Information and stories about agriculture.

AgTech Programs
In certain developing countries, such as India, more than half of the population depends on agriculture, giving farmers living in poverty very few options for other means of income. Those in poverty live on less than $2 per day, resulting in them being less likely to be able to eat. Additionally, many of these people are farmers. In fact, according to the World Bank, two-thirds of all working people living in poverty globally have employment in the agricultural sector. Agtech programs are emerging to help raise farmers out of poverty.

The Plan

With 2030 approaching fast, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are implementing action across the globe. The U.N. created 17 SDGs for countries to reach by 2030. The U.N. adopted these goals with multilateral cooperation during the Sustainable Development Summit in New York in 2015.

The second SDG’s focus is to end hunger, create food security, better nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. A huge focus of this goal is sustainable agriculture and rural development. Many international agencies, including the U.N., USAID, IFC and the World Bank believe that improving agricultural prosperity through agricultural innovations which provide better means to clean water and electricity is one of the most effective ways to reduce global poverty and hunger. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted both issues, the SDGs that the U.N. has set is still achievable by 2030.

The Path Forward

Programs such as Powering Agriculture, an international initiative that USAID, the government of Sweden, Germany and private sectors founded, focused on creating, funding and implementing Agtech programs to help farmers out of poverty. Started in 2012 and completed in 2019, the Powering Agriculture project worked with specifically selected agricultural technology (Agtech) solutions companies including Claro Energy in India, Evakuula in Uganda and Futurepump in Kenya providing sustainable solutions to farmers in rural areas where access to clean water and electricity affected their agricultural production, both harvest and post-harvest.

Claro Energy and Futurepump both produce solar-powered water pumps that help make irrigating more efficient, increasing crop yields and reducing labor. Claro Energy is taking it one step further and also produces mobile solar power grids in the form of small, operable trolly and portal roll-out solar panel packs that anyone can carry. These create mobile energy grids in remote rural areas where access to electricity was virtually impossible, allowing farmers in India to use other ag-tech solutions such as pumps, monitoring systems and data services to further increase their crop yields. The grids and pumps implemented in the initiative currently produce over 2,500 kilowatts of energy a day in India.

After the Powering Agriculture initiative, another joint international program emerged with the cooperation of the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the European Union and USAID. The Water and Energy for food (WE4F) initiative is a direct relation of the Powering Agriculture program, following where it left off in 2019 with goals of creating sustainable agriculture innovations focused on improving the access of water and energy to farmers in developing rural countries.

The initiative aims to fund innovators and create action through grants and subsidies so that Agtech programs can help farmers out of poverty by increasing crop yield, post-crop management, crop sales and more. There are currently 40 innovators with Agtech-based solutions partnered with the WE4F program, all aiming to help poor struggling farmers in rural developing countries. Here is a list of the first five.

5 Innovators Partnering with the WE4F Program

  1. AbuErdan: Originating in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, AbuErdan provides tech solutions for efficient and sustainable poultry farming.
  2. Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies: This company began in India, the United States, Argentina and Australia. It provides bioensure fungal seed and plant treatment for water-stress resilience.
  3. Agrosolar: Beginning in Myanmar, Agrosolar provides integrated solar-powered irrigation technology and services to smallholder farmers.
  4. Alva Tech Limited: Alva Tech Limited functions in several countries including Botswana, India, Jordan, Kenya and more. It offers solar-powered treatment for water-scarce and saline areas.
  5. aQysta Nepal Pvt. Ltd.: This innovator functions in India, Indonesia, Nepal, Colombia and Malawi. It enables farmers to access sustainable irrigation with a pay-per-harvest model.

Other Agtech Programs

Not only do Agtech programs help farmers out of poverty but they are helping open the doors to sustainable business and larger economic growth by opening business markets in artificial intelligence (AI), mainly in the form of apps. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank Group, reported in May 2020 that AI in Agriculture can “help meet rising global demand for food and support a more inclusive and sustainable food system.”

In India, the app CropIn makes it easy for farmers to upload pictures of their crops, allowing AI to create suggestions on “risk management, sales, warehousing, and sustainable farm practices.” Another AI-based app is based in Cameroon. The company Agrix Tech has created an app that farmers with minimal education can use easily. It does not require an internet connection and uses the same idea as CropIn but focuses on plant disease and pest control.

Thirdly, Hello Tractor is an app that works in Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Pakistan which is essentially Uber for tractors. It allows farmers who own tractors to rent out their equipment to other farmers in need of it. This allows both farmers to either earn extra income off assets or save money in crop production.

With so many international programs and initiatives underway, the world could soon win the fight against global hunger. Additionally, the war against global poverty could result in its most significant class of members, farmers, growing closer to economic stability.

– Ali Benzerara
Photo: Flickr

Irrigation Systems in AfghanistanIrrigation has been an integral component of agriculture since the Mesopotamian era with farmers around the world relying on irrigation methods to water vegetation. For economies that depend on agriculture to foster growth, having sufficient irrigation systems is very important. Accordingly, the improvements to irrigation systems in Afghanistan have boosted the economic standing of Afghan citizens.

Advancements in Bamyan Province

A decade ago, the Bamyan Province located in Central Afghanistan determined a need for irrigation upgrades after canals flooded villages and crops. To combat this problem, the Irrigation Restoration Development Project (IRDP) oversaw the renovations of canals in two Bamyan Province communities in 2009. Some of the rehabilitations included “lining the Balkhi canal bed and sides with concrete, installing metal gate valves at weak points prone to flooding” and building small footbridges at strategic points of the canal. According to IRDP Bamyan provincial manager, Amin Zaki, improving water management will “help rural farmers improve their livelihoods and raise their standard of living as a result.” Given that 90% of Bamyan’s citizens rely on agriculture, the benefits of the advancements rippled through the communities. The advancements help create economic and living improvements for “more than 600 households in the four villages —Foladi, Nawrozi, Qhazan and Sia Khar Bloq—served by [the] Balkhi canal.”

Dokani village farmers close to the Balkhi canal were even able to switch their dominant crops because of the irrigation upgrades. Instead of growing baghali beans, the farmers currently grow potatoes and wheat, which are higher-earning crops. Overall, more than 425,000 households profited from the IRDP renovations, and in future years, the organization is looking to tackle two additional water management projects in Bamyan.

Crop Improvements in Kabul Province

The Kabul Province also possessed poor irrigation systems, which caused disputes over water distribution. To make improvements, in 2017, the On-Farm Water Management Project renovated the 8-kilometer long Pazhak canal and the 3.5-kilometer long Qara Qhochi canal. The projects benefit hundreds of households by increasing the speed at which water reaches the farms, improving the maintenance process of the canals and enhancing crop diversity. Thus, farmers are using the benefits to farm more land and grow crops they previously did not have enough water to provide support. As this demonstrates, improvements to irrigation systems in Afghanistan are extremely important.

Recent Turmoil

After the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban significantly expanded its power. According to CNN, the Taliban now controls “17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, all of which have been captured” in one week as of August 13, 2021. Some of the ramifications of the Taliban’s growing control include the removal of girls from school, forced marriages of women to Taliban fighters and horrific bloodshed in battle areas. Despite the economic progress made through improvements to irrigation systems in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s recent seizure of provincial capitals threatens the advancements.

Looking Forward

As food and fuel prices increase following the Taliban’s blockage of import routes and hundreds of families face displacement from their homes, Afghanistan’s economic and governmental stability is in question. While the past decade has demonstrated the positive impact a rehabilitation project can have on the Afghan people, continued aid from global leaders could help ensure that the country’s progress does not dissipate in the coming months.

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

agricultural-big-data-in-colombia-arai-yegrosMitigation and adaptation to climate change can take many forms. One of them is through technology and big data: information can help detect valuable patterns for decision-making that are crucial for agricultural products worldwide. By targeting issues such as food security, malnutrition and environmental degradation through data, creative and innovative solutions can be found for the most pressing agronomic problems of the 21st century. This is where smart agriculture through data is born.

Data and Agriculture

The effective use of data through analytics and modeling is an important tool of the U.N.’s Sustainable Goals; after all, data can help in locating solutions for myriad problems. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is committed to targeting agricultural problems with evidence-based big data tools.

Examples of CIAT’s actions include projects to improve Colombian agriculture, particularly working with Fedearroz, the largest association of rice producers in the country. CIAT’s researchers have been working in Colombia with the aim of granting local rice farmers independence from the limitations that agriculture often confers, such as climatic variability.

Colombia’s Rice Farmers

In 2014, an estimated $1.7 million in losses were avoided since Colombian rice farmers took CIAT’s counsel into account and did not farm for the first two seasons of the year. CIAT, employing Fedearroz’s agricultural yield and climatic data collected during the course of 20 years, created a big data model explaining how climatic and soil variation impact yearly rice yields.

CIAT advised farmers in three different regions of Colombia that they could avoid crop failure by not planting at all during their usual seasons. Instead, it suggested they use stronger rice varieties that are not as sensitive to solar radiation and rain variability. This resulted in the avoidance of great economic losses in more than 1,800 hectares for more than 170 farmers who relied solely on their rice yield.

Rice farmers in Colombia already struggle to stay competitive at an international level as rice production has fallen from 6 tons a hectare to 5 tons since 2007 due to climate variability. With big data modeling aiding with uncertainty, losses can be prevented and better planning can be employed for higher returns. Big data made from seasonal forecasts and prediction tools can let farmers know in anticipation what and when to plant while avoiding losses.

U.N.’s Global Pulse

CIAT’s big data scientists were awarded for their project in Colombia at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit for their wielding of data to soften the impact of climate change. By harnessing the power of big data towards climate variability, it is possible to create area-specific models in the future, including those that attempt to cover Colombia’s most productive agricultural sites.

Even though CIAT’s scientists only covered rice yields in this study, more big data simulations are being built to extrapolate this model to other crops such as beans and maize. Potentially,  projects such as this one could propel a new era of agricultural big data in Colombia, a country deeply affected by rainfall variability and climate change in the past 20 years.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

There is a clear dichotomy between how the impoverished citizens of developed and developing countries feed their families. In wealthier nations, families living below the poverty line buy cheaper food options. In many packaged and overly-processed foods, the possibility of unhealthy food preservatives and a surplus of calories is common. As a result, negative health effects ensue. In developing countries, impoverished citizens rely on easily cultivated and cheap foods to feed themselves. These products often do not have sufficient nutritional value to ensure a healthy lifestyle. In order to increase the accessibility of healthy produce, understanding the causes of income disparity and food restriction is necessary. Through this awareness, finding a solution to supply nutritious foods to those in need is possible.

Income and Food in Developed Countries

How one budgets their income is an essential factor when learning the impact of economic resources or the lack thereof on one’s daily health. An observational study conducted by BMC Public Health in the United States focused on the relationship between income and health. “Compared to lower-income households, higher-income households had significantly higher total vegetable scores, respectively, higher dairy scores and lower proportion of grocery dollars spent on frozen desserts,” said French, Tangney et. al in the study.

Overall, families with lower incomes purchased fewer vegetables, fewer dairy products and more frozen desserts compared to families with higher incomes. Thus, according to this study, individuals with lower incomes in developed countries are more likely to choose high caloric, less nutritious foods than their higher-income counterparts as these foods are more economically accessible to them than fresher, more nutritious foods. By understanding the results of this study, it is evident that the accessibility of healthy produce is limited to the wealthy members of society who can afford it.

Can Health Be Bought?

Compared to developed countries, developing nations struggle to provide protein-rich foods for their people. In these areas of the world, one’s income also dictates one’s food options. In developed countries, high-calorie foods are often cheaper than low-calorie food, yet in many developing nations, high-calorie and high-protein foods are more expensive. This can make it very difficult for low-income individuals to access necessary high-protein foods, such as eggs.

In Niger, egg calories are 23.3 times more expensive than calories from staple foods. In contrast, egg calories in the United States are 1.6 times as expensive as staple food calories. Diversifying one’s calorie intake is seemingly difficult due to one’s economic position. Consequently, one’s likelihood of contracting type two diabetes, heart disease or cancer also rises with high consumption of low nutrient food. Thus, the higher the price, the lower the accessibility of healthy produce and the higher chance of life-threatening diseases.

Solutions

Despite these issues, there are ways to end global hunger and poverty. Organizations all over the world are finding ways to help those in need. One nonprofit organization, A Growing Culture, is currently working to support farmers globally. By giving them a voice in the agricultural industry, farmers are able to gain back power.

In addition, the organization promotes sustainable agricultural methods. Through these goals, A Growing Culture has encouraged communication between farmers around the world. These conversations inspire the use of environmentally safe techniques, discussion of common struggles and shared desire to nourish the world. Organizations like these can go a long way to helping combat world hunger and improve. With the popularity of their mission, fighting industrial farming and decreasing the prices of daily foods is possible.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

<span class="imagecredit">On April 12, 2013, the World Bank approved funding for the National Horticulture and Livestock Productivity Project (NHLP) in Afghanistan. Under this governmental program, greenhouses are distributed to families across Afghanistan’s provinces. More than 300 Afghan women in the province of Kapisa alone are able to grow food year-round for their families with some women even becoming the sole breadwinners of their family due to farming made possible through the NHLP’s distributed greenhouses. The United Nations implemented the Community-Based Agriculture and Rural Development project (CBARD) in Afghanistan in 2018, a program that involves similar creations of greenhouses in Afghanistan. CBARD has led to the construction of 70 greenhouses in the Ghormach district alone. As the success of micro and commercial greenhouse distribution through both the World Bank and U.N.-initiated projects has grown, the importance of long-term and community-based anti-poverty solutions has become clear internationally.

Greenhouse Distribution

The NHLP has reached 291 districts across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan, covering more than 500,000 citizens, half of whom are women. Each greenhouse costs 25,000 afghani (or around $320) to build, with recipients selected “based on financial need and access to at least 250 square meters of land.” After distributing these greenhouses, the NHLP also provides classes for participants on how to cultivate vegetables and apply fertilizer made from organic waste.

With the goal of tailoring the CBARD project to Afghanistan’s agriculture, the U.N. aims to benefit an estimated 46,000 households across the nation. As part of this general agricultural program, greenhouses are implemented as “key infrastructure” across the region. The U.N. explains that due to cultural and security concerns throughout many provinces, it has also focused on the implementation of micro greenhouses so that women can grow crops inside their homes. With the CBARD program currently active in the Badghis, Farah and Nangarhar provinces, the program has built hundreds of micro and commercial greenhouses for farmers.

The Need for Year-Round Food

Greenhouses in Afghanistan have provided access to produce during winter months while also providing a general improvement in food quality. This is especially beneficial for children and pregnant women who are vulnerable to malnutrition. Saima Sahar Saeedi, NHLP social affairs officer, explains to the World Bank that these greenhouses aim to reduce childhood malnutrition with children able to “eat the vegetables grown in their own family greenhouses.”

Due to Kapisa province’s especially cold winter climate, many families are unable to grow produce such as wheat, potatoes and vegetables throughout the year without the help of greenhouses and are unable to afford produce at a local bazaar. Some greenhouses in Afghanistan even help families sell crops. One recipient, Roh Afza, tells the World Bank that the money she made from selling her greenhouse produce is used to buy “clothes, school uniforms, notebooks and books for [her] children.”

The U.N.’s CBARD program has focused on the Badghis region specifically, where citizens depend on agriculture as their primary occupation. With an increase of droughts, however, much of the population has turned to poppy cultivation, which requires less water than other crops. Poppy cultivation not only requires an entire family to work but results in minimal profits and reduces the fertility of the soil. The CBARD program aims to reduce the dependence on poppy cultivation in the region by implementing greenhouses for the production of crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The Global Success of Greenhouses

The success of both the U.N.’s CBARD program and the World Bank’s NHLP initiative include achievements in combating malnutrition, poverty and food insecurity through both micro and commercial greenhouses. Greenhouses have also furthered agricultural progress and livelihoods in rural Jamaica as well as Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. The U.N. and World Bank’s greenhouse implementation programs create long-term, community-based solutions in combating food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bees Reduce PovertyBees are an essential part of global agricultural systems. Additionally, bees reduce poverty around the world as they are responsible for pollinating 80% of the world’s plant species, including 90 different types of crops.

Study by the FAO

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) studied 344 plots of land in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The plots revealed a positive correlation between the number of bees that visited a particular plot of land and its agricultural productivity. For small farms with a landmass of fewer than two hectares, the study concluded that farmers could increase their crop production by an average of 24% by increasing pollinator traffic.

The results of the FAO study could affect approximately two billion farmers worldwide. Because of their importance to agricultural production, increasing the number of bees on agrarian lands could improve global food security. Bees also provide a valuable way to reduce rates of poverty. Bees can be especially valuable to people living in rural poverty, a very important issue to address as approximately 63% of people in poverty worldwide live in rural areas.

5 Ways Bees Reduce Poverty

  1. Beekeeping helps households increase their income. Rural families living in regions with poor agricultural yields may struggle to make ends meet. However, raising bees can help these families earn more money. In addition to potentially increasing their annual crop production, bees produce honey and beeswax which families can sell. For example, Bees Abroad and the Poverty Abroad for the Poor Initiative taught farmers living in extreme poverty how to run bee farms. As a result of this training, 30 of those farmers went on to run their own bee farms afterward, which helped increase their incomes.
  2. Beekeeping creates opportunities for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs use bee by-products to make commodities such as shoe polish, candles and ointments. More importantly, beekeeping presents opportunities for entrepreneurship, which helps people escape poverty and support themselves and their families. Entrepreneurs are finding ways they can use bees to reduce poverty and improve living conditions.
  3. Food insecurity and poverty are linked. Poverty is the main driving factor behind food insecurity worldwide. Across the world, roughly 80% of chronically undernourished people live in rural areas of developing countries, making food insecurity a particularly important aspect of ending rural poverty. Increasing bee populations can enhance food security by increasing crop yields. By improving food security, bees reduce poverty in a way that is especially beneficial to rural communities.
  4. Beekeeping is an effective form of occupational therapy. Occupational therapy helps people with disabilities accomplish goals such as working and attending school. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by poverty, which makes addressing their needs critical to reducing poverty. Additionally, inaccessible work and education opportunities are major contributing factors to this problem, which occupational therapy can help address. Fortunately, beekeeping requires little capital and helps occupational therapy participants become financially independent, making it an effective form of occupational therapy.
  5. Protecting the global environment keeps people out of poverty. Environmental degradation can increase levels of poverty. For example, the loss of natural resources to environmental degradation leaves communities with fewer means to support themselves. However, bees are critical pollinators that support ecosystems and natural resources across the globe. Additionally, bees can even improve habitat restoration efforts. So, by preserving and restoring vital resources, bees reduce poverty.

Overall, bees provide unique benefits that have the potential to reduce global poverty. By garnering the help of pollinators, impoverished communities can rise out of poverty.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

The Significance of USADF
Congress established the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), which is an independent U.S. government agency. Its mission is very simple; to fund grassroots groups and entrepreneurs, as well as small and medium-sized businesses throughout Africa. The organization began in 1980 and has helped 7 million people since its origins. Here is some information about the significance of USADF.

About USADF

The significance of USADF is that it focuses on the impoverished while prioritizing people with specific needs such as troubled youth, disabled people and others from different minority groups, such as women. For every $10,000, 79 more people obtain access to electricity, and 25 more people more workers gain jobs. In the last five years, USADF has been a key factor of The Global Food Security Act by contributing $61 million that helped 3.4 million people in 20 African countries.

USADF aids community enterprises by providing grants of up to $250,000. This allows underserved people to participate in Africa’s development story.

USADF also works with communities to understand problems at the root in order to determine the most effective solution. Some of the problems USADF is attempting to deal with are food insecurity and unemployment.

The Significance of USADF in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s lowest energy access rates, with only around half of its population having access to electricity. Approximately 600 million people do not have electricity while 890 million people must utilize traditional fuels so they can cook. USADF’s off-grid energy grants promote market-based solutions that connect people and businesses to electricity. Since 2014, more than 130 off-grid energy projects have received more than $11 million in order to provide people with energy access.

While USADF funds energy projects, it also invests in agriculture. Close to 57% of Africa’s off-grid population works in agriculture. As a result, USADF has worked with businesses in agriculture, in order to provide them with support and reduce food insecurity. For example, through its partnership with the Feed the Future initiative, USADF has implemented projects in six African countries.

Looking Ahead

On June 24, 2021, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) introduced a bipartisan resolution for the continued support of USADF. Since he came to Congress in 2018, Phillips has prioritized sustainable development and peacebuilding as a member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights, as well as the Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance. Now, he is demonstrating his active support of USADF.

“By focusing on grassroots projects and meeting real needs of people at the community level, the U.S. African Development Foundation has pioneered a successful model for development, garnering broad bipartisan support,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa who is co-leading this initiative.

This bill is crucial as it will dictate the future of a foundation that has helped millions of people. Fortunately, the future of USADF looks bright.

– Noya Stessel
Photo: Flickr

Food Systems SummitThe first global Food Systems Summit will take place on September 23, 2021, preceded by a three-day pre-summit in Rome from July 26 to July 28, 2021. The summit is part of the United Nations’ Decade of Action, in which the U.N. aims to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Goals of the Food Systems Summit

The Food Systems Summit will examine how food insecurity, climate and human conflicts intersect. According to the United Nations website, the summit has four main goals including:

  1. Establishing a clearer agenda to achieve the U.N.’s SDGs. This means creating action steps for all levels, from national governments to local representatives and from global companies to individual citizens.
  2. Opening up public discussion about food insecurity and creating more awareness.
  3. Formulating guiding principles for governments as they create their own plans to support the U.N.’s SDGs.
  4. Establishing a system of accountability, follow-up and review to ensure tangible progress.

Activists’ Immediate Demands

The summit has long-term strategic potential, but some activists have more immediate concerns as well. The summit comes at a time when food prices, job insecurity and overall global hunger are all rising. On April 20, 2021, more than 250 aid groups and organizations wrote an open letter to the United Nations demanding $5.5 billion in emergency food assistance funding.

Activists’ Criticisms of the Summit

Many activists have major concerns about the Food Systems Summit, particularly regarding who is involved in the program and the direction that the program aims to take for food production. Although small-scale food suppliers such as fishermen, farmers and Indigenous people provide the vast majority of the world’s food, they do not have a seat at the table at the summit. Many feel that the preparation process has not been transparent enough to allow small-scale producers to participate.

Additionally, other activists have concerns about how the summit will approach food insecurity. Many believe it focuses too much on technological solutions to food insecurity and that supporting other systems is necessary to return self-autonomy to people in poverty. Though new technology can play an important role, alternative solutions must undergo consideration as well. For example, agroecology draws upon historical, cultural and scientific knowledge of specific regions, ensuring more sustainable farming and preserving people’s cultural practices. Activists also worry that some high-tech solutions will tighten corporate control over developing countries’ food systems.

Looking to the Future

Though the Food Systems Summit has received criticism, it is still an important step as it will bring countries together to form a plan to address the pressing crisis of food insecurity. According to the United Nations, “Scientists agree that transforming our food systems is among the most powerful ways to change course and make progress toward all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” With collaboration among governments and citizens, the world can better tackle problems related to food consumption and production.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Timor LesteHuman trafficking is the exploitation of a human being through the use of force or coercion in order to obtain labor or sexual acts. While human trafficking is a global issue with a large connection to poverty, it is important to recognize that trafficking may look different from country to country. Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a Southeast nation occupying half of the island of Timor and has a significant problem with human trafficking that involves both foreign and domestic victims. According to a trafficking report by the U.S. Department of State, “poor economic conditions and limited educational opportunities create trafficking vulnerabilities for Timorese nationals.” Here are five facts to help explain human trafficking in Timor-Leste.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Timor-Leste

  1. Timor-Leste is listed under the Tier 2 Watch List. The tiers, mandated from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, are based on the size of a country’s human trafficking problem along with government efforts to combat human trafficking. To grow in the rankings, a country has to increase anti-trafficking efforts and maintain acceptable progress. The Tier 2 Watch List is the third listed in the four overall tiers and is similar to Tier 2 except for the fact that the government has failed to show progress in combating forms of trafficking in comparison to previous years. Progress includes investigations, prosecution, and convictions into human trafficking cases. Timor-Leste only fell to the Tier 2 Watch List recently in 2020. From 2016-2019, Timor-Leste was listed under Tier 2 but did not report trafficking convictions; the only identification of a trafficking victim came from a non-governmental organization. It was in the fifth year when the government failed to increase their efforts to report trafficking convictions, that Timor-Leste fell to the Tier 2 Watch List.
  2. Timor-Leste is a destination country for human trafficking. A destination country is a country where there is a large demand for human trafficking. Most of these demands come from large cities. In Timor-Leste, many young men and women are lured to the capital through the promise of job prospects and educational opportunities, and end up in situations of forced labor and prostitution. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “victims trafficked to Timor-Leste have originated from China, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines.”
  3. Timor-Leste is also an origin country. An origin country provides the supply of trafficked persons. The main outgoings of trafficking victims, according to the IOM, “is associated with labor migration out of East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia.” Most of the victims sent to Indonesia are women and girls forced into domestic servitude.
  4. Children are among the victims of human trafficking. The children of Timor-Leste are among the many victims of human trafficking, often taken for sexual exploitation and dangerous agricultural tasks. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, data coming from all 13 municipalities in Timor-Leste show that 55.5% of children in child labor engage in dangerous, hazardous work. It was found that families will place children in household and agricultural labor both in Timor-Leste and in other countries in order to pay off debts.
  5. The majority of victims are women and girls. Many women and girls are vulnerable due to the lack of legal protection, starting from the time they are in school. Research strongly shows that while there are no laws that prohibit pregnant girls from attending school, there are also no laws on providing education for pregnant girls. As a result, many principals will deny the girls access to the school. Obtaining transfer documentation becomes a problem too, as principles control access to documents. The lack of education and access to proper education facilities leaves many women and girls particularly vulnerable to human traffickers.

Looking Ahead

While Timor-Leste has not significantly progressed in its efforts to fight human trafficking, there is still hope for the future. The government of Timor-Leste has used an anti-trafficking curriculum created by a foreign government in order to better inform and train its judicial and legal sections. Organizations and persons that have received training include the national police, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The government of Timor-Leste is also making efforts to criminalize human trafficking, though many of these plans still stay in a drafted status. One such plan comes from the Ministry of Justice, which drafted a national action plan in 2018 that has not yet been presented to the Council of Ministers. Another drafted policy comes from the Ministry of Education. This policy would encourage girls to return to school after giving birth, though it has remained in draft form for years. Through increased government intervention, through enforcing the policies already made and increasing protection for the vulnerable, the tide can turn in the fight against human trafficking in Timor-Leste.

Grace Ingles

Photo: Flickr

Panera BreadThe Panera Bread Company is a café-style fast food restaurant that originated in the U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri. Recently, the company made efforts to expand its success to help nonprofit organizations stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes donating unsold baked goods to hunger relief organizations and providing meals to children in Ohio. Not only does Panera Bread make a change domestically, but the company has also begun expanding its focus to ending world hunger globally.

The Partnership

In March 2021, the World Central Kitchen (WCK) announced a partnership with Panera Bread in order to increase public understanding of the hunger crisis during the pandemic. The head chefs of the two organizations, José Andrés and Claes Petersson, produced a unique sandwich for Panera Bread to sell to further raise awareness of the partnership. Not only did Panera Bread extend its resources and kitchens to supply base support for the WCK, but the restaurant chain also donated a portion of the profits made from each sandwich sold during two weeks in March to the WCK, generating approximately $100,000 for the organization. WCK used the donations to support its programs, providing meals to the impoverished and training aspiring chefs from Haiti to become professional chefs.

How WCK Uses Donations

Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, José Andrés began to rebuild more than 150 community kitchens in Guatemala and Haiti, which led to the creation of the WCK and then later, the development of chef training and farmer education programs. The WCK has partnered with more than 2,500 restaurants, including Panera Bread. The WCK has provided more than 36 million meals to the impoverished domestically; however, the WCK also uses donations to support its international programs.

For instance, the WCK has trained more than 700 cooks dedicated to feeding students in countries such as Guatemala, Haiti, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Additionally, 40 students graduate from the Haitian WCK Port-au-Prince culinary arts school each year, pursuing professional careers as chefs in restaurants and hotels.

Furthermore, the WCK’s central goal for its Food Producer Network is to eliminate food insecurity and assist communities in strengthening their skills to combat future disasters that may lead to food insecurity. Operating in Puerto Rico and Guatemala, the network was created following Hurricane Maria and partners with small food businesses, such as farmers and fishermen, to advocate for sustainable food systems and the use of locally-grown foods.

Most food products originate from agricultural farming, including meat, fruit, vegetables, milk and sugar. To further strengthen farmers’ skills and reduce food insecurity, WCK launched a program in 2020 called Apiculture for Farmers. Based in Puerto Rico, the program educates farmers on how beekeeping assists in crop pollination and honey production.

Working Toward a Common Goal

Panera Bread’s donations served to assist WCK in feeding impoverished children in Guatemala, Haiti, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Donations have also contributed toward training cooks, assisting aspiring chefs in graduating from the Port-au-Prince culinary school in Haiti, encouraging the consumption of locally-grown foods and educating farmers on the benefits of beekeeping.

Throughout 2020, WCK aimed to boost the restaurant industry to successfully solve community challenges, such as natural disasters and illnesses. Both Panera Bread and the World Central Kitchen operate under the same belief that delicious and fresh ingredients should be accessible to everyone, which motivates each organization to make a positive change in their community while eliminating food insecurity globally.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr