Use of Chemical Pesticides
Despite their effectiveness in killing specific pests, historic incidents and unknowns related to chemical pesticides have led to public health concerns. Fears that people could be at risk if they consume food treated with chemical pesticides do have a foundation. Pesticides have been found to partially cause neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, among other maladies. Chemical pesticides cannot choose which organisms they kill, which can lead to raised ecosystem contamination and toxicity. Not all chemical pesticides directly harm humans. However, evidence of those that do, along with evidence for unintended ecological damage, led to efforts to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Neem as an Alternative

One of the most concerning side-effects of the use of chemical pesticides is their effect on bee populations. Bees are vital to crop pollination and indirectly help create much of the food that humans eat. Pesticide use is a primary cause of the current decline in beehive populations. American and European beekeepers report this is at around 30% per year.  Bee population decline contributes to food scarcity and poverty. When food becomes more scarce, prices rise and more people go hungry. Current conditions necessitate implementing an alternative to chemical pesticides that is safe for humans, certain insects and plants.

New research points to naturally derived pesticides as possibly safer and less damaging to the environment. Currently, the most promising natural solution is neem oil. Neem oil is an organic, naturally-derived substance from the Neem tree. The tree grows primarily in tropical regions. These areas tend to be most affected by insect infestations and represent some of the poorest areas in the world.

Neem oil use is not a new phenomenon. Traditional Indian farming methods practiced for thousands of years, and even folk medicines incorporate neem usage. It is effective at reducing specific insect populations while having minimal noted negative effects on beneficial insects like bees and worms. A number of agricultural companies have begun using neem in their products, and its use is only expected to grow as its efficacy is increasingly verified.

Outbreak and Application in Africa

In early 2020, East Africa faced its worst locust outbreak in decades. Swarms devoured hundreds of thousands of acres, fostering hunger and fear in local communities. Millions of people became more food insecure and the use of chemical pesticides became less viable. The COVID-19 pandemic upset the global chemical supply chain, which seems to have inhibited governments from receiving the large quantities of pesticides needed to make an impact against the locust invasion.

In response, some farmers in Kenya began making their own neem oil to push back against locust invasions. Neem oil can weaken locusts’ reproductive ability and potentially kill them, which reduces the current and future populations. While it was too late to make a big impact against the swarms, individual farmers protected their crops. If enough farmers learn to make their own oil in the future, or if it is produced cheaply on a large scale, Kenya could have an effective, safe defense against locust invasions. Other countries in the region also afflicted by locust swarms stand to benefit from looking to Kenya as an example.

Potential for Future Practices

Chemical pesticide use is harmful to the environment and can create bad health outcomes for some people. Industrial use of neem oil instead of chemical pesticides could improve health conditions worldwide and protect ecosystems. On a smaller scale, it could protect the economic interests of poor farmers and people at risk of starvation. People may also be more accepting of the use of growable, natural pesticides over the use of chemical ones. Locally-made neem oil also mitigates environmental pollution. This puts more power into the hands of individual farmers. Though natural pesticide solutions require more research, they represent critical development in the future of agricultural pesticides.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Unsplash

TechnoServe is Alleviating PovertyNearly two-thirds of developing countries rely heavily on the economic profit of agriculture to support local financial infrastructure. The industry holds high profitability but farmers rarely have the means to create a profitable business. TechnoServe works closely in agricultural advancements, creating capitalizing markets for countries to grow upon. Technoserve is alleviating poverty through its initiatives in the agricultural sector.

Training Skills for Farmers

Kenya, Haiti and Zambia are some of the many developing countries rich in natural resources that are in high consumer demand, such as mangos and cashews. The support and training skills implemented by TechnoServe work to profit on the supply and demand. These natural resources could provide significant economic growth if farmers are given the skills to create a profitable business. Technoserve has partnered with nearly 4,000 businesses and upwards of 300,000 farmers each year.

TechnoServe’s mission is to implement training methods that these regions lack, such as skills in management training, finance and secure markets that are needed to create profitable enterprises. The implementation of training skills and knowledge allows individuals and communities to continue to carry the skills for a lifetime.

TechnoServe has made a lasting impact for millions of individuals and in 2019 it was rated the number one nonprofit fighting poverty by ImpactMatters.

Focusing on Women’s Empowerment

The annual report from 2019 reveals an increase in entrepreneurship for farmers and women, highlighting specific countries, and more specifically, women’s impact. In 2019, 38% of beneficiaries were women or women-owned businesses. Overall, 317,493 individuals and companies, as a result of Technoserve’s help, display increased profitability and financial benefits of $200,579.

In developing countries, women face gender barriers that are disproportionally more likely to affect them. Women’s economic empowerment is vital for alleviating poverty and creating employment opportunities. Investing specifically in women’s economic opportunities, such as access to training, knowledge and resources, could impact farm production up to 30%, allowing for increased employment opportunities. Studies estimate that this change could impact the global GPD by 26%, or $28 trillion.

Women in Business (WIN)

Working closely with businesses and organizations, Technoserve is alleviating poverty by proactively working to create social equity within communities. Breaking the barrier of gender inequality to empower women-run institutions through funding and support, improves the quality of life and financial status. For instance, Technoserves five year program designed for women, called Women in Business (WIN), focuses on female entrepreneurs in Mozambique. Similar training is also provided for men through Technoserve, to create complete gender balance.

More than three-quarters of economically active Mozambicans are involved in small and informal businesses, 60% of whom are women.” Despite most business owners being women, their businesses are less likely to employ as many people and are relatively smaller than their male counterparts. Highlighting gender barriers, women face higher demands at home due to families and are not likely to receive the same networks, information and opportunity. The WIN program utilizes a market systems approach to produce partnerships with private sector companies, associates and service providers, to create an inclusive market for women. WIN is able to provide these women resources through the partnership established with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Sida assists TechnoServe’s initiative through funding, providing resources such as creating employment opportunities, equipment, financial services and products needed.

Overall, TechnoServe is alleviating poverty with initiatives in the agricultural industry and acknowledges the important role of women in this endeavor.

– Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

How Poverty Affects Everyday Life in MoldovaPoverty in Moldova is a common reality for those that live there. Many have had to leave their family, friends and homes to find a job because it is nearly impossible to find one in Moldova due to high unemployment rates. Now imagine being the ones left behind: the family members and life-long friends who are left in a politically torn country. Since Moldova gained its independence in 1991 it has struggled to fight poverty within its borders, affecting everyday life in Moldova. Moldova’s main causes of poverty are immigration due to high unemployment and governmental strife. These factors especially affect the children of Moldova.

Immigration and High Unemployment

Many of Moldova’s citizens are moving out of the country. There are simply not enough jobs for everyone. Doina Grecu, a woman born in Moldova who moved to the U.S. to further her education, said that her father had to find work abroad for several years when she lived in Moldova. Electricity was not stable and was expensive then, so people would only be able to talk to their loved ones every now and then and waited to hear that they were alright. Grecu also recounted that some people traveled from Moldova all the way across Europe to France. Poverty in Moldova has caused many people to leave their homes.

Governmental Strife

Even though Moldova has strengthened its relationship with the EU, it still struggles with poverty because of its conflicting interests in trade. Half of the country believes that they should exclusively trade with Russian because of their history together, and the other half have seen that Europe has prospered in trade and believe that Moldova should trade with them.

To further complicate things, Russia has been known to retaliate if Moldova trades with other countries. Doina Grecu stated that there were videos of Russians destroying apples from Moldova for this very reason. Moldova has uniquely rich soil that makes it an agricultural economy, so this kind of retribution is extremely harmful to these farmers. And while farming is Moldova’s main source of income, the rural areas have an almost five times higher poverty rate than Moldova’s urban areas.

Moldova’s Impoverished Children

Child poverty is significantly high. UNICEF states, “Children in Moldova remain disproportionately poor.” Some children were sent to orphanages, not because they had no parents, but because their parents were unable to care for them, as recounted by Grecu. Other children had to live with their grandparents, who may be unable to properly care for them, while one or both of their parents went abroad to find a job to send money home.

Poverty in Moldova has improved over the years. The non-governmental organization EcoVillage Farms has come up with a way to help Moldova capitalizes on what makes it special. As mentioned before, Moldova’s fertile soil is definitely an asset to Moldova. As such, the country is making the transition to the “quality over quantity” mindset when it comes to what they eat, states Grecu. Since Moldova is mainly an agricultural country, investing in farmers and small businesses will help boost Moldova’s economy and improve everyday life in Moldova. EcoVillage’s goal is to give these upcoming businesses a place to start. A furnished kitchen space will be available for rent for these business owners to practice their craft. Renters can also pay to use other renters’ equipment so as to build a sense of community and learn from each other. In addition, EcoVillage will provide counseling in finance and the logistics of how to start a business.

This NGO’s dream is still in the works, but they are more than halfway to their fundraising goal. When they are finished, this opportunity for small food businesses in the country with help reduce poverty in Moldova by building its economy on its biggest asset: a quality grounds for agriculture.

—Moriah Thomas
Photo: Flickr

How Agriculture is Ending Poverty in Indonesia
Indonesia has struggled with poverty since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. However, the rate of poverty has been steadily decreasing over the years. In 1999, Indonesia’s poverty rate was a staggering 24%. In 2013, it had dropped to 11.4%, and in 2019, it stood at 9.4%. Below are several ways agriculture is ending poverty in Indonesia.

Palm Oil Production in Indonesia: Providing Jobs and Alleviating Poverty

Palm oil is one of the most commonly used vegetable oils around the world and is found in half of grocery store items. Its popularity has skyrocketed globally since 1990, with global consumption growing from 14 million tons in 1990 to 63 million tons in 2015, 80% of which Indonesia supplies. After the Asian financial crisis, millions of Indonesians relied on the palm oil industry to relieve poverty. Between the years 2001 and 2010, 10 million Indonesians saw relief from poverty directly from working in the palm oil industry.

In 2017, 3.8 million Indonesians worked in the palm oil industry. Today, 17 million Indonesians rely on the palm oil industry for work and the industry uses 7% of Indonesia’s land for its production. Palm oil agriculture is ending poverty in Indonesia because it directly helps farmers in rural areas. Poverty most affects Indonesia’s rural areas. However, by maintaining and increasing funding for palm oil production, families living in these rural regions can lift themselves out of poverty.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 Farmer Support

Farmers in Indonesia play a significant role in stabilizing the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Agriculture saw the necessity of supporting the many farmers of Indonesia, who make up 30% of the population, by providing livelihood necessities such as seeds and fertilizer.

The government is also providing 34 trillion Indonesian rupiahs, or $2,284,494,000, in loan subsidies. The 2.7 million farmers also received 300,000 Indonesian rupiahs, or $20, which is typically one week of wages, for three months.

USAID: Partnering with Local Farmers

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with farmers in Indonesia to help build stable livelihoods, reduce poverty and help the economy. USAID ensures that farmers have a consistent supply of necessary resources needed to produce food of high quality. This food security ensures that people see long-term benefits and avoid malnutrition, weakened immune systems and cognitive health issues. At the same time, USAID is committed to achieving these goals in an environmentally friendly way.

In its 2019 Annual Report, USAID clarified how its assistance with agriculture is ending poverty in Indonesia. USAID gained 2.9 hectares of farmland, which supports the livelihood of 11,400 people. Rubber plant farmers also received training on environmental sustainability and reducing the risk of forest fires, bringing about a 74% reduction in such fires. Additionally, 30% of farmers are now producing government-certified rubber products of a higher quality, which have increased in price from $0.50/kg to $0.80/kg. In addition, productivity has increased by 2.5%. USAID has set long-term goals for development and expects to acquire 100 million hectares of forest land by 2030.

Agriculture is ending poverty in Indonesia at such a high rate because the agriculture industry is most effective at raising incomes compared to other industries. In a 2016 study by the World Bank, 65% of impoverished workers could make a living by working in agriculture. The agriculture industry has made great efforts to eradicate poverty in Indonesia. Improvements in the practices of agriculture correlate with better incomes and an improved quality of life for farmers and will steadily increase with ongoing efforts.

– Karena Korbin
Photo: Flickr

African AgribusinessesOn November 30, 2020, USAID announced a joint operation with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the IKEA Foundation to contribute $30 million to Aceli Africa to help bridge the financing gap experienced by many African agribusinesses. The grant is estimated to have a tremendous impact and will unlock $700 million in financing for up to 750 African agribusinesses in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

Agri-SMEs Lack Financing

Much of Aceli Africa’s work focuses on a data-driven approach to incentivizing financial institutions to provide loans for small and medium-sized African agribusinesses or “agri-SMEs”, as Aceli Africa calls them.

According to Aceli Africa’s research, agri-SMEs represent a golden opportunity to solve hunger and poverty throughout Africa and help fulfill key U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as gender equality and climate action.

This is because smallholder farmers consist of both men and women and provide direct access to food sources that are responsibly raised in accordance with the needs of the local environment. Furthermore, the expansion of the agricultural sector in Africa is two to three times more effective in eliminating poverty than growth in any other sector.

Despite the great potential of African smallholder farms, banks are largely unwilling to loan them much-needed financing to power additional growth. Banks do not have the risk appetite for small farms in Africa due to price volatility, the seasonality of farming, pest invasions and a weak regulatory environment.

The result of this is an investment shortfall of $65 billion per year for agri-SMEs in Africa. Initiatives focused on microfinancing do not provide enough financial injection for agri-SMEs, which are larger than the microenterprises that are the usual recipients of microloans. Agri-SMEs are thus left out of financing. However, the work of Aceli Africa aims to change these circumstances.

Aceli Africa Incentivizes Banks to Loan to Agri-SMEs

To bridge this gap in financing, Aceli Africa partners with numerous organizations such as USAID, the IKEA Foundation, Feed the Future and the International Growth Center to incentivize banks to loan and provide technical assistance to agri-SMEs.

This is where the aforementioned $30 million contribution has the potential to positively impact agriculture and African agribusinesses. One of the incentive programs that Aceli Africa employs is to cover the losses of the first loan that a financial institution gives to an African agri-SME.

This works by depositing 2-8% of the loan’s value in a reserve account that the lender can access when losses are experienced. This boosts risk appetite among lenders and makes banks and other institutions more willing to invest in agri-SMEs in Africa.

Aceli Africa also provides technical assistance for financial management for African agri-SMEs through online tools and other in-person approaches to help smallholder farmers optimize growth using the loans they receive. These approaches have the potential to put U.S. taxpayer dollars to effective use by addressing poverty and hunger abroad.

United States Outreach is Key in Combatting Poverty

USAID’s decision to partner with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the IKEA Foundation to contribute to the work of Aceli Africa symbolizes the value and power of international partnership in the fight against global poverty. When the United States decides to lead on an issue, the rest of the world follows. Key international partnerships are essential for the United States to take the lead and garner international support to address key global issues.

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Nespresso AAAPopular on every continent of the earth, coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. In 2017, more than two-thirds of the global coffee production was exported, creating 125 million jobs and an $83 billion retail market value. The market is also extremely vast. While the largest importing countries are the United States, Germany and France, most coffee beans grow in smallholder farms in developing countries across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, including 22 Low Human Development Countries, according to the U.N.’s Human Development Index. The Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program aims to help coffee farmers in developing countries.

Coffee Farming in Developing Countries

In many of these underdeveloped regions, coffee is a particularly important crop and a significant source of income for farmers to recover from natural disasters, economic volatility or political conflicts. However, many smallholder farmers find it difficult to tap into the global premium market due to their low productivity, outdated processing technics and lack of market access. More than 2.5 million African smallholder coffee farmers are still in extreme poverty today. In other words,  they live on less than $1 a day.

Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program

Seeing the difficulties that farmers face and the great potential for future development, Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestlé, one of the most popular and successful coffee businesses of the 21st century, launched the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program in 2003. AAA stands for the triple focus on high quality, productivity and social and environmental sustainability, aiming to encourage rural economic development and improve the livelihoods and well-being of coffee farmers while producing high-quality coffee. To enter the program, a farmer has to produce a specific aroma profile and meet the quality and sustainability requirements.

Technical Assistance and Business Support

Once accepted in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, farmers receive tools and learn sustainable coffee growing and processing practices from the agronomists that Nespresso sends directly to their communities. Nespresso also helps install small wet mills that allow for greater efficiency and quality control in coffee aggregating and processing. Thanks to the adoption of these new or improved practices, land productivity has increased 40-50% in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Besides, Nespresso trains the farmers for better farm economic management and business practices, easier access to new and differentiated markets and stronger resilience to climate change through climate-smart agricultural practices. Together, this ensures greater profitability and income stability. Farmers have the right to choose the buyers, although many just sell their coffee to Nespresso since it offers a fair price of around one third above the standard market price and up to 70% of the export price can go back to farmers and their local communities.

Wider Systemic Solutions

Beyond the coffee business, the ultimate goal of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program is to improve farmers’ living conditions. After years of endeavor, the program is evolving into a broader rural development program that encompasses sustainable agriculture, financial literacy, municipalities and social welfares. For example, in 2014, Nespresso and Fairtrade International together launched the Farmer Future Program in Caldas, Colombia, to provide the first pension scheme for coffee farmers. This will also help with the generational transfer of farms from parents to children, ensuring opportunity for young people in coffee-producing regions.

As of 2020, Nespresso has committed an annual investment of CHF 40 million and 400 agronomists have been sent to help farmers. More than 110,000 farmers in 14 developing countries have been participating in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program.

The program is a veritable triple-win collaboration between coffee farmers, Nespresso and the customers. Nespresso sources approximately 95% of its total coffee supply through the AAA program, which is not far from 100%, its ultimate vision for the end of 2020.

Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

India’s ban on dangerous pesticidesThe Indian Ministry of Agriculture has banned 27 pesticides that are known to be dangerous. A number of studies found that those who work closely with pesticides (such as farmers, pesticide applicators and crop-duster pilots) suffer an increased risk of a variety of diseases/illnesses relating to the neurological, behavioral, reproductive and developmental systems. These illnesses include leukemia, lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As a direct result, 20,000 people die of pesticide poisoning annually in India. However, that does not account for the diseases that pesticide poisoning can lead to. Even those who are not directly related to the agricultural industry are exposed to dangerous pesticides through run-off that contaminates water sources, including drinking water. India’s ban on dangerous pesticides will lead to a major decrease in unnecessary health problems. Many farmers have admitted that they don’t have a proper understanding of how pesticides work or how to even use them correctly. As one farmer, Balbir Singh reported, “Some people use pesticides without understanding why hoping that their crops won’t die…We know we are killing our land and our people.” India’s ban on dangerous pesticides will eliminate this problem and ensure the safety of agricultural workers, as well as the general public.

Pros and Cons of Pesticides

India’s ban on dangerous pesticides is also expected to benefit the economy. The 27 banned pesticides have been outlawed in Europe and the U.S. That makes it more difficult for these countries to import crops from India in the past. However, now India is following the European Union’s guidelines for exporting crops. Individual farmers will be able to export more crops, promising an economic benefit to India’s ban on dangerous pesticides.

Many are worried about the possible negative effects of India’s ban on dangerous pesticides. Pesticides ensure crops will not be destroyed by insects, therefore allowing a maximum number of crops to be harvested and sold. Three-quarters of the Indian population work in agriculture, so a decrease in crop production would devastate the country.

A Positive Shift

However, in 2003, the small Indian state of Sikkim eliminated the use of all pesticides. The state became healthier overall and introduced price caps on produce to keep prices affordable for consumers. Wildlife flourished and in turn led to better farming land, promising higher crop levels. Compared to the rest of India, farmers using pesticides have destroyed farmland by depleting the soil’s nutrients. Sikkim serves as a model to the rest of India, proving that farmers do not need to worry about the ban of pesticides having a negative impact.

India’s ban on dangerous pesticides promises an improvement of the health, environment and economy of the country. With the organic food market growing by 25% per year, India’s steps towards agricultural improvements bring hope that more countries will be inspired by these positive changes.

Karena Korbin
Photo: Flickr

locust plaguesDuring the past several years, Eastern Africa has experienced the worst swarms the region has seen in decades. Typically, the arid desert environment kills off locusts but multiple tropical cyclones have hit the region thereby creating wetter soil conditions that are more hospitable for these insects. Due to the weather patterns within the last few years, several overwhelming locust plagues have occurred. Not only are the swarms of locusts unsettling and bothersome, but they threaten food security and the livelihoods of the people within the affected regions.

The Impact of Locust Plagues

One of the most troubling effects of the locust swarms is their consumption of green vegetation, in particular, crops within agricultural regions and pastoral communities. In a single day, a swarm of locusts that covers one square kilometer can consume more food than 35,000 people would in the same time frame. In a region already affected by food insecurity, the locust outbreak only exacerbates the problem and could potentially lead to five million people in Africa facing starvation.

In order to fight locusts, governments often resort to aerial or on-the-ground pesticide spraying. While The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa exists specifically to take these actions, there are many obstacles in the way.

  • The organization is underfunded and disregarded by many countries in the region.
  • Even with proper funding, finding and spraying all locust infested sites is challenging.
  • The effects of COVID-19 have left many governments under financial stress and unable to contribute to locust-fighting and food security efforts.
  • Political instability and civil unrest make accessing some locust breeding sites very difficult.

How the United States Can Help

Given the lack of resources of many East African countries and the additional impact of COVID-19 on these countries, it is necessary for developed countries like the United States to provide aid. Fortunately, a bipartisan bill aimed at doing just that is currently moving through the House of Representatives.

On June 18, 2020, Rep. Christopher Smith and Rep. Karen Bass introduced H.R. 7276, the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. This bill seeks to create an interagency working group that would form a thorough plan to eradicate current locust plagues as well as create an infrastructure to prevent future outbreaks. Should the bill pass, the interagency group would consist of members from the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and more. Additionally, the interagency group would work with regional governments and international organizations in order to develop a comprehensive eradication and prevention plan for the entire affected region.

Action in Progress

Currently, regional governments and international nongovernmental organizations have taken a disjointed response to the outbreaks. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working on the ground in the East African region to provide direct support to farmers and help some of the most vulnerable people survive. However, without a comprehensive, multilateral and international plan to address the locust outbreak, the IRC’s measures to support communities will be insufficient.

For this reason, it is essential that Congress pass the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. United States aid as well as aid from other developed countries is required in order to save millions of people from the effects of the worst locust plague the region has seen in decades.

Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr