I am really pleased to see the UK Government and G8 focus on food and agriculture and to be invited by DFID to consult on the initiative. This focus is needed to strengthen the resilience and productivity of all farmers to meet the food and nutrition needs of themselves and the growing population.
I am anxious about what the DFID event (Promoting African Agriculture – The New Alliance for Security and Nutrition) will bring.
- Will it motivate investment in sustainable agriculture at all levels – smallholder farmers to large-scale agri-business?
- Will it enable smallholders to invest and grow their agricultural livelihoods, or will it just benefit the multinationals and big business?
Smallholders are key to success
You may ask, why the preoccupation with smallholder farmers? Simple:
- They produce food where it is needed.
- They depend on the natural environment for their food and income.
- They have the potential to significantly increase their production and livelihoods using existing affordable and environmentally sound technologies – i.e. tried and tested ‘appropriate technologies’
- They can, and should be, a major pillar of sustainable agricultural growth and global food security.
In Africa smallholder farmers tend to comprise a very important part of the national food production system and economy in most countries. Transformation of smallholder farming should be an important part of the solution to providing food security and improved nutrition.
Governments are responsible for creating an enabling environment for all agri-business. Care should be taken to not increase the vulnerability of smallholders through ‘quick fix’ reforms designed to incentivise large-scale private sector investment – such as new policy, rules and systems that affect access to land, seed supply, biodiversity and the intellectual property rights. The enabling environment needs to protect and promote the ability of smallholders to develop and improve their farming through innovation and experimentation – a vital mechanism for step-wise adaptation to climate change.
The UK and G8 should meet their commitments
I think the UK and G8 should meet their commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on aid and this should include support for public expenditure within nationally owned agricultural investment plans. These plans should include:
- Support for smallholder farmers for whom ‘low external input’ farming systems can produce significant improvements in food and income security.
- Development of local markets and programmes to support smallholders and agri-business engagement with the markets.
- Support and finance to help communities to adapt to climate change.
So here’s hoping for some realistic commitments to support smallholder farming as part of the solution to food security, nutrition and sustainable economic growth in Africa.
Can the UK, G8, African Governments and private sector work together to promote diverse and dynamic rural economies which enable smallholders to adapt to climate change and generate viable livelihoods from their farming? What do you think?
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We all know the story of how Cinderella’s fairy godmother changed a pumpkin into a golden carriage to take Cinders to the Ball – Practical Action is turning this humble green vegetable into food, livelihoods and secure futures for thousands of families in Bangladesh.
Practical Action’s Bangladesh team is changing the lives of some of the poorest people living on the shifting margins of Bangladesh’s great rivers, where the increasingly severe and regular floods are displacing thousands of extremely poor people each year.
After the rainy seasons, large sand islands, deposited by the floods, appear in the main rivers of North West Bangladesh. These islands although common property had never previously been used for productive purposes until Practical Action experimented with planting pumpkins. A small hole is dug, the bottom scattered with a small amount of compost and urea, the pumpkin seed planted, and (almost!) as quick as a wave of a wand, the pumpkin plants grow, thrive are producing wonderfully large, green pumpkins.
Not only are the pumpkins nutritional for families who previously had neither the money or permanent land on which to grow food, but they can be stored for over a year, providing food in leaner times, and their longevity and robustness makes them ideal for transporting to distant markets.
Since the project started in 2005, over 10,000 people, mainly women, have produced 55,000 MT of pumpkins, worth over £5m and more and more communities are taking up the technology. The project has also been recognised for its innovation and impact, having recently been shortlisted to the last three for the prestigious St Andrews Prize for the Environment.
Move over fairy godmother!No Comments » | Add your comment
“Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labour force.” – UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
An earlier blog highlighted the potential of smallholder producers as part of the solution to the food crisis facing the planet. A crisis that is exacerbated by inaction to reach a global deal to tackle climate change and dwindling support going to agriculture in developing countries, in spite of some ambitious but as yet unmet pledges. The IF campaign highlights this conundrum, ”that we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime, we only need the will.” (John F. Kennedy, 1963)
Changes in global climate are leading to less predictable weather patterns with increasing failure of planting season rains blamed for recurrent famines in impoverished rural areas. Around the world over 500 million people live in vulnerable rural communities, with smallholder farmers, and pastoralists supplying food to almost 2 billion of the poorest people on the planet. Supporting these small-scale producers to reach their full potential is one of the simplest strategies that could transform global food systems overnight.
Such a transformation of the role of smallholders in the global agricultural system would also deliver significant benefits to rural women; a critical area where gains are needed most. Smallholder agriculture is critically dependent on the input of women, especially for largely unrecognised labour, starkly contrasted with higher profile male dominated activities. The recent FAO study acknowledged that women comprise at least 50% of the labour force in most of Africa and Asia, with their agricultural duties undertaken alongside existing household and child care duties. By closing the gender gap in smallholder farming, crop productivity will increase, local food and nutritional security will be improved and the increase in the income of women will deliver far reaching social benefits. Women interviewed as part of Oxfam’s Researching Women’s Collective Action project regularly responded that they gain a sense of freedom from their own income, allowing them to prioritise family nutrition and even send their children to school.
To support women producers will require considerable investment, but this must be quality investment reaching the most needy. Collective approaches offer opportunities to reach scale and can empower women to participate as part of an initiative in a way that defuses social tensions with husbands and fathers, who might see their roles threatened. The Oxfam “women’s collective action” research programme, has identified some of the key challenges to women’s engagement including; access to formal groups, being overlooked by extension services and the need to provide the support women require and in a way that works for women.
By mobilising the latent potential of women smallholder farmers to transform global agriculture, global food security could be improved overnight. For example by providing equal access to existing resources and opportunities – could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people. Such a transformation could go a long way to feeding the estimated 325 million hungry people on the planet and at the same time enable millions of smallholder producers to feed their families and escape poverty.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/2 Comments » | Add your comment
To find out how a very small project can show so much meaning about the real values of rural poor people, which make them happy and give meaning to their lives, read about the day I made a visit which made that day exceptional.
My visit to Silkyay village in the rural area of Kassala was a routine field visit like many others but my encounter with a woman called Nafisa changed that visit into an inspirational lesson.
Nafisa is involved in Practical Action’s “chicken for eggs” project. This aims to enhance nutrition and provide income for poor households. She has 20 hens in her small, clean den, and managed and cleaned this den every day, until she began producing 20 eggs per day. Some of these she consumes and the rest she sells. The day I met Nafisa happiness overwhelmed her and joyfully she told me that now she has work, and she owns something, she has control of her life.
In the beginning she faced difficulties marketing her produce in her village, because people weren’t used to eating eggs. The varieties of food they ate were very limited – mainly porridge and milk and this culture led them to refuse anything unfamiliar and prevented them from having a healthy and diversified diet.
Nafisa started introducing the egg as a main meal in her own house, as breakfast for her children before school. Then she began an awareness campaign about the nutritional value of eggs. Gradually the skeptical village changed to be less hesitant. In a short period the whole village began to depend on eggs for breakfast. Nafisa proudly stated that now she alone cannot supply the increasing demand and has other five women working in this project.
Nafisa said that now she feels appreciated by her family and community, and she is happy about the simple tangible change her project introduced to the life of the people in the village. The happiness of Nafisa and her pride at her achievement taught me that helping women to access and control resources, is the right approach for justice and for improving the status of women and mothers in our communities. Productive work gives women a proud feeling of ownership and control of their resources as Nafisa reflected as she enthused about her hens.
The change happened when people began buying eggs after being convinced of their nutritional value. This taught me the meaning and practicality of such small activities when they relate to people’s real needs.
Before concluding this story, I would like to tell you about my own experience when I bought some eggs from Nafisa and cooked them myself. I learned something else important – that the home-produced egg from this village is a natural egg, free of chemicals and is tastier and more beneficial than the ones we purchase from markets which are produced by companies using chemicals and hormone injections.
How inspiring are these small works when powered by a strong will and the strength of women like Nafisa!No Comments » | Add your comment
Half the world’s food goes to waste – so says a report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
Yet masses of people in the UK and around the world are hungry. In the UK more than 200,000 people will use food banks this year. In the developing world 870 million people don’t have enough to eat and go to bed hungry.
What’s going wrong?
Some blame must fall on us as consumers – being seduced by BOGOF offers, or the lure of the ‘reduced about to reach sell by date’ products – we’re just buying too much of things we don’t then eat. It’s also about supermarkets – turning down wonky carrots so they are left in the field to rot – 30% of vegetables in the UK are not harvested because of their physical appearance. It’s also about overlong supply chains, sell buy dates that don’t mean anything – on malt vinegar for example.
The biggest difference between the developed and developing world is that here – in the UK – we have a choice we choose through our buying behavious and the supermarkets – interpreting our demands – to allow huge amounts of food to go to waste. We can dramatically reduce the £12 billion worth of food wasted in the UK – thats £480 per family. In the developing world poor people dont have a choice.
In the developing world food is wasted as after harvest it can’t be stored and rots – people have no fridges and no way of storing or preserving they often also have no way of getting products to market and even if they do because they are selling in a glut no one wants to buy.
The issue is not just waste – the injustice – the technology injustice is that there is so much we can do to solve this problem and the technologies people need exist.
Practical Action works with small scale farmers in the developing world to grow more food and preserve the food that’s grown – from pumpkin storage in Bangladesh to drying and pickling vegetables in Sudan. Thousands of clever, practical, simple solutions that work.
In the UK there’s loads to go at – simpler supply chains, accepting sometimes supermarket shelves will be empty, not buying foo d that we all throw away.
So my practical solution for all of us today – buy less food, grow some yourself (it’s great- you could even learn to make jams!), and if you save money and you can afford to give it to a charity you support help people struggling across the world or in the time of austerity Britain in the UK.
People struggle to grow food – I’ve met women in Sudan who have walked many miles to find water for their family and their crops – if you are doing that imagine the heartbreak when your family goes hungry and your food rots.
End food waste and end hunger – wouldn’t it be great If we could do both.
Support Practical Action – this report made me once again think its a great thing to do!1 Comment » | Add your comment
On November 22, 2012 Practical Action Consulting (PAC) Asia embarked on a three day field trip to Chitwan and Nawalparasi Districts. The objective of the field trip was to learn first-hand experiences about some of the projects undertaken by Practical Action and to see which lessons could be used in other projects in the Asian region, mainly India and Bhutan.
In three days and covering hundreds of kilometers, we were able to stuff in as many project sites as possible, learning and understanding Practical Action’s work along the way. We managed to visit the Gravity Goods Ropeway at Fisling, Climate Change Adaptation Site at Jugedi, Early Warning Site at Devghat, Market Access for Smallholder Farmers (MASF) site in Chainpur and Pithuwa, Strengthening Water, Air, Sanitation and Hygiene Treasuring Health (SWASTHA) site in Bagbazar and Renewable Energy site at Hurhure Danda.
MASF site in particular was very interesting to see. The Practical Action office in Nepal, with financial support through the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) implemented the dairy component of MASF in 30 Village Development Committees (VDCs) and two municipalities of four districts in Nepal – Chitwan, Tanahu, Gorkha and Dhading. The objective of this two-year project is to reduce poverty of smallholder farmers in Nepal through improving the incomes of 10,000 smallholder dairy farmers.
We decided to visit a few MASF project sites in Eastern Chitwan. The first site was Panchayan Dairy Cooperative in Pithuwa VDC. The team was able to interact with the cooperative members and observe their dairy resource centre, feed mill and the chilling station. At the dairy resource centre, the cooperative had kept dairy cows and calves of different breeds. The calves were bred there and cows were milked twice a day and sent to the cooperative’s own chilling station. The chilling station and milk collection centre services the surrounding villages. Not only was the cooperative able to collect and chill the milk but they had also installed a feed mill where they made high-quality feed for cows. It was really impressive to see how the project has helped the cooperative to be self-sufficient and it could be seen in the proud faces of the cooperative members. Panchayan Dairy Cooperative is truly an example-setting dairy cooperative that shows the success of MASF project in Nepal.
The second visit was to Kamdhenu Dairy Cooperative in Chainpur VDC and we observed the dairy farm operated by the cooperative. Although smaller in size as compared to Panchayan, Kamdhenu has also, in its own right, made successful gains in milk production and sales. With the help from the MASF project, they have successfully progressed towards more efficient production and effective market access. In the same VDC, the team also interacted with a few Dalit beneficiaries – traditionally regarded as ‘untouchables’. We were able to witness another extraordinary impact from the project. The project had set up a revolving fund which could be accessed by the neediest Dalit families. They would use the fund to buy cows and slowly pay back to the fund from selling the milk. The fund would then help other Dalit families to buy more cows. They were able to purchase dairy cows because of the revolving fund activity without which they would not have had the capital to invest. It was inspiring to see this socially disadvantaged group benefiting from the project and their positive attitude and eagerness to add more cows.
By visiting the field sites, the PAC Asia team has gained first-hand knowledge regarding the projects. We were all able to understand, through interactions with beneficiaries and stakeholders, the impacts made through the work of Practical Action. It was also understood that most of the beneficiaries are happy and are thankful to Practical Action and have invited to do more in their community. We were amazed to meet and interact with the communities we work with and at the same time proud to be associated with the organization that has worked with them to improve livelihoods and change lives! PAC Asia is developing new work and projects in India, Bhutan and beyond, so we need to take these lessons and grow them for an even bigger impact.
The story ends here but the journey continues for PAC Asia especially with two projects already in the pipeline: Gravity Goods Ropeway in Bhutan and Early Warning System in Afghanistan. Here’s to the future.No Comments » | Add your comment
Hobbits, hyacinths and happiness
Who would’ve thought that hyacinths and happiness would go together so well? But they do in flood prone Bangladesh. Practical Action works with some of the poorest people, forced by their poverty to live on land that shifts with the annual floods, so nowhere is ever really home, and making a garden is an act of faith. With water comes water hyacinth in abundance, a weed which Practical Action helps communities turn into floating gardens – an example of a really simple technology that works wonderfully well. The hyacinth leaves, supported by bamboo poles, are woven into a bed, on which is laid soil, into which seeds for lettuces, okra, sweet onions, pumpkins, etc., are planted. The plants’ roots reach down through the hyacinth bed to the flood waters, and nature does the rest. What could be simpler? It doesn’t have to be just hyacinth leaves; any material can be used to create a floating garden in this way, enabling food to still be grown when floods make normal planting impossible, bringing happiness to communities who previously struggled to meet their families’ food needs.
This is just one example of a project which Trusts and Foundations are helping Practical Action implement….and we have many more for which we need support. If you’re a Trustee of a Trust or Foundation and would like to know more, contact me on Liz.Frost@practicalaction.org.uk.
And the hobbits? They don’t have anything to do with floating gardens I’m afraid, but being keen gardeners themselves and enjoying at least six meals a day, I think they would really approve of such a simple but productive technology.No Comments » | Add your comment
“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved.” E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if people mattered.
The global food system is close to breaking point: growing populations and dramatic changes in dietary habits are fuelling increasing demand. Whilst increasing severity of natural disasters and escalating competition for water resources are further complicating the situation. The food system’s vulnerability is characterised by soaring food prices and more frequent food crises.
So, the question facing us today is how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution to be found in the research laboratory, or is there a cheaper, sustainable and already tested solution staring us in the face?
Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers, fishers and agro-foresters supply food, fuel and fibre to almost 2 billion people living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.
A recent visit to the people living in Wokin Kebele in Amhara region of Ethiopia highlighted the difficulties that these people face in accessing support. The government extension office was over one hour drive away on an unmade road and was staffed by a handful of government officials who have significant demands placed upon them. As a consequence the villagers that I met were self-reliant. They used basic technology and largely renewable inputs. If these smallholder farmers were to receive one tenth of the support available to farmers in developed countries, their production gains would be considerable.
The potential for production gains with more investment is show in the entrepreneurial way that these farmers have innovated using their own resources. I visited one farmer who had developed a new plough to cope with increased water logging in low lying fields and met a second who had started to plant small areas of Teff (Eragrostis tef), a traditional Ethiopian staple, as warming winter temperatures allowed cultivation of the crop in an area that was previously unsuitable.
However, to encourage further local innovation as a vanguard to smallholder-led growth, a major transformation of the global agricultural system is required. This would reward innovation and optimise production by making the most of each unit of existing agricultural land.
The first step of such a transformation would be a change in the way in which small scale production is viewed, recognising the benefits of the diversity, traditional skills and potential for crop improvements that smallholder systems present.
The second step would recognise the potential for human agency and requires a change in the future choice for smallholder farmers. Smallholder producers should be offered appropriate rewards that recognise their role as custodians of the planet. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and driving smallholders off their land through the gradual conversion of small-scale into large-scale industrial systems, a new and alternative agricultural future for smallholder farmers should be promoted. A future that meets their livelihood aspirations while delivering a global food system that doesn’t cost the Earth.
What I saw in Ethiopia reconfirmed my belief that by improving the capacity of the poorest performing producers, the largest gains in terms of global food production can be made. Importantly these gains would be delivered where they are needed most.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
In September I had the chance to visit our work in Kassala in the eastern part of Sudan. Travelling there took 9 hours. Although it was an exhausting journey, we enjoyed the beauty of the journey, the green spaces and towering mountains covered with trees, like a beautiful painting painted by a masterful artist. Pastoralists and farmers were grateful for the blessing of rain this year, despite the difficulty of storing water in those rural areas.
We visited Bagadir village, 30 Km from Kassala, which is inhabited by tribes called Bani Amer, who have migrated over the years from the Arabian Peninsula. Some also live in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Eritrea and different parts of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Women are not considered a good omen for this tribe and their role is limited. Moreover women are not allowed to leave the village for any reason and their fundamental role is parenting and serving men.
Food in times of scarity
Practical Action Sudan has introduced ‘Jubraka’, small farms for women, usually established near the house to provide food for farmers’ families during the critical time of food scarcity. In these farms women have been cultivating crops such as okra, watermelon, henna and bananas, using our new advanced drip irrigation technique. Our visit coincided with the period of fruiting and I’ll never forget the scene. I see the taste of success in women’s eyes, their efforts paid off.
My colleague Nahid Ali Awadelseed started to talk with the women, gathering in the corner where a thatched umbrella is erected. Usually, during irrigation and taking care of the farms women gather to do craft work or drink coffee. We start to chat with them and find out their opinions of Practical Action’s work in their community
One 16 year old girl, Afrah Karar, spoke on behalf of all the women. I admired her courage and her ability to express herself and asked if she had education or training. I knew Practical Action had offered her agricultural training in Kassala but unfortunately her father refused her permission to leave the village. We were able to send a trainer to her village to help pass on this knowledge to the rest of the women.
Then Siham Mohamed Osman, the leader of this programme of work for Practical Action, asked the women a question:
“Do you sell your farms’ production in the markets outside the village or do the men not allow it?”
I was impressed by the swift answer from one of the women telling us that the men had began to abandon their stupidity. I felt this was an amazing answer. Women’s work has started to change the customs and traditions of the tribe and then to change the status of women within their community.
Small works lead to small change and small change is the start of big success.
Much can be done to empower women. Practical Action is taking action by putting women’s empowerment at the center of development plans in our work. There can be no development, and no lasting peace on the planet, if women continue to be relegated to subservient and often dangerous and back-breaking roles in society.8 Comments » | Add your comment
The Chepang are a semi nomadic tribe in Nepal, numbering around 52,000 scattered across the country. These communities often live in very poor conditions and the Chepang in Hiklung village, Gorkha district are no exception.
Although the village is only 500m from one of the major highways of the country, it is a million miles from mainstream society. No road connects the village at top of the hill to the highway along the opposite bank of the Trishuli river and no bridge crosses the river. People from the village used to walk for several hours to reach the highway.
Access for Opportunities, an EU funded project, supported the community to install a gravity ropeway in 2009 and an improved tuin in 2011 to transport goods and to cross the river respectively. At the same time, Practical Action undertook complementary activities to improve living conditions in the village. These included product diversification, training for farmers and micro irrigation. The village began to thrive as never before. A few weeks ago I visited the village and my chest swelled with pride to witness the change.
“We used to grow very little food, not even enough for 2-3 months. The rest of the year we lived on forest roots and tubers. Some of us used to work in Fishling Bazaar as porters to support our families and some worked overseas in India and Arab countries” Says Rantna Chepang, the Chairperson of the Jalapa Devi Agriculture Cooperative, formed with the help of the project.
“From this project we received improved seeds, micro irrigation technologies and new farming skills. Most importantly, we got the ropeway for transporting our goods to market. Now, we are producing surplus crops and each household earns NPR 120,000 ($ 1380) per annum from selling vegetables “
This income is nearly double Nepal’s average per capita income of $742, which is heavily reliant on remittances from abroad. This has triggered marked improvements in the living condition of the 56 Chepang households in the village.
Prem Chepang, 42, has suffered from tuberculosis for more than a decade. Previously his earnings were too small to afford medication for this curable disease. Now, like many villagers he is making a good income from selling vegetables and has saved enough money to seek treatment from doctors in Kathmandu. He is hopeful that one day he will be free from the disease.
Every monsoon, Basu Chepang, 36, struggled to keep his house dry. Its straw roofing wouldn’t prevent the rain entering his house. Now, along with many others in the village, he has corrugated iron roofing – the most obvious sign of the prosperity in rural Nepal.
For, Devi Chepang, a teacher in a primary school in the village, the change unfolded in the form of improvement in children education and hygiene. Before the project, attendance was low and the children’s hygiene was poor.
“Now parents have more time and money to invest in their children’s education and hygiene. The school introduced school uniform this year which would have been impossible before as the parents couldn’t afford it.” Devi told me.
Panmanya Chepang, 32, has never been happier. Her husband has returned home from Saudi Arabia where he had been working for 6 years. “Now, we are making more money from vegetable farming than he was able to send home from Saudi. I am determined not to send him back to Saudi and we are working hard for it “says Panmaya.
Panmaya is also the treasurer of Jalapa Devi Agriculture Cooperative. The cooperative’s Capital has risen to $5232 in less than a year. The farmers are saving regularly $2.3 every month in the cooperative and it is providing credit to local farmers who need it.
This model village now showcases what a marginalized community can achieve if they have access to right skills and technologies. Chepang communities from elsewhere in the country visit to the village to draw inspiration.
The community deserves all the praise for taking responsibility for changing their lives and working hard for it. Practical Action is proud to provide a helping hand to their journey to prosperity.2 Comments » | Add your comment