Information and stories about agriculture.

Sustainable Farming in Developing Countries
About 10,000 years ago, humans were primarily nomadic, wandering the land in search of game and other wild food sources. Gradually, these hunter-gatherer societies settled into sedentary communities. In addition, hunter-gatherer societies cultivated land and domesticated animals. The history of agriculture is in a sense the history of human civilization as the food surplus that farming large quantities of staple grains allowed for steady population growth and the beginnings of urbanization. Through the centuries, humans have continued to innovate agricultural methods, developing new tools and technologies to more efficiently raise crops. Today, sustainable farming is the new workshop of the agricultural invention. Sustainable farming in developing countries is in its early stages but may prove a solution to food scarcity in those nations.

What is Sustainable Farming?

Sustainable farming is not a buzzword, it is a practice. Sustainable agriculture is a science-minded approach to farming, predicated on an awareness of agriculture’s place in the local ecosystem. Moreover, sustainable farmers take a mindful approach to their work, attempting to encourage biodiversity, maintain soil fertility, protect water sources and prevent erosion.

Sustainable Farming in the Developing World

The most obvious benefit that sustainable farming initiatives offer developing nations is the potential to dramatically increase crop yields. A study that the American Chemical Society conducted determined that sustainable farming methods could improve harvests by about 80 percent within four years. As a result, sustainable agriculture incorporates water preservation techniques. It also contributes to water security. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program plans to revamp irrigation and drainage networks across 44,415 hectares of farmland in 12 developing nations.

To be sure, while sustainable farming in developing countries has a lot of advantages, it is not without limitations. Given that most farmers in developing nations operate at a subsistence level, the possibility of long-term gains provided by a shift to sustainable farming might not be enough incentive to change. Additionally, the farmers might not even be aware that sustainable methods exist or have access to guidance in implementing those methods.

Agriculture and Poverty Reduction

Sustainable farming in developing countries provides tangible macroeconomic benefits, including poverty reduction. Research from the World Development Journal found agricultural growth to have two to three times more impact on poverty reduction than equivalent growth in other industries. Moreover, the poorest segment of society reaps the lion’s share of wealth gains from agricultural development.

The OECD organized a research study designed to reveal why certain countries made faster progress than others at poverty reduction. In addition, the study reported to what extent agriculture played a role in this disparity. The results indicate that agriculture may be the key to alleviating poverty. Agriculture revenues contributed an average of 52 percent to poverty reduction in developing countries. Once again, the extremely impoverished benefitted the most. It seems clear that sustainable farming is more than an efficient and environmentally friendly set of agricultural procedures. It is also a path out of poverty.

Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Evergrande in GuizhouOver the course of 40 years, China pulled 700 million people out of poverty. Rural poverty “decreased from 55.75 million to 16.6 million” between 2015 and 2018. China had planned to completely end extreme poverty by 2020. The country’s agenda is one key driver; however, the effort from the rising private sectors has also been pivotal. China’s private companies have demonstrated innovative ways to tackle poverty-related issues. This article will introduce the case of one leading private company, Evergrande in Guizhou.

Private Investment

China has already had success with private companies working to eradicate poverty. E-commerce has been fiercely discussed on different stages both internationally and domestically for its role in poverty eradication. Alibaba has successfully exercised the strategy of promoting small business from remote and impoverished regions on its online platform to stimulate the commodity economy and end their poverty. In fact, Alibaba’s online sales platforms have helped more than 100 poor counties in China reach a sales record of $14 million in 2018.

In 2019, the United Nations Environment Program honored Ant Financial Services Group for its achievement in afforestation of 122 million trees in arid regions in China to improve their overall living conditions. This tech company also works to finance small businesses. Its Alipay platform provides online money transfer services, lending and investment funds.

Evergrande in Guizhou

However, differing from these online giants, Evergrande leads the real estate business in China. In 2018, the head of the company, Jiayin Xu, said the private sector should do more in poverty alleviation. In the same year, Evergrande won the trophy for its donation of $560 million, which also make them the number one organizational donor. That year, 68 percent of the money donated went towards poverty alleviation.

Absolute numbers of donations are not the only hallmark of Evergrande’s approaches in poverty alleviation. Evergrande has an obvious provincial focus on its poverty reduction projects. Evergrande started working in Guizhou, one of China’s more underdeveloped provinces, in 2015. According to the report, Bijie, Guizhou, received 51.9 percent of the total donation, which equals $302 million. In, Bijie, the number of people living in poverty has decreased by 5.94 million, dropping the poverty rate from 56 percent to 8.89 percent in the last 30 years.

Agricultural Reclamation

Besides the massive amount of financial input, the success that Evergrande in Guizhou has had in combating poverty demonstrates another key mark: a detailed and localized strategy. Evergrande’s research corroborates Guizhou’s traditional disadvantage in agricultural reclamation. Therefore, it developed various alternative measures.

Its plans were to develop Dafang County, Bijie City, Guizhou Province. The company had completed 103 projects targeted poverty by 2017. More than 180,000 local residents benefited from these projects. Through supply, production and sale integration, Evergrande helped Dafang county create 16,473 acres planting bases of economic fruits and 317 beef breeding farms. It also built 10,223 greenhouses and 22 cultivation centers.

China’s private companies have had impressive success in combating poverty. As a new player in the field, Evergrande in Guizhou demonstrated how a private company turns poverty alleviation into an economic opportunity for both local communities and companies. Indeed, the company has had a relatively short time in the field, but its role is no less critical than governmental help.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

World Cocoa FoundationSmall plots of land, unsustainable farming practices, forced child labor, a changing climate and chronic farmer poverty are among the many issues that the cocoa industry faces today. “In Côte d’Ivoire – the world’s largest producer of cocoa – a farmer should earn four times his current income in order to reach the global poverty line of $2 a day,” according to Make Chocolate Fair, an international campaign focused on the fair treatment of cocoa farmers. The World Cocoa Foundation is hoping to make the industry sustainable.

Reasons Behind Issues in the Cocoa Industry

Partly to blame is the common practice of sharecropping. In regions where cocoa is most heavily produced, sharecropping restricts farmers’ ability to significantly alter their land for sustainable use. It disincentivizes farmers to make rehabilitation investments. Moreover, monoculture crops – singular crops produced over a large area of land – inhibit crop diversity and make crops more susceptible to pests and diseases.

According to NPR, high rainfall, lower demand for chocolate and price-fixing have also contributed to a decrease in cocoa prices. This has led to an increase in low wages and high debts for cocoa farmers, resulting in chronic poverty. Charlotte Grant, the Communications and Marketing Manager for the World Cocoa Foundation believes that poverty leads to issues such as child labor and deforestation.

“We fear that the well-being of farmers will not improve unless the cocoa supply chain becomes more sustainable,” said Grant. Without any intervention, the global cocoa industry faces an uncertain and unstable future. Fortunately, the World Cocoa Foundation has given cocoa farmers a sense of renewed hope.

A Rich History

The U.S. chocolate industry created the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA) in 1923 to serve cocoa producers by funding research, promoting chocolate consumption and lobbying Congress and government agencies. When the CMA determined a new model for cocoa sustainability was necessary, it formed the International Cocoa Research and Education Foundation in 1995. In 2000, the foundation was renamed the World Cocoa Foundation. Its main focus is on cocoa research and educational programs.

In the late 2000s, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development, WCF began administering large-scale projects that emphasized productivity, higher-wages for farmers, the reduction of child labor, scientific research and community strength. Today, with more than 100 members, the vision of WCF is clear: “A sustainable and thriving cocoa sector – where farmers prosper, cocoa-growing communities are empowered, human rights are respected, and the environment is conserved.”

The Work of WCF

WCF maintains a diverse range of programs across several regions, including program partnerships with other NGOs. Initiatives like CocoaAction, Cocoa and Forests Initiative, Climate Smart Cocoa, Cocoa Livelihoods Program and African Cocoa Initiative II are addressing the specific needs of cocoa-producing communities.

WCF launched the Cocoa Livelihoods Program in 2009. This program works to increase cocoa farmer productivity. Through training and education, CLP advances four primary objectives. It works to advance industry initiatives, provide a “full-package” of services to farmers, promote food crops and empower women.  With more than 15 company partners, CLP serves impacted communities in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire.

With the goal of increased stakeholder collaboration, WCF established the CocoaAction initiative in 2014. CocoaAction offers a Monitoring & Evaluation Guide that provides data collection in communities as well as a Community Development Manual. It provides company partners with an outline for the design and implementation necessary for sustainable Cocoa production.

Making Chocolate Sustainable

In 2019, as part of the Cocoa and Forest Initiatives, 34 chocolate companies, along with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, released official action plans detailing the new steps they are taking to address climate change and cocoa sustainability. The initiative aims to end deforestation and replace vegetation in impacted forest areas. The Climate Smart Cocoa initiative acknowledges the impact of climate change on cocoa crops. It seeks to examine better risk and investment strategies to strengthen the global cocoa market.

Partnering with USAID and several private sector partners, the African Cocoa Initiative II emphasizes the importance of economically sustainable and economically viable cocoa production. According to the ACI II annual report, more than “two million smallholder farmers” rely on cocoa farming for income. Therefore, “a healthy and sustainable cocoa industry means opportunity for economic growth and poverty alleviation in the region.”

A Sweet and Sustainable Future

In the past two decades, the World Cocoa Foundation has benefited countless farmers and their communities. Through training, education and community partnerships, WCF continues to strengthen the cocoa industry. By becoming more informed about the issues in the cocoa industry and what is currently being done to resolve them, people can make a difference, according to Grant. It is important to research preferred chocolate manufactures and make sure they are using sustainable, fair trade practices. By getting involved and sharing important information about the cocoa industry, consumers can make a difference in cocoa farmers’ lives.

Aly Hill
Photo: Flickr

African Agritech Startups
The World Bank predicts that agribusiness in Africa will grow to become a $1 trillion industry by 2030. This growth impacts poverty reduction efforts. For every 1 percent increase in agricultural GDP, poverty in the region decreases by 1 percent. Food security and stable growth in the region can be obtained by investments in agriculture. Specifically, a large branch of agriculture business on the rise is agricultural-tech in Sub-Saharan Africa. With African agritech startups launching in 2010, exponential growth has been seen since. 

Agritech companies, or disruptive agricultural technologies (DATs), aim to develop solutions to ongoing issues in the form of solar devices, mobile apps and even bio-fortified foods. These companies help farmers in two ways: increasing produce yield by 3-5x the baseline and/or connecting farmers directly to buyers and affordable equipment, effectively cutting out the middleman. These technological advances help farmers increase their output, efficiency and access to markets. With the help of agritech, farmers can combat a lack of regional resources and reduce poverty.

5 African Agritech Startups Tackling Poverty

  1. Kitovu is a Nigerian based mobile app that was launched in 2016. The startup’s goal is to help farmers increase their crop yield while guaranteeing sales directly to buyers. Kitovu’s primary motivation evolved from post-harvest loss and waste occurring in roughly 40 percent of crops. This waste is partly due to small farmers being required to sell their goods through intermediaries who take a large portion of the profit. To reduce loss and decrease corruption, Kitovu connects farmers directly to processing companies and relevant consumers. With this information, farmers use Kitovu’s FarmPack to provide insight into the purchase of crop-specific fertilizers, appropriate seeds and agrochemicals. Kitovu also has a user exchange feature, called FarmSwap, that allows farmers to trade produce, thus gaining additional funding through inputs financing. Lastly, Kitovu offers a third feature, called eProcure, to help farmers with various supply chain needs, including exportation and necessary operational machinery.
  2. Agrocenta is a four-tiered software platform founded in Ghana in 2015. Similar to Kitovu, Agrocenta seeks to solve a common barrier to farmers: a lack of access to buyers and financing options. Four distinct platforms are offered. AgroTrade simulates an active marketplace that connects farmers of staples directly to buyers. AgroPay creates a reliable log for various products. AgroInfo delivers industry news such as crop prices and weather updates. Finally, Truckr partners directly with Ghana Private Road Transport Union to ensure drivers deliver goods efficiently. With these services, Agrocenta services more than 46,000 individual farmers.
  3. AgriPredict is a Zambian-based agritech company created by CEO Mwila Kangwa that utilizes AI to help around 22,000 farmers manage risks of environmental disasters, including drought, pests and crop diseases. This mobile app and web-based platform predicts weather patterns and identifies crop diseases through machine learning. A farmer will take a photo of the diseased crop and upload it to the app where the output will be a real-time diagnosis, treatment options and a location of the nearest agricultural supply store. Additionally, AgriPredict has a tool that helps farmers estimate their yield of a specific plot of land.
  4. Yellow Beast Tech is aiming to solve severe water shortages, like the shortages that plagued South Africa from 2015 to 2018. During this time, city dam water levels fell below the typical level by 13.5 percent. Founded by civil engineers, Pontisho Molestane and Matebele Moshoni, the company invents, manufactures, sells and installs irrigation systems aimed to limit water waste. Additionally, the device uses AI to analyze the most optimal conditions for the soil-crop system to aid farmers in maximizing crop yield while limiting water usage.
  5. Hello Tractor, a mobile app, was founded in 2015 to provide affordable equipment to farmers in Nigeria and Kenya. The app connects tractor owners, small-scale farmers, banks and dealers to locate the best solutions. A monitoring device is first attached to the tractor and connected to the cloud. Relevant data is transmitted to stakeholders to optimize agricultural business networking and production. According to the company, 22,500 farmers have been served to date. Further, these farmers see about a 200 percent increase in crop yield.

African agritech startups show promise for the continent by addressing the needs of the ever-increasing population. Not only do these five startups provide an innovative approach to addressing systemic issues in the sector, but concrete solutions to food security and poverty as well.

– Danielle Barnes
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Sanitation in NicaraguaAlthough Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, it is also one of the poorest nations in the region. Its mountainous location presents a challenge when considering the development of infrastructure necessary for a functioning water and sanitation system. Although access to resources has been a persistent challenge, the following 10 facts about sanitation in Nicaragua explain the country’s upward trajectory of living conditions and a patchwork of support.

10 Facts about Sanitation in Nicaragua

  1. Improved Sanitation Coverage. Access to improved sanitation in the past 30 years has increased significantly. In 1990, Nicaragua had 44 percent overall sanitation coverage. As of 2015, that number increased to 68 percent, according to data collected by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  2. Improved Drinking-water Source Coverage. Driven by the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations (U.N.), Nicaragua has managed to increase access to drinking-water coverage from 73 percent to 87 percent of the population between 1990 to 2015.
  3. Urban vs. Rural Coverage. Like in many countries, access to sanitary services depends on location and economic status. This is even more apparent for the Nicaraguan population, which has a high coverage gap of 22 percent between rural and urban areas in basic sanitary services. Nevertheless, the gap has decreased somewhat over time. It is down from a 28 percent gap in 2000.
  4. Climate factors. Nicaragua is situated in what is called the “Dry Corridor” of Central America, leaving it exposed to heavy drought. To compound, the negative factors of “El niño” warming the surface temperatures has prolonged these dry spells and intensified storms. The consequence of these abnormalities makes it harder to travel for water pick-up, so families try to store water indoors. This leads to communicable diseases such as diarrhea. Luckily, humanitarian organizations have not been largely hindered by climate-related occurrences and continue to offer services such as new sanitation projects toward greater coverage.
  5. WaterAid and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). Created by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WASH is a global effort to promote access to clean water, sanitation and hygienic practices to those in need. WaterAid is the biggest international nonprofit organization to exclusively promote WASH. It has intervened in principalities lacking water systems to connect 24,000 to clean water sources, 9,600 with toilets in their homes and 55,000 with hygiene education since 2011.
  6. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). IDB is a Latin American regional bank with similar development goals to that of the World Bank. In order to finance the expansion of water and sanitation services, IDB loaned 11 Nicaraguan cities a total of $72 million for better access to potable water and sanitation facilities. The project is expected to bring clean drinking water to 65,000 people and benefit 31,000 with new sewage networks. These improvements in technical assistance and equipment will benefit 375,000 residents of the capital city, Managua.
  7. Water For People. Another nonprofit that is promoting the WASH initiative is Water For People. It works with district governments to construct water pipes and ensure their sustainability. It also started a microfinance approach by partnering with local institutions to train on how to offer loans for sanitation purposes. To promote better hygiene in schools, the organization partners with schools to bring hygiene programming into teacher-led activities. It helps parent-teacher associations to monitor its effectiveness. Water For People has brought reliable water services in two districts for more than 26,000 residents.
  8. American Nicaraguan Foundation (ANF). Founded in 1992, ANF is a nonprofit with the objective of reducing the ingestion of contaminated water and improving living conditions for Nicaraguans. Its projects have built sanitation facilities, wells, tap stands, rainwater collection and water filtration systems. In 2018 alone, ANF built 24 water wells, 711 sanitation facilities and more than 730 water taps, benefiting thousands of local residents.
  9. Faith-based nonprofits and agriculture. Since rural farmlands have poor access to water and sanitation, a number of churches in Nicaragua have partnered with local farmers to implement more sustainable farming practices that can protect the soil and water from pollution. Episcopal Relief & Development is a faith-based nonprofit. Its initiatives include crop diversity, increased food production, tree planting, constructing land ridges and ditches to reduce soil erosion and harvesting rainwater with micro-dams. The organization is currently working on a WASH project in Boaco to educate local communities on how to improve facilities and access to clean water.
  10. Esperança Projects. Esperança is a comprehensive nonprofit focused on health and education. Since 2001, it has been working in the northern region of Jinotega, a poor farming region of Nicaragua. Among its services, it provides clean water sources like wells to help limit water-borne diseases that disproportionately affect children, women and poor communities as they expose themselves to harm when traveling long distances for water. It also educates farmers on better agroecological techniques that leave water sources uncontaminated. Along with education, the organization provides families with seeds and livestock that help combat soil erosion and water pollution.

The Millennium Development Goals and network of nonprofits working in Nicaragua have proved paramount to the nation’s development of water systems, sanitation and agricultural sustainability. Basic access to clean water and sanitation services are directly dependent on proper hygiene education and resources that these organizations have increasingly provided. These 10 facts about sanitation in Nicaragua represent both the challenges and optimism for its people with a highlight on the notable progress that has been made with support from local and global communities.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

Drought in Thailand
Thailand is currently facing a drought so severe that experts say that it is the worst drought in the previous 40 years. The low-lying water level of the Chao Phraya River, which is the main source of water for Thailand’s capital city Bangkok, has exasperated the current drought in Thailand. The issue is becoming so troublesome that people in and around Bangkok are experiencing water shortages. In addition, the decline in the water level of the Chao Phraya River has resulted in seawater entering the public water source, and many reported tasting salty water dispensed from their water tabs. Water salination not only puts drinking water in jeopardy, but it also affects water-reliant industries such as agriculture and various manufacturing plants.

Key questions that people should consider are: What is the source of the current drought in Thailand? Who does this drought primarily affect? Is this drought a new problem, or a recurrent one?

Climate in Thailand

Thailand’s climate is tropical and typically supplies ample amounts of precipitation throughout the year. From mid-May to September, Thailand actually experiences a rainy monsoon season. On average, the Bangkok region experiences over 150 mm of rainfall during monsoon season. However, from November to mid-March, the country experiences a dry season, thus providing ample opportunity for drought.

The Unpredictability of the Weather in Thailand

Irregular weather patterns in Thailand began as early as 1986 when reports indicated that droughts occurred as a result of El Nino. Experts believe that continued abnormal weather patterns correlate with climate change throughout the last few decades. These irregularities in rainfall have caused great difficulties for the nation’s citizens. Between 1990 and 1993, the rainfall dipped below typical levels. However, between 1994 and 1995, intense rainfall caused one of the worst floods in Thailand’s history.

Agricultural Impact of Weather Patterns

The unpredictable precipitation in Thailand is a major problem, specifically for Thailand’s agricultural sector. Until recently, Thailand was the largest exporter of rice in Asia. Nicknamed the “rice bowl of Asia,” Thailand exported $5.6 billion worth of rice in 2018 or 22.7 percent of the world’s rice export. This sector experienced a great impact from the drought as Thailand’s agricultural sector utilizes 70 percent of Thailand’s total water supply. Another industry facing a huge impact is Thailand’s sugar industry, bringing the Thai sugar output to a nine-year low of 10.5 million tons.

These kinds of severe droughts might raise agricultural prices, making food less affordable to many. The scarcity of agricultural goods will inevitably hurt farmers if they cannot produce, especially those 40 percent living under the poverty line, potentially causing them to face perpetual poverty. The continuous decline in agricultural production might even negatively impact Thailand’s economy.

Thai Government’s Measures to Combat Drought

Drought in Thailand has previously initiated governmental measures. The Thai Constitution of October 1997 established a national push to both conserve the country’s natural resources and use them in a sustainable way.

As a result, the Thai government has promoted projects and campaigns which encouraged water conservation. Thailand has implemented dams and reservoirs to play a major part in relieving drought in the country. Thailand initiated the majority of the construction of its major dams and reservoirs, such as the Chao Phraya Division Dam, the Bhumibol and Sirikit Dams and the Greater Chao Phraya Irrigation, after the Second World War.

In 2019, for example, the Royal Irrigation Department of the Thai government designed two rice planting areas in the central plains to double as water catchment areas. Currently, the government is planning to build 421 water storage facilities to support farmers who are suffering from the current drought. Due to the intensity of the current drought in Thailand, the Thai Irrigation Department is raising slight concerns about the efficacy of these dams and reservoirs. 

Drought in Thailand has been a long occurring issue that affects numerous aspects of Thai society. Specifically, the negative impact on the agricultural sector not only affects the farmers but fluctuating food costs also affect Thai consumers. The irregular precipitation rate, that the climate change of the last decades caused, is further worsening the drought in Thailand, thus creating a cyclic decline of the economy and water sanitation and access.

The Thai government is taking active measures to deal with these issues where the aim is to provide continuous dedication to improving water conservation. The governments’ intention is that eventually, droughts in Thailand will become stories of the past.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Smallholder Farmers
MyAgro is an organization working from the ground up to address poverty and it is doing so through an innovative technique. With the latest research proving that user-friendly mobile systems accessible in low internet areas are some of the best ways to reach people in poverty, myAgro built a cellphone-based savings program called Mobile Layaway. It helps smallholder farmers in Mali and around the world pay for supplies. Smallholder farmers no longer have to struggle to save lump sums in order to purchase seeds and fertilizer for their farms.

Who Are Smallholder Farmers?

Smallholder farmers are people who work on up to 10 hectares of farmland. Smallholders have family-focused motives behind their work and generally rely on family labor for production. Not only is farming their job, but they often depend on it to feed their family. They also provide up to 80 percent of the food supply on an equal percentage of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa.

How Does MyAgro’s Mobile Layaway Work?

Smallholders often have difficulty saving enough money to purchase bulk farm goods. The majority of rural farmers live too far from banks and do not have the money to access them and make deposits. Furthermore, bank fees would deplete their savings quickly.

However, many of these farmers already go to the store to purchase cards for minutes on their phones, so they are familiar with Mobile Layaway’s system. With Mobile Layaway, farmers go to their local village store where they purchase a prepaid scratch card, which can range from 50 cents to $50. After texting the scratch-off code, the value of the purchased card goes into a “savings account,” which can accumulate to pay for fertilizer, seeds and training packages. Mobile Layaway is similar to having a savings account at a bank, however, it is on the smallholder’s phone, which makes it easy to save money while buying supplies for their homesteads.

MyAgro takes this program one step further as well; its field agents train the smallholder farmers in modern farming techniques and methods that work specifically in the West African landscape.

The Situation in Mali

Mali ranks number 21 on the list of the poorest countries by population. In 2009, the poverty rate in Mali stood at 49.7 percent, meaning that almost half of the population lived on less than $1.90 per day. Though 2019 numbers are not officially out, the World Bank estimates that the poverty rate has reduced from the 2017 rate of 43.4 to 41.3 percent. The World Bank attributes this recent decrease to “exceptional agricultural production.

Mali’s economy greatly relies on its agricultural sector. It makes up 80 percent of the populations’ daily activities and income. The country ranks number 44 for countries with the most arable hectares for agricultural production, at a whopping 4.8 million hectares. What is more shocking is that Mali is using only 7 percent of this land.

Because of Mali’s substantial possibility of growth, many organizations have stepped in to build a more sustainable agriculture system. Building a sustainable agriculture system required aiding the farmers in developing a farming capacity, reducing food insecurity and increasing livelihoods. A byproduct of work in Mali has been an increase in people’s awareness of the necessity for better techniques. In recent years, organizations have had to alter their strategies to adapt to climate change effects such as floods and droughts.

MyAgro’s Benefits

Mali’s government went through a military coup when myAgro was just a pilot savings-based payment model in its first year. International NGOs and foreign governments all left as the government shut down, and the country was in political chaos. MyAgro stayed, and during that time, it learned that smallholder farmers in Mali still saved money through their mobile phones. MyAgro allowed for this possibility as most banks closed during that period. With loan-based payment models, many farmers would have defaulted on their payments during a time of conflict like in Mali.

MyAgro’s Impact

Originally, the organization’s reach was slow-moving. In fact, its users changed from a few thousand in 2011 to 30,000 in 2017. Since then, it took only two years for the number of users to double; the company hit 60,000 farmers in 2019. MyAgro estimates that it will be able to increase these numbers even further and reach 120,000 farmers in 2020.

Reaching farmers is one thing, but the personal impact on each individual is also phenomenal. If a smallholder farmer implements the techniques that MyAgro offers, they can expect to see a 50 percent increase in their harvest yield per hectare, at minimum. Some farmers have even seen a 100 percent increase per hectare. This equates to about $150 to $300 in additional income for the smallholder farmers each year. MyAgro is not stopping there and is “working to increase the direct economic impact of the program to over $550 per farmer in the next few years to move each farmer above the poverty line.”

MyAgro’s Longterm Goals

Because myAgro’s mission is to move smallholder farmers in Mali and the world out of poverty, it is no surprise that its ultimate goal is to reach 1 million farmers and their 10 million family members. By 2025, myAgro aims to work with these smallholder farmers to increase their income by $550 a year. This additional income would push the farmers and their families out of poverty.

MyAgro started an enormously challenging pilot model that led to a successful organization. It not only aids smallholder farmers in their rise out of poverty but changes people’s perceptions of farmers’ abilities to handle their money. Through all of this, myAgro has built a resilience with Malian citizens that the country has never seen before.

– Cassiday Moriarity
Photo: Unsplash

 

Education for Tea Pickers' Children in Sri Lanka 
Tea is the number one export of Sri Lanka, accounting for around $1.67 billion in revenue. This business creates jobs for about 5 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. Tea picking includes the whole family, who often live in housing just off the plantation. As a result, access to education for the tea pickers’ children can be difficult or non-existent.

Sending kids to local schools is also not an option since most families either do not have a method of transportation, or their children are already working in the fields by the age of 13. Despite the fact that tea pickers are the skeleton of the economy, the majority of these tea workers are overworked and underpaid, meaning children often grow up in this same cycle of oppression. Two companies are trying to change this: Tea Leaf Trust and Kindernothilfe. Both are successfully paving the way for a better future by providing tea pickers’ children access to education.

Why Does Education Matter?

Education changes the lives of the people in these tea picking communities. Education can target domestic violence, hopelessness and poverty through learning skills such as professionalism and proficiency in English. By encouraging young people to be role models in their community and instilling a sense of hope and confidence in them, they are able to break out of the tea business and choose their own paths. Families in these communities view education for their children as a means to escape poverty. Without education, many children often commit suicide or self-harm. Suicide rates on plantations are the fourth highest in the world.

Tea Leaf Trust

Started in 2007, Tea Leaf Trust is a company that strives to create a way out for children living in tea picking communities. Alcoholism, malnutrition and disease/lack of sanitation surround many of these communities. Families of six to eight members must live in barrack-type homes which often have no windows and no means of ventilation. The conditions these families are living in hinders their ability to learn in school settings. The main way Tea Leaf Trust is improving conditions is by giving tea pickers’ children access to education, providing a future for both them and their families.

Tea Leaf Trust raised money to start a school to give tea pickers’ children access to education. This school, called Tea Leaf Vision, offers advanced diplomas for people who train and learn to become teachers and two-thirds go on to a university to earn their degrees or get a job off the plantation. Those enrolled in the advanced diploma allocate time to teach the English Community Programme at primary schools on the tea plantations as a part of their own schooling.

Schools in these communities are open once a week at 24 locations. Between 1,600 and 1,900 children attend these schools. These schools offer classes such as Business Studies, English Grammar and Emotional Health. Their focus is twofold: instilling a sense of value and purpose in youth through education and providing community service. Tea Leaf Trust also have plans to open a vocational center in the coming years. This will allow the students to not only learn within their community but also gain skills to move forward in their lives.

Kindernothilfe

Kindernothilfe, German for “supporting children in need,” is a company founded in Germany in 1959. Through its partnership with local NGOs, it has implemented 609 projects in 32 countries. In Sri Lanka, its focus is mainly on women and children, both of whom are often victims of violence and abuse.

Kindernothilfe wants to provide tea pickers’ children access to education. This program, founded in 2005, started its partnership with the Eksath Lanka Welfare Foundation. It now has around 80 children and 60 women enrolled in its program. This includes two children’s clubs where children grow their personal skills. The program also provides funding to children who have previously dropped out of school, allowing them to continue their education for free.

Kindernothilfe also offers an empowerment class to women in these communities. This is where they can discuss their situations, talk through how to manage their household and understand and counsel their children on domestic violence and children’s rights.

Uniformity and Equality of Education

There is a great need for quality education in Sri Lanka and not just in tea picking communities. The education sector is lacking in providing quality criteria and curriculums. Schools on plantations (if they exist at all) lack the most basic equipment and have teachers who are undereducated themselves. A reduction in poverty can be a result of proper education. Poverty is only 18 percent for those with an education, rising to 46 percent for households without an education.

Tea Leaf Trust and Kindernothilfe are just two examples of foundations that have stepped in to fill the gaps. They want to assist in providing educational assistance for those who lack it and change the lives of Sri Lankan tea picker’s children.

– Laurel Sonneby
Photo: Flickr

Investment Zones in Africa
Although populous, rich in natural resources and blessed with an abundance of arable land, many countries in the African continent continue to contend with poverty and food insecurity. That said, the status quo in Africa is far from all doom-and-gloom. More than 400 African companies boast annual revenues of $1 billion or greater, and the continent’s average GDP increased at an annual rate of 5.4 percent from 2000-2010. Meanwhile, a 2018 report from the World Bank noted that six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa, with Ghana claiming the top spot. New markets and investment zones in Africa offer entrepreneurs a host of business opportunities.

Competition for African Business

Africa’s economic revolution and ongoing population boom are an enticing prospect for international companies and foreign investors. China, Russia and India are just three of the nations competing for African business. In 2019, Chinese-African trade accrued $170 billion in profits, more than 20 times what it was in the early days of the current millennium. Foreign powers import Nigerian crude oil and cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or establish utility contracts in West Africa and this is only the beginning – Africa’s fast-growing economies promise even greater profits down the road.

Agriculture

Africa owns more arable land than any other region on earth, but most of that land is unutilized. African agricultural imports account for only 10 percent of the world market, while 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated land lies in African borders. Agribusiness has the potential to become one of the most profitable investment zones in Africa, as cash crops like sugar, tobacco and coffee have already yielded dividends for exporters even at less than optimal production.

Industry and Infrastructure

Given Africa’s generally outdated energy grids and telecommunications networks, infrastructure projects should prove a lucrative investment sector. Egypt initiated a full-scale infrastructure overhaul in 2015, while the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA) financed a number of ventures across the continent, including the North-South Power Transmission Corridor project. Some people project Africa’s domestic gas markets to grow 9 percent annually through 2025. African manufacturers are on track to double their production to roughly $1 trillion by 2030, giving the region the capability to undercut traditional (and more costly) manufacturing exporters like China.

Profit for a Purpose

Continued industrialization and population growth in Africa should lead to an influx of new markets and future generations of consumers. Importantly, the locals also stand to benefit from new revenue streams and investment zones in Africa, not just multinationals. African investors are increasingly trying their hand in the international stock exchange, contributing $13.39 billion to global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects, and $10.2 billion to FDI funds in Africa itself. Africa, it seems, should become the next big player at the international economic table.

Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Flickr

Mexican Farm Laborers
Developed countries often see grocery stores overflowing with fruits and vegetables from all over the world. Unfortunately, not every shopper questions the origins of their products and more importantly, the stories of those who cultivated the crops. Mexico is a significant figure in international agriculture trade totaling $31.5 billion in 2018 with the United States accounting for 78 percent of its sales. It has had success in exchange for the poor quality of life for the Mexican farm laborers who provide the resources, and this fact highlights a significant wealth disparity throughout the world.

The Cycle of Poverty

Today, Mexican farm laborers face poverty levels so extreme that they often must become perpetual migrants, traveling from state to state in order to maintain a steady wage. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), a Mexican governmental data collection agency, 78 percent of 5.2 million farmers are in a condition of multidimensional poverty. Families move across Mexico to seek work, which affects the dynamic population fluctuations based on the harvest in that town. The average worker makes around 11 pesos an hour, which is equivalent to around $0.59 USD. Even more alarming is that it is not uncommon to see children working in the scorching sun due to poor regulations and pay.

One of the main flaws of Mexico’s policies is that authorities do not regulate them as diligently for smaller farms. Workers rarely receive proper safety equipment and are often in poor living conditions. In addition to their low wages, farmers are, at times, under pressure from cartels in their areas that extort agricultural business. The cartels have established taxes that farm owners must pay in a few states such as Michoacán. While the United States ensures that the U.S. Department of Agriculture examines all of Mexico’s produce, it is incapable of inspecting the working conditions of the neighboring country. This dilemma spans across generations, as the next wave of children might become stuck in a similar position as their parents and face a related situation of wealth disparity. Many of the children grow up working on the same farms and will likely never have the opportunity to experience life outside of them.

Potential Resolutions

It has been nearly two generations since revolutionary civil rights activist César Chávez originally formed his United Farm Workers labor union. One of the key aspects of the success of his campaigns was their ability to increase awareness peacefully. His organization remains intact and continues to advocate for laborers’ rights in California. A similar social movement is necessary for Mexico and the change must come internally for others to hear the voices of the forgotten laborers.

Chavez proved that reform was achievable two generations ago, but his methods are still applicable today. Several organizations, such as the Center for Farmworker Families, give a platform for the difficult lives of Mexican farm laborers and are currently working on projects to increase pay and improve legislation. It is essential for people to be conscious that these conditions not only occur throughout Mexico but the entire world, as people experience exploitation in exchange for lower prices amongst all goods and services as the wealth disparity continues to grow. People must challenge one another to think beyond a product and about the stories of those who helped produce it. It is a reality that those who have a significant role in putting food on the tables of others often have little to none for their own families. It is necessary for people to value human life over materialism and remain conscious of consumption. If humanity can change as individuals and develop compassion for one another, then it can build a better future.

– Nicolas Montuffar
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