gmos in AfricaScientists created the first genetically modified organism or GMO in 1973, and the FDA approved a GMO product for the first time in 1982. GMOs are crops that have undergone genetic alternation for a specific purpose, such as weather, pest or weed resistance. Such traits can produce larger quantities of crops and make them resilient in different climates.

However, GMOs raise concern for many people, countries and organizations. While they are commonplace in the U.S., Europe largely avoids GMOs. Proponents of GMOs claim that they can help end global hunger, but opponents claim that they will damage both the planet and human health.

In Africa, GMOs are beginning to become a part of modern agriculture, but as of now, only in small ways. As of 2019, just five of Africa’s 47 countries allowed GMO crops to be grown: South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Egypt and Nigeria. Larger GMO initiatives in Africa could help feed the continent, but resistance to GMOs is large enough that Africa is beginning to use them only slowly and cautiously.

Pros of GMOs in Africa

Pests called stem borers are responsible for a loss of 400,000 tons of maize in Kenya yearly, or about 14% of total maize. Genetically modified maize called Bt maize can make maize crops more resilient to stem borers. Researcher Hugo de Groote says Bt maize will help small farmers in particular because pests affect them the most.

“The major surprise was that, contrary to the usual claims, Bt maize is very likely to benefit poor farmers and small seed companies,” De Groote reported to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

As of 2020, Kenya is near accepting domestic production of Bt maize. The country is also seriously considering allowing GMO imports, which would aid the nearly 1.5 million Kenyans facing acute hunger. However, experts say that in order for Kenyans to benefit from GMO crops long term, they need to start growing them on their own soil.

Many African countries struggle with drought, crop diseases and pests that cause low crop yields. Some GMOs exist to help with these problems, and they could become a part of Africa’s agricultural future. For example, following in Nigeria’s footsteps, Ghana is considering approving the commercialization of some pest-resistant GMO crops including Bt cotton.

Cons of GMOs in Africa

Hesitation to adopt GMOs in Africa stems from concerns for food safety, ethics, environmental risks, loss of biodiversity and lack of regulations. Furthermore, Africa exports a large number of agricultural goods to European nations, and many European consumers prefer to avoid GMOs. Because of this, the majority of African trading partners stick to traditional crop varieties.

GMOs are still a relatively new concept. They may create a risk of long-term environmental damage such as infertile land, biodiversity loss and new GMO-resistant pests. Furthermore, there is some evidence that GMOs can cause cancer and allergies. The American Cancer Society has not found convincing evidence of GMO-caused cancer, but it cautions that more research is necessary.

There are reasons both to support and to suspect GMOs in Africa and across the globe. More research will continue to unveil their benefits and consequences in Africa.

Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

USAID’s PATTA ProgramFarming plays a dominant role in the national economy of Pakistan. With a population of more than 200 million, Pakistan is heavily reliant on agriculture to provide food for people. Agriculture contributes almost 20% to Pakistan’s GDP, and as of 2019, employs more than 40% of the workforce. Smallholder farms are often at a disadvantage as they have limited access to improved technology, which prevents them from producing high yields of crops. To combat this issue, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA), an initiative designed to increase Pakistani farmers’ access to improved agricultural technology. USAID’s PATTA program is also designed to encourage private sector investment in agriculture to increase incomes and efficiency.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Despite the overwhelming need to preserve the agricultural sector, the industry has seen a decline in productivity over the years. Pakistan is especially vulnerable to environmental degradation and instances of water shortages and extreme temperature fluctuations have severely damaged the country’s ability to produce enough crops to feed its populace. As a result, Pakistan stands to benefit from the advancements in agricultural technology. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), these improved technologies can aid in improving agricultural productivity by 70% by the year 2050.

The PATTA Program

To assist Pakistani farmers with obtaining improved agricultural technologies, USAID funds the four-year PATTA program which began in 2017. This program “enables the private sector to give Pakistani farmers access to innovative agricultural products and management practices, which improve productivity and enhance competitiveness.” To facilitate this, USAID introduced the “Agri-Tech Hub” in 2020, a comprehensive suite of agricultural technologies with the potential to change the lives of farmers. The PATTA program encourages  private sector investment in Pakistani agriculture “to commercialize the types of agricultural technologies that enable smallholders to increase their incomes, create jobs and enhance economic growth and stability.”

Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) is an agricultural organization that is also involved with the PATTA program. This organization assists agricultural technology businesses in expanding their markets by doing cost-benefit analyses as well as creating strategies on how these businesses can provide technical support and build capacity for small farmers. Additionally, the CNFA sets up demonstration events in which businesses can display the effectiveness of their products. These events often use different mediums such as radio and the internet in order to reach many different groups of people. Overall, the CNFA is involved in every step of the PATTA program. The CNFA helps agribusinesses market their technologies effectively while making sure farmers can get their specific needs met.

PATTA’s Impact During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic impacts on agricultural production around the world. In Pakistan, PATTA has been assisting local governments in raising awareness of safety protocols through digital communication. For example, during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, PATTA partnered with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s agriculture department in developing “tele-farming advisory services on agricultural technologies” through SMS and robocalls to deliver pertinent information to farmers.

PATTA has also utilized the radio in order to spread its messages. From May to July 2020, PATTA encouraged the use of agricultural technologies via radio broadcast to 23 selected districts across Pakistan, reaching approximately three million people. The use of digital communications allowed for social distancing as the pandemic prevented conventional meetings from taking place.

USAID’s PATTA program helps farmers acquire improved technologies in order to increase their crop yields. By engaging with the private sector, PATTA assists both agribusinesses and farmers in expanding. The concrete outcomes of the program are yet to be released, but nonetheless, it is clear that agricultural technologies have the potential to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and reduce poverty in Pakistan.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture Cooperatives in Impoverished Rural Communities, Portuguese Winemakers Unite
For the estimated three-quarters of the global poor residing in rural environments, agriculture is the primary source of income. Any aspirations of poverty eradication are existentially dependent on the development of these communities. Cooperatives are associations of people who come together to achieve common economic, social and cultural goals. The long-standing tradition of agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities, where small farms pool resources, is a potential component of an efficient policy to offset the ravages of endemic poverty in agrarian economies.

A Moment in the Sun

Designated by three branches of the United Nations, 2012 was the International Year of Cooperatives. One of its primary ambitions was highlighting the financial disadvantages of small farms and the potential for inter-community economic unions to fight poverty. Agricultural cooperatives, having an impact that “cannot be overstated,” figured heavily into U.N. recommendations and initiatives. Creating 20% more employment opportunities than multinational ventures, agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities provide a long-term potential for sustainable job creation, which is paramount to poverty eradication.

Harvesting Prosperitya 2020 World Bank report, concluded that funding agricultural productivity is twice as effective at reducing extreme poverty than alternative methods. Crucially, the exhaustive report details the belief that industrial farms are the gold standard of high-yield agriculture. Contrarily, current research of “the inverse relationship hypothesis” questions the correlation of scale and productivity. Because impoverished rural communities are overwhelmingly populated with small-scale subsistence farms, one cannot overstate the essentiality of agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities.

Being unique entities based on democratic principles, each cooperative has distinct requirements that defy a universal approach. The economic complexities of members serving as both suppliers and owners create multifaceted organizations with financial and social obligations, as opposed to a corporate performance that is based solely on finance and profitability. The dualistic nature of cooperatives as inherently business and community actors gives these organizations a great deal of leverage to impact the well-being of their communities.

Portuguese Traditions in the Age of Globalism

Over the long history of wine-making cooperatives in Portugal, these unions have consistently allowed members to garner higher prices and greater market share while simultaneously improving value chains and decreasing transaction expenses. Additionally, Portugal has garnered attention as cooperative bylaws are enshrined in the constitution, making them integral to the national economy.

With 39,506 vineyards in the Douro wine-growing region alone, the long-term economic future of an essential component of Portuguese national character requires the implementation of structural reform. Cooperatives represent 46% of regional production in Douro and Port. With most farms under one hectare, individual producers must combine resources to vinify grapes. But after several failed governmental attempts at modernization in response to globalism, agricultural cooperatives have been stymied by encroaching foreign markets.

Upon Portugal’s entry into the E.U. in 1986, a direct-to-consumer model that sustained wine cooperatives became untenable as cheap imports via larger wine-producing nations like France and Italy brought competition. Furthermore, environmental and geographic factors prevented Portuguese vineyards from countering increasing imports through higher production. Often inefficient bureaucracies, a slow transition, accompanied by foreign investment allowed Quintas — independent for-profit producers — to flourish. Many Portuguese wine agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities did not survive the opening salvos of globalism.

Think Local, Act Global

The culling of slow-responding cooperatives has forced researchers and policymakers to develop a framework for adaptability. Several organizations, native and foreign, contribute to shaping and communicating the strategies for agriculture cooperatives in impoverished communities.

  • CASES: As previously noted, cooperatives must satisfy social obligations in addition to economic concerns. At Cooperativa Antonio Sergio para a Economia Social (CASES), an NGO focusing on the interrelatedness of finance and society, an alliance of Portuguese Creditors finances various cooperatives throughout the economy. A €12.5 million endeavor, Social Investe enabled several wine cooperatives to fund various projects and improvements.
  • PDR2020: The active involvement of governmental agencies is crucial to structural reform. Wine industry infrastructure is notoriously expensive and beyond the resources of independent producers. A federal initiative, Programa de Desenvolvimento Rural de Portugal (PDR 2020), funds agricultural purchases that are particularly crucial for Portuguese vineyards. These grants, amounting to €37.5 million in 2020 alone, also help farmers adapt to increasingly frequent climatic abnormalities that disrupt production.
  • Fenadegas: In order to affect the regulatory environment, wine cooperatives actively lobby for policy reform. Difficult at the individual level, Adegas Cooperativas de Portugal (ACP) is a coalition of 41 members and represents a unified agenda in addressing distinct exigencies of the industry. Additionally, the organization provides a global marketing platform, helping one cooperative survive the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing exports by 18% in 2020.
  • SALSA: The dual requirements of integrating with the local economy and tailoring production while simultaneously developing global strategies present major challenges. With the intergovernmental organization Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security (SALSA), Alentejo regional farmers created the “Km0 Evora” label that certifies local provenance within 50km. Efficient value chains are a traditional strength of cooperatives, but pressures of globalism have disrupted local economies, making community initiatives and branding more relevant. Mimicking Km0’s success, several European agricultural cooperatives have introduced similar measures.
  • Adega de Borba: Maximization of member profit and temporary gain often leave cooperatives under-invested. Despite initial struggles, Adega Cooperativa de Borba (ACB), which began in 1955, successfully transitioned to the global marketplace and produces 15 million bottles annually. A €12 million-member investment to build a state-of-the-art production facility has allowed 300 small farmers to compete internationally by diversifying product offerings.

Restoring Profitability to Agriculture

As rural communities face increasing pressure from foreign influence, these already-disenfranchised populations will struggle to have others hear them amid the cacophony of global interests. Portuguese winemakers, that the rapidly-changing economy overwhelmed, suffered immense emigration as farming no longer provided sufficient income. Restoring profitability to agriculture is a powerful mechanism by which endemic poverty can disappear. Organizations at numerous levels will be instrumental in this effort, but progress must begin with collaboration in agrarian rural communities.

– Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

How Elizabeth Mpofu is Transforming Agriculture in ZimbabweElizabeth Mpofu’s workday begins before dawn, rising at four in the morning to sweep her fields and check on her cattle. She proclaims that this quiet stretch, when it’s just her and the task at hand, is her favorite part of the day. Yet, when the sun rises, the enormity of the work ahead becomes apparent. In Zimbabwe, a country where 76.3% of rural children live in poverty, a fundamental change is desperately needed. Now, Elizabeth Mpofu is transforming agriculture in Zimbabwe.

Mpofu is an organic farmer and activist. With a focus on gender equality and agroecology, she is fighting to transform the landscape of agriculture in Zimbabwe. For Mpofu, this begins with one key distinction — food security versus food sovereignty.

Food Sovereignty Versus Food Security

Agriculture in Zimbabwe is geared toward food security. According to an interview with Holding Our Ground, Voices for Food Sovereignty, Mpofu wants to change this focus to food sovereignty.

Advocates for food security aim to put food in the marketplace and on the table. However, this does not account for the quality of that sustenance, the sustainability of its production and the people’s relationship with what they consume. On the other hand, food sovereignty emphasizes people’s personal ownership over what they grow and eat, as well as the cultivation of sustainable, locally-grown foods. For instance, if giving a woman a fish is food security, teaching her to fish is food sovereignty.

Mpofu argues that the current state of agriculture in Zimbabwe, which places profit over all else, yields homogenous, mass-produced food that is not as nutritious as what a small-scale farmer might grow on their own land. As a result, many impoverished Zimbabweans are being fed but not nourished. According to UNICEF, nearly one in three children in Zimbabwe under the age of 5 are malnourished.

In 2007, Mpofu took the first step toward shifting her community’s focus to food sovereignty when she co-founded a nonprofit, Zimbabwe Organic Smallholder Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF).

Planting Traditional Seeds

Among many of its functions, ZIMSOFF advocates for the use and protection of traditional seeds. The organization gave rise to the Zimbabwe Seed Sovereignty Programme, which has established seed banks, seed fairs and raises awareness of the importance of cultivating food that is native to the land. Such crops include rapoko (a type of millet), groundnuts and peanuts. These traditional crops are more drought-resistant and more suitable for the soil than those brought to the country by foreign entities.

Empowering Women

In 2002, Elizabeth Mpofu was nominated to represent Zimbabwe at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was hesitant, citing her inability to speak English and her self-proclaimed lack of knowledge. Now, Mpofu is the leader of Via Campesina, a coalition of 164 organizations in 73 countries. It is one of the largest coalitions of farmers in the world. Despite her ascension to the international stage, it’s her work with the women of her community that she finds most rewarding.

She leads workshops where she trains women in agroecology. This is the practice of farming that maximizes crop yield in a sustainable, ecologically sound manner. Women recognize the value of their own labor, even if it is treated as insignificant compared to men’s labor. Mpofu and those she trains present their case for food sovereignty to local leaders. The whole community benefits when women are empowered to make decisions.

“They, like me, stop seeing access to land as a privilege and see it instead as both a right and a responsibility,” says Mpofu in the Holding Our Ground interview, about the women with whom she works alongside.

The Road Ahead

Mpofu believes that the keys to sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe are already known. “Knowledge is not in short supply amongst farmers. What is lacking is the documentation and the spread of this knowledge,” says Mpofu.

In 2020, the GDP of Zimbabwe shrunk by 8% due in large part to COVID-19. In 2021, it is set to rebound by nearly 3% as the agricultural sector recovers. The road to recovery is a long one. In the eyes of Elizabeth Mpofu, if women’s empowerment and agroecology are put at the forefront, then that road will lead not just to food security, but food sovereignty for all the people of Zimbabwe.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Digital AgricultureDigital agriculture is a movement to digitize aspects of farming and food distribution. This has the potential to create a more sustainable, cost-effective and socially inclusive agricultural sector. Digital agriculture reduces poverty when smallholder farms use technology to increase efficiency, thereby becoming more competitive on the market. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, more than 100 million people could end up in extreme poverty due to the impact of environmental challenges on the agricultural sector. Although technology is not the only solution to ending global poverty, it is one promising way to improve the livelihoods of small-scale rural farmers. Using digital tools can improve crop monitoring, relationships between buyers and sellers, access to information and help develop more precise farming practices.

Smallholder Farms

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that smallholder farms, farms of two hectares or less, utilize 12% of the world’s agricultural land and family-run farms utilize 75% of global agricultural land. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farms are responsible for 80% of the food produced. These small farms face many challenges. Soil erosion, drought and other environmental issues can completely wipe out crops and leave families with no income. In recent years, environmental catastrophes left 13 million people from Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia with no choice but to rely on humanitarian assistance. In addition to high susceptibility to weather extremes, rural areas have less access to information and affordable internet services. Digital agriculture reduces poverty by alleviating some of these stressors.

E-commerce in Asia

Digital agriculture reduces poverty through already established concepts like e-commerce. Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, started a project in 2014 called Rural Taobao. The project aims to increase efficiency and lower costs of agricultural distribution, similar to how Airbnb and other service apps optimize supply and demand by digitally matching buyer and seller.

Rural Taobao is an online marketplace where farmers can buy products from manufacturers, have those products delivered, and then, distribute their crop yields using the same transportation that delivered the factory items. Essentially, this online platform ensures that trucks going into rural areas do not go back to the cities empty, but instead, go back full of agricultural products to sell.

Central Asia has 10.7 million farmers and a land per capita endowment that is five times higher than China’s. As a result, Central Asia has the potential to be a major exporter of high-quality agricultural goods. A program like Rural Taobao, and E-commerce in general, are ways that digital agriculture in Central Asia can optimize distribution, fulfill its potential as a competitive agricultural market and bring more financial capital into rural areas.

Access to Information in Niger

NOVATECH, a startup in Niger, developed an Interactive Voice Response Platform (IVR) in 2017 called E-KOKARI. The E-KOKARI platform lets agricultural workers use their cell phones to access information about crops, weather forecasts, market prices and other information relevant to farming or agriculture. It is as simple as dialing a number on a cellphone that will take the individual to a navigatable menu. The platform provides advice and information in all of Niger’s primary languages — French, Hausa and Zarma. The information is also available in voice format. About 70% of the adult population is illiterate so access to spoken information is extremely helpful. The number of people with cell phones has grown over the years. In 2016, more than seven million cellphone users existed in a population of 20 million.

E-KOKARI is still in the prototype phase but has a promising future. Developers of the technology interviewed farmers to find out exactly what problems needed addressing and worked to make the technology sustainable. Moreover, the developers ensured that the technology was reproducible for communities in other countries.

Digital Agriculture Reduces Poverty

Digital agriculture reduces poverty because it makes farmers’ lives easier. Similar to other sectors of society, technology can save time, increase productivity, lower costs and increase access to key information. As digital agriculture evolves and becomes more widespread, it is vital that creators pay attention to who the user is and what the user needs. Historically, marginalized groups such as women, differently-abled people and the elderly have greatly benefited from technology but frequently were not part of the production process. It is imperative that creators and producers of digital agriculture incorporate the voices of all potential users.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Drones and Precision AgricultureIn Africa, farming provides more than 30% of the continent’s gross domestic product and employs more than 60% of the working class. Unfortunately, Africa’s agriculture sector is hurting because environmental challenges have affected the continent’s weather patterns and temperatures, making farming extremely difficult. Outdated practices also hold Africa back, such as planting based on the moon phases, which further affects productivity. These issues bring new challenges to a struggling market trying to provide for a growing population but drones and precision agriculture may be able to help.

A Growing Population

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in three decades, Africa’s population will rise to about 2 billion people, requiring the farming sector to grow exponentially to sustain Africa. Luckily, a new relationship has formed between technology and agriculture. Drones and precision agriculture are helping farmers increase food production, protect their crops and protect themselves from poverty.

4 Ways Drones and Precision Agriculture Benefit Africa

  1. Drones and UAV’s can speed up the land registration process. Just 10% of Africa’s rural land is mapped and registered, leaving people insecure about land ownership and affecting rural farmers more than others. People involved in trades besides farming would benefit because they could use the land as a backup plan if a period of economic instability occurs instead of falling into poverty.
  2. Drones also provide farmers with an aerial view of their crops, allowing them to manage them better and notice changes. UAV’s with specialized sensors can alert farmers to changes like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), leaf area index and photochemical reflectance index. This allows farmers to notice developments the human eye would not. Using NDVI, a person receives information about water pressure, infestations, crop diseases and nutrient problems that may affect crop production. Around 7,000 African farmers in Uganda have used these drone techniques to better manage their crops.
  3. Drones and precision agriculture provide data that helps farmers take inventory of their crops and estimate crop yields faster. Drone use also lets a farmer know the location of livestock and helps to monitor fencing. Additionally, if farmers have detailed layouts of their land, including size, crop health and location, it will improve their ability to get credit, which will provide more economic advantages.
  4. Drone technology is also changing the schema of crop insurance. Crop insurance helps small farmers recover when natural disasters destroy their crops but poor reporting delays payouts. The use of UAVs makes it easier to quickly assess disaster damage and compensate farmers that disasters affect. Some larger reinsurers, such as Munich Re, have partnered with UAV service providers to improve response times and reporting accuracy after natural disasters strike. This use of technology to better assess farm damages keeps farmers from falling into poverty and allows them to protect their livelihood.

Drone Regulations

Over the past couple of years, Africa’s food exports have increased. This rise increases farmers’ productivity, especially those who can grow staple crops, allowing them to sell their produce for more money. Drones and precision agriculture help low-income farmers learn new techniques to keep up with the demand.

While multiple countries have proven the benefit of using drones, African farmers still face a problem. About 26% of African countries have laws about drone usage. Regulations restrict drone use in certain areas, which thus restricts farmers’ productivity. In Mozambique and Tanzania, drones undergo deployment at random to assist small farmers but most drones in Africa monitor wildlife. Increasing beneficial regulations for drone and UAV usage is integral to transforming Africa’s agriculture sector.

Drones and precision agriculture have the potential to revolutionize agriculture in Africa, presenting a way to lift Africans out of poverty.

Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture in EgyptImprovement in agriculture is essential to fighting poverty in developing countries. Agricultural growth leads to economic growth which results in employment opportunities and improves food security. Agriculture is a major component of the Egyptian economy. Agriculture in Egypt accounts for 11% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 23% of all jobs. In Upper Egypt, 55% of employment is related to agriculture. In addition, more than half of the population in Upper Egypt is living under the poverty line. Expansion of agriculture through technological innovations can help productivity and alleviate poverty in all areas of Egypt.

Water Conservation

The Nile River provides Egypt with 70% of its water supply. In a 2019 report, measurements determined that agriculture uses more than 85% of the country’s share of the Nile, according to the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies. However, due to drought, Egypt is “water-poor” because it provides 570 cubic meters of water per person per year. A country is water-poor when people do not have access to a sufficient amount of water, which is less than 1,000 cubic meters a year.

In 2020, to combat the water shortages, a government project that the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and Cairo’s MSA University developed, launched a mobile app that receives data from a sensor buried in the soil to detect moisture levels. This technology allows farmers to tell whether or not their crops need water, preventing excessive watering of crops. This modern irrigation method will lead to reduced water consumption, lower production costs and increased crop productivity, which will improve agriculture in Egypt.

Digital Agriculture

In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Egyptian government launched a program to enhance agricultural productivity through digital technology. Implementation of digital technology helps farmers access information to better manage crops and livestock and thus help them make better agricultural decisions. Digital technology also helps to enhance food security by reducing production costs and waste. It also increases crop productivity with the availability of accurate data to calculate production activities like estimating the daily needs of irrigation and fertilization.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications facilitate the flow of information to farmers, provides services to farmers and expands access to markets. With the help of several research institutions of the Agricultural Research Center, the program converted technical content into digital content that one can access via mobile application. With the adoption of mobile applications, agriculture in Egypt will expand as a result of increased access to resources.

Agricultural Innovation Project

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR)lead the 2020 to 2023 Agricultural Innovation Project (AIP). The initiative aims to promote innovations in technologies to improve several issues in agriculture. These issues include inefficient farming techniques that lower farm output and food production and other inhibitors of processing crops like poor post-harvest facilities and marketing infrastructure. The focus on creating innovative solutions will increase income for small-scale farmers in Upper Egypt.

The project supports digital access as a technological innovation so that farmers can better understand and access information surrounding the market and input supply. In addition, the project works closely to support small-scale farmers by improving market access for smallholders and improving institutional support.

Overall, food insecurity and poverty can reduce over time with the expansion of agriculture in Egypt by means of technological innovations.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Haller Farmers AppThe agricultural industry is responsible for a large portion of the economies in Africa. This fact means that agriculture has the power to transform Africa by helping to eradicate poverty and hunger, increasing industrialization and creating jobs and prosperity among all people. The Haller Farmers app hopes to improve agriculture in Africa with the purpose of helping farmers rise out of poverty.

Agriculture in Africa

The independence of any given African nation is dependent on the agriculture sector. Productive agricultural methods allow nations to have food security. When nations face food insecurity and widespread hunger, it is easier for other powerful countries to undermine the sovereignty of that nation. Further, agriculture is also important for the prosperity of the African continent because it has the highest potential for mitigating inequality and creating opportunities for the most disadvantaged workers in society.

In order for agriculture in a nation to thrive and allow that nation to continue to grow, innovative techniques must be implemented. Farming innovations must not only meet the needs of producers but also consider the health of people and the environment.

The Problems Farmers in Africa Face

Most farmers in Africa are small farmers or subsistence farmers who farm merely to survive and not for profit. The majority of farmers also reside in rural settings and often lack access to quality and equitable education. The number one problem African farmers face is a lack of information regarding new and modernized ways to farm.

Other farmers in Africa have had the challenge of producing agricultural goods to feed an ever-growing population with the same unsustainable techniques. Training farmers on more productive and sustainable farming techniques would hold huge potential for a flourishing African agricultural sector. This would thus allow these farmers to successfully feed the growing continent.

The Haller Farmers App

In 2014, the Haller Foundation created the Haller Farmers app to give farmers in Africa widespread access to farming techniques and agricultural information. The app is free to download and has consolidated 60 years of readily available agricultural knowledge, with the mission of creating sustainable food security and prosperity in Africa. The Haller Farmers app covers information on soil health, urban farming, water conservation and plants and animals. The app also does not need data or WiFi for information to be accessed.

Africa has experienced a mobile phone revolution, with access to smartphones and the internet growing massively in the last decade. In Kenya, for example, 74.2% of internet penetration exists and more than two-thirds of all new phones that people purchase are smartphones. The Haller Farmers app has capitalized on this data to create an equitable and widespread way for farmers to gain knowledge.

Going Beyond Food Security

Beyond ensuring food security, the Haller Farmers app also strives to minimize the gender divide and empower women since 80% of smallholder farmers in Kenya are women. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that farm productivity can grow by 20% through women’s empowerment. Educating these women farmers gives them more opportunities for success, which helps economic growth as a whole. The Haller Foundation also recognizes the communal nature of many farming regions in Africa, so when a community has access to even one phone with the app, this small change could impact hundreds of others.

The Haller Farmers app also hopes to add more features in the future. This includes an e-commerce function, information on weather and the market, microloans, crop insurance as well as progress monitoring services. The e-commerce function would allow farmers to buy and sell tools and other farming supplies. The Haller Foundation is hopeful that these features will help to create sustainable agriculture in Africa. A second version of the app launched in 2020.

One particular success story is that of Patricia. The Haller Farmers app helped her to make her land farmable again. The financial gain from the success of her farming, therefore, enabled her to build a house with electricity and water access for her whole family. In the year 2011, the Ministry of Agriculture made Patricia Farmer of the Year.

The Future of Agriculture in Africa

A hopeful future for agricultural production in Africa rests on the ability of farmers to utilize sustainable technologies that help them to maximize production. The Haller Farmers app is, therefore, one step in the right direction of creating a self-sustaining and thriving agricultural sector in every nation of Africa.

Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr