Information and stories about agriculture.

female labor in PakistanThe Karachi branch of Caritas Pakistan works to provide technical assistance and job training to the women of small Pakistani farms in several villages as part of its Acre for Women campaign. The campaign’s goal is to leverage the untapped potential of female labor in Pakistan. Providing training and opportunities to women will expand food security among the country’s vast population of subsistence farmers by encouraging self-sufficient practices with the resources on hand, ranging from basic water efficiency to crop rotation.

A Nascent Workforce

Amir Robin, an Acre for Women regional coordinator, explained both the long- and short-term benefits of training the women of several independent farms that range as small as a single acre. In an interview with UCA News, he states that aside from increasing food security, such training helps household farms minimize the cost of adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Female participation in the Pakistani labor force runs as low as 25%, according to World Bank estimates. The government aims to increase the amount to 45% by 2025. Accelerating Pakistan’s economic growth by boosting female labor involves eliminating the reasons for female labor’s systemic underuse.

Educational Disparities

First, women face limited access to formal education or vocational training. Girls make up about 53% of children that do not attend school in Pakistan, therefore, girls benefit the most from development programs. Such programs include those sponsored by the Engro Foundation, the “social investment arm” of Engro Corporation, a conglomerate company headquartered in Karachi, Pakistan. By sponsoring new government schools and refurbishing old ones with computer labs, Engro aims to increase the literacy rate among girls.

In light of COVID-19’s effect on unemployment rates, expanding educational opportunities remains the primary short-term focus of increasing female participation in the labor force. Engro’s programs are demonstrating fast results. More than 19,000 self-employed women are improving their livelihoods through vocational training in “animal husbandry practices, entrepreneurship in milk collection and livestock extension services in the dairy value chain.” Additionally, a surge of technologically literate women helps overcome difficulties in the job market due to greater access to advanced occupations.

Farm Income Depends on Women

Pakistan’s largest source of potential growth lies in its agricultural sector. Around 64% of Pakistanis live in rural areas and mostly work in agriculture. A large portion of the national economy depends on the output of family farms. There are two significant reasons why discounting women as a source of skilled labor in farm management is becoming an increasingly untenable prospect.

  1. Subsisting on relatively small parcels of land leaves farmers vulnerable to fluctuations in output. Because population growth and regular divisions of hereditary ownership make land parcels ever smaller, families that make do with smaller farms do not have the luxury of maintaining inefficient practices when handling their crops or their labor pool. A report by Victoria University says Pakistan’s high concentration of household farms means greater efficiency can be achieved, in this case, by including female labor. This translates into direct income boosts for families along with greater business activity thanks to new surpluses.
  2. Running a successful farm with little land is already dependent on women. Despite lacking gainful employment, women are informal participants in the Pakistani economy through unpaid domestic work. Victoria University’s study correlates a lack of job training and reduced output from inefficient practices, meaning that a lack of trained women is a bottleneck stifling household income growth.

Individual Growth for Women

Households stand to benefit from elevating women in the agricultural labor pool. Furthermore, developing female labor in Pakistan by addressing women’s exclusion in skilled practice will reverse the economic misfortune that prior restrictions have inflicted on women.

Because most women tie their fortunes as self-employed laborers to those of their families, increasing farm income is an effective way to enrich farming women’s income. Growth for Rural Enhancement and Sustainable Progress (GRASP) is yet another initiative operating in Pakistan working to achieve this goal. Its primary objective, according to coverage by Intracen (International Trade Centre), is training women to care for livestock and teaching them how to trade their produce. Rather than simply teaching women how to produce more, job training affords them additional autonomy by empowering them to take on a managerial role in the distribution process.

Economic Empowerment for Women

Sharmeela Rassool, a Pakistani country representative to the United Nations, emphasizes the importance of individual autonomy when it comes to increasing the participation rate of female labor in Pakistan. “For many women, entrepreneurship offers a path to economic empowerment,” she wrote in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. More and more women are using their educational attainment to run businesses outside the agricultural sector.

While COVID-19 has slowed economic growth across Pakistan, it has also exposed systemic inequality, raising an opportunity to put women in a starring role for economic recovery. The gradually decreasing gender wage gap indicates that the current trend of a diversifying workforce has yet to reach its ceiling. Overall, women’s inclusivity in Pakistan has the potential to create widespread benefits for Pakistan, helping the nation to rise out of poverty.

Samuel Katz
Photo: Flickr

Humanity and Hope UnitedHonduras has a notorious reputation for high levels of global poverty and corruption. However, one charitable organization is on a mission to improve living conditions in the country. The Humanity and Hope United Foundation is working to reduce poverty from the ground up. In an interview with The Borgen Project, the Foundation’s director of trips and Honduran volunteers, Caleb Mejia, provides insight into the organization’s mission.

Obstacles in Alleviating Poverty

Honduras has been in the process of democratization for 40 years after being under strict military rule. Despite this transition, coups and widespread distrust in government officials are still prevalent. One contribution to this was the Iran-Contra Affair. Although the country avoided the direct conflict that fell upon its Nicaraguan neighbors, negative impacts still ensued. The CIA-backed anti-communist forces in Honduras violently targeted local Marxist groups and committed human rights abuses. As a result, a lack of confidence in officials surfaced. Political instability has certainly contributed to heightened levels of poverty in Honduras.

Natural disasters also impact Honduras’ ability to grow. Category 5 Hurricane Mitch made landfall in Honduras in 1998, leaving thousands dead. In addition, agriculture and infrastructure were decimated, causing high levels of unemployment and poverty. Without sufficient resources or global support to prosper, Honduras struggled to bounce back from this particular natural disaster. Then, in 2020, Honduras was hit with the devastation of Hurricane Iota and Hurricane Eta, causing widespread homelessness and destruction.

Humanity and Hope United’s Mission

The Humanity and Hope United Foundation has been working first-hand to address Honduran poverty and its effects. To do so, the NGO partnered with the three Honduran communities of Remolino, La Cuchilla and La Coroza. Mejia told The Borgen Project that Humanity and Hope United makes “sustainable changes in rural and underserved communities in Honduras.” Mejia is a 23-year-old Honduran serving impoverished communities in Honduras. “We partner with communities to create jobs that will provide for them and their families,” says Mejia. Humanity and Hope United seeks to empower people and bring them closer to self-sufficiency. Currently, the organization is working on building walled homes in La Cuchilla. In addition, the organization is also bringing a playground to La Coroza and aims to create a chicken coop in Remolino.

Sustainable and Multi-faceted Solutions

“In order to pull people out of poverty, we must create sustainable changes,” states Mejia. A major emphasis of Mejia’s is that it is more beneficial to “focus on the needs of the individuals rather than just a single issue.” As an example, Mejia explains to The Borgen Project that the organization “entering into a random Honduran village with the mission to bring clean water may not be the best solution,” as opposed to other, more selective projects.

Mejia also says that “if they were also in need of more jobs, better education and houses, a single goal decided before arrival would not wholly support the village’s people.” Humanity and Hope United’s endeavors are “multi-faceted and well-rounded.” In its poverty reduction efforts, the organization seeks to “create a sense of ownership” in communities. Mejia notes that the populations “eventually become business owners, homeowners, high school graduates” and more.

Making the World a Better Place

Working for Humanity and Hope United, Mejia describes his role as a “dream job” where he is able “to create lifelong connections with people wanting to create a better world.” He explains further that his work has impacted his worldview, and as such, he sees the best in people, “understanding that everyone has a sacred story worth fighting for.” To emphasize the passion for his work, Mejia says, “Serving people with all my heart changed my life.”

Other examples of progress are seen in the La Cuchilla village. It used to lack clean water access, with homes constructed out of mud and sticks and 90% of children unable to attend school. Since the village’s partnership with Humanity and Hope United in 2017, crops and livestock provide jobs, income and food security, allowing for self-sufficiency. The village is working on obtaining more access to better healthcare, housing, classrooms and clean water.

Joining the Cause

Anyone is capable of joining the fight against global poverty and enacting meaningful, lasting change. Mejia’s advice for supporting the Humanity and Hope United Foundation “is to take the first step and visit Honduras.” Mejia emphasizes the importance of society “becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves.” He exclaims, “see the need with your own eyes, hear the stories that will impact your heart and let that goodness drive you to help others!”

By investing time, energy and money in organizations that aim to make the world a better place, an ordinary individual can make a significant impact in reducing global poverty.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Green Super Rice Project With funding from the Chinese government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Green Super Rice (GSR) project centers around a central resource supporting the lives of many people around the globe: the rice plant. Rice is a staple in many diets worldwide, contributing to the food security of many regions. Furthermore, several countries rely on rice exports to stimulate their economies. According to data, Africa alone consumes around 11.6 million tons of rice annually. In Asia, where approximately 90% of the world’s rice is grown, there are more than 200 million rice farms. Most of these farms are less than five acres in size and are manned by smallholder farmers. Due to its prominence, rice links to food security and stability in the countries relying on the crop for survival.

Resilient Rice Varieties

Predictions indicate that the demand for rice will only increase, leading to a growing need to maximize production. The Green Super Rice project aims to research and test GSR varieties from African and Asian countries. The research will allow developers to attain “resource-saving and environment-friendly rice production while still achieving a yield increase and quality improvement.” Furthermore, farmers will be able to achieve crop resilience through new varieties. Rice grows in a unique, wet environment in which few other crops can survive. This means that the environment is specific and crucial to the rice itself. A hybrid variety may allow for a crop that can survive with little water.

Creating new or hybrid varieties involves combining existing rice varieties through a breeding process. The process inputs the unique traits of each variety into the second generation of rice. Proven traits that show up on previously tested seeds include a “resistance to multiple insects and/or diseases, high use efficiency of fertilizers, water-saving, drought tolerance and stress resistance based on high grain yield and quality.”

Increased Output and Income

An important aspect of the Green Super Rice project is the profit it will bring to impoverished smallholder farmers around the globe. The new varieties of GSR allow farmers to garner a high yield from crops while using fewer rice seeds. This is beneficial for rice-producing farmers with smaller plots of land because farmers can produce more rice to sell and eat. Rice farming becomes more profitable for smallholder farmers, and because of the larger production volume, rice also becomes more affordable for buyers.

Proven Resiliency and Impact

Since the launch of the Green Super Rice project in 2008, more than 78 varieties of rice have been successfully bred and distributed to around 18 target countries in Asia and Africa. These countries are able to select varieties that meet their unique agricultural requirements, such as drought resiliency and disease tolerance. When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central Philippines, GSR crops stood strong as one of the few crops able to grow in the increased soil salinity. Because of the ability to increase yields and withstand harsh environments, GSR crops are able to increase food security and reduce poverty, especially in developing countries that rely on rice for their economic and nutritional needs.

While only introduced less than 15 years ago, the Green Super Rice project holds many promising benefits for not only the economies of developing countries but also the countries’ citizens. The project is playing a key role in advancing economies and improving food security across the globe.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

hunger and povertyPresident Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced that the government has committed itself to end hunger and poverty in the country by expanding and improving its agricultural strategies. The president made this announcement at a United Pre-Food Systems Summit Dialogue hosted by the president of Malawi. Zimbabwe was one of many African countries that receive representation at the Summit.

Hunger in Zimbabwe

In the past two decades, farmers in Zimbabwe have struggled to feed the entire nation. In 2014, Africa Renewal reported that 2001 was “the last time Zimbabwe produced enough maize to meet its needs.” The reason for the lack of substantial produce is a deficit of financial support for the agriculture system in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the inconsistency of agricultural produce. This is prevalent in the recovery of agriculture as a result of improved control of COVID-19 cases in the country. Food inflation during May 2021 was at 179% and records determined that prices were at a 0% to 20% decrease, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Progress Toward Ending Hunger

While the agriculture industry in Zimbabwe may be on the mend since the pandemic, there is still work that needs to occur. For example, 2021’s Global Report on Food Crises has found that there has been no recent progress toward the goal of reaching “zero hunger” in the world by 2030.

This is one of the motivating factors behind President Mnangagwa’s decision to end hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe. He claims that Zimbabwe’s best strategy requires that “institutions of higher learning must be roped in to offer innovation that climate-proofs the vital agriculture sector,” as the Zimbabwe Chronicle reported.

Higher-learning institutions can provide farmers and agricultural members with the knowledge of how to better cultivate the food they need. The institutions can also give resources for financial assistance, equipment access, lessons on nutrition and strengthening strategies within Zimbabwe’s food systems. With this strategy, the president believes that the agriculture system in Zimbabwe will be able to grow.

Boosting Zimbabwe’s Economy

As evidence suggests, the growth of agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe is the key to boosting the entire economy. President Mnangagwa explains that “the present economic blueprint” and the country’s agriculture and food systems development plans “situates the agriculture sector as having a critical role in the overall development and growth of the economy.” He says further, “This is anchored on food and nutrition security, import substitution, exports generation, employment creation and the raising of household incomes.”

The positive development of agriculture in Zimbabwe is the key to ending hunger and poverty throughout the country. Agriculture provides citizens with food security and boosts the economy with exports, sales and employment. Thus, if the president’s plan falls into place as described, it could bring about a positive change for Zimbabwe, contributing to reduced global hunger and poverty.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: pixabay

Poverty in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe was once a rising economy in Africa, with its mining and agricultural industries propelling the country forward. However, Zimbabweans now struggle with war, internal corruption, hyperinflation and industrial mismanagement. A closer look at the country provides insight into the context of poverty in Zimbabwe.

8 Facts About Poverty in Zimbabwe

  1. Poverty affects 76.3% of Zimbabwean children living in rural areas as of 2020.
  2. Roughly 74% of the population lives on less than  $5.50 a day and the average wage per month is $253.
  3. Half of Zimbabwe’s 13.5 million people live below the food poverty line and about 3.5 million children are chronically hungry.
  4. Approximately 1.3 million Zimbabweans were living with HIV as of 2016. However, the number of HIV cases has been declining since 1997 because of improvements in prevention, treatment and support services.
  5. About 60% of rural Zimbabwean women face period poverty, meaning they lack access to menstrual supplies or education. Girls who experience period poverty miss an estimated 20% of their school life.
  6. Due to famine and the HIV/AIDS crisis, the average life expectancy for a Zimbabwean was only 61 years as of 2018. However, life expectancy has steadily risen since 2002 when it was only 44 years.
  7. In 2019, two million Zimbabweans had no access to safe drinking water due to the impacts of drought.
  8. The government allocates a significant portion of the national budget toward education. As a result, Zimbabwe’s adult literacy rate is 89%, one of the highest in Africa.

Why Poverty is Rampant in Zimbabwe

Since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, its economy has primarily depended on its mining and agricultural industries. Zimbabwe’s mining industry has immense potential as the country is home to the Great Dyke, the second-largest platinum deposit globally. Additionally, Zimbabwe has more than 4,000 gold deposits.

However, the country’s mining sector is inefficient — its gold output dropped 30% in the first quarter of 2021. While illegal gold mining hurts the industry, Zimbabwe’s lax mining licensing laws also allow foreign companies to mine minerals at cheap costs for years on end, leading to a lack of incentive to accelerate mineral production.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwean government’s decision to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Second Congo War drained its bank reserves, alienated its allies and caused the U.S. and the EU to impose sanctions. Subsequently, Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed. As a result, the government began printing more money, leading to widespread hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar.

NGOs Combating Poverty in Zimbabwe

The situation in Zimbabwe is improving. In 2021, Zimbabwe’s GDP could potentially grow by nearly 3% thanks to increased agricultural production, increased energy production and the resumption of manufacturing and construction activities. Unemployment rates will likely continue to decrease. The rebound is primarily due to increased vaccination efforts, with China providing two million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the country.

In addition, multiple NGOs are fighting poverty in Zimbabwe. For example, Talia’s Women’s Network seeks to end period poverty in the country’s rural areas by helping 250 girls gain access to menstrual products. The project also seeks to provide the girls both with an understanding of the menstrual process and with access to support structures to combat early childhood marriage, gender-based violence and unwanted pregnancies.

Another organization, Action Change, supplies lunch to 400 primary students in Zimbabwe. It also works to break the cycle of poverty by providing resources for education. Zimbabwe spends 93% of the estimated $905 million it allocates toward education on employment costs, leaving only about 7% of the budget for classroom resources. Action Change provides schools with resources such as textbooks.

American Foundation for Children with AIDS helps 3,000 children and guardians who have AIDS by providing them with livestock and food self-sufficiency training. Meanwhile, the organization also provides resources and training to fight food insecurity and ensure that children eat well.

Stimulating the Agriculture Industry

The key to reducing poverty in Zimbabwe is stimulating the country’s agricultural industry. Nearly 66% of Zimbabweans rely on their small farms for survival. However, great inequality in water access exists between the country’s many small farms and few large commercial farms. Equality in water access would increase productivity and income for small farmers. A revitalization of the agricultural sector would spur economic growth and alleviate poverty in Zimbabwe.

Although the country still has barriers to conquer to truly eradicate poverty, it also has immense potential to become an African superpower.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Tech Startups in IndiaFarmers make up more than 40% of the working population in India. These farmers work tirelessly to provide crops for the nation and other countries worldwide. To make their lives easier, agricultural tech startups in India have been developing new systems to make farming more efficient. CropIn, DeHaat, Fasal and Intello Labs are four startups making a difference in agriculture.

CropIn by SmartFarm

First, in 2010, CropIn’s founders developed a phone application called SmartFarm to produce profit reports and weather analyses. CropIn also optimizes crop production and digitizes farm ecosystems. Moreover, the company uses artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) to provide precise and accurate data for farmers using the app. The startup also utilizes other software and applications. SmartRisk, SmartWare and RootTrace are examples that target different facets of the agricultural industry, including food safety and sustainability. The company has had a tremendous impact on India so far. The company has implemented the services of the app on 13 million acres of land and helped four million farmers. Thus, the future of CropIn is hopeful.

DeHaat’s Online Community

In 2012, DeHaat came about. One of its main goals is to provide an online community for farmers in India. DeHaat presents forecast reports, daily crop reminders, inputs on profit maximization, “advice on crops, pests, soil and seeds” and several other agricultural services. By focusing on the needs of farmers, DeHaat aims to increase profitability and productivity to reduce poverty. Furthermore, the company makes accessibility a priority. It offers an application in which global users can communicate and a daily helpline for farmers without smartphones. This startup has helped more than 210,000 farmers in India and expectations determine that it will reach and serve more farmers within the coming years.

Agricultural Tech Startup Fasal

Fasal is a 2018 startup that improves accuracy within farming to increase profitability and eliminate guessing. The company developed an app to continuously monitor farm data, improving accessibility for farmers. Moreover, it created an IoT device called Fasal Sense that monitors the farm and collects data. Through AI, Fasal can deliver “farm-specific, crop-specific, crop-stage specific, actionable advisory.”

The village of Chhattisgarh is a prime example of Fasal’s success, where vegetable farmer Prasant Maroo started using the startup’s technology in 2018. Maroo noticed a 20% increase in production of two of his main crops, chilli and brinjal. By using the AI technology that Fasal provided, he was able to use less water. Water scarcity and over-irrigation are prevalent issues in Indian villages, so this factor is very promising for eliminating resource wastage. Maroo is not the only farmer who has benefited from Fasal. Fasal also allows for irrigation schedule monitoring, forecast alerts and disease management.

Digital Tech Through Intello Labs

Intello Labs began in Gurugram, India. In 2016, the company made a goal to minimize food loss in farming through digital technology. It uses “AI, ML and computer vision” to evaluate food quality in fruits and vegetables, improving the quality of goods that farmers grow, package and sell. Intello Labs developed an app that allows users to take pictures of multiple food items at a time and give feedback on the quality of the items. Users can also selectively pick the individual items desired from a batch of produce, helping to eliminate waste. Overall, the startup is increasing food quality in a cost-efficient manner within the agricultural and food industry.

The Future of India’s Agriculture

In India, farmers and their families’ livelihoods depend on agricultural success. Overall, agricultural tech startups in India, like CropIn, DeHaat, Fasal, Intello Labs and other companies, are allocating resources to yield quality food to the consumer and provide the advantages of technology to farmers in India. With these four new innovative agricultural tech startups in India changing the way the country farms, AI and IoT can supply detailed data to reduce poverty and improve farming.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Hunger and Poverty in the UAETo alleviate food insecurity and poverty and reach the 2030 goals of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using technology to increase the efficiency of farming and irrigation techniques. Throughout 2020, the UAE explored new and innovative solutions to reduce poverty and hunger. Solutions such as drone mapping, mobile applications and AI crop sensors have been crucial for mitigating food scarcity and eliminating hunger and poverty in the UAE.

Drone Mapping

Drones provide a solution to effectively map agricultural areas. Drone technology grants valuable agricultural information to farmers in order to better assess agricultural progress. Drones are able to collect important data such as soil type, salinity and livestock numbers as well as information on farming facilities. According to the company Falcon Eye Drones, drones speed up this data collection process, which typically takes years.

Moreover, farmers can use the information gathered to create agricultural plans. Drone mapping also helps with the allocation of resources. With more information about soil quality, farmers can effectively plan how to distribute water and chemicals for maximum impact. Drones also allow for crop monitoring, enabling farmers to predict agricultural outputs well in advance. Drone mapping saves resources and increases agricultural output, effectively helping to reduce hunger and poverty in the UAE.

Mobile Applications

The FreshOnTable application is another innovation reducing poverty and hunger in the UAE. Through the digital application, users can purchase produce from local vendors and have it delivered straight to their door. This process drastically cuts the carbon footprint normally attached to food distribution. In the app, users are able to see the source of their food and choose from a variety of options.

According to Gulf News, this application also reduces food waste by giving customers the option of choosing “imperfect vegetables,” which are just as healthy as the more aesthetically pleasing options. By cutting down on food waste through technology, FreshOnTable provides a solution to food insecurity.

AI-based Sensors in Irrigation

AI-based sensors monitor the surrounding temperatures of crops to improve irrigation. The sensors can also test the level of humidity and water content in the soil. Irrigation systems are employed more effectively with AI-based sensors in use. Irrigation sensors limit water waste and help with sustainable water use.

Farmers have more knowledge of the soil quality and water content of their land, allowing for a smoother irrigation process. In turn, the process helps maximize crop output because farmers use the information gathered to make data-informed agricultural decisions.

The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority implemented a study between 2011 and 2013 to analyze the efficiency of smart irrigation systems that utilize AI technology. The results prove that the technology decreased water use by 10% in comparison to other estimation-based methods. Thus, smart irrigation systems are able to increase sustainability, save on costs and improve profitability for farmers. With better agricultural output, food insecurity is reduced.

The Future for the UAE

Overall, these technological innovations stand as examples of how technology can help solve hunger and poverty in the UAE, two deeply interconnected issues. Without drone mapping, the UAE would spend years collecting environmental data that can drastically improve agricultural outputs. In addition, food waste would be much higher without mobile applications to bridge the gap between farm and table. AI sensors maximize agricultural efficiency by reducing resource wastage. As countries strive to reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, technology-oriented solutions will help accelerate progress, bringing the international community closer to eliminating global poverty.

– Samuel Weinmann
Photo: Flickr

Palm plantations in GuatemalaIn the Central American nation of Guatemala, massive palm plantations have encroached upon many rural regions populated largely by indigenous people. While the palm oil companies have experienced financial success, many indigenous people have suffered under this new presence. The infringement on indigenous land rights and livelihoods calls for reform in Guatemala.

About Palm Plantations in Guatemalan Forests

Palm oil is the most widely consumed type of oil in the world and is found in 50% of all packaged products, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Palm trees grow in many tropical environments. In specific, palm plantations in Guatemala have exploded in presence and production over the past few decades. Since 2001, the amount of land covered by palm oil plantations in Guatemala has multiplied by five.

Around half of those plantations are located in the municipality of Sayaxché, which has a majority indigenous population. The plantations are taking over Guatemala’s forest area, leaving little room for the crops of subsistence farmers. Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil deeming palm plantations sustainable, the activities of palm oil producers have polluted water sources used by indigenous populations. Furthermore, palm plantations are impacting people’s livelihoods as palm oil is now a dominant industry.

Impacts on Indigenous Guatemalans

Historically, indigenous people in rural Guatemala have made a living through subsistence farming and sustained themselves by consuming community-grown food. With palm oil as the dominant industry and little remaining land for farming, many subsistence farmers have to transition to working in palm plantations. Palm plantation work is arduous, requiring extremely long hours. Despite long working hours, the pay is not adequate for households to make ends meet.

Dorrian Caal, a palm oil industry worker, told Reuters that he earned 60 quetzales (about $7.80) per day working for the palm oil company Industria Chiquibul. This is below Guatemala’s minimum daily wage of 90 quetzales for the agricultural industry. Repeated complaints by both local workers and the National Council for Displaced People of Guatemala caused the company to increase wages to 91 quetzales, local farmer Jose Maria Ical told Reuters.

Given that people can no longer rely on the food and income security of their own crops, they no longer have subsistence farming to fall back on. Others in Raxruha remain unemployed due to the limited number of available job opportunities. Many people have attempted to migrate to the U.S. out of economic necessity.

Evictions and Police Violence

Some indigenous families have made claims to ancestral land and have attempted subsistence farming on land acquired by plantation companies. In October 2016, a banana plantation company evicted 80 families with the court’s support. The families resisted and the police reacted violently, shooting at indigenous farmers, burning down farmers’ homes and destroying crops. Ultimately, the families held on to their land using machetes and pesticide sprayers to defend themselves.

Indigenous Land Rights

At the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, a set of peace accords aimed to “respect indigenous community lands, resettle displaced indigenous communities, resolve land conflicts” and provide the impoverished access to land, according to analyst Doug Hertzler. However, if one considers the actions of palm plantation companies in Guatemala, it is fair to conclude that many are not fully observing these accords today. Hertzler argues that the international community provided insufficient support to uphold the promises of the accords when they underwent signing. Hertzler proposes several recommendations.

  • The Guatemalan government needs to acknowledge the land rights of indigenous people.
  • Projects “that do not have the ongoing and legitimate Free Prior and Informed Consent of
    affected indigenous peoples, as required by international law, should stop.”
  • Funding for land tenure should “prioritize community land rights” in locations where there are conflicts with companies.
  • Programs should work with indigenous communities and organizations along with the government.

Evidence from both locals and researchers suggests that palm plantations in Guatemala are harmful to the country’s indigenous communities. Altogether, the communities receive little aid. With better support and respect for indigenous rights, indigenous Guatemalans can rise out of poverty.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

solar energy initiativeSolar energy is a sustainable source and is considered to be the most cost-effective energy form in history. A solar energy initiative to convert solar power into electricity takes less time and power than any other method of energy conversion. The sun’s function as a free resource also contributes to this fact, and as a result, many organizations have recently taken advantage of solar energy. SokoFresh is a company that provides smallholder Kenyan farmers with “mobile cold storage units that run on 100% solar energy.” This makes cold storage facilities more accessible to lower-income farmers, reducing food waste and increasing the prosperity of Kenyan farmers.

The Negative Impact of Food Waste

Over the next 30 years, Africa’s population is estimated to increase from 15% to 25% of the world population. However, as the population grows, dire food shortages are likely to occur. One way to prevent this is by reducing food waste. Globally, more than 30% of food produced for human consumption is wasted or discarded. In Africa, food loss happens predominately in the production and distribution phases of the food system. In developed countries, more than 40% of food loss “occurs at the retail and consumer levels.”

To combat food waste in Africa, post-harvest storage is a sustainable method for preventing food loss. SokoFresh has constructed a post-harvest storage system that specifically utilizes solar energy. The method is simple as it makes for cost-effective and environmentally friendly food storage. This model can provide farmers and aggregators access to cold storage on “a need basis” using 100% solar energy.

At this point, there is no long-term data to monitor improvements in the region’s food waste. Yet, it is clear that current projects from sustainable companies such as SokoFresh have the potential to benefit Africa’s economy. Even a 1% reduction in food post-harvest losses could lead to yearly fiscal revenue of $40 million, mainly to the benefit of farmers. Solar energy and sustainable technology solutions are thus feasible methods that increase profitability and improve environmental impacts in developing nations.

Solar Energy’s Role

SokoFresh’s solar energy initiative centers on a business model that gives farmers in need access to storage for their produce. Built by the social venture studio Enviu as part of its FoodFlow program, SokoFresh can provide adequate storage conditions that supply significant market opportunities. Smallholder farmers are responsible for 90% of Kenya’s agricultural produce but lack the cold storage access that large-scale farms have. The smallholder farmers who grow avocado, mango and French beans help test the “pay-as-you-go cold storage units.”

Another solar energy innovation utilizes food waste in its technology. AuREUS is an invention created by Carvey Maigue from Mapua University in the Philippines. Utilizing “recycled crop waste,” Maigue created a compound mixed with resin to make panels that collect UV light. The panels can turn the captured light into electricity. Solutions like these provide alternative methods to traditional coal and gas methods of power. Thus, AuREUS and SokoFresh bring great promise for the future of sustainable energy.

The Future of SokoFresh

Because solar energy is the most affordable energy source, a solar energy initiative such as that of SokoFresh provides a hopeful alternative to developing countries experiencing food loss and waste. While international efforts to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa have increased, most of the money has focused on boosting crop yields. A shift is now underway as companies are aiming to reduce losses instead of increasing production. SokoFresh provides an innovative solution to this problem by harnessing the power of solar energy. The future of solar energy in Kenya is hopeful. With more exposure and funding, SokoFresh can eliminate food waste and improve the nation’s wealth.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Bangladeshi FarmersAs the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world, smallholder Bangladeshi farmers began to suffer. Worldwide lockdowns disrupted supply chains, which led to economic loss. Agriculture is the dominant industry in Bangladesh and farmers play a significant role in the country’s economy. In Bangladesh, people who live in rural areas rely on farming for food security and income. The World Bank has partnered with the Bangladesh government to disperse emergency funds to smallholder Bangladeshi farmers using geotagging tools.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Bangladeshi Farmers

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and economic dilemmas. In Bangladesh, COVID-19 has critically affected about 300,000 dairy farms and about 70,000 poultry farms. The dairy industry lost $6.7 million daily. Moreover, from March 20 to April 4, 2020, the poultry industry lost more than $1.35 billion. These losses forced farmers to shut down production.

For 16.2 million vegetable-growing farm households in Bangladesh, the pandemic also proved to be detrimental. Urbanization had already caused an increase in vegetable demand. Once COVID-19 hit, supply chains to the cities broke down. Faulty supply chains caused vegetable growers to halt production and incur losses. Farmers in Bangladesh have faced food insecurity and losses of income because of the pandemic.

What is GEMS Technology?

Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision (GEMS) is a technology that collects data from the fields digitally with easy open-source tools. In other words, teams use GEMS technology as a digital monitoring platform to assess visible information. The technology helps its users understand real-time dynamics on the ground. Users can collect data on their smartphones or tablets without the internet while working in the field. This information is saved on the device, and once the user reconnects the device to the internet, the data is saved onto a server. The World Bank first used GEMS technology in South Sudan. Since then, the technology has improved and has been used in projects throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The World Bank Assists Farmers

The World Bank and the Bangladesh government have aided Bangladeshi farmers in need by providing emergency cash transfers to smallholder farmers of dairy, livestock and aquaculture. A top priority for the World Bank is ensuring the correct beneficiaries receive the payments. After recognizing the difficulties in paper surveying, the World Bank decided to use GEMS-style remote supervision tools to ensure payments were sent to the correct beneficiaries. After the organization trained Bangladeshi project teams to understand the new digital tools, the teams used GEMS technology to identify beneficiaries. The technology helped to remove any double-counting and other manual entry errors and offered precise locations on maps.

Two projects have implemented GEMS technology to help Bangladeshi farmers affected by COVID-19 thus far. The Livestock & Dairy Development Project in Bangladesh used the technology to give 620,000 livestock producers emergency money transfers. Additionally, the Bangladesh Sustainable Coastal & Marine Fisheries Project gave 78,000 aquaculture farmers emergency money transfers with the help of geotagging technology.

Moving Forward

With the help of GEMS information technology, the World Bank and Bangladeshi organizations can ensure transparency in cash transfers to Bangladeshi farmers affected by COVID-19. Because the agriculture industry in Bangladesh is so vast, it is important that Bangladeshi farmers receive assistance in order to continue food production. Such assistance is imperative in order for Bangladeshi farmers to successfully recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr