Posts Tagged ‘research’


Join a Global Discussion on Improving Nutrition Through Agriculture

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition, a United Nations project working to inform decision-making on food and nutrition issues, has launched an open discussion on the use of agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition. The discussion, which has already begun, will run through October 3, 2012. It will then be leveraged at global agenda-setting events, consistent with past Global Forum discussions.

The Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition has launched an open discussion on the use of agriculture programming and policy to improve nutrition (Photo Credit: FAO)

The current discussion, “Making Agriculture Work for Nutrition: Prioritizing Country-level Action, Research and Support,” will center on the following questions:

  1. If you were designing an agricultural investment program, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?
  2. To support the design and implementation of this program, where would you like to see more research done, and why?
  3. What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?

Through this online discussion, the Global Forum aims to assess the international dialogue on improving nutrition through food and agriculture in order to both identify and prioritize “actions needed at [the] country-level, research gaps, and support needed.”

This online discussion takes place before the meetings of several prominent food and agriculture organizations that will be held over the next few months, including SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition), CFS (Committee on World Food Security), GCARD (Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development), and CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme). The Global Forum will ensure that all online contributions to the discussion are incorporated into these meetings.

To participate in this discussion and become a part of the global dialogue on agriculture and nutrition, click here. The discussion closes on October 3, 2012.

What do you think needs to be done to improve nutrition through agriculture in your country? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below in addition to participating in the Global Forum discussion.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

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


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

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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.


The Next Three Decades of Food in East Asia

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By Arielle Golden

The U. S. Grains Council has released a report highlighting predicted changes in food and agriculture in East Asia over the next three decades. The report, Food 2040: The Future of Food and Agriculture in East Asia comes amid a growing number of reports on the future of the world’s food supply.

Image credit: U. S. Grains Council

The report is a based on five main areas of research: consumer trends, competitive and regulatory landscape, food technology, agriculture and food distribution and packaging, and the environment and resources. The result is a forward-looking approach at how the interacting forces of the globe will drive the food system in the coming decades. It seeks to discover how ingenuity, technology, and resilience could create positive outcomes for East Asia.

The research considers trends like a predicted era of hyper-nichification in which specialty and value-added foods dominate the East Asian market, and the projected increase in demand for food as a result of a growing middle class throughout East Asia.

Click here for the full report.

Arielle Golden 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. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


UN Report Highlights Marine Sector’s Potential for Sustainable Economic Growth

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By Eleanor Fausold

What if we could take better care of the world’s marine ecosystems and boost the global economy in the process? A recent report, Green Economy in a Blue World, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WorldFish Center, and GRID-Arendal suggests that by promoting practices such as renewable energy generation, ecotourism, and sustainable fishing, we can improve the health of the world’s marine ecosystems while also boosting their potential to contribute to economic growth. 

Small-scale producers must also benefit from industry improvements. (Photo credit: USAID Bangladesh)

For each of six marine-related economic sectors, Green Economy in a Blue World lays out a series of recommendations based on the current state of the resource including:

1. Fisheries and Aquaculture

With 50 percent of the world’s fish stocks fully exploited and another 32 percent overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, aquaculture is growing in popularity as a way to meet the rising global demand for fish. But aquaculture can also be harmful when it is poorly planned, and in such cases it can actually increase stress on suffering marine and coastal ecosystems. Technologies that encourage low-impact and fuel-efficient fishing methods, as well as aquaculture production systems that use environmentally-friendly feeds and reduce fossil fuel use, could reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and strengthen its role in reducing poverty and improving economic growth and food and nutrition security. The report also recommends strengthening regional and national fisheries agencies and community and trade fishing associations to encourage sustainable and equitable use of marine resources. It also suggests that there is a need for policies that ensure that the benefits of these industry improvements also impact small-scale producers and traders, particularly in developing nations.    



Knowing is Saving: a Water Impact Calculator to Help Indian Farmers Conserve Water

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

The world is in crisis-a food crisis with prices rising, one out of seven people go to bed hungry, and our water resources continue to deplete. This year’s World Water Day (22 March 2012) theme,  “Water and Food Security”,  debates both these issues and highlights the importance of agriculture and food in the water debate, given agriculture is the main water user.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

Every 3 years since 1997, the World Water Forum has been bringing together water experts and policymakers, private sector and civil society actors, and farmer organisations, interested in the future of our precious and limited freshwater resources. Until now the forum has raised the key problems of water scarcity, water pollution, and water usage conflicts around the world.

But this year, the forum organisers in Marseille claim that it is time for action-it is time to find solutions, to fight this looming water crisis.

One important challenge in the coming years is to invent new ways of farming, able to produce more with less water, as explained in my previous post on green water.

But how do we make this happen rapidly, in particular for the resource-poor farmers in the Global South?



Canadian Research Center Helps Fund Projects Addressing Global Food Security

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By Graham Salinger

In many developing countries, poor people spend more than half their income on food, but many of them are not getting enough nutrients to stay healthy. The International Development Research Center (IDRC) is working to change that problem. Founded by an act of Canadian Parliament in 1970, IDRC works with research institutions and universities to advance the well being of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. IDRC has provided CA$2.8 billion in grants since its founding with a focus on agricultural programs that increase food security in the developing world and grow local rural and urban economies. Research funded by IDRC is helping find ways to help small-scale farmers deal with shocks to food prices and utilize technologies to enhance agricultural productivity.

A woman and dairy goat in Kibosho, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Erwin Kinsey, LEISA Magazine)

In 2011, IDRC funded long term agricultural projects to help farmers deal with economic pressures and increased threats posed by climate change. In Kenya, IDRC funding has allowed researchers at McGill University and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to identify and develop appropriate and durable farming techniques for dryland agriculture while increasing access to markets for Kenyan farmers.

In the Dodoma and Morogoro regions of Tanzania, IDRC is funding research that will help increase goat milk and meat production. The research, conducted by the University of Alberta and The Sokoine University of Agriculture, will test and analyze improved cassava and sweet potato varieties as part of a feeding strategy for dairy goats and efforts to strengthen food production. This research highlights the importance of livestock production in the region.  Goats rank second to cattle in the contribution of livestock to income and human nutrition, and 90 percent of rural households in Tanzania keep livestock.



Looking for Borlaug Field Award Nominations

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The World Food Prize is currently looking for nominations for its first annual Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.

The World Food Prize is currently looking for nominations for its first annual Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. (Photo credit: World Food Prize)

This award aims to recognize exceptional, science-based achievement in international agriculture and food production by an individual under 40 who has devoted time, effort and stamina towards the fight to eliminate global hunger and poverty.

Nominations for the award will be accepted online through June 30. The chosen recipient will be honored during a ceremony as part of the World Food Prize international symposium, the “Borlaug Dialogue,” and related events taking place October 17-19, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa.

If you know someone who should be nominated for this award, please click here for more details.

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


Global Governance for Food Security: new report shows optimism for progress

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Nora McKeon, an expert on food systems, recently wrote a report on the current state of global food governance. The report, “Global Governance for World Food Security: A Scorecard Four Years After the Eruption of the ‘Food Crisis,’” was released by the political non-profit organization Heinrich Böll Stiftung and highlights some of the global problems and potential in the aftermath of recent food price volatility.

A new report highlights how we can shape our global food system governance. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

According to the report, “the eruption of the food crisis in late 2007-2008 unveiled a vacuum in global governance,” which has been dominated by international corporations and free-trade focused countries. One response to the crisis was a restructuring of the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in an attempt to shape it into a potent international forum for food security. In October, 2010, the CFS sided with civil society organizations and governments of developing countries, agreeing to investigate food price volatility, financial speculation, and “land grabbing” by foreign corporations. The CFS seems to have loosened the control that free-trade advocates, the World Bank, and multinational corporations have long enjoyed over these issues.

The CFS may be “at the centre of a better global governance system,” says the report, based on the principles surrounding food sovereignty and the right to food. The task of overcoming the immense power of agri-business and developed nations is a daunting one, and in order to shift the focus of food issues from trade to human rights, the report calls for “civil society participation [to] be sustained and strengthened.”

The issue of global food system governance is incredibly complicated. What are some ways that you see everyday people in “civil society” getting involved? Let us know in the comments!

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


Innovation of the week: Using Ants and Termites to Increase Crop Yields

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By Graham Salinger

With around 1 billion hungry people globally, finding a way to improve crop production remains a challenge.  This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa.  Sub-Saharan Africa faces an extraordinary soil fertility crisis which decreases crop yield and contributes to food shortages.  Local farmers report that they can no longer maintain soil fertility and that harvests are declining 15–25 percent a year. Most farmers expect that within the next five years their harvests will drop by half, and some villages are already dependent on food aid. One way that farmers are working to increase crop yield, however, is through the use of termites and ants.

Recent research conducted by scientist at the University of Sydney reveals that ants could also help farmers increase crop yields. (Photo credit: Theo Evans, CSIRO Entomology)

Recent research conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney reveals that ants could also help farmers increase crop yields. The findings show that termites and ants improve soil fertility in drylands by digging tunnels that allow plants greater access to water. The research also found that termites provide plants additional nutrients because they increase the amount of nitrogen contained in soil.  This is done through nitrogen heavy bacteria in their stomach, which allows them to transmit nitrogen into soil through their saliva and feces.  Land that was treated with ants and termites showed a 36 percent increase in the amount of wheat produced. This research gives new scientific insight into how using termites and ants effectively reduces water waste while improving crop yield.

Using termites to improve crop production is widely practiced in Africa. Africa is home to more than 660 species of termites and while many of them destroy crops, especially exotic crops like maize and sugarcane, farmers in Africa have found innovative ways to integrate termites into their farming systems. In many parts of West Africa farmers place wood on soil in order to attract termites to the soil. In Burkina Faso, farmers bury manure in holes near newly planted grains in hopes that the manure will attract termites to their soil.



Farmers embrace new technologies to get healthy banana planting material

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By Catherine Njuguna

Catherine Njuguna is the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture‘s  (IITA) Regional Corporate Communications Officer for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Kagimbi Tharcisse, a farmer in eastern Burundi, lifts up the transparent polythene sheet and delicately pulls back some soil to proudly show the tiny banana plantlets growing underneath. Small and delicate, they will be gently taken care of for two months. Each will then be replanted in polythene bags, to grow bigger and stronger and in three months, it will be ready for the farmers’ fields.

Tharcisse proudly shows the little banana plantlets in the special sterilized chamber. (Photo credit: Catherine Njuguna)

The banana plantlets were obtained through a more complicated process compared to the traditional way of growing banana using suckers—these are the daughters growing at the base of the mother plant that farmers uproot from their own farms or buy from a neighbor. It is a slow method of obtaining planting material and it easily spreads pests and diseases from one farm to another if the suckers are not properly selected and treated.

However, this new technology, known as macropropagation, aims at overcoming these two challenges—it allows the rapid production of pest-free planting material. In this new procedure, Tharcisse explains, one starts by selecting a vigorous healthy-looking sucker—the type that only has very thin pointed leaves—and using a large knife peels off the dirt and roots. Next, it is immersed in hot boiling water for 30 seconds to kill any pests. The outer leaf sheaths are then carefully peeled off to expose the meristem—the growing part at the center of the plant.