Information and stories about agriculture.

Guayaki’s ethical business
Yerba mate is a plant native to South America that has properties similar to caffeinated plants. People can use the leaves in a similar manner to tea leaves which steep in hot water to diffuse the taste and desired properties of the plant. In addition to the physical effects of mate, the plant has cultural significance in South American folklore. People originally discovered it in modern-day Paraguay and Southern Brazil where the natives dubbed it an herb “from the gods.” The natives imbibed it to boost physical and mental stamina, and they used it for medicinal purposes and in religious ceremonies to worship the gods. Today, Argentinians, Paraguayans and Brazilians drink it in a similar fashion to how Americans drink coffee. A couple of people can share a bowl of mate and have a chat or college students can drink it while studying for their exams. Guayaki’s ethical business produces yerba mate while giving back to its community.

Guayaki’s Business Model

Guayaki is one of the few companies that farms and sells yerba mate in the North American market. The company has established itself and its business model with respect to the native traditions people associate with mate, as well as through its efforts to promote sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, indigenous culture resilience and ethical management and payment of its employees. Guayaki’s ethical business model focuses first and foremost on the well-being of its workers in conjunction with the environment. By 2020, Guayaki plans to restore 200,000 acres of rainforest and create 1,000 living wage jobs.

To start, Guayaki grows its mate plants in their natural state, in the shade of the dense jungle. The workers then come and harvest only the leaves and young stems by hand to make sure the plant continues to grow. They do this because modern agricultural practices may cause the original taste to deteriorate. Moreover, growing the mate in this way also guarantees that the operations put off the least amount of emissions possible.

Clean Living

In addition to simply farming sustainably, Guayaki’s ethical business practices not only meet the standards of Fair for Life and Non-GMO certifications, but they also help promote the biodiversity of the rainforest and create a carbon sink for emissions. People farm the mate through multi strata agroforestry, which is the act of combining crops with the forest canopy and creating a carbon skin that draws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the leaves and soil. The company conducts all packaging actions and transportation methods with 100 percent renewable energy and does all packaging with recyclable and/or compostable resources. Through these efforts, Guayaki has created a net-zero carbon emissions business.

A Company for the Community

Guayaki’s ethical business model proves to be a frontrunner with regard to the treatment of employees. The company sources all of its mate from indigenous communities, mainly in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. In contrast to the business model of many large corporations that buy the land from local farmers outright, Guayaki pays its farmers two to three times the amount that a large company would pay to buy the land in order to ensure they do not suffer exploitation in the long run while still benefiting in the short term. As of 2017, Guayaki created almost 900 jobs among local indigenous communities that pay a comfortable living wage to the producers.

Guayaki not only treats its workers well, but it also gives back to the communities where it operates. The company donates funds to improve infrastructure and build/upkeep schools. People can make donations through the Guayaki Foundation, which also encourages local communities to plant indigenous hardwood trees. It also teaches the methods of agroecology to school children in order to give them an education that will help them with their careers later in life and make their lives much more enjoyable and livable.

Through all of Guayaki’s ethical business practices, the company is helping protect the environment while also bringing neglected populations out of poverty and into not only a survivable life but a livable and enjoyable one. Through their benefits and teaching methods, Guayaki is making sure that the people will always have the means to support themselves in an ethical, comfortable way for years to come.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

Digital Solutions
Many countries in Africa suffer from food insecurity for a variety of reasons; most link back to unstable agricultural food sources. Traditionally, most farmers had no means of recovering from natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires. Other outside factors, such as a country’s political state and poor education, can also contribute to poor agricultural yields. Further, while these issues still remain, the creation of numerous digital solutions could help alleviate these problems. Digital solutions can benefit agriculture in Africa and positively impact Africa’s near future.

Digitalization for Agriculture

The use of applications has risen in Africa’s agricultural sector. This includes the use of text messaging to deliver economic advice to smaller farmers. Another way is through the use of interactive voice response to connect farmers with potential buyers and other farmers. These solutions allow farmers to expand their market, while also increasing the number of connections between farmers within a given area.

The digital solutions market in Africa is fairly new, with over 60 percent of the market established within the past three years and 20 percent started in 2018. However, the digital market has not been as beneficial to small independent farm owners. These small farm owners make up around 80 percent of Africa’s agricultural production. Despite this, digital solutions have proven to improve crop yields by up to 300 percent and increase income by up to double what farmers previously made.

How Digital Solutions Help the Economy

Digital solutions not only help farmers through increased market size, but they also provide helpful advice such as weather alerts or advice on which crops will grow well given a country’s climate or season. Additionally, technology can also act as a channel for farmers to innovate new and sustainable ways to improve yields and reduce crop loss in the future.

On top of this, with a new and expanding market for digital solutions for agriculture in Africa, this will inevitably lead to new jobs in the agricultural technology sector. While the amount of small, independent farmers who have access to a mobile device is currently low, Africa is nearing universal phone access within the coming years, which will further expand the digital solutions market.

Nonprofits for a Cause

Some nonprofits have also helped improve the livelihood of independent farmers, such as Self Help Africa. Self Help Africa specializes in creating business ties between distant rural farmers to markets and producer groups. These efforts help rural farmers adapt to the climate and cope with threats of natural disasters. Further, Self Help Africa assists in connecting rural farmers to microfinancing services, improving economic responsibility.

The group also specializes in providing aid for independent women who make up the majority of the workforce for agriculture in Africa. Women do over 80 percent of small scale farm work in Africa; however, these women also only receive a fraction of the support. Some of these benefits are growing increasingly more common due to Africa’s growing digital marketplace for agriculture. However, Self Help Africa’s fight for gender equality will always remain important for females working in small market agricultural systems.

Agriculture in Africa is crucial for providing African citizens with a stable and reliable source of food. With improving tools, more Africans can be successful in their agricultural endeavors. Issues such as flooding, poor connections and knowledge used to be major hindrances to some food suppliers. However, with increasing knowledge of agricultural techniques and increasing market connections, the future of agriculture is looking much brighter for small, independent farmers.

Andrew Lueker
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Agriculture Technology
Agriculture is a cornerstone of human development and one of the most easily accessible methods of generating food. However, agriculture is also one of the riskiest ways to feed a community due to the unpredictability of the weather and pests that could spontaneously destroy an entire year’s worth of crops. Many countries, like India, struggle to maintain farms due to a lack of water, infrastructure and storage facilities. It is no surprise, then, that experts across the world argue that advancements in agriculture technology could prove invaluable in the fight against poverty due to larger crop yields and more success during harvests. Although no one has found a definitive solution to effectively grow enough food to feed those in poverty, numerous organizations have developed potential solutions to the problems that plague agricultural communities.

5 World Leaders in Agriculture Technology

  1. Farmmi: One organization making efforts in agriculture technology is Farmmi, an agricultural product supplier responsible for most of China’s supply of Shiitake mushrooms and other fungi. Recently, Yefang Zhang, Farmmi’s CEO, announced a partnership with the China Democratic League on Poverty Alleviation Initiative. During this partnership, Farmmi plans to provide new job opportunities for those living in impoverished village communities, give agriculture technology advice to farmers free of charge and sell local agricultural products in Farmmi Stores. Representatives of Farmmi will also meet with the China Democratic League continuously to discuss optimal ways to help poor villages in China with their farming, and ways to implement new action plans for agriculture effectively.
  2. Yunshang Agricultural School: In the Gui’an area of Beijing, China, citizens have a large selection of programs in which they can improve both the dependability of their crops and the amount of food they produce during harvest. One example lies in the Yunshang Agricultural School, an institution to help educate the farmers of the area on scientific planting. In these classes, farmers learn the most optimal ways to grow their crops by planting seeds in different formations or at optimal times. Citizens of the Gui’an area have also been utilizing smartphone technology to monitor their agriculture, like installing cameras to check the growth of greenhouse crops instead of examining them one by one. This education on agriculture and utilization of technology in farming sparked the construction of the Gui’an Agricultural and Tourism Industry Demonstration Park in 2015. This park contains several greenhouses and many different agricultural activities for tourists, including tropical fruit picking halls and a demonstration on smart agriculture, but the biggest impact lies in the park’s efforts to fight poverty. Currently, the Gui’an park is collaborating with 11 villages in the area through the Big Data Agricultural Precision Poverty Alleviation Agreement. With this agreement, the Gui’an Park aims to help poor villages grow high-value crops through the teachings of the Yunshang Agricultural School. As long as the people of the Gui’an area continue to focus on agricultural technology and education, more and more farmers will have the resources necessary to feed the people in their communities.
  3. Internet of Things: As the agriculture technology market grows, so does general interest from corporations. One example is Internet of Things, a tech company that has developed sensors to monitor the soil moisture of crops. These monitors can connect to a smartphone or personal computer, allowing farmers to save time that they would usually spend testing the soil. Internet of Things also plans to provide irrigation sensors and actuators, which will maximize water efficiency with crops. This should ensure that crops never receive too much or too little water, and minimizes water waste. The International Business Machines Corporation predicts that these tools from Internet of Things will improve crop yield by 70 percent by 2050. With these innovations Internet of Things has made a massive advancement in agriculture technology and its application in impoverished areas could prove invaluable in the fight against world hunger.
  4. H2Grow: Established in 2017 as part of the World Food Programme, H2Grow is an agriculture technology organization dedicated to helping poor communities build their own hydroponic systems so that they can grow food in previously barren areas. In areas with little to no soil, like a desert, traditional farming is nearly impossible. Hydroponic farming, however, involves no soil because the farming occurs either entirely in water or with some soil substitute like moss or peat. The removal of soil in the farming process allows the plants to receive their nutrients directly from the water while they grow and generally results in larger, healthier plants. With this practice, H2Grow has helped many communities grow their own food since its inception, sourcing 714 applications for hydroponic farming systems in 2019. As H2Grow installs more and more hydroponic farming systems, the world may see a day when every country has the ability to grow its own food.
  5. GrainMate: Launched in December 2017 by Sesi Technologies, GrainMate is an electronic meter invented to help impoverished farmers and businesses test the moisture levels in their grains. Monitoring the moisture level of grains helps a farm prevent detrimental losses during storage. If a farmer uses GrainMate and finds that his wheat is drying out, he can take the necessary steps to restore the grains to a safe moisture level, preserving them for as long as possible and maximizing the effectiveness of his crop yield. Sesi Technologies has received many orders for GrainMate, like one from Vinmak Farms in Ghana, that stated that its device is a good quality product to use on farms. With GrainMate in its arsenal, the farms of Africa have an advantage in the unpredictable nature of agriculture.

The use of agriculture technology is the most effective way to minimize world hunger. Whether it is a device that monitors the moisture level of crops or an initiative to educate citizens on optimal farming techniques, programs and innovations like these will continue to grow and develop to provide the quickest, cheapest access to food for disadvantaged communities.

Charles Nettles
Photo: Flickr

Rural Poverty in Burundi

Two civil wars and genocides in the 1970s and 1990s destroyed Burundi’s economy and increased poverty from 33 percent in 1993 to 67 percent in 2000. Burundi’s poverty rate remains at 65 percent today. At $700 in 2017, its GDP per capita is the lowest in the world. The agricultural industry, which makes up about 80 percent of the workforce, weakened during the civil wars. The most affected people are those in rural areas, where about 1.77 million are food insecure. The Burundi government, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and NGOs are working together to address rural poverty in Burundi. The goal of these efforts is to bring the economy back to its pre-war state.

IFAD’s Programs

IFAD — which has worked in the country since 1980 — has funded nine projects in Burundi totaling $141 million. Rural and agricultural development, as well as food security, are two main areas the IFAD focuses on. Almost 500,000 households directly benefit from these projects. Many of the initiatives began around 2009, several years after Burundi’s economic reconstruction gained traction.

Value Chain Development Program

The Value Chain Development Program began in 2010 and ends in 2019. The program benefits more than 77,000 households and costs $73 million. The main focus areas include reduced poverty and increased food security through agricultural value chain development and increased income for rural farmers. To date, 5,761 people have been trained on value chain development, seed multiplication and better animal husbandry techniques. Also, more than 6,400 acres of anti-erosion ditches have been dug.

Agricultural Intensification and Value-enhancing Support Project

Another program that addressed rural poverty in Burundi is the Agricultural Intensification and Value-Enhancing Support Project. This program began in 2009 and ends in 2019. It has helped more than 30,000 households in six provinces in the north and east of the capital city, Bujumbura.

After 450,000 refugees returned after political instability and violence lessened, the need for jobs increased. Rapid population growth, small land allotments and soil degradation made it difficult to sustain an income for rural farmers. Some of the results of the project include constructing 1,210 modern sheds for livestock, building 32 miles of roads to rehabilitated marshlands, providing more than 1,290 goats to poor households, planting more than 6 million trees and constructing 11,567 acres of anti-erosion ditches. The project also reduced the number of households living in extreme poverty by 7 percent and direct beneficiaries have enjoyed a 64 percent increase in income.

Vision 2025

Although rural poverty in Burundi is still a major issue, the government created Vision 2025 to set goals on addressing its high poverty rate. The government’s objectives are to reduce the poverty rate to 33 percent by 2025 and increase its GDP per capita. While the country’s dependence on agriculture and its heavy reliance on financial assistance pose threats to sustainable growth, with the help of the IFAD, NGOs and other organizations, Burundi could reach the goal of cutting its poverty rate in half by 2025.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Innovations Addressing Food ScarcityFood scarcity is a major problem in the world today. Roughly 795 million people (this equates to one in 9 people) do not have enough food to survive. Specifically, developing countries face the highest levels of food scarcity These statistics, paired with the fact that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste annually, necessitates reformation. Around the world, people have been working to help resolve this crisis and ensure that the hungry do not starve. These are five modern innovations addressing food scarcity.

5 Modern Innovations Addressing Food Scarcity

  1. SAP Digital Farming: SAP is a company that is working to combat global food shortages through revolutionary technology. After implementing state of the art sensors in crop fields, farmers would download SAP’s digital farm app. Then, the app would relay necessary information to the farmer. This information includes the supply of fertilizer, water needs, soil moisture and crop growth. Importantly, this information makes the agricultural process more efficient by helping the farmer realize optimal harvesting and planting times. Further, these additional benefits will maximize yield while minimizing costs.
  2. M-Farm: M-Farm serves as a tool to help farmers in Kenya. Often, in the case of farmers in developing countries, intermediaries between the producer and consumer will reap the rewards for a task they had very minimal involvement in. Further, the farmers will have a vast amount of their earnings usurped and will be charged ridiculous prices for necessities, carrying on the cycle of poverty. M-Farm enables Kenyan farmers to SMS the number 3555 to get relevant information. This information includes the price of their products and the ability to purchase the necessary equipment for affordable prices. Additionally, M-Farm also relays crucial trends in the local market for farmers to enhance their judgment. The app collects this information independently through location services and analysis.
  3. Share the Meal App: Developed by the World Food Program, the Share the Meal application on iOS and Android phones works to combat starvation across the world. In 2015, four years after the start of the Syrian Civil War, the organization sought to mobilize technology to feed starving children in refugee camps in Jordan. Additionally, the app enables people to donate 50 cents that will go toward securing meals for these children. Currently, the app has enabled over 48 million meals to be distributed to those in need.
  4. Plantwise: Launched in 2011 by the global nonprofit, CABI, Plantwise is a program that helps farmers understand tactics to increase efficiency and yield. CABI established a global plant clinic network that provides farmers with information about plant health. Qualified plant doctors advise farmers on techniques that will reduce the number of pests and diseases that afflict their crops. Plantwise works to disseminate information to farmers in rural areas that have little access to useful information regarding their agriculture. The goal is to emphasize healthy plant habits so farmers lose less yield and are effectively able to produce more food.
  5. Digital Green: The last of these five modern innovations addressing food scarcity, Digital Green uses modern technological advancements to uplift impoverished farmers. The project began in 2008 in India, where workers trained credible officials in villages to use video technology to convey crucial information, including agriculture techniques and market conditions. This effort was widely successful, as Digital Green reached a total of 1.8 million farmers in over 15,000 villages. In addition, this prompted the organization to expand into Ethiopia. There, almost 375,000 farmers were reached, which led to the commencement of initiatives to help farmers in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Niger and Tanzania.

Finally, it is undeniable that technology plays a very prominent role in society today. Technological innovations have revolutionized the lives of people across the world. Further, these innovations addressing food scarcity are prime examples of this rapid paradigm shift. Progress necessitates change and change is only possible through people working together to absolve adversity in the most effective way possible.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Africa
Many are moving to eradicate child labor in Africa by 2025. According to The International Labor Organization of the United Nations (ILO), child labor defines any hazardous work depriving children of their childhood and their education. Africa is the continent with the highest child labor rates at 72.1 million children to date. However, it has also seen an increase in awareness and a shift toward eradicating the practice. Below are 10 facts about child labor in Africa and the progress people are making to eradicate it.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Africa

  1. Eradicating Child Labor: One in five children is employed against their will in quarries, farms and mines. However, efforts to eradicate child labor have been valiant in areas such as building schools, supporting agricultural cooperatives, advising farmers on better production methods and paying farmers more for production.
  2. Child Labor End Date: Sub-Saharan Africa employs 59 million children between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the ILO. Eradication initiatives such as Alliance 8.7 proposed 2025 as the desired end date of child labor in Africa. For example, Uganda, Tanzania and Togo have made progress by training 25 child ambassadors and providing education to child labor employers on the negative impacts of employing children.
  3. Hazardous Work: In Africa, 31.4 million children are in hazardous work including forced labor, prostitution and working in mines. There are 168 million children globally in farm labor, 98 million in agriculture and 12 million in manufacturing. The largest commodities that child labor produces are gold, tobacco, banana, sugarcane, cotton, rubber and cocoa.
  4. The Cocoa Industry: In 2015, the U.S. Labor Department reported that over 2 million children worked on cocoa farms in West Africa. Chocolate companies like Mars, Hershey and Nestle have signed a deal to end the use of child labor in their chocolate production. Additionally, Fairtrade America offered farmers more money for certified cocoa, cocoa that farmers produce without child labor, to prevent child labor and alleviate poverty.
  5. The Harkin-Engel Protocol: According to Fairtrade and World Bank, farmers in Africa receive $1,900 and that amount is well below the poverty line for a typical family. Moreover, 60 percent lack access to electricity and UNESCO states that the literacy rate is only 44 percent. The Ivory Coast signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to monitor and account for people involved in child trafficking, and eliminate child labor in the cocoa industry.
  6. Child Labor and Crises: Countries experiencing crises have the highest number of child laborers. These countries might experience challenging circumstances such as unemployment, lack of social services and extreme poverty. Alliance 8.7 elects the efforts and focus that delegates of the African Union, U.N. agencies and government officials’ support in combating social and economic issues.
  7. Child Labor and Family: Most child laborers do not receive pay and many often work on family-owned farms or companies because their families cannot afford to send them to school. Children often must work in communities suffering conflict, especially in the case where the main breadwinner dies. The Foreign Affairs Committee is working on legislation to address child labor and supply chains.
  8. Child Labor Ages: Fifty-nine percent of child laborers are between the ages of 5 and 11, 26 percent are between 12 and 14 and 15 percent are between 15 and 17. In a 2018 survey, a Tulane University Researcher found that people who were not the children’s parents brought at least 16,000 children to West African farms. Reports also stated that 40 percent of Burkina Faso children are without proper birth records and for that reason, no one has been able to identify them.
  9. Child Laborers Under 5-Years-Old: Child laborers under the age of 5 have also grown in number and they face hazardous work conditions as well. For example, they might spend the day doing hard manual labor such as swinging machetes, carrying heavy loads and spraying pesticides.
  10. Solutions: A better understanding of how people should implement policies and revise them are among the discussions taking place toward ending child labor. The Harkin-Engel Protocol, The United Nations, the United Kingdom Modern Act, Barack Obama’s Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, Anti-Slavery International and the African Union Action Plan are all commitments in place to end child labor and modern-day child slavery. Barack Obama’s Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act is to prevent imports from entering the U.S. that child labor has produced, while the African Union Action Plan aims to eliminate child labor in Africa altogether.

These 10 facts on child labor in Africa are examples of the progress toward eliminating child labor by 2025. Continued efforts in preserving the well being of children in Africa shows the nation’s determination in the total eradication of child laborers. Oversight and accountability will continue to play an integral part in its success.

– Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

Land Grabbing and PovertyLand grabbing is not a new concept and it is not an isolated event. However, land grabbing and poverty have recently been linked together. While companies around the globe participate in this harmful process that drives farmers off their lands, farmers in industrial countries are especially susceptible to losing their lands, and therefore, their source of income. The act of industrial companies land grabbing not only costs a person their home but also their food and money. In countries such as Africa and South America, many people have fallen below the poverty line and suffer from displacement.

The Actions of Large Companies

The link between land grabbing and poverty is growing and has become a big issue. Major companies, such as the Teacher’s Insurance and Annuity Association of America College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF or TIAA), are buying multiple acres of land at exceedingly high prices. This, in turn, raises the prices of rent above what nearby family farmers can afford to pay. In Brazil, the TIAA has ownership of over 600,000 acres of land. The company also has a stake of over $400 million in Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil, which has displaced established communities of indigenous people in addition to several endangered species.

Who Owns the Land?

Land grabbing hugely contributes to the loss of property which advances poverty levels. Indigenous people claim and manage about 50 percent of the world’s land. However, of that 50 percent, people who depend on it only legally own 10 percent. Big companies can easily buy out the remaining 40 percent of the land and repurpose it to maximize industrial gains. Most of this land goes towards fossil-fuels projects, tourism and even conservation. Because of this, many families become displaced and left without a source of income and experience a lack of food security. Companies, such as TIAA, have led directly to malnutrition in industrial countries where they held land.

Initiating Change

There have been many demonstrations to try and combat the act of land grabbing. Grassroots International has started a petition to end land grabbing. There are also The Tenure Guidelines that have the intention of ending global poverty through tenure rights and land access. Policies within these guidelines would give land rights to the person who has owned the land the longest, ensuring that those who depend on the land for their livelihoods can continue to use it. In Africa, 29 women farmers climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the country’s tallest mountain, to raise awareness about the issue. The climbers met 400 fellow women farmers at the base of the mountain to help raise awareness about secure land rights and guarantee the farmers access to local and global markets.

Land grabbing and poverty reduction will give the people of the land a place to live as well as a food source and a dependable income. Crop sales will increase and farmers will have a more reliable income if others do not drive them from their land. The decrease of land grabbing will also increase access to both local and global markets, providing farmers with more ways to sell their food. Overall, restricting land grabbing, honoring tenure and giving land access to those who need it will lead to a decline in global poverty.

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

poor in Myanmar
Agriculture is Myanmar’s most important sector and provides jobs for more than 60 percent of the population. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, decreased its poverty rate from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017. One of the reasons for this huge reduction in poverty is its transition from a military-led government through economic reforms and development in sectors such as agriculture, finance, transportation and energy. The poor in Myanmar reside mainly in rural areas, and have poor education and employment in the agriculture field. By developing the agriculture industry, the government intends to continue to reduce its poverty.

Developing the Agriculture Sector

A 2018 report launched by the Central Statistical Organization, with technical support from the UNDP and the World Bank, provided data on poverty in Myanmar and what the country needs to do to continually reduce poverty. The report acknowledged the success of reducing the poverty rate in half, yet brought up challenges in alleviating poverty in rural areas such as the Chin State. The Chin State is a state in western Myanmar with about a 60 percent poverty rate. Approximately 500,000 live in the Chin State. Since the poor in Myanmar have employment in the agriculture sector, the key findings show that the country can achieve poverty reduction by focusing its efforts on improving agricultural productivity.

Myanmar is the second-largest exporter of beans and pulses and the ninth-largest exporter of rice. In 2016 and 2017, Myanmar exported agricultural products worth more than $3 billion, yet productivity was less than neighbors such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Low productivity has stalled poverty reduction in areas such as Chin State due to relying on crops that are expensive to maintain and less profitable than most other crops that endure the same climate.

How Exactly Can Myanmar Reduce Poverty?

Findings from a separate report delved into even greater detail about what Myanmar needs to do to improve agricultural productivity, and therefore, increase income for the poor in Myanmar. The report, Myanmar: Analysis of Farm Production Economics, stated that a single day’s harvest during the 2013/2014 monsoon season produced 23 kg per paddy. In comparison, Cambodia produced 62 kg, Vietnam 429 kg and Thailand 547 kg per day. Reasons for lower production of paddy than Myanmar’s competitors include poor seed quality, insignificant use of fertilizers and a lack of infrastructure.

The conclusion to the report mentioned the need for broad-based agricultural development, as most farmers in the country produce paddy and not much else. Paddy is more expensive to produce and less profitable than other crops in the region. A lack of infrastructure further impedes progress and causes farmers to seek employment in distant urban areas for higher wages. The poor in Myanmar could benefit from diversifying into low-cost crops, especially ones that can handle the typical monsoon weather that the country experiences.

Investors Taking Action

The government and private investors are currently investing in Myanmar’s agriculture sector, particularly the growing fertilizer sector. Myanmar Awba Group received a $10 million loan from the International Finance Corporation to construct a chemical plant that will produce fertilizer. The Hmawbi Agricultural Input Complex opened in August 2018 and is expected to meet 50 percent of the demand for fertilizer in Myanmar. The demand for fertilizer has increased in the country, attracting investors from across the world. The Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation invested $18.5 million in a fertilizer facility in the Thilawa SEZ.

Myanmar is also dealing with infrastructure, low productivity and poor seed quality this year, 2019. In January 2019, CITIC Corporation collaborated with Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation (MAPCO) to invest $500 million into constructing high-end rice mills and agribusiness service centers across Myanmar. Ye Min Aung, the Managing Director of MAPCO, said, “The establishment of the high-end rice mills will boost both the local and export market.” Thanks to foreign investors and government initiatives, Myanmar is seeing action in poverty reduction by focusing efforts on improving the agriculture industry.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

helping farmers in povertyAbout 78 percent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas and rely heavily on agriculture. They had to turn to farm, livestock, aquaculture and other agricultural methods to place food on their plate. For millions, agriculture is the starting point to get out of poverty. But, out of the 78 percent of people who rely on agriculture, only a mere 4 percent receives official development assistance. And, for those who do manage to get out of poverty, they will face a competing market for organic goods.

Farmers Struggle to Meet the Rising Rates of Consumption

With the rising rates of consumption to an ever-growing world, farmers are struggling. In order to meet the increasing demand and multiply production, farms have to increase the efficiency and productivity of the existing farmland. WWOOF shares in the same philosophy and helps farmers in poverty by providing workers to those existing farms.

Since 1971, WWOOF has been connecting sustainable farmers and growers with visitors through an exchange of education and culture for a hands-on experience to help create food and other agricultural products—a key part of how WWOOF is helping farmers in poverty. The visitor picks the country they would like to be working in and WWOOF connects them to an available farm that will provide them with room and board. The guests can stay in the country while learning about its culture.

Working on the Farms with WWOOF

As for working on the farm, visitors normally stay from two to three weeks but farms are open to shorter or longer stays. Usually, they work from four to six hours a day and have afternoons and evenings free. Currently, WWOOF has farms in 95 countries all around the world. The organization proposes that the search for authenticity and local food, such as items from a farm shop, has the potential to enhance the visitor experience by connecting consumers to the region and its perceived culture and heritage.

Organic Farming

WWOOF focuses on organic farming, an agricultural method that involves not using pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones. It helps by reducing the level of pollution and human and animal health hazards by reducing the number of residues in the product. Organic farming keeps agricultural production at a higher level. But, it is more labor intensive. Although organic farmers love the independence and the hard day-to-day work, most find themselves overloaded. Organic systems require 15 percent more labor but the increase of labor may range from seven percent to 75 percent. The WWOOF program offers a satisfying experience to the visitors whilst addressing the additional labor burden on the farming family.

The WWOOF program realized that organic farming has a vital role in helping farmers in poverty. As the years pass, organic farms will earn a higher income than those of the conventional farms due to the increasing awareness of pesticides and the ability to charge higher premiums. Not only that, organic farms have the potential to improve local food and nutritional security because of diversified production and resistance to weather variables. Because of the diversified production, organic farmers live a healthier lifestyle when using their own crops for food. The organization gives a small part that makes a big difference for those organic farms.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr

Tobacco industry labour conditions
The global tobacco market accounted for $663.76 billion in 2017, and the tobacco industry is an economic sector employing millions of men and women. However, behind the scenes of the tobacco industry lies the death of 8 million people yearly, the creation of dependency and diseases for tobacco farmers, as well as extreme poverty, child labor and environmental issues. Tobacco industry labor conditions are very poor and require reform.

Tobacco Farmers

The tobacco industry controls the tobacco cycle from seed to sale and in most producing countries, tobacco companies operate in a contract system through which companies provide the inputs required–including seeds and chemicals for production–in the form of credit for farmers. Farmers agree to sell their tobacco leaf to specific companies at a set price in return. For many farmers, the revenue earned from their tobacco leaf sales barely suffices to cover their costs or repay their loans. This creates a debt cycle.

Moreover, Human Rights Watch reported labor rights abuses on large-scale tobacco farms. In Zimbabwe, some workers reported overtime and excess working hours after their employers pressured them, but they did not receive compensation for it. Other incidents and labor abuses include underpaid or delayed wages and occasionally going two months without receiving their salary, which makes it hard for workers to maintain a basic living standard.

Health Issues

Tobacco cultivation exposes workers and farmers to health hazards from pesticide exposure to nicotine poisoning. Physical contact with wet tobacco leaves causes the body to absorb nicotine leading to poisoning called green tobacco sickness (GTS). This involves symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fluctuating blood pressure and heart rate and trouble breathing, and they are quite frequent among tobacco workers.

Tobacco industry labor conditions expose workers to high amounts of pesticides which damages the human nervous system and can also cause pesticide poisoning; common symptoms include convulsions, respiratory problems, nausea, kidney damages and skin irritation. Children to have a lower intoxication threshold due to their smaller body mass and weaker immune system, which reinforces the issue of child labor in the tobacco industry.

Child Labor in the Tobacco Industry

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 108 million children work in agriculture, representing 70 percent of overall child labor. Although child employment is not easy to verify, some believe that millions work in the tobacco industry. Families living in poverty and dependent on tobacco production for a living often make their children work in tobacco farms and factories to help them. Because children start working from a very early age, they do not obtain a necessary education which could help them break away from the poverty cycle.

Child labor in the tobacco industry is prominent in India, especially in the production of Bidi. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 percent of female workers and 5 percent of male workers in the bidi industry in India are below the age of 14 and that 40 percent of those children never went to school. Besides, although child labor is illegal in India, the county cannot incriminate employers as they do not include working children officially on their payrolls.

Many companies in the tobacco industry have adopted policies prohibiting children from working in direct contact with green tobacco, which is a step forward in limiting the health risks for children working in the tobacco industry. However, none of the tobacco companies adopted policies prohibiting the involvement of children working in direct contact with tobacco (such as dry tobacco). Moreover, the tobacco industry does not have, unlike other industries, a zero-tolerance policy for child labor, despite publicly condemning it.

International Reaction

In June 2018, 130 public health and sustainable development organizations wrote a letter to the ILO urging it not to renew or extend contracts with Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-Growing (ECLT), which is a group that the tobacco industry funds, and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which ties the ILO to the tobacco industry. Yet, despite the recommendations from the U.N. Interagency Task Force (UNIATF), the ILO still has not cut its ties, which include funding, and its partnerships with the tobacco industry. With regards to tobacco companies, some ‘Tobacco giants’ begun reforming their practices, such as Philip Morris International who committed to eliminating child labour entirely from its supply chain by 2025, hopefully leading the way for the rest of the industry.”

Considering that one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (Target 8.7) aims to eradicate child labor in all its forms by 2025, the ILO must make it a priority and address the root causes of child labor. Besides, companies and governments must work hand in hand to increasingly adopt adequate labor policies to improve tobacco industry labor conditions, reduce the health risks workers and farmers suffer from, as well as enforce a zero-tolerance child labor policy.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr