Posts Tagged ‘What Works’

Sep28

What Works: Saving Seeds

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

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!

Community seed saving can help farmers achieve greater independence, adapt to climate change, and rise out of poverty (Photo Credit: Navdanya)

In the last several years, many developing country governments around the world have cut federal agricultural investments within the seed sector. As a result, private seed companies promoting hybrid seeds are filling in the gaps. Farmers’ groups, however, are doing their own community seed saving so they can achieve greater independence, adapt to climate change, and rise out of poverty.

More than half of the world’s commercialized seeds are in the hands of just three companies – Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. The hybrid seeds these companies promote are bred in a way that future generations of seed are unable to maintain the same qualities of the hybrid seed. As a result, farmers develop a dependency on the seeds and must re-purchase them after each growing cycle if they want production to remain stable. Hybrid crops can require more chemical inputs and water than traditional varieties.

Fortunately, organizations such as Navdanya, La Via Campesina, and ETC Group are advocating on behalf of farmers to promote farmer sovereignty through the development of local seed-saving and sustainable agricultural initiatives. Saving seeds helps contribute to food security by securing the accessibility of safe, nutritious food through community seed banks. These seed banks facilitate greater sharing among farmers and promote greater economic stability.

Community seed saving also supports local adaptive capacity by helping to conserve indigenous knowledge and culture. Farmers are more easily able to adjust to changing weather conditions due to centuries of careful seed selection and breeding.  Traditional seeds are thus more genetically diverse and environmentally resilient, which can better prepare communities for an unpredictable and changing climate.

Most importantly, “Seed saving gives farmers life,” according to activist Vandana Shiva. According to Shiva, the increased poverty and indebtedness that results from dependency on seed corporations like Monsanto led to the farmer suicide tragedies in India.  Seed saving can empower small farmers to regain sovereignty and independence so they can take control over their own futures and the futures of their families.

Do you know of any community seed saving initiatives? Have you experienced first-hand the consequences of seed commercialization? We welcome your comments below.

To read more about savings seeds, see FAO Seed Distribution and the Biopiracy Controversy, Traditional Food Crops Provide Community Resilience in Face of Climate Change, Kibera’s Vertical Farms, and From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?.

Carolyn Smalkowski 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.

 

Jul13

What Works: Rebuilding Degraded Ecosystems through Farming

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By Matt Styslinger

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) some 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded over the past 50 years. With increasingly scarce land and water resources expected in the coming decades, as well as rising demand for food, farmers will need to find ways to produce more on the world’s remaining arable land. Without alternatives, expansion of agriculture can lead to deforestation and loss of other vital ecosystems that millions of people rely on for their livelihoods. But some innovative farmers are producing more food by using agriculture to rebuild ecosystems and turn degraded land into productive farms.

Some innovative farmers are producing more food by using agriculture to rebuild ecosystems and turn degraded land into productive farms. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Severe droughts and rapid population growth in the 1970s and 80s significantly degraded the farmland of the Sahel, a region of Africa running along the entire southern edge of the Sahara desert. Traditional management practices are now being revived to reverse the trend, including farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs in and around their fields, farmers promote the re-growth of trees. The trees reduce erosion, improve the ability of the soil to hold moisture, offer partial shade, and are a source of fuel, food, and animal fodder. The Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA) project is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers to promote awareness of FMNR. 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 to provide the support and legislation needed to put the responsibility of managing trees on agricultural land into the hands of farmers.

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Jul03

What Works: Using Technology to Give Farmers Better Information

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

For a farmer good information is time sensitive. Good information must move quickly and freely to reach those who rely on it when they make decisions. Digital technologies have revolutionized the way information travels worldwide, and the increasing availability of the mobile phone in particular is allowing better information to reach greater numbers of people than ever before. Several innovative programs are demonstrating the immense impact that simplest asset—timely and accurate information—can have on farmer’s livelihoods.

Better information allows farmers to make better decisions (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) was founded in 2008 to be a clearinghouse for the country’s agricultural commodities. Comprised of a central trading floor in the capital, Addis Ababa, and regional warehouses across the country, the ECX is able to provide farmers with up-to-the-minute price information. Trades are conducted and recorded digitally, allowing instantaneous communication of prices. When a farmer delivers a harvest to the ECX’s warehouses they know they are getting the right price for it. Additionally, the ECX’s modern facilities help minimize post-harvest losses from rotting. The ECX and its founder, Eleni Gabre-Madhin, were featured in a PBS documentary following the initial days of the exchange’s life.

While the ECX is streamlining the market, in Kenya techies have been developing mobile applications to help farmers manage their land and animals. They are building on the success and popularity of the mobile banking application M-PESA, a service that allows anyone with a cell phone to transfer money domestically. The best known of these is iCow, an application that helps farmers manage their herds. The application allows farmers to register their cows, allowing them to receive individualized messages reminding them of their cow’s gestation and feeding schedules. It sends updated market prices and best practices advice, and keeps a database of experts for consultation.

In Turkey, the Agricultural Directorate is utilizing the ubiquity of cell phones to distribute critical pest and weather information to farmers. Utilizing data gleaned from meteorological stations around the country, the Directorate sends text message alerts to farmers before peak pest season and before an oncoming frost. This has allowed farmer’s to reduce the number of pesticides applied each year, and to take preventative measures to protect their crops from frost.

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Jun26

What Works: Aquaculture

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By Caitlin Aylward

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!

Aquaculture can be an effective means of feeding our planet and encouraging economic development. (Photo credit: Burt Lum)

As world population and incomes increase, so has the demand for fish and seafood. As of 2009, the world’s total fish production from fish caught in the wild and aquaculture reached an all time high of 145.1 million tons, a number that is only growing.

But aquaculture can be a way of procuring seafood that not only protects wild fish species and the environment, but also helps alleviate global poverty and food insecurity.

Aquaculture, in contrast with commercial fishing of wild fish, is the cultivation of fish and other aquatic life under controlled marine or freshwater environments.

According to the FAO, aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing source of animal protein, providing around half of the world’s fish supplies. From the years 2000 to 2008 alone, fish production from aquaculture has grown more than 60 percent, from 32.4 million tons to 52.5 million tons annually.

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Nov15

What Works: Producing Food from Waste

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By Kim Kido

In sub-Saharan Africa where nearly a third of the population is hungry, over a quarter of food produced is lost to spoilage. And the hundreds of millions of livestock on the continent are responsible for degrading almost half of crop land on the continent, which makes up over one-third of overgrazed lands worldwide. But the uneaten food, manure, and other forms of waste are being used by farmers to produce fertilizer, fuel, and food.

Decorated compost piles in Malawi (Photo credit: Scott Gregory)

South Africa has been diverting organic matter from its landfills since 1969. About 2 percent of waste generated in Cape Town, and 15 percent in Johannesburg, is diverted through composting. In Johannesburg, compost sales were projected to completely offset production costs by 2006. Two other municipalities operate smaller scale composting facilities in the country. A project funded by the World Bank in Uganda has nine municipalities establishing composting plants.

Composting food waste relieves pressure on landfills while producing an inexpensive, nutrient-rich soil amendment that farmers use to improve soil fertility. Compost adds organic matter to the soil, increasing the water-holding capacity of its structure, facilitating root penetration, and making nutrients available to crops over time.

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Aug02

What Works: Turning Farmers into Businessmen and Women

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By Matt Styslinger

Poor farmers in rural areas often cannot afford expensive seeds and fertilizers, and they lack access to far away markets to sell their crops. Agricultural supply dealers and extension services do not reach many areas—the average farmer in sub-Saharan Africa has to travel more than 10 kilometers to reach an agro-dealer. While aid projects often attempt to assist farmers in these areas with inputs, education, and other support, farming communities can become dependent on aid organizations. But by helping farmers run their farms more like a business, establishing networks of agricultural supply businesses, and helping farmers connect to functioning markets, some aid projects are helping subsistence farmers become thriving entrepreneurs.

Farmers and agribusiness agents are using cell phones as bank accounts, to pay for orders, to manage agricultural inputs, to collect and store information about customers, and to build credit (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Care International’s work in Zambia focuses on increasing crop production and improving farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. But instead of giving away bags of inputs to farmers, Care creates access through a business approach. One way they’re doing this is by creating a network of agro-dealers so that farmers can get the right inputs at the right time—unlike subsidy approaches that give farmers fertilizer for free, but often at the wrong time of year. It is important to apply fertilizer at critical growth stages of the crop to reap the full benefits. Agro-dealers are trained and given start-up grants. In this way, the organization’s activities remain invisible to farmers, allowing Care to be a catalyst to the market without distorting the basic pricing structure. According to Care, business-like approaches to agriculture, alongside more traditional ones, allows local farming industries to flourish without becoming dependent on gifts of fertilizer or seed.

Many farmers and agribusiness agents in Zambia are also using cell phones as bank accounts, to pay for orders, to manage agricultural inputs, to collect and store information about customers, and to build credit. Mobile Transactions, a financial services company for the “unbanked,” allows customers to use their phones like an ATM card, says Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager. An estimated 80 percent of Zambians, particularly in rural areas, don’t have bank accounts, making it difficult for them to make financial transactions such as buying seed or fertilizer. But by using Mobile Transactions, farmers are not only able to make purchases and receive payment electronically, they are also building a credit history, which can make getting loans easier.

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Jul12

What Works: Microcredit

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By Matt Styslinger

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!

Microcredit is the lending of small loans to the very poor to allow them to start or expand small entrepreneurial projects. In order to bring financing appropriate for the poor to impoverished communities, micro-lending organizations make small loans to women with little or no collateral by doing rural outreach—unlike traditional banks. Poor farmers can use loans to purchase seeds or farming tools and other inputs they need. With the extra profit from bigger harvests, the farmers can pay back the small loans and increase their incomes.

BRAC women’s microfinance meeting in the Korail slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo credit: Matt Styslinger)

But several micro-financing organizations have been criticized for charging high interest rates and making huge profits that outweigh the benefits seen by the poor families who take their loans. Sam Daley-Harris—founder of the micro-lending group Microcredit Summit Campaign—says he hopes that the future of microcredit will be guided by “redemption” instead of profit. In a July 2010 TEDx talk, Daley-Harris tells the story of an ex-gang leader in Kenya who was approached by a grassroots microfinance organization in Kenya to rebuild a market that his gang had destroyed during the post-election violence in 2007. The organization paid the gang members to build the market during the day and to guard the building materials at night. And once the market was complete the organization provided the gang leader and approximately one-third of the gang members with a loan to create a small business producing small metal cases for children’s school supplies.

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May31

What Works: Conservation Agriculture with Farming God’s Way

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By Amanda Strickler

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!

Before synthetic fertilizers, machinery, and fossil fuels became the quick-fixes for improving agricultural production, what did famers do? Many of them reassessed their land, natural resources, and farming practices to determine ways to boost yields. Today, many farmers in Africa do not have the financial resources to buy modern tools and chemicals. To grow more food in without these inputs, the organization Farming God’s Way (FGW) works with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to bring back cost-free means of improved agriculture.

Farmers laying a field with maize crop residues Photo Credit: Farming God’s Way)

Across countries in Africa, FGW partners with communities to improve agricultural production through three principals: biblical training, technology, and management.

The foundations of FGW are based upon biblical teachings which tie farmers to their land. Understanding the natural resources available and the connection of people to the earth is essential. Farmers learn that growing more food does not require depleting or damaging natural resources.

FGW promotes two main agricultural technologies: zero tillage and using post-harvest crop residues for fertilizer and crop protection.

Zero tillage provides many benefits for rural farmers including reduced labor costs and decreased soil erosion. FGW teaches farmers to dig small holes for seeds which are then covered by using a soil and fertilizer layering system to promote growth.

Using old crop residues to cover newly planted crops—what FGW calls “God’s Blanket”—helps soils retain moisture and protects new seedlings from harsh weather. Maize husks which are fibrous and durable when dried provide excellent residues for crop cover. Since maize is a staple crop for Sub-Saharan Africa, this byproduct is free and easily-available.

Step three of FGW’s approach involves farming management. Many farmers in Africa—particularly younger generations—have a negative view of farming. FGW helps African farmers to take pride in the management of their farms. By using FGW’s technologies and available natural resources, farmers can see crop improvements—as well as increases in income. And they begin to view themselves as stewards of the land who can provide for their families and help the earth.

What are examples of other crop residues left behind after harvesting? How can these be used to the benefit of farmers?  Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email me at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to@WorldWatchAg.

Amanda Strickler is a Research Intern for Nourishing the Planet.

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.

 

May17

What Works: Stopping the Sands and Increasing the Harvest

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By Molly Theobald

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!

Farmers in the Sahel are using creative solutions to combat desertification. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Throughout the Sahel, recurrent drought, deforestation, and over-farming, is turning once lush farm land into desert.  And when the sand starts spreading, it can be difficult to stop. Picked up by the wind, dust and sand travels vast distances to cover villages, roads, crops, and irrigation systems, making it increasingly difficult to farm and maintain infrastructure.

Farmers are especially impacted by desertification. Dry, cracked and depleted soils make for poor harvests, while sand covered roads make it nearly impossible to transport crops to the market. Yet, farmers are also the people who hold some of the best tools with which to put a stop to the spreading sands.

In Mauritania, for example, where moving sand dunes cover two-thirds of the country’s land area, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), partnered with the government of Mauritania to help protect the country’s towns and cities. Between 2000 and 2007, a series of fences were designed to use wind to create artificial dunes surrounding Nouakchott, the country’s capital. These dunes reduced the strength of the wind and slowed the advancement of more sand. Set at a 120 to 140 degree angle, deflection fences were also erected in order to redirect the incoming winds and sands, further reducing sand build up. Both fences are made from branches and twigs that were collected from mature forests.

Once the dunes have been halted with hand-woven fences, the process of creating long-term barriers begins.  Although dunes are perhaps the least hospitable environment upon which to grow trees and other vegetation, walls of mature plant growth also provide one of the most effective barriers for sand. Depending on the climate and soil conditions, drought-tolerant and indigenous tree species are selected and planted to act as barriers.

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Apr26

What Works: Media for Agricultural Innovation and Empowerment in Kibera

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By Amanda Strickler

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!

Voice-of-Kibera-Nourishing-the-Planet-What-Works

Voice of Kibera is part of the Map Kibera media initiative. It works to connect members of the poorest community in Nairobi by hosting events, posting news, and disseminating information. (Credit: voiceofkibera.org)

The Nourishing the Planet team has cited several success stories in agriculture coming from Kibera—the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Residents in the slum are finding creative approaches to urban livestock and crop production. Dissemination of these innovations is critical to developing sustainable food production systems. But as many development practitioners know, a lack of communication systems can hinder scaling-up efforts.

As part of the Map Kibera project, the Voice of Kibera is an interactive community news and event website. Project operators use YouTube, Twitter, maps, calendars, and photos to empower citizens through access to participatory social networks. To encourage attendance at community events, the website offers times, dates, locations, and event descriptions.

Although Voice of Kibera provides broad coverage of community events, one sector receiving attention is agriculture. (more…)