Posts Tagged ‘Tradition’


Nourishing the Planet TV: Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets

Pin It

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.


To read more about how small business are helping local communities, see: Innovation of the Week: Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets

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.


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

Pin It

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.


I’m Beige; You’re Brown

Pin It

Check out an excerpt from the post, “I’m Beige; You’re Brown,” from Mother City Mama, a regular column by Katherine J. Barrett written for Literary Mama. Barrett is a columnist and reviews editor for Literary Mama. She is currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. She holds PhD in Botany and Ethics from the University of British Columbia in Canada and her new series chronicles what it is like to be a mother, foodie and environmentalist in Cape Town.


Cape Town, South Africa (Photo credit:

I met Wendy the morning we arrived in South Africa. She breezed through the door of our empty home with local grapes, mini-pizzas, and a bouquet of flowers. At the time, she managed my husband’s office, but Wendy has since become a family friend. She has babysat our kids, brought chocolate at Easter, and involved me in the Christmas parties she plans for a nearby orphanage. Wendy has also told me stories of her youth and early motherhood in apartheid South Africa — stories that make me question how I teach my children about race and equality.

Like citizens of most countries, Wendy received an identity number at birth. Her ID, however, established not only citizenship, but race. Apartheid — the word derives from the Afrikaans apart — rested on the principle that races must be physically separated. Classification of people by their race was therefore institutionalized.

According to her birth ID, Wendy is Coloured. This term (always capitalized under apartheid) included people of mixed ancestry, usually a combination of African, Indian, Southeast Asian, and European. While subjected to fewer restrictions than Blacks, Coloureds could not freely choose a job, a beach, a spouse, a public washroom or a place of residence.

Wendy says that her parents acquiesced to their status as a Coloured family, probably out of fear. Wendy, however, was forced to question her race at an early age. Her skin, she tells me, is lighter than that of her siblings, a fact of biology made more complex by society. She recalls standing outside a whites-only swimming pool at age five. Her older sister and aunt stood with her, all of them eager to plunge into the cool water. But the gate attendant performed his own racial assessment and permitted only Wendy and her aunt to enter. What was a five-year-old to do? Wendy swam; her sister did not.

To read the rest of “I’m Beige; You’re Brown” or other posts from Mother City Mama, check out Literary Mama.


Everyone’s Baby

Pin It

Check out an excerpt from the post, “Everyone’s Baby,” from Mother City Mama, a new regular column by Katherine j. Barrett written for Literary Mama. Barrett is a columnist and reviews editor for Literary Mama. She is currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. She holds PhD in Botany and Ethics from the University of British Columbia in Canada and her new series chronicles what it is like to be a mother, foodie and environmentalist in Cape Town.


Cape Town, South Africa (Photo credit:

Lizzie arrived at our house the week we moved to Cape Town. Our twins had just turned two, Thomas was three, and our furniture, to the best of our knowledge, was still at sea. Lizzie came as our housekeeper, and within minutes of introducing herself she pulled an apron from her purse and got down to scrubbing our empty home.

For the past three years, several days a week, Lizzie has left her own house in a nearby township and come to work at ours. She has told me of her childhood in South Africa’s Eastern Cape where she carried her own slate and chair to school each day — on her head. She has tried to explain her culture, Xhosa, and teach me its language. We’ve discussed politics from Zuma to Obama, and compared our styles of cooking cornmeal, or as it’s called here, “mealie meal.”

Mostly though, Lizzie and I have talked about motherhood. Lizzie has four children, now grown adults, but her tiny house is far from empty. Lizzie, now a grandmother, also cares for ten adopted children under the age of sixteen. Our conversations are usually spontaneous, informal. But one morning we sat down with coffee to discuss being a mother in a city as violent as Cape Town.

To read the rest of “Everyone’s Baby” or other posts from Mother City Mama, check out Literary Mama.


What Works: Connecting Farmers to Policy Makers

Pin It

By Evelyn Drawec

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!

Many farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa are isolated geographically from the large cities where policy-makers and politicians make decisions. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), roughly 70 percent of the people in Africa live in rural areas dependent on agriculture for food and livelihoods, and more than half of those people live on less than one dollar a day.


Organizations and initiatives are emerging throughout the continent to foster communication between farmers and policy makers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In response, organizations and initiatives are emerging throughout the continent to foster communication between farmers and policy makers.

In Uganda, the indigenous breeds of cattle raised by Ugandan pastoralists are threatened by policies designed to expand wildlife areas and national parks for wildlife conservation and tourism. Although political leaders come from pastoralist communities, they tend to support policies that are detrimental for the herders. The Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa(PENHA) has been working to “bridge the gap between policy-makers and pastoralists,” says Elizabeth Katushabe, a program officer with PENHA.

Through meetings and workshops with Parliamentary leaders and pastoralists, radio programs, and educational projects, PENHA is helping give the livestock herders a voice in order to protect indigenous breeds of cattle and their way of life.

Kenyan Pastoralists are also facing the same problems as their government policies push them out of their traditional grazing lands into drier regions. “Governments need to recognize that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity,” says Dr. Jacob Wanyama, a veterinarian who works to increase rights for pastoralist communities as coordinator for the African LIFE Network. (more…)


The Benefits and Value of Local Foods and Traditions

Pin It

By Sajal Sthapit

We live in a world of monoculture crops, slim farmer margins, and consumers suffering from obesity and other diet-related health problems. But reviving traditional food cultures based on diverse and locally available foods can help both the farmers, consumers, and the environment.

Two co-operatives in the Begnas and Rupa lake watersheds in Kaski, Nepal are demonstrating how small farmers can reclaim important links in the food value chain, while also continuing to produce local and traditional foods, make money and protect biodiversity and improve nutrition and health.

For further information about the co-operatives and their collaboration with Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) and partners, please contact Sajal Sthapit, Programme Coordinator at

Sajal Sthapit is a Programme Coordinator for Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) and a consultant with the Ecoagriculture Partners.


Part 58: Where Would You Like To See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

Pin It

Each week we run your responses to the question: Where Would You Like to See More Agricultural Funding Directed?

The fourth annual meeting of the worldwide Terra Madre network is taking place in Turin, Italy this week. A five-day meeting that coincides with the international Slow Food Fair, Salone del Gusto, Terra Madre brings together over 5,000 global representatives of food communities, cooks, academics, youth and musicians united in the ambition of promoting  sustainable local food production in harmony with the environment while respecting traditional knowledge and food cultures.

One of these representatives is Mangeons Local founder Seck Madieng from Senegal who will be participating in Nourishing the Planet’s workshop on Sunday, October 24th , discussing environmentally sustainable ways to relieve world hunger and rural poverty. In the below video, Seck explains why he believes agricultural funding should focus on promoting local foods to improve livelihoods and local economies.

To read more responses, see:

Part 53: Dennis Karamuzi (Rwanda), Mark Muller (USA), & @Peterballantyne (via twitter)
Part 54: King-David Amoah (Ghana), Tom Hager (USA), & Jim DeVries (USA)
Part 55: Sheila Huggins-Rao, Regassa, & Luc Maene
Part 56: Sandra Kennedy, Ian Walker (Canada), & Shenggen Fan.
Part 57: Bhavani (India), Angeline Munzara, & Yvonne Pinto


New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

Pin It

This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development‘s (ECASARD) work in Ghana.

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village’s chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described “young leader (he’s 50 years old) with a love for the environment.” He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. “We’re always thinking about how to process the crops we’re growing,” he says. According to him, farmers don’t have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but “processing gives them more leverage.”

Chief Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described “young leader with a love for the environment.” (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

One of the groups’ biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil—and having the opportunity to make additional income— themselves.

But by “coming together,” says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or “service centers,” which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren’t enough to “fill the need” they’re working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They’ve started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called “green gold of Ghana,” moringa. When they’re processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder “generates a lot of trash,” says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The palm oil processing centers allow farmers to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, “making it taste more like bushmeat,” and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They’ve also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their “drift” to the cities. He’s created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in  the community that uses dancing and music “to bait the youth,” says the  Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don’t forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD’s work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can’t be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women’s Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women’s Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.


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

Pin It

(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.


The Forest Gardens of Quintana Roo

Pin It
Dragon Fruit (photo credit:Serious Eats)

Dragon Fruit (photo credit:Serious Eats)

By Fred Bahnson

When government extension agents first came to Juan Bautista’s Yucatan village of Chun-Yah, a tiny pueblo in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, they told him he should start growing pitaya, also known as dragonfruit. Originating in Meso-America, this cactus is now cultivated in parts of Asia, Australia, and Israel. The fruit is tasty, the plant is easily propagated, and it thrives in places with long dry seasons like the Yucatan.

Bautista and other farmers in Chun-Yah followed the agronomists’ instructions, clear-cutting nearby forests and building elaborate trellis systems made of concrete and wire to support the vine-like pitaya. Soon after the project began, the funding to maintain those trellises disappeared. The agronomists were at a loss as to how pitaya could be grown otherwise, and they left Chun-Yah. That was 15 years ago.

Rather than give up on pitaya, which by now was their main cash crop, the farmers of Chun-Yah decided to grow it in their milpas, the traditional Mayan field.

I recently visited Juan Bautista in his milpa. Standing there in the shade of a mango tree, I realized that this was no ordinary farm field—it was an intensively managed forest garden, a food-producing ecosystem built in nature’s image.

In traditional Mayan agriculture, maize has been the milpa’s main crop. But numerous sister crops also provide balance to both the farmer’s diet and the milpa ecosystem itself: beans, squash, melons, chiles, medicinal plants, pineapple, trees for fruit and lumber, plus the myriad fauna that call the milpa their home.

So what did Juan Bautista and the farmers of Chun-Yah do differently once the agronomists left? They essentially exchanged concrete trellises for living ones.

Pitaya is an epiphyte, meaning that it pulls moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris that collects on the host plant, on which it depends for structural support. Instead of clear-cutting forest to plant pitaya, the farmers cut trees selectively, leaving Mexican Cedar and other lumber-producing tree crops for later harvest. They then select the host trees on which pitaya will grow, cutting them at head height to allow for easy harvesting of the dragonfruit. The host trees remain alive, their roots holding soil in place while bringing up nutrients from the sub-soil. Regular pruning of the trees provides mulch for other crops. The farmers plant pitaya and other food crops into this living forest system—a well-planned, well-managed agro-ecological system.

There is no irrigation in Chun-Yah. Other than a little fertilizer for the host trees, the only input is the knowledge and labor of farmers who have created this forest ecosystem. Growing pitaya on the concrete trellises was fine, but the only crop produced was the pitaya. Growing pitaya in the polyculture of the milpa means that Juan Bautista gets his cash crop plus all the benefits the milpa brings, with little drop in yield.

There are three main pitaya harvests between June and October. Through the Chun-Yah cooperative, Bautista sells his fruit locally in Quintana Roo. On his three hectares he harvests around 12 tons of dragonfruit per year. At $1/kilo, he’s earning $12,000 annually, almost double Mexico’s median annual household income of $7,297. And all that food coming from his milpa means a lower grocery bill than most city dwellers.

Thanks to their ingenuity, the farmers of Chun-Yah haven’t had to leave their farms to work in el norte, and they are able to live comfortably on several hectares each.

And those agronomists who left 15 years ago? They have returned to learn how to grow pitaya from the farmers of Chun-Yah. Which is proof that these Mayan villages and their ancient agricultural arts are not just vestiges of a lost way of life; they are crucial models that could teach us “moderns” how to farm in ways that work with, not in spite of, our surrounding ecosystems.

Fred Bahnson traveling as a Kellogg Food & Society fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. His writing has appeared in Orion, The Sun, and Best American Spiritual Writing 2007 (Mariner). He lives with his wife and two sons on a farm in Transylvania County, North Carolina.