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

OPEC FundThe OPEC Fund for International Development fights against poverty by funding projects that improve poverty and spur development. On February 19, 2021, it continued this effort by sending a $50 million loan to Tanzania. The funding supports the Fourth Tanzania Poverty Reduction Project. The project intends to focus on boosting the economy through rural development. It will also improve access to social services for more than 900,000 people. Tanzania has certainly made progress in reducing poverty over the past decade, but around 26 million Tanzanians still live on less than $1.90 per day. The efforts of the OPEC Fund intend to address the issue of poverty in Tanzania.

The Goal

The fourth phase of the plan aims to build rural infrastructure for education, health, water, agriculture and transportation. By improving these conditions, employment opportunities will arise for those who are struggling. Additionally, this project will provide people with income opportunities such as growing vegetables and farming animals. The OPEC Fund Director-General Dr. Abdulhamid Alkhalifa states that the organization has committed to improving poverty in Tanzania for years. He explains that the current loan will empower communities to help themselves by strengthening food resilience and household incomes as well as developing social amenities to encourage growth and development.

The Partnership

The partnership between the OPEC Fund and Tanzania has existed for 45 years. During the partnership, the OPEC Fund has given the country more than $370 million for the current project and 37 other public sector operations. The OPEC Fund most recently granted assistance toward transportation. Tanzania received $26 million for the Kazilambwa-Chagu Road Upgrading Project. The road built will connect two of the country’s main ports. Improving the accessibility of these ports will ultimately lead to an increase in both agricultural and tourism-related activities. Additionally, it will enable trade with neighboring countries, therefore spurring economic growth.

Plans for Development

The OPEC Fund’s mission is to stimulate economic growth in low to middle-income countries. The OPEC Fund provides financing to both member and non-member countries. Established by member countries in 1976, it sought to increase development and strengthen communities, all while empowering the people of the country. The OPEC Fund has approved more than $25 billion for 135 countries, showing many that development is possible for everyone. With help from the OPEC Fund, Tanzania has greatly reduced poverty levels over the past 10 years. As the OPEC Fund fights against poverty, the Tanzanian government is implementing programs to eradicate poverty and developmental issues. Exemplary programs include three previous phases of this project co-financed by the OPEC Fund.

Importance of Agriculture

Agriculture is the center of Tanzania’s economy, contributing around a quarter of GDP and employing three-fourths of the country. Increasing droughts and harvest losses, however, present a threat to food security and the agriculture sector. Tanzania’s GDP growth of 6–7% annually over the past decade stems largely from the agriculture sector. A majority of the agricultural success has come from improvements and progress in farming and harvesting.

Tanzania also struggles to expand modern energy access, with two-thirds of the population still without access to modern energy. Similarly, only 9% of Tanzania’s population has access to formal financial services and only 4% has ever received a loan from a bank, factors clearly stagnating economic growth and development in the country.

The assistance provided by the OPEC Fund alongside community members and the Tanzanian government has allowed Tanzania to make great strides toward eradicating poverty and improving developmental growth.

Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr

improving conditions for Vietnam farmersWithin the past years, the Vietnamese agricultural sector has experienced multiple changes and improvements in labor conditions. Considering previous conditions of unsustainable work ethics and disadvantageous labor compensation, many Vietnamese farmers struggled with unstable trade agreements and a lack of farm and production management, leaving workers with uncertainty in their labor. Changes in Vietnam’s federal regulation and farming methodology are expected to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

The New Vietnam Labor Code

To start, the Vietnamese government implemented revisions to the Vietnam Labor Code, which are taking place this year. The policy changes include coverage for laborers without working contracts, which widens the new code’s coverage from 20 million workers to 55 million. New policy additions also include laws against gender discrimination and sexual misconduct, protecting employers and providing equal opportunity in the agricultural sector. Employers now have an option for maternal leave if they choose to and law passages define sexual harassment clearly now for better prevention.

The code protects workers from unfair wage contracts, as it enables employers and laborers to negotiate and collectively set wages and conditions. Workers may also join a workers’ organization of their choice, to ensure protection and fair contracts for those represented. Furthermore, the government now establishes previously absent minimum wage and overtime caps.

New Policies to Improve Conditions for Vietnam Farmers

Along with the new labor code, new measures have taken place to better manage production and trade relations, which have sometimes been caught in scams between export companies and incorrect dealing agreements. There have also been cases of exports violating plant safety regulations, possibly resulting in investigations that halt production processes at farms and packaging facilities. To prevent shortcomings and create accountability, the Vietnamese local authorities are working toward structured management of agricultural production, which tries to monitor traceability for pest control and fertilizer sources better and will improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

In addition to these new management policies, the Vietnamese agriculture sector is looking for new sustainable ways to reuse farming spaces and incorporate advanced technology. An incentive to implement those is the constant instability of weather conditions, which can result in drought and saltwater intrusion. The Vietnamese state continues to combat these threats with freshwater reservoirs and irrigation systems, yet it still affects many farms. In regions with insufficient rice growth, the Vietnamese Department of Crop Production approved the plan to convert these rice fields into fruit-growing plants or for other agricultural activities that acquire a higher income. However, to combat weather inconsistency and its consequences, rice farms have implemented new technologies such as modern combine harvesters and rice processing gadgets for efficient production.

Solar Panels for Farmers in Need

Other new improvements in Vietnam have been implemented to benefit a broader section of farming communities. The UNEP’s EmPower project is a notable change, working on installing solar panels for animal farms that are burdened with bad access to electricity and financial instability. Struggling families and farmers will receive solar power for free and can use the electricity for ventilation systems and incubation equipment used to heat chicken rearings. This introduction of solar power not only alleviates electricity costs for Vietnamese farmers, but also for indigenous populations that take advantage of this source of energy. Furthermore, the ones affected called this new addition a solution to their needs during the pandemic.

In conclusion, various measures and policy adjustments have taken place in 2021 to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers. The Vietnamese government’s newfound regulation of agriculture and management procedures bring about order and stability to Vietnamese farmers, and the implementation of technologies creates greater productivity in several farming districts. Considering the new changes, Vietnamese farmers newly receive a reliable income and accountability in their labor.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Digital FarmingThe expansion of the digital age catapults the world into new methods of productivity. Utilized in the sectors of farming and agriculture, technology increases capabilities. Primarily, the introduction of mobile phones for digital farming heightens this change. Expanding internet and digital connection in the developing world has the potential to bring about positive outcomes that will help reduce poverty.

4 Ways Digital Farming Increases Productivity

  1. Network Building: Digital technology increases productivity by integrating mobile phones and internet services into the daily practices of farmers. Mobile technology builds networks through which farmers share information about improved practices and ecological data. In Africa, the price of mobile internet dropped by 30% since 2015, allowing more of the general public to utilize these new methods. This increase also required government involvement to establish national strategies and manage communications.
  2. Job Opportunities for Women: In regard to farm production, giving women more access to mobile technology allows productivity to grow by 4%, leveling the playing field between men and women. This provides women with access to knowledge and information regarding the detailed aspects of farming that at one point remained out of reach.
  3. Data Sharing: Implementing new farming technologies requires a commitment to the progression of change. Nations must look long-term to prepare for these changes in production to yield viable results. The costs necessary for production and distribution will decrease through the utilization of networking, where farmers gain the ability to make decisions that are well informed. Higher levels of data available fuel these improvements and streamline investments toward international food production.
  4. Increased Efficiency: Mobile technology will support the growth of efficiency and accuracy through a connected network of farmers. Data indicates that when a developing nation’s internet access increases by 10%, the GDP of this nation may increase by 1.35%, improving the economy. Rwanda has been praised for its work to improve the digital penetration of the economy. Rwanda helped 93% of its population gain access to a 3G network and is one of the fastest-growing African economies.

The Future of Digital Farming

Mobile technologies offer lasting improvements in the agricultural sector but risks still exist. The World Bank acknowledges these risks, such as a lack of cybersecurity, a concentration of service providers and potential job loss because positions will shift. However, the benefits of digital farming in developing countries seem to outweigh the risks. As a result, farmers are able to expand their knowledge and improve their farms. This in turn improves their yields, addresses food security, and most importantly, alleviates poverty. The World Bank states that digital technology should not be seen as the answer to all problems, however. Investments for road improvements, uninterrupted electricity and post-harvest storage facilities are also crucial and should not be overlooked.

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

SunCulture Expansion For many farmers in Africa, unpredictable weather patterns and growing seasons often lead to insufficient harvests and food insecurity. Yet, nearly 80% of people in Africa rely on agriculture as their main source of food. According to the United Nations, global food production must increase by 60% by the year 2050 in order to sustain the world’s growing population. Despite environmental limitations, more sustainable and efficient farming must occur. SunCulture, a Kenya-based solar-powered generator and irrigation system manufacturer, promotes food production, ensuring that farmers in Africa have the means to produce enough food. With the latest SunCulture expansion, the company hopes to help more farmers in Africa and also add new products to its repertoire.

SunCulture Promotes Food Production

Africa has 65% of the world’s uncultivated, arable land, according to the African Development Bank. However, due to limited resources to sustainably grow and harvest food, food scarcity is prevalent in farming communities in Africa. To combat this scarcity, SunCulture has provided families with sustainable tools to increase food production, such as generators and irrigation systems. Since much of Africa’s freshwater exists as groundwater, irrigation systems help pump water up to the surface to water crops during droughts. At the same time, solar-powered generators provide power in farming villages lacking electricity. With these tools available for purchase, SunCulture promises that families can sustain themselves and their communities without fear of food insecurity or scarcity. The pay-as-you-grow financing option allows farmers to pay in small monthly installments, making products accessible and affordable.

Since SunCulture’s creation in 2013, it has changed the lives of thousands of farmers across East Africa. The company estimates that farmers using its products have seen up to five times increase in crop yields and have gained up to 10 times increased income from selling their crops. By allowing farmers the opportunity to grow enough food to sell the excess, local commerce has bolstered the economies of these communities. This had led to more people being able to purchase SunCulture’s irrigation systems and grow even more crops. Although SunCulture currently promotes food production exclusively in the eastern parts of Africa, new business expansions have allowed them to help farmers across the continent.

SunCulture Expansion

In December 2020, SunCulture announced a US$14 million expansion that would allow farmers across the African continent access to the company’s products. Backed by numerous organizations such as Energy Access Ventures (EAV) and USAID’s Kenya Investment Mechanism (KIM) program, the expansion would also allow SunCulture to provide better support to farmers in Africa such as more efficient irrigation systems and less costly generators. While EAV has been one of SunCulture’s main investors since its inception, KIM offers new opportunities both in helping companies find a market to sell their products and getting the resources necessary to make their products. Through its work with KIM, SunCulture is confident in its ability to bring sustainable irrigation to the millions of farming families in Africa.

While this SunCulture expansion may take time to cover all of Africa, it will immediately impact farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire. Farmers in these countries will be able to either purchase their first irrigation system from SunCulture or buy more systems to better sustain their crops and increase yields.

Addressing Food Security and Reducing Poverty

As more people in Africa rely on agriculture both for food and income, SunCulture’s products have been able to increase agricultural outcomes. With the expansion, SunCulture hopes to aid more families and communities in Africa to reduce food insecurity and better their livelihoods, alleviating poverty overall.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

Agroecology in ColombiaPoverty levels in Colombia have decreased by almost 15% between 2008 and 2018, yet significant inequality persists as poverty continues to disproportionately affect rural communities. In 2019, 36.1% of the Colombian rural population lived in poverty and 15% lived in extreme poverty, double the rate of poverty in urban areas. Effects of rural poverty in Colombia are greater among Afro-descendant people, indigenous groups, women and those with disabilities. The transition to agroecology in Colombia will positively impact farmers, especially rural farmers. It has the potential to mitigate environmental risks, protect farmers’ health, strengthen food security and preserve the ecosystem, reducing poverty overall.

Colombia’s Agricultural Industry

Over the past 60 years, the Colombian agricultural industry has greatly contributed to the growth of the economy, providing 16.45% of the country’s jobs. Colombia has the highest use of fertilizer and the second-highest use of pesticides in Latin America. Colombia spends 35% of total food cost production on agrochemicals with pesticide use nearly quadrupling since 1990. Agrochemicals affect the health of people and the health of the land. Integrating sustainable agroecology in Colombia presents an opportunity to protect people’s health and the ecosystem while minimizing environmental risks.

Health Risks of Agrochemicals

Agrochemicals can have adverse effects on the human neurological, immunological, respiratory and reproductive systems. The risks of exposure can result in long-lasting, chronic health outcomes for farmworkers and can especially affect pregnant women, children and older family members. In 2017, reports determined the existence of 8,423 pesticide-associated poisoning cases and 150 pesticide-associated fatalities in Colombia. Ruben Salas, a toxicologist at the University of Cartegena, predicts that chronic diseases in connection to pesticide exposure are frequently undiagnosed and underreported.

Despite the evident adverse health and ecological effects of agrochemicals, not all embrace the adoption of agroecology in Colombia. A study investigating factors that contribute to Colombian Campesinos’ use of pesticides found that pesticide users do not believe pesticides are detrimental to human health nor the environment.

Fighting Environmental Challenges

Reports determined that pesticide use causes damaging environmental events, leading to agricultural depletion and socioeconomic conflicts. According to risk analysis, predictions have determined that changing weather in Colombia will affect food security by 34.6% and human habitat by 26.2%. As the majority of Colombian’s in rural regions are already facing water shortages and land instability, an urgent need exists for sustainable solutions.

Sustainable Development Initiatives

To protect human health and the environment, efforts to implement agroecology in Colombia have proficiently provided alternatives to substitute traditional agricultural methods. The Food and Land Use Coalition, Yara International and Ecoflora are examples of groups that have developed effective strategies to diminish agrochemical use and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) working group prioritizes the development of sustainable and capable agricultural applications. In collaboration with the government, biotechnology companies and research institutions, FOLU is working toward certifying farms in Good Agricultural Practices, developing bio-inputs, bio-protection and agroecology throughout farming communities.

Yara International is a fertilizer company that assists farmers to promote sustainable crop practices. Yara agronomists collaborate with local crop nutrition experts to provide an individualized solution for farmers. Through engagement, market research, trials and meeting, Yara ensures farmers experience sustained success.

Ecoflora is a biocontrol company that creates natural color technologies while focusing on sustainable and ethical practices. In Colombia, Ecoflora has developed alliances with communities of African descent, indigenous people and those in rural regions. Ecoflora encourages the use of natural resources and sustainable practices within these communities to preserve the environment and ensure equitable social benefits.

Going Forward

The marginalized communities of rural Colombia are more vulnerable to the consequences of agrochemical use. An increase in farmer’s understanding of agrochemical impacts, education on effective and sustainable agricultural management and novel technology training would promote the uptake of agroecology in Colombia. The government should continue supporting the integration of agroecological practices to protect the health and well-being of historically neglected communities. Furthermore, agroecology promotes sustainable food security, addressing food shortages, hunger and poverty overall.

Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr