incomes? Ottawa-based Farm Radio International is hoping that its radio programs will be able to do just that.
In Mali, farmers are benefiting from up-to-date information provided by various means of communication, including the radio. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Despite the fact that the number of hungry people worldwide is nearly 1 billion people, funding for agricultural development has been steadily declining. Much of the funding that does exist is directed towards ‘one-size-fits-all’ innovations that are often expensive and inaccessible to those most in need. But for the millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, dependent on their small-scale farms to feed their families and bring in an income, there are a multitude of inexpensive and relatively easy steps that they could take to improve their harvest yields and their livelihoods.
Even more important than coming up with new agricultural innovations, is getting information about the agricultural innovations that work to the farmers that need them. What farmers in Africa might need turns out to be much closer to what we’ve come to enjoy in our homes every day.
This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers:What works?Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!
A farmer may have the secret technique for growing bushels and bushels of potatoes, but without a connection to the market, that extra yield is not worth much. Whether they’re carting goods by bicycle to nearby towns or selling their crop to a middleman, getting produce to the market means income for farmers.
These are just some the programs helping to connect farmers to the market. Tell us what works! (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)
In Sudan’s Kebkabyia province, Abdall Omer Saeedo, a vegetable producer, has to travel 10 kilometers twice a week to the nearest market to sell his crops, including green fodder. Without a cart or truck, he paid others to pack and transport his crops. But the money he earned wasn’t enough to cover his production, packing, and transport costs. Nor did it cover the cost of seeds for the next season, education for his children, and other household needs. The UK charity Practical Action helped Saeedo by working with local metal workers to design and build a cart he could use with his donkey to transport his goods to and from the market twice a week.
Practical Action has also developed a project that provides farmers in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Kenya with bicycle trailers that can carry over 400 pounds of goods to market.
In Cape Town, South Africa, Abalimi Bezekhaya has converted several empty lots in the township into gardens run by 6 to 8 farmers who grow organic vegetables and indigenous plants. And in 2008, Abalimi Bezekhaya began their Harvest of Hope program, purchasing surplus produce from their different plots, packaging them in boxes, and delivering the boxes to area schools where parents can purchase them to take home. (more…)
This is the first part in a two-part interview with Steve Osofsky, Director of Wildlife Health Policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). In this first part of the interview, Osofsky discusses how his field work informs his policy work, as well as how farmers can both help, and benefit from, wildlife conservation.
Bio: Steve Osofsky is Director of Wildlife Health Policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Before coming to WCS, Dr. Osofsky had been with the World Wildlife Fund since 1998, serving as WWF’s Director, Field Support for species programs in Asia and Africa. Dr. Osofsky is also is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maryland, and has served on eight IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Groups. Previously, he was the first Wildlife Veterinary Officer for the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and then a AAAS Science and Diplomacy Fellow serving as a Biodiversity Program Specialist at USAID. He developed and now manages the Animal & Human Health for the Environment And Development (AHEAD) Program for WCS, one of the foundational components of the WCS ‘One World, One Health‘ initiative.
(Photo credit: WCS)
You started out as a wildlife veterinarian. Why did you make the transition from being a wildlife vet on the ground in Africa to policy work?
As a field veterinarian- for example, when I was the wildlife vet for the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks-I had a very interesting portfolio involving research and management and yet, over time, I was getting concerned that the work wasn’t exactly having the type of wider impact I was hoping for. In other words, it’s not usually the wildlife vet on the ground who influences a parliament’s decisions or a minister’s decisions on whether a particular area will have wilderness or wheat, cattle or carnivores, in the future. And I got more and more interested in the land-use dimensions and the policy arena which seemed of more direct relevance to the development trajectories of the countries I had experience working in. I think as conservationists we all struggle a bit in terms of trying to pragmatically link our science efforts to policy.
But I think my field experience is critical to my work. If I’d never been in the field, if I’d never been a hands-on vet and gotten into the nitty-gritty, I wouldn’t have been effective on the policy side. I think it’s really important to have people in the policy arena who have experience in the real world, if you will, so that those two levels can be properly connected. Because it’s people who’ve been out there—whether they were working for foreign governments like I was or whether it was through an entity (in the case of Americans) like the Peace Corps— people who are able to see things through the eyes of local stakeholders— those people can really contribute in the policy arena. It is really important to bring that perspective with you to the policy side of things.
What is an example of something happening on the ground that you are better able to address through your policy work?
What we are working on right now with the Animal & Human Health for the Environment And Development (AHEAD) program, in southern Africa in particular, is land use policy, which is in many ways driven by agricultural policy. Specifically, it’s often driven by the desire to get beef to international markets like Europe. And to make a long story short, right now under current international agreements, in order to get beef out of southern Africa you have to have geographically zoned management of diseases like foot and mouth disease (a virus harbored by the African buffalo). At the ground level you can sort of get a sense of the conflicts that that presents: the migratory patterns of wild animals get cut off by miles and miles of fencing; the impact that has on natural resources over time; and the opportunity costs to communities that don’t have a more diversified income stream. Nature-based tourism (photographic safaris, trophy hunting, etc.) now contributes about as much to the gross domestic product of southern Africa as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries combined – a remarkable and relatively recent development documented by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. However, the management of wildlife and livestock diseases (including zoonoses – diseases transmissible between animals and people) within the southern Africans’ vision of larger transboundary landscapes remains unresolved and an emerging policy issue of major concern to livestock production, associated access to export markets, and other sectors, including public health, in the region. Livestock farming is, of course, an important traditional way for communities in sub-Saharan Africa to build and maintain wealth, not to mention attain food security. Essentially, the transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) concept and current internationally accepted approaches to the management of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) are largely incompatible. The TFCA concept promotes free movement of wildlife over large geographic areas across international boundaries, whereas the present approach to the control of TADs is to use vast fences to prevent movement of susceptible animals between areas where TADs occur and areas where they do not, and to similarly restrict trade in commodities derived from animals. In short, the incompatibility between (a) current regulatory approaches for the control of diseases of agro-economic importance and (b) the vision of vast conservation landscapes with fewer major fences needs to be reconciled now that SADC countries have chosen to pursue transfrontier conservation initiatives in the interest of regional risk-diversification of land-use options and livelihood opportunities.
Furthermore, if you are constrained by these fences and can only manage livestock , then that has implications in terms of your adaptability and your resilience in the face of things like climate change. So, I saw on the ground, the implications— over decades—of what happened when some countries fenced extensive portions of their grazing lands and what that did to wildlife. And it’s a very intractable problem at the ground level because it’s really driven by the policies of the European Union (EU), for example, by international policies regulating the trade of livestock products. By looking at that set of issues from a policy perspective and how that relates to economic growth and to food security, I think we have a better chance of finding compromises. In the context of the work we’re doing now, looking at ways to help countries to reconnect some of their conservation areas by maybe even realigning some of these fences, that’s only going to happen through policy intervention, and as a hands-on field vet, I don’t think I would have been able to even try to navigate this. Then again, if I had never been a field vet, I don’ think I would have developed an understanding of these complex challenges in a grounded way.
Can you talk about the relationship between wildlife and food systems?
You know, if you are in much of rural, southern or East Africa, there is a lot of tension between farmers and wildlife. A lot of it comes down to human/wildlife conflict, whether you are talking about elephants or buffalo eating crops or people getting killed by elephants, buffalo, crocodiles or hippos. There is a lot of tension there. And if local people, farmers, pastoralists, don’t derive a benefit from local wildlife, they are going to continue to oppose sharing land with wildlife. We see that time and time again. So I think we have to recognize that wildlife has a significant cost for people and those costs have to be dealt with.
As an example from a veterinary point of view, one of the things that some colleagues of mine did in Kenya, was look at people’s relationship with carnivores. If you are a Maasai pastoralist and you see the remnants of one of your calves and you see pug marks from a lion next to it, you are going to have a very visceral reaction. And you are going to want to exact retribution, get rid of the lion that you think caused this loss. And what this group of vets did, is they started to look at what was really impacting the livestock and livelihoods for these pastoralists. And to make a long story short, what they found, in that case, was that there were quite a few basic local diseases—often tick-born disease and parasitic diseases—that were literally having orders of magnitude more impact on the livelihoods of pastoralists. In other words, their milk and meat production was being much more significantly impacted by these locally present diseases than it was by occasional predation. By providing intervention and training and empowering local people to be able to deal with the very common veterinary issues, while at the same time educating people about the value of wildlife and some of the economic benefits that they were deriving— and could derive—from things like tourism, in the case of Kenya, they were able to raise the threshold of tolerance among the pastoralists for the occasional livestock losses. I am not saying this is easy to do, but there is clearly a logic to looking at livelihood issues more holistically.
Now, why didn’t the Maasai deal with this before the vets got there? The Maasai knew these diseases were there—they are part of the background noise, if you will, of raising cattle in Kenya. But they didn’t have all of the tools that could help them. They didn’t have any modern vaccines or treatments. And with some of these very cost-effective interventions, like I said, they were able to increase their productivity, and by linking the service and the training that was provided to some agreements about how to interact with local wildlife, it was a real win –win. I know that in Nourishing the Planet’s travels you’ve been out to see the COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation) program in Zambia, which is very similar. It’s looking at how to increase people’s threshold of tolerance for wildlife by providing agricultural extension opportunities, and taking out the middle man and helping people secure better prices for what they produce. People begin to have a greater appreciation for the wildlife sector and at the same time, as wildlife rebounds, thanks to changes in attitudes and behavior, people can begin to increase their own economic opportunities: building bush camps for tourists as has happened with COMACO, developing jobs that service the tourist industry- whether it’s providing chickens to the local lodge or providing tours. COMACO helps people to see the value of a diversified portfolio. And in addition, in much of southern Africa, we are going to see changes in climate; we are going to see many places get much drier. And in those conditions, wildlife can be much more resilient—wildlife that has evolved in these areas for millennia. When it rains, great. Livestock can do well. But what we are trying to do in our conservation program is provide more resilience to livelihood opportunities and link them to more than just livestock—it’s very rarely an either/ or, livestock or wildlife. It’s often likely to be both. We are looking to make wildlife and livestock more compatible by dealing with diseases, by dealing with human/wildlife conflict, and at the same time seeking economic opportunity in both of these arenas.
“I would like to see more agriculture funding allocated to capacity building of small-scale farmers to innovate and respond to risks; for instance in post-harvest handling, branding their produces, forecasting market opportunities etc.”
2. Shree kumar Maharjan, Nepal says:
“I think hard cash money should be invested to reduce food insecurity and hunger focusing developing countries. At the same time, we should also think to have little or no environmental impacts, as climate change is major concern for most of the developing countries. Poor and vulnerable countries and people are mostly at risk from climate change impacts rather than developed and rich ones. So money should be invested to build adaptive capacity of the rural poor by diversifying their livelihood options to reduce food insecurity and hunger in the world.”
“It seems to me that more–way more–funding needs to go toward a) training programs that advance appropriate technology in agriculture (read, alternatives to resource-, chemical-, and fertilizer-intensive conventional practices), and b) mechanisms that make well-designed and implemented micro-credit lending available to small farmers everywhere.”
Read other responses:
Part 1: Dave Andrews (USA), Dave Johnstone (Cameroon), & Pierre Castagnoli (Italy). Part 2: Paul Sinandja (Togo), Dov Pasternak (Niger), & Pascal Pulvery (France). Part 3: Christine McCulloch (UK), Hans R Herren (VA), & Amadou Niang (Mali). Part 4: Michel Koos (Netherlands), Don Seville (USA), & RonGretlarson. Part 5: Shahul Salim, Roger Leakey (Kenya), & Monty P Jones (Ghana). Part 6: Calestous Juma (USA), Ray Anderson (USA),&Rob Munro (Zambia). Part 7 : Tom Philpott (USA), Grace Mwaura, & Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran. Part 8: Peter Mietzner (Namibia), Madyo Couto (Mozambique), & Norman Thomas Uphoff (USA)
Improving the capacity of the private and public sectors to support market-led agriculture
The FARM Program will increase access to agricultural technology, inputs, and training, as well as address current transportation and infrastructure obstacles in order to better connect producers to local and regional markets. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
To achieve these objectives, the five-year, $55-million FARM Program will increase access to agricultural technology, inputs, and training, as well as address current transportation and infrastructure obstacles in order to better connect producers to local and regional markets. For a region that has been so steeped in war and conflict, and severely lacking in agricultural investment from both government and the donor community, Mr. Hammink noted, “It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to take a while, for sure – but our hope is to jumpstart donor interest and donor involvement.”
After giving an overview of the project, Mr. Hammink entertained questions from a diverse set of constituents working on issues like nutrition, electrification, agribusiness, research, and extension. The Sudanese Ambassador to the United States, John Ukec Lueth Ukec, asked about mechanization and transportation – two of the biggest challenges USAID will address. “In Southern Sudan, most people use hands or hooves for agricultural production,” he said, noting that in order to create a more sustainable production system, technology needs to be scaled up. Mr. Hammink responded by telling the story of introducing an ox-driven plow to farmers who had previously used only their hands. While the “new” plow is in fact a 2,500-year-old technology, it made a tremendous difference for these farmers. Mr. Hammink emphasized that there was no single solution to technological improvements and that each area might need a different approach. The question still remains of how to scale up the reach of these interventions to reach hundreds of thousands of smallholders and not just a few hundred.
Regarding transportation, Mr. Hammink said that donors are “absolutely and increasingly” addressing necessary improvements in physical infrastructure for the land-locked region of Southern Sudan. One important ongoing project is the effort to pave the 192-kilometer Juba-Nimule road, which he called the “lifeblood of Southern Sudan into Uganda.” Such improvements in infrastructure will be necessary to transport the hoped-for increase in production of cash-crops.
USAID is not working alone, but in collaboration with numerous NGOs and, of course, the Government of Southern Sudan. There are also innovative partnerships. For example, Virginia Tech university will assist the University of Juba and Catholic University of Sudan to develop a long-term strategic plan for building institutional capacity in agriculture and natural resource management, as well as to develop a suite of effective teaching, research, and extension programs.