Food SovereigntyAt the World Food Summit in 1996, La Via Campesina changed the face of agriculture forever by creating and advocating for the idea of food sovereignty. La Via Campesina, which translates to “The Peasants’ Way,” is an international, grassroots social movement — arguably the biggest one around the world. It works to educate and empower small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, land workers, rural women and indigenous people everywhere so that they can reclaim their power in the global food system.

The Origins of La Via Campesina

In Belgium in 1993, farmers – both men and women – from four different continents came together to found La Via Campesina. During this period of globalization, small farmers needed to unite to protect their voices. An estimated 200 million people are now part of this movement.

The International Peasant’s Movement

La Via Campesina, also known as the International Peasant’s Movement, has three main goals:

  1. Defending food sovereignty and agrarian reform

  2. Promoting agroecology and defending local seeds

  3. Promoting peasant rights and defending against the criminalization of peasants

Defending Food Sovereignty

When people speak about global food equity, they often refer to food security. Food sovereignty takes this concept of equal distribution of food one step further, and advocates for control of the food system by those who actually produce, distribute and consume.

According to the Declaration of Nyéléni at the first global forum on food sovereignty in 2007, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

World agricultural systems are the most productive they’ve ever been. The issue today isn’t a lack of food, but rather power imbalances in the control of the food, preventing those who need nourishment most from getting it. Food sovereignty supports that everyone – producers, harvesters, consumers – has the right to take back power from the markets and corporations.

Another factor is the struggle for land and agrarian reform. The organization seeks to ensure that those who produce have the rights to use and manage lands, water, livestock, etc., rather than the corporate sector.

Promoting Agroecology

This movement is deeply connected to sustainability and believes that agroecology is a way to combat the economic system that places more importance on profit than people around the world. Small farmers comprise almost half of the world’s population and have shown already that they can produce food in an eco-friendly, sustainable way.

Agroecology is a comprehensive view of farming which states that processes and practices should be adapted to fit local conditions. By creating agricultural systems based on the independence of peasants, without the use of oil or other fossil fuels, agrochemicals, or genetic modification, both the environment and global food systems will make strides towards a safer future. It relies on the decentralization of agricultural power. While this may sound counterintuitive in an increasingly globalized world, decentralization gives power back to the people who need it most.

An integral part of agroecology is the recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge. Passed on from generation to generation and deeply embedded in the culture of a community, traditional knowledge provides useful information about the local landscape and agricultural needs. La Via Campesina fosters farmer-to-farmer transmission of information and innovation through observation.

Promoting Peasant Rights

Peasants are increasingly being displaced and discriminated against in every part of the world. Corporations continue to violate their basic rights while peasants struggle to protect them, sometimes dying in the process. In 2017, 207 men and women were killed for defending their land, forests and water; a quarter of them were Indigenous.

It must also be noted that the term “peasant” does not carry negative connotations; as defined by La Via Campesina, “A peasant is a man or woman of the land, who has a direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the production of food and/or other agricultural products.” Many think peasant is a pejorative word, indicative of a low status. In a modern context, there is no association between the word “peasant” and “low class.”

La Via Campesina promotes a Universal Declaration on the rights of peasants and other rural workers. This Universal Declaration includes the right to an adequate standard of living, seeds, land, information, justice and gender equality.

The Accomplishments

La Via Campesina has made substantial, lasting accomplishments. Multiple countries have made food sovereignty a part of their national policies and constitutions. After heavy lobbying, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants was adopted in 2018.

Djigal, a small-scale fish producer from Senegal, shares her thoughts on the matter. “…A movement like this allows us to globalize the struggle…For a long time, peasants didn’t know what was at stake in these negotiations. But through this movement, we’ve become more educated. Now we can speak for ourselves.”

The impacts of this movement cannot be overstated. It is a daunting task to shift the balance of power of the global food system towards small-scale farmers, indigenous people and rural women. Advocates of industrial capitalism believed peasants would disappear, but here they are, fighting around the world for their rights.

– Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

poverty in ChinaPoverty in China remains a pressing concern for the global community, as 252 million people—or 18% of China’s population—live on less than $2 per day. Another 22% of China’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day, especially in rural areas with struggling farming and fishing industries. Yet, many people don’t realize the extent of poverty in China.

Poverty in China

China remains as the second-largest economy in the world since the 2008 recession. There were still 5.5 million individuals living in extreme rural poverty in China by the end of 2019. This was even after an average of 13 million people were lifted out of poverty each year for the first five years of President Xi Jinping’s first term.

China’s mountainous terrain and varying natural conditions have caused issues like air pollution, water and soil problems and biodiversity loss. China’s natural landscape along with a lack of transport infrastructure makes poverty alleviation rather difficult.

However, many regions of China are trying to stimulate their economies by embracing regional cuisine. In Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, traditional noodles have stimulated the economy. In Guangdong, local chefs have run workshops to teach the poor how to cook and market their goods. Embracing traditional cuisine could help solve the poverty in China.

Noodle Initiative in Gansu Province

Gansu Province, located in North-Central China, created a noodle initiative in 2019. The aim was to alleviate poverty through the region’s specialty dish, Lanzhou noodles, prepared in a beef broth. Gansu authorities trained over 15,000 people from impoverished areas to make Lanzhou noodles from scratch, which would typically cost them $1.50. The participants then hopefully have a better chance to find employment at or open their own noodle shops. Similar initiatives in Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou and Beijing in 2018 led 90% of participants to find noodle-related jobs afterward, which helps fight poverty in China. These jobs typically earned the workers more than $590 a month.

The centuries-old noodle recipe calls for very precise noodle pulling. It can even take up to three years to fully master the skill. The Vocational and Technical College of Resources and Environment in Lanzhou helps many Lanzhou residents perfect their noodle-pulling craft. These new chefs also receive aid in fulfilling the necessary education requirements to spread their skills overseas.

The result is an estimated 4,000 Lanzhou noodle shops are currently open in Gansu province, which had the lowest GDP per capita of any Chinese province in 2017.

Hand-pulled noodles in Qinghai Province

Qinghai Province, located in China’s northwest on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, has seen drastic poverty reduction over the past decade. Previously plagued by poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labor, Qinghai has seen success with its “noodle” sector. The disposable income for farmers and herdsmen in the region nearly doubled from 2015 to 2018. Their poverty rates decreased from 24.6% to just 2.5% within that same time period.

Haidong, in northeast Qinghai, generated 15.4 billion yuan in business revenue. The source was from the city’s 578 noodle businesses, which employed 9,786 employees. One-third of the urban population and half of the families in rural areas are engaged in the city’s operating noodle businesses. The province has encouraged the noodle sector to continue hiring poorer residents. The city employs poverty reduction methods such as workshops, specific guidelines for growth and even a planned noodle business hub.

Benkanggou Village in Qinghai also helped eradicate poverty through the noodle industry. Over 110,000 of the villages’s 300,000 residents are engaged in the noodle industry. These numbers are thanks to the village’s 350 sessions of hand-pulled noodle training to over 13,000 families. Local authorities visited many poor households encouraging them to participate in the workshops. Thousands of more workers have been brought into the thriving industry since then.

River Snail Rice Noodles in Liuzhou

The city of Liuzhou, located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is well known for its river snail rice noodles, or luosifen. Luosifen is a fusion of traditional ingredients from Han, Miao and Dong ethnic groups. It consists of rice noodles boiled with pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts in a spicy river snail soup. The dish was designated as part of Guangxi’s intangible cultural heritage in 2008. In the years since, the Liuzhou government has been boosting industries related to luosifen’s production. The region now brings in around six billion yuan annually.

Guangxi was listed as the province with the fourth lowest GDP per capita in 2018. Then in 2019, Guangxi lifted 1.25 million people out of poverty as well as de-listed 1,268 poor villages. This was a direct result of 337 workshops and 33 new poverty alleviation industrial parks. The luosifen industry played a major role in these poverty eradication efforts, as new factories have been created that specialize in instant luosifen, bamboo shoot processing, river snail collection and creative luosifen packaging.

Guangdong Cooking Initiatives

In Guangzhou in South China, an initiative called the Cantonese Cuisine Master program has tried to cultivate talent, promote cultural exchange and alleviate poverty in China through Cantonese cuisine training. The program has trained over 30,000 people so far and has mobilized over 96,000 people to secure employment and start their own businesses, lifting many out of poverty.

A Cantonese Cuisine Master Skills Competition in 2019 brought together many graduates of the program from 23 cities. Chefs prepared dishes like Chaoshan marinated goose, roasted crispy suckling pig, Portuguese-style chicken and flavored fish balls. Various Cantonese Cuisine Master programs and workshops have taken place in Hong Kong, Macao and other regions in southern China with the help of universities and enterprises. The program prepares chefs, many of whom come from rural and poverty-stricken areas, for the workforce. It also teaches the chefs about the concepts and ideas behind their cooking, which fosters cultural exchange and cooperation.

Since 2018, Guangdong has signed cooperation agreements with Tibet, Guangxi Zhuang, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and Guizhou and Yunnan provinces to train more Cantonese chefs and help many escape poverty.

In Sichuan Province, 103 trainees from poverty-stricken counties—Meigu, Leibo and Jinyang—came to the Shunde District in Guangdong’s city of Foshan to receive free cooking lessons for two months at the Shunde Culinary Institute. They learned to cook traditional Cantonese dishes like stir-fried milk and stuffed mud carp as well as Sichuan-inspired dishes. After completing the program, trainees will have access to restaurant internships and full-time opportunities both in Shunde and in their hometowns. These sessions provided by Guangdong are said to increase monthly salaries by 1,000 to 2,000 yuan. Additionally, 56,000 students are currently enrolled in Cantonese cuisine courses at vocational schools across the province.

Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Dairy Production in Africa
Dairy production in Africa plays a central role in the region’s economic and sustainable development. It contributes to food security, combats malnutrition and reduces poverty in the region. Dairy production in Africa has also created rural employment (nearly 80% of the African population resides in the countryside), and increased the economic potential of pastoral areas. Experts even expect strong production growth in the region due to an abundance of cows, goats and sheep.

Local Milk Production

Local milk production in West Africa has already risen by 50% between 2000 and 2016 to about 4 billion liters in 2019. Producing and selling milk provides an important source of income for locals. Around 48 million nomadic herders and agro-pastoralists participate in the milk sector, while others work in the trading and transportation of products. Additionally, the sector produces jobs in processing and marketing.

Despite substantial growth in recent years, the dairy sector in Africa faces major drawbacks such as high production costs and low yields. This is due to the lack of infrastructure and appropriate equipment in the production process. Another factor is the low-grade feed that affects animal health.

Local production does not yet have the capacity to meet 100% of demands in the sector. Only 50% of consumption comes from local production, and imported milk powder helps meet the remaining needs. On top of existing internal constraints, dairy production in Africa has to compete with cheap milk-based products imported from the European Union (E.U.). These foreign products continue to increase in quantity and threaten to overtake the African market.

Impact of Fat-Filled Milk Powder Imports

In 2018, the European Union exported 92,620 tons of milk powder to West Africa and 276,982 tons of fat-filled milk powder. That is an increase of 234% since 2008. Fat-filled milk mixtures comprise of milk constituents and vegetable oils, such as palm oil, enrich them. This milk derivative sells for 30% cheaper than whole milk powder in African markets, generating unfair competition for African dairy farmers.

For instance, in Burkina Faso, 1 liter of pasteurized local milk costs 91 cents in comparison to only 34 cents for milk made from E.U.-imported powder mixtures. Since competition is almost impossible, local livestock farmers suffer huge financial losses as imports increase. “I’ve tried selling my milk, but most of the time it goes to waste and ends up being poured away,” said Hamidou Bande, the president of Burkina Faso’s National Herders’ Union.

Furthermore, experts say that the milk lookalike does not contain the same nutritional value as whole milk with regards to its fatty acids, minerals and vitamin content. Locals are concerned about the health impact the milk import could have on their community. “It’s a milk that is flooding our schools and is very unhealthy for our children,” said Sommanogo Koutou, Burkina Faso’s minister of animal resources. Nevertheless, these products sell at wide availability because of their large consumer base, who have less purchasing power and thus prefer the cheaper option.

Change is Forthcoming

Members of the E.U., West African governments and private companies have all taken actions to support the local dairy market.

Vétérinaires Sans Frontières is a Belgian NGO supporting agriculture and breeding in eight African countries. It has involved itself in helping farmers improve all stages of production including livestock feed, herd health and animal hygiene, milk collection and processing as well as marketing for their products.

Fairebel, a Belgian milk brand, created the “advocacy brand” Fairefaso. It has partnered with local milk producers in Burkina Faso to support small-scale local farmers by helping them maximize sales and profits.

ECOWAS, short for the Economic Community of West African States, has launched the Regional Offensive for the Promotion of Local Milk. It aims to increase the production and collection of fresh milk.

With cooperation from European producers and institutional support, change is forthcoming for African livestock keepers and farmers. With increased funding and new import regulations, projections have determined that dairy production in Africa will continue growing to meet the needs of the local communities and beyond.

Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

African Vegetable StaplesAfrica has millions of hectares of viable land for large-scale agricultural operations. Many large regions of Africa are the last locations on the planet with large plots of land rich in soil nutrients and water sufficiency. New government infrastructure, a global investment and advanced technology has allowed sub-Saharan African farmers to raise crop yield. The agriculture industry is the most viable way to feed families on a small scale in villages. African vegetable staples are important as they are the bulk of the famous nutritional African diet.

Approximately 65% of the African labor force involves itself in agriculture, with the agriculture industry accounting for 32% of the region’s GDP. Governments have attempted to increase crop yield by utilizing agriculture marketing boards in order to provide more stable and standardized prices, credit extension services, technology and improved seeds. Additionally, more companies in the private sector have improved rural marketing and supply lines. These advances in extension services improve land and water management, introduce new farming techniques and provide new, efficient technology.

Essential African Vegetable Staples

Essential African vegetable staples include yams, green bananas, plantains and cassava. There are a plethora of different and unique ways of preparing dishes particular to each region and culture. Vegetables such as beans and lentils accompany almost every meal in order to provide a balanced nutritious diet. People in Africa consider meat a side dish rather than the main dish, and vegetables the main dish. Typical African vegetable staples specific to a region are dependent on the location, land viability, soil richness and water availability. Rice is more common where there is more water whereas cash crops such as groundnut are common in every household.

Many African staple foods provide a base diet for African families. African vegetable staples provide the necessary proteins, vitamins and nutrients that combat the alarming, wide-scale malnutrition issues that run rampant in many small villages that are not connected to large cities. With no access to large-scale trade or industrial resources, villagers take care of each other with personal farms. Additionally, many African vegetables also double as medicinal uses as well, allowing improved community health and nutrition.

Many staple meals accompany African’s rich variety of culture and history. The thousands of various African cultures utilize varieties of spices to prepare the same ingredient to uphold their respective traditional values and ideas. Diverse food choices are unique in each region and can range from fermented beans, sweet potato greens, teff and varieties of dumplings, to corn-based porridges, millet, kenkey, fontou and fonio. The diverse sets of languages within each region also have their own unique menus specific to their culture and certain traditions.

Case Study: The Democratic Republic of Congo

Vegetables grown in the DRC include peanuts, yams, beans, peas and maize. The political instability of the DRC has led to problems of malnutrition and lack of food access for millions of people. However, vegetables are used as an efficient solution because of the mass remote lands DRC controls for horticulture. The agriculture industry supports more than half of the DRC population. Although farming provides less than 10% of DRC’s GDP, land use is minimal to only 3.5% of DRC’s land and accounts for over 50 tons of subsistence foodstuffs.

What Next?

African vegetables have been the bulk of the African diet for millennia. Not only is it an efficient and effective way of utilizing rich soil and plentiful land on the continent, but it is also one of the most viable ways to aid the economy while doing so. Vegetables in Africa are the staple food not just for the famous nutritious diets, but also because they are an important characteristic of African identity and culture. Many African recipes eaten today have passed down generation after generation in an effort to maintain and uphold tradition. The African vegetable staples are one of the most unique characteristics of African culture and are a testament to their devotion to their diverse ideas and traditions.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr

Regenerative Farming in South Africa
Every year, the world loses 0.3% of its fertile soil due to erosion and mismanagement. On the surface, this may not seem like much, but it means that over the past 100 years, the earth has lost 30% of its fertile soil, and this number will continue to grow, leading to more food insecurity globally. This erosion is due to over-farming land and the increased use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, around the world, farmers and agricultural departments have begun to practice sustainable farming, a practice where farmers rotate crops to let the soil regain its nutrients while also supplementing it with animal manure instead of chemical fertilizer. As a result, the soil should remain in a natural state so that it is able to be useful for years to come. Here is some information about regenerative farming in South Africa.

Sustainable Farming in South Africa

In South Africa, regenerative farming has become essential to the agricultural model because the country has suffered irregularity in its rainy season, as well as a lack of crops that can actually survive in the region. Farmers began the movement amongst their own community, and it gradually grew to receive national attention. Their model concentrates heavily on planting as many native crops as possible and avoiding non-native crops that require large amounts of water. Other regions of the world tend to choose crops that provide the soil with specific benefits. However, South African farmers learned that rotating native crops that did not necessarily have the same benefits was easier because they required less water.

At the end of 2019, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture began two larger studies; one to examine the feasibility of regenerative farming, and the other to monitor its effects. These studies help to bolster regenerative farming in South Africa and have provided insight into how the process specifically works in South Africa since the climate is arid. So far, many of these studies have concluded that in South Africa, the secrets to regenerative farming are increasing biodiversity, using native crops and using manure from local animal farms.

The Importance of Biodiversity

One study by the Sustainable Food Trust specifically highlighted the importance of maintaining natural biodiversity as a way to ensure sustainable farming. Within the natural South African ecosystem, animals like dung beetles and different species of birds are necessary for the fertilization and pollination process. For many years, farming techniques sought to eliminate “pests” from their fields so they could maximize profit, but without these animals, the soil degrades. On this phenomenon, one farmer said, “My greatest satisfaction has come from wildlife returning to the farm en masse, from dung beetles to sparrow hawks. This has only happened by seeing the farm as part of a wider agro-ecosystem.”

Grounded

In addition to government and scientific studies, other farming organizations have also become involved in regenerative farming, specifically by supplementing farmers with the resources they need to practice sustainability. One of these organizations, Grounded, operates out of the Langkloof region. In addition to providing farmers with resources, Grounded has committed itself to the promotion of ethical production and consumption. On its site, it sells the products that the regional farmers produce, with all of the profits returning to the producers. Grounded’s mission is to provide consumers with ethically sourced products with a known origin, all while practicing sustainability and conservation.

Going forward, many ecologists, farmers and agricultural specialists believe that regenerative farming is the only way to ensure the maintenance of the global food supply. On this, Charles Kellong of the United Nations Department of Agriculture (UNDA) said that “There can be no life without soil and no soil without life, they have evolved together.” As farmers implement regenerative farming practices around the world and adapt these methods to specific climates, like in South Africa, the world will see the fertility of the soil come back, and there will be farmland for generations to come.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Fair trade productsIn a global marketplace full of exploitative producers and hungry consumers, fair trade product markets can seem like a welcomed compromise that allows exporters in developing countries to prosper from their resources. These initiatives usually involve goods exported from developing countries to higher-income trading partners, including coffee, tea, cocoa and handicrafts. In more socially conscious trading models, producers are compensated equitably for their products and held to higher environmental and social standards. However, the true efficacy of fair trade models is complex.

Price and Accessibility

Consumer attitudes and behaviors play a significant role in the pervasiveness of fair trade products. Buyers often report positive attitudes toward more ethically traded items but are not always willing to pay the inevitably higher prices. As a result, fair trade products are still a more niche commodity, making up less than 1% of the market. Ironically, the extra expense of these items often makes them less accessible to lower-income consumers in developed countries, creating connotations of elitism. Despite these setbacks, the demand for more ethical products is steadily on the rise.

Fair Trade Product Marketing

Despite many well-intentioned consumer attitudes, fair trade product markets frequently feature marketing strategies that conjure up imperialistic images. Rather than honoring the work of exporters as equitable trading partners, many marketing campaigns portray farmers as grateful and dependent on western purchases.

Transparency in Fair Trade Certification

In products marked as fair trade, the certification might only apply to the product’s raw materials, rather than the full process of production. This means that a shirt made with fair trade cotton could have been manufactured in a sweatshop. Naturally, this lack of transparency can mislead consumers and dilute the meaning of the certification.

Economic Impact of Fair Trade

The efficacy of fair trade as a poverty management tool is up for debate as well. Although fair trade marketing is centered on empowering those in producing regions and reducing poverty, the effects are not as straightforward as many well-intentioned consumers might hope. A 2014 study theorizes that these practices are somewhat effective, “although on a comparatively modest scale relative to the size of national economies.”

Often, the poorest workers are spared the prosperity from fair trade product market practices. A study that observed coffee mills in Costa Rica between 1999 and 2014, explored the impacts of fair trade systems on household incomes within the region. Researchers found that farm owners and skilled growers reap most of the benefits. Unskilled laborers receive no benefits other than the economic spillover of an increasingly prosperous coffee-growing region.

Many requirements of the fair trade certification are inaccessible for growers with fewer resources. Smaller producers might struggle to pay the fees associated with becoming certified fair trade producers. Similarly, producers struggle to attract large corporate trading partners who have no interest in paying the extra cost of sourcing materials equitably. NGOs like Maya Traditions, which helps Guatemalan artisans sell their products on the international marketplace, aim to make entrepreneurship accessible to small producers in developing countries.

The Verdict

The efficacy of fair trade systems is the subject of a great deal of criticism. While fair trade products like coffee, tea, and cotton are worth investing in, the benefits are imperfect and not accessible to all producers or consumers. Some activists advocate for a ‘direct trade’ system, in which consumers can buy goods directly from growers while paying growers sums closer to retail prices. However, the direct trade model comes with its own set of challenges and infrastructural changes. Nonetheless, establishing a system that allows producers to reach more advanced development from trading their crops is challenging but is certainly worth investing in.

Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

Rural Farmers in East AfricaHuman-wildlife conflict can be devastating to individuals and communities living in rural areas. Elephant encroachment has destroyed the livelihoods of many rural farmers in East Africa, forcing them further into poverty and often creating tension with governments and conservation groups. One man living next to the Tsavo West National Park in Eastern Kenya, a popular tourist destination, had his goats snatched by lions and his farm pillaged by elephants, eliminating his ability to earn an income. As he was already impoverished, he could not afford protection other than what proved to be an effective row of thorny acacia trees to deter wildlife. As animals continue to encroach upon people’s land around Tsavo, many feel forced to resort to crime and poaching to earn a living.

That said, more individuals and organizations have become more committed to halting human-wildlife conflict and poaching. Governments wanting to maintain the wildlife tourism industry, conservation groups aiming to protect animals from extinction and poor farmers seeking a reliable and legal wage all share a common goal of eliminating the prevalence of poaching in Africa. In recent years, a potential solution has emerged for rural farmers in East Africa: beehive fences.

An Emerging Solution: Beehive Fences

After consulting with farmers in Kenya who noticed elephants tended to avoid trees that contained beehives, Dr. Lucy King of Save the Elephants conducted a study to determine whether fences lined with beehives could effectively deter elephants. These fences consist of wooden posts equipped with a beehive, as well as a thatched roof to protect the hive from the elements and metal wires running between each post. Dr. King used Langstroth beehives which, though not the most modern beehives, are easy to construct and operate.

The general process by which the fences function is that an elephant will attempt to walk between the two posts, causing it to hit the wires. The subsequent movement of the posts and hives upsets the bees, who will in turn bother the elephant and force it to turn around.

Dr. King found that 80% percent of elephants in her study were deterred from entering farms equipped with beehive fences, representing a clear validation of her theory. However, it should be noted that the fences do not work equally worldwide: the fences appear to work better in East Africa than in Asian countries where the fences were also tested. This discrepancy is likely due to regional variations in elephant and bee species. Studies indicate that African bees are more aggressive than their Asian counterparts, resulting in differing reactions from elephants. Even if the effectiveness of beehive fences is localized, this solution maintains the potential to transform living standards for rural farmers in East Africa.

Taking the Lead: Implementing Beehive Fences

One organization helping to build beehive fences is the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This nonprofit organization aspires “to protect Africa’s wildlife and to preserve habitats for the future of all wild species,” and has a vested interest in improving the lives of rural Kenyans. To date, the Trust has built more than two kilometers of fence line including 131 beehives bordering the Tsavo Conservation Area. Farmers receive lessons from a professional beekeeper on how to properly maintain and harvest their hives, enabling them to profit from honey sales. Clearly, in addition to increasing outputs by reducing damages from elephants, the beehive fences themselves provide an income boost because the bees pollinate farmers’ crops.

The Future of Farmer Protection

Beehive fences are not a perfect solution to human-elephant conflict: they require training to maintain, can be evaded by some elephants and are less effective depending on the geographic area. Many believe electric fences would surely be a better elephant deterrent; however, these systems are too expensive and difficult to maintain, especially in rural regions. As such, beehive fences are the best solution currently available to mitigate human-elephant conflict in East Africa. More investment is necessary to establish beehive fence lines across all human-wildlife borders in East Africa in order to guarantee that all farms are protected. By giving farmers greater confidence in their abilities to sell crops at market, beehive fences increase yields and enable rural farmers in East Africa to ultimately escape poverty.

– Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Artificial pollinators
More than 570 million farms exist in the world today. Notably, 45% of the world’s population lives in rural areas; a number that is equivalent to 3.4 billion people. However, today, 2 billion people sustain themselves through agriculture. While the entirety of human-kind depends on agriculture for sustenance, only 33% of the population depends on agriculture to survive, economically. In this same vein, farmers’ livelihoods have been threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a leading cause in the decline of bees. With a decrease in natural pollinators, researchers are creating artificial pollinators to sustain our ecosystem.

The Birds & Bees Falling Short

Birds, bees and other insects are the world’s crop pollinators and cross-pollinators. Bees can pollinate more than $15 billion of crops every year in the U.S. alone. In 2016, however, seven species of Hawaiian bees were declared endangered, as well as a bee that is native to the East Coast and Midwest of the U.S. Researchers are now looking to artificial pollinators and robotics as a substitute to help fulfill the world’s agricultural needs.

Robotic Dragonflies and Miniature Drones

In the Netherlands, a group at the Technical University of Delft is creating drones — robotic dragonflies — that will recognize, land on, and pollinate flowers. Assistant professor Guido de Croon said that they “use robot dragonflies which mimic insects flying by flapping their wings… this will be beneficial once miniaturization of these drones has taken place. They’ll be able to fly longer without recharging.” The drones can also communicate with each other to avoid contact and possible damage to themselves. In the future, these robotic dragonflies will work in greenhouses to aid in plant health, i.e., watering and safe pesticide use.

Soap Bubble Pollination

An associate professor at the Japan Institute of Science and Technology, Eijiro Miyako, has used soap bubbles carried by drones to pollinate a pear orchard. Inspired by blowing bubbles with his son, Miyako notes that “soap bubbles have innovative potentiality and unique properties, such as effective and convenient delivery of pollen grains to targeted flowers and high flexibility to avoid damaging them.” Miyako’s team used GPS-controlled drones to direct soap bubbles, carrying pollen grain, at fake lilies from two meters away and had a 90% success rate.

This is by far a cheaper source for pollination and according to Miyako, more efficient than other artificial pollinators. Instead of using human labor, Miyako hopes to continue to advance this eccentric, bubble pollinator. Previously, Miyako used a two-centimeter long drone to pollinate but found that the flowers were getting harmed in the process. This pollinating technique is “flower-friendly” in Miyako’s experience, far safer for the fruit or flower.

More Innovative Technologies

Other researchers have created robot bees and dragonflies and one group has created a backpack to attach to real dragonflies to assist in the pollination process. In any case, these insects are crucial to our ecosystem. While technology should never fully replace the natural process — it is useful to have these innovations to assist. Those who live in rural areas depend on the ecosystem and environment around them — including crops and agriculture. Although these technologies remain unperfected, solutions like these artificial pollinators are working to protect livelihoods.

Hannah Kaufman
Photo: Pikist

Labor Exploitation in Coffee
Around 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world in a typical year, an equivalent of 2.25 billion cups per day. The global coffee market was worth $83 billion USD in 2017 and was projected to rise steadily. Despite coffee’s popularity in modern life, few coffee drinkers realize the human cost to their caffeine fix. From inhumane working conditions to child labor and human trafficking, labor exploitation in coffee production is a bitter reality unbeknownst to consumers.

Global Trouble

The majority of coffee consumption happens in industrialized nations, with the United States, Germany and France as the largest importers. Conversely, more than 90% of coffee exports come from developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. Evidence suggests the presence of child labor and/or labor exploitation in coffee production in all of the above countries, in addition to many others like Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Uganda, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

From beans to brewing, coffee production is a multipart process that involves many intermediary stages before the final products reach retail stores. This laborious process means that it is extremely difficult for coffee retailers to track the origins of their coffee and ensure ethical labor practices at the source. It also means that only a small fraction – often 7% to 10%, but sometimes as low as 1% to 3% – of the retail price reaches the hands of coffee farmers. Fluctuations in coffee prices often result in farmers not earning a living wage, which jeopardizes the survival and health of their families.

Farmers’ Reality

Growing coffee requires intensive manual work such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilizing and transporting products. Plantation workers often toil under intense heat for up to 10 hours a day, and many face debt bondage and serious health risks due to exposure to dangerous agrochemicals. In Guatemala, coffee pickers often receive a daily quota of 45 kilograms just to earn the minimum wage: $3 a day. To meet this minimum demand, parents often pull their children out of school to work with them. This pattern of behavior jeopardizes children’s health and education in underdeveloped rural areas, where they already experience significant barriers and setbacks.

Forced labor is widely reported in coffee-growing regions in Guatemala and Côte d’Ivoire. Workers suffer physical violence as well as threats of loss of work, wages, or food if they fail to perform at a certain – often unreasonable – standard. Many work without a contract, timely payment, protective gear, or appropriate medical care. Migrants are especially vulnerable since many cannot afford to return home and have to rely on plantation work to survive.

Child Labor and Exploitation

About 20% of children in coffee-growing countries fall victim to labor exploitation in coffee cultivation. Facing demanding quotas, workers often bring their children to help in the field in order to earn a living wage. The U.S. Department of Labor reports an estimated 34,131 children laborers growing coffee in Vietnam, 12,526 of which are under the age of 15. The same report finds almost 5,000 children under 14 working on coffee plantations in Brazil, often without a contract or protective equipment. In Côte d’Ivoire, children are subject to human trafficking and forced labor. Children are forcibly transported to coffee plantations from nearby countries including Benin, Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso and recruited to work for little or no pay, often for three or four years until they could return home. Threats of violence and withheld payments prevent them from leaving the farms, and many suffer from denial of food and sick leave.

Many South American countries have launched extensive and effective social programs and policies to address child labor and labor exploitation in coffee farms. In 2018, Colombia made significant advancements in efforts to tackle child labor through its campaign Working is Not a Child’s Task, the National Policy on Childhood and Adolescence, and the Center for the Crime of Trafficking in Persons. The Brazilian government funded and participated in programs that target child labor, such as the #StopChildLabor (#ChegaDeTrabalhoInfantil) Campaign and the Living Together and Strengthening Links Program (Serviço de Convivência e Fortalecimento de Vínculo).

The Fair Trade Movement

In the past decade, labor exploitation in coffee cultivation has garnered attention worldwide. As a result, many socially aware businesses have committed to a fair trade approach that promotes better profits for farmers and more sustainability in farming practices. Among other objectives, the fair trade movement works to give farmers a higher price for their coffee under conditions that strictly prohibit the use of exploitative practices. Ethically certified coffee brands such as Equal Exchange and Cafedirect have risen in popularity as consumers become more aware of labor exploitation issues. Certification schemes such as Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified bring value to socially conscious businesses and encourage trading practices that empower smallholder farmers.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Rich results on Flikr when searching for USAID in Indonesia "spice market"USAID partners with farmers in developing countries to provide economic opportunities and greater access to the global market. Not only does this partnership program improve the lives of the individual farmers, but it is also strengthing the overall economies of these countries. This story of an Indonesian farmer shows how beneficial these partnerships are for both them and the U.S. USAID in Indonesia is helping small farmers.

Agustinus Daka, Indonesian Small Farmer of Vanilla

Agustinus Daka is a hardworking vanilla farmer from a village in the Papua province, the most impoverished region in Indonesia. He exemplifies his dedication to farming the labor-intensive vanilla crop by pollinating each vanilla orchid by hand since the crop has no natural pollinator in Indonesia. Daka is a great example of how USAID In Indonesia helps small farmers. Due to his partnership with USAID, Daka doubled his income over two short years.

This increase in revenue has allowed Daka to afford a better life for his family including access to better living conditions, education and healthcare. However, Daka does not want to stop at improving only the lives of his family. In a province where most farmers are only capable of subsistence farming– growing only enough to provide for their families – Daka’s dream for his village is to “move beyond subsistence.” He has steadily begun to introduce more of his fellow farmers to the partnership program.

Improving Poverty Statistic in Indonesia

Despite successful democratic and economic improvements, approximately 25.1 million people in Indonesia are living in poverty and around 20.6% of the population is at constant risk of falling below the poverty line. Although these numbers may look grim, they are remarkable results of successful poverty reduction across the nation. Over the past two decades, Indonesia has cut its poverty rate by more than half, gradually improving from 23.4% in 1999 to only 9.4% in 2019. In the past five years, Indonesia has seen its economic growth improve at a rate exceeding 5% each year, demonstrating the success of USAID in Indonesia.

Economic Opportunity in Both Indonesia and the U.S.

USAID and the National Cooperative Businesses Association (NCBA) established Cooperative Business International (CBI) Global in 1984.  The company based in Ohio links spice farmers all over the world to over 160 partner companies in 40 countries. PT AgriSpice Indonesia is the branch of CBI Global that works with USAID to help more than 15,000 Indonesian farmers facilitate trade with companies across the globe. The company exports about $150 million in spices annually.

More importantly, PT AgriSpice works with farmers to teach valuable techniques for cultivating larger, more sustainable farms. The connection to the global market allows farmers to secure greater profits and provides approximately 400 to 700 new factory jobs with about 90% of them going to women. New job opportunities reduce poverty rates and the economy of Indonesia, making it more attractive to U.S. businesses.

These potential partnerships with U.S. companies are also mutually beneficial. The equipment used in these new factories is imported from the U.S. With more factories and products, more trade occurs between Indonesia and the U.S., requiring more jobs to be created in both countries, and simultaneously stimulating their economies.

Agustinus Daka’s vanilla is now in grocery stores across the U.S. McCormick, the U.S. top spice seller and long time partner of USAID in Indonesia, uses vanilla sourced from Indonesia in its products. It’s a long time, mutually beneficial partnership.

The Measure of Support from USAID in Indonesia

Through the support of USAID programs and partner companies, Indonesia has now grown to be the second-largest producer of vanilla in the world, the world’s number one exporter of nutmeg and the number one exporter of cloves to the U.S. USAID’s intends to continue fostering a healthy business environment for Indonesian producers to access the global market and conduct mutually beneficial trade with the U.S. This USAID-led program in Indonesia is a part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s initiative to fight global hunger and promote food security in partner countries across the world.

– Hanna Rowell
Photo: Flickr