Farmers in AfricaEstimates predict there will be over nine billion people on the planet by 2050. Of that increase in population, half will be born in Africa. In order to feed the world, food production must increase by 70% in that time. Farmers in Africa are looking for ways to adapt.

When investigating this problem of the future, it is interesting to note that nearly three-quarters of farm production happens on a small scale. There is roughly a small-scale farmer that produces a bulk of this food, and many of them are in need of assistance. The agrarian way of life is common, but not very prosperous across Africa. There is already an abundance of demand, but many African farmers are struggling to produce. Digital innovations are spreading and now helping farmers become more efficient. Here are three apps helping farmers in Africa boost their potential.

WeFarm

WeFarm is a networking app, comparable to LinkedIn or Facebook, but designed specifically for African farmers. A majority of their customer base is in Kenya and Uganda with over a million members in the two countries.

WeFarm helps to disseminate information among farmers. It gives a platform for farmers to connect and crowdsource solutions form their peers. By creating an ecosystem for these farmers to communicate and share best practices, farms will grow to be more efficient.

Many people living in more remote regions of Africa do not have adequate internet access. WeFarm can be used to communicate without internet access. The app facilitates communication across SMS which is much more prevalent than internet access in rural areas for some African countries, so more farmers can get plugged into the conversation.

CowTribe

CowTribe is an award-winning app and a boon for livestock farmers in Africa, particularly in Botswana where cattle account for 85% of agriculture.

This app helps owners take care of their animals’ health very effectively. The app monitors health record, reminds about due vaccinations, connect farmers with vaccinations, and can connect farmers with veterinary assistance. With CowTribe, every $1 spent on vaccination leads to $29 of revenue per year.

As of now, the app keeps track of 240,000 cows belonging to 29,000 different farmers. There are millions of farmers who can benefit from this app, and the membership rate is anticipated to grow 40% year over year.

Modisar

Modisar is another prize-winning app that has brought a new level of sophistication to its farmers in Botswana. The app requires a computer or laptop but can run without an internet connection, which is again very useful for remote, rural regions. Modisar is a platform that helps a farmer understand and better manage their farm. It maintains farm records, keeps track of inventory and livestock, and sends reminders for tasks that need completion. One of the greatest features Modisar offers is an expense and profit tracker. This allows farmers to see their financial history and can educate them on how to increase profits in the future.

Modisar also maintains a library of articles relating to best farming practices, so that farmers have other resources to troubleshoot and further educate themselves. The database also has a photo gallery of different diseases, that a farmer may consult when an unknown infection springs up in the crop. Modisar won the Orange Social Venture Prize in 2014 and has continued helping farmers since.

There is a menagerie of apps helping farmers in Africa with new ones releasing every year. There are seemingly many identical apps in the growing library of farm assistants, but many operate in different regions and have their own unique following. Agriculture, one of the oldest human endeavors, coupled with digital technology growing many small farmers in African countries.

– Brett Muni
Photo: Pxhere

ECHOTucked away in North Fort Myers, Fla., just minutes away from a bustling downtown and warm sunny beaches, sits the Educational Concerns for Haiti Organization global farm. ECHO, as it is more commonly known, was founded in the early 1970s primarily to provide solutions directly for Haiti, particularly those that would improve the nation’s agricultural development. By 1981, ECHO began developing agricultural solutions for multiple nations and continues to carry on that mission today as it is working to fight global hunger and poverty. With better agricultural solutions, ECHO is helping farmers across the globe increase their agricultural output and understanding of more sustainable farming practices. This, in turn, helps improve the farmers’ standard of living.

Areas of Impact

Southwest Florida’s unique climate allowed ECHO, in 2001, to develop six different areas of tropical climate zones on the global farm. This allows researchers and farmers to test different growing methods and food production for different nations. Today, the farm includes tropical lowlands, tropical highlands, monsoon, semi-arid, rainforest clearing, community garden and urban garden as its areas of focus. ECHO spreads the technology it has developed through its Regional Impact Centers in Thailand, Tanzania and Burkina Faso, delivering information and improved farming practices to Asia, East Africa and West Africa, respectively.

The Importance of Seeds

Seed development and protection is a primary focus of ECHO. A heavy rain season can harm seeds for future planting and can set farmers back on producing a bountiful crop. Also, without diversifying the types of crops they grow, farmers are at risk of losing food and money without having the right seeds. ECHO in Florida is home to a seed bank that provides up to 300 different types of seeds to farmers around the world. These seeds are adaptable to different climates and terrains and help farmers diversify their crop production, allowing them to grow crops that are best suited for their environment.

Another problem that farmers face is keeping seeds dry and ready for the growing season — a difficult goal to achieve with humid climates and high temperatures. ECHO Regional Impact Center in Thailand is utilizing earthbags in its seed banks, which can keep seeds up to 16.5°C cooler than the surrounding environment. Seed drying cabinets also keep seeds dry by using heat and air circulation to keep seeds in a low humid environment so that they can be stored for a year or more.

Successful Practices

ECHO’s agricultural developments have been successfully used in communities around the world. In Togo, farmers are using resources provided by ECHO’s West Africa Regional Impact Center for the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI. SRI “reduces the need for water by half, requires only 10% of the seeds traditionally needed, and can increase yield by 20-100%.” This leads to farmers earning more than they would by using traditional farming methods. SRI is a practice that initially requires more labor and teaching to fully understand. However, with ECHO’s Regional Impact Centers, the organization is spreading the technology to help fight global hunger and poverty.

ECHO’s vital impact rests on teaching methods that farmers can share with each other. When one farmer has a successful crop, he is more likely to share the new methods he used with other farmers so that they can also have strong crop yields. This provides communities with more food, which helps to fight global hunger, and with more crops to sell, which helps lift farmers out of extreme poverty. By teaching farmers better practices that are sustainable and easily accomplished, ECHO is helping people around the world become more efficient and self-sustaining.

– Julia Canzano
Photo: Pixabay

Farmers in BrazilMuch of Brazil’s population resides in favelas, or urban neighborhoods that are associated with extreme poverty. While living in favelas can be extremely difficult under ordinary circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues that residents already face. Malnutrition is a particularly pressing issue. It can be difficult for those living in poverty to access food, especially during the pandemic. In light of these issues, farmers in Brazil have come together to create Pertim, a network of agriculturalists who have dedicated themselves to delivering organic, healthy food to families in need.

Poverty and Favelas

The amount of Brazilians living in extreme poverty is about 5%. With a population of more than 203 million people, that means around 10 million in the country are currently living in an impoverished state. Many of those living in poverty reside in favelas. Favelas are usually located outside of large cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. They often lack amenities like basic sanitation and access to clean water, and can be extremely overcrowded. More than 11 million people in Brazil live in approximately 6,000 favelas.

COVID-19 in Brazil and Favelas

The COVID-19 pandemic struck the Brazilian favelas hard. It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing within the neighborhoods. The houses are small and oftentimes built extremely close to one another. This makes it easy to spread the disease within the favelas. The country of Brazil has had more than 500,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Furthermore, many residents of favelas cannot afford to stay home, despite the threat of COVID-19. A survey estimated that more than 70% of the residents of favelas could only go one week in isolation before they completely run out of money. As a result, job lay-offs caused by COVID-19 have caused more people to be unable to afford to properly feed themselves.

Development of Pertim

After noticing the hardships many favela residents were facing during the pandemic, it became clear to Rafael Duckur that he needed to do something to help the favela neighborhoods. Not only were inhabitants facing the growing threat of COVID-19, but they were also facing hunger due to an inability to work during the pandemic.

Many farmers in Brazil, including Duckur, who grows produce, have been able to maintain a secure customer base during the pandemic, despite some loss of business. However, Duckur grew tired of seeing the excess food that farmers were producing going to waste while so many were in need. He decided to take to Instagram, where he called for help creating boxes of free, organic food that he could deliver to those less fortunate than himself.

Duckur’s post reached many people, but Flavia Altenfelder felt particularly called to help. Duckur and Altenfelder quickly sprang into action and formed Pertim. Since founding Pertim, the two farmers have helped to create three other groups similar to their own. Together, the four groups have distributed more than 400 boxes of food, which contain fruits, vegetables and eggs, among other organic foodstuffs, to multiple favelas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many different challenges to Brazil’s poor. In addition to healthcare issues, they must also deal with increased poverty and a limited food supply. Thanks to Pertim, however, farmers in Brazil are able to make a difference aiding those who are living in impoverishment. Duckur and Altenfelder have demonstrated that innovation and dedication to one’s community can create huge strides in the fight to end suffering and poverty.

Paige Musgrave

Photo: Pixabay

Mexican Farm Laborers
Developed countries often see grocery stores overflowing with fruits and vegetables from all over the world. Unfortunately, not every shopper questions the origins of their products and more importantly, the stories of those who cultivated the crops. Mexico is a significant figure in international agriculture trade totaling $31.5 billion in 2018 with the United States accounting for 78 percent of its sales. It has had success in exchange for the poor quality of life for the Mexican farm laborers who provide the resources, and this fact highlights a significant wealth disparity throughout the world.

The Cycle of Poverty

Today, Mexican farm laborers face poverty levels so extreme that they often must become perpetual migrants, traveling from state to state in order to maintain a steady wage. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), a Mexican governmental data collection agency, 78 percent of 5.2 million farmers are in a condition of multidimensional poverty. Families move across Mexico to seek work, which affects the dynamic population fluctuations based on the harvest in that town. The average worker makes around 11 pesos an hour, which is equivalent to around $0.59 USD. Even more alarming is that it is not uncommon to see children working in the scorching sun due to poor regulations and pay.

One of the main flaws of Mexico’s policies is that authorities do not regulate them as diligently for smaller farms. Workers rarely receive proper safety equipment and are often in poor living conditions. In addition to their low wages, farmers are, at times, under pressure from cartels in their areas that extort agricultural business. The cartels have established taxes that farm owners must pay in a few states such as Michoacán. While the United States ensures that the U.S. Department of Agriculture examines all of Mexico’s produce, it is incapable of inspecting the working conditions of the neighboring country. This dilemma spans across generations, as the next wave of children might become stuck in a similar position as their parents and face a related situation of wealth disparity. Many of the children grow up working on the same farms and will likely never have the opportunity to experience life outside of them.

Potential Resolutions

It has been nearly two generations since revolutionary civil rights activist César Chávez originally formed his United Farm Workers labor union. One of the key aspects of the success of his campaigns was their ability to increase awareness peacefully. His organization remains intact and continues to advocate for laborers’ rights in California. A similar social movement is necessary for Mexico and the change must come internally for others to hear the voices of the forgotten laborers.

Chavez proved that reform was achievable two generations ago, but his methods are still applicable today. Several organizations, such as the Center for Farmworker Families, give a platform for the difficult lives of Mexican farm laborers and are currently working on projects to increase pay and improve legislation. It is essential for people to be conscious that these conditions not only occur throughout Mexico but the entire world, as people experience exploitation in exchange for lower prices amongst all goods and services as the wealth disparity continues to grow. People must challenge one another to think beyond a product and about the stories of those who helped produce it. It is a reality that those who have a significant role in putting food on the tables of others often have little to none for their own families. It is necessary for people to value human life over materialism and remain conscious of consumption. If humanity can change as individuals and develop compassion for one another, then it can build a better future.

– Nicolas Montuffar
Photo: Flickr

Empowering African Women Farmers
More than 60 percent of Sub-Saharan African women work in the agricultural sector and contribute to nearly 80 percent of the food supply. However, they only own 15 percent of the land. These women are the backbone of their families’ and communities’ agricultural production. They are still facing tremendous hardships and barriers due to their gender that limits their rights and opportunities. Hence, supporting and empowering African women farmers is necessary for Africa to be able to reach its full potential.

The U.N. has estimated that if women have equal access to opportunities and resources, they can increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. This will raise the total national agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent. Below are a few initiatives that work towards empowering African women farmers.

Securing Land Ownerships

The majority of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have limited property rights. They are only able to access land through a male relative. This gender disparity in landownership leaves the women farmers vulnerable at the constant risks of displacement. Death of the husband or father and a simple change of the man’s mind can take away the means of the women. With such insecurity, long-term investments in enhancing the productivity of lands do not seem appealing or make much sense to African women farmers.

Ending gender discrimination in land ownership can empower women to earn more and contribute more to the economic growth and food security of the community. In Tanzania, women with strong property and inheritance rights can earn up to 3.8 times more income. Compared to men, improving landowners’ tenure security for women can have a much more positive impact. The World Bank reports that rights improvement can lead to women increasing investments in their lands by 19 percent.

Many countries have taken important steps to promote and protect women’s land rights when they realize the impact of women on the economy. The government of Ethiopia has mandated joint land registration between husband and wife, formally recognizing women’s rights to their farmlands. Such reforms have led to increased investments in their land.

Improving Access to Financial Services

Lack of access to credit and financial services is another major obstacle for African female farmers. Without sufficient finance, women farmers are unable to afford adequate inputs to advance their agricultural activities. Many different development agencies and NGOs designed and provided women-focused financial services and programs. Additionally, they want to improve their access to agricultural inputs.

The Hunger Project (THP) is a U.S.-based international NGO has created a micro-finance program that provides training. THP gave financial advice and credit to African women farmers. In addition, THP loaned about $2.9 million to women farmers in eight African countries. This helps increase the beneficiaries’ production levels.

Another micro-finance institution based in Mali, Soro Yiriwaso, supports women in boosting food security. More than 93 percent of the institution’s borrowers are women. Additionally, over two-thirds of the loan go into agriculture. The institution also gave agricultural loans to women members in 90 villages between 2010 and 2012. This enables farmers to have access to agricultural inputs and increased investments.

Empowering African Women Farmers

U.N. Women has recently launched a project funded by Standard Bank Group known as Contributing to the Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa Through Climate Smart Agriculture. The project seeks to close the gender gap in agricultural productivity and has a commitment to empowering African women farmers by increasing women’s access to markets.

Standard Bank commits around $3 million for the project, with Malawi receiving $450,000. Many expect that over 50,000 women in Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa will benefit from this three-year-project.

Many have recognized agriculture as the sector most able to provide sustained economic growth and social inclusion in Africa. The agriculture and agribusiness combined have the potential to become a $1 trillion sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, with the likelihood of women continuing to be the backbone of the industry. Empowering African women farmers and closing the gender gap should be the focus and priority to help the African countries realize their full potential. In addition, this will effectively reduce poverty and attain sustainable economic growth.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr