Flood-Tolerant Rice BenefitsRice farming and production impacts the lives of millions throughout the world. Rice is the staple food of three billion people globally and a source of income for many. The farming of rice also contributes significantly to the economic growth of many countries. Especially within developing countries, the success of rice production is crucial for feeding individuals and creating economic stability. Flood-tolerant rice benefits developing countries reliant upon rice for livelihoods, food security, and the economy’s stability.

Environmental Challenges Affect Rice Production in India

Recent changes in the climate have caused rice production volatility due to flooding and drought. As many as 4.8 million people in India are exposed to river flood risks each year. In India, environmental challenges have had an especially negative effect on rice crops as floods have overtaken many viable planting areas. This flooding has disproportionately affected low-income farmers. These farmers often work with less reliable plots of land that are more prone to flooding. Without the development of techniques to help combat extreme weather, both the livelihoods of low-income people within India and the general Indian economy will experience a significant socio-economic impact.

Swarna Sub-1 Rice

A strain of flood-tolerant rice called Swarna Sub-1 has been a major development that addresses crop damage due to flooding in India. As a mixture of two different rice varieties, this scientifically developed plant is able to withstand intense flooding. This type of rice has been on the market for use since around 2009; however, many farmers have not had access to the rice strain until recently. This is largely due to the lack of information about the existence of Swarna Sub-1 and a lack of accessibility to it.

Flood-Tolerant Rice Benefits

The introduction of flood-tolerant rice has allowed for an increase in rice production, as J-PAL studies have shown. J-PAL is an organization that researches innovative solutions to global poverty. The increased rice production throughout India has had an incredibly positive effect, both economically and socially, as there is a larger supply of rice boosting local economies. As impoverished farmers have seen more successful rice harvests, they have been keener to cultivate a greater amount of farmland and make riskier agricultural decisions. Farmers have also invested in fertilizers to further increase crop health as they are more sure of their ability to create a solid income through rice farming. Additionally, precautionary rice savings decreased, suggesting farmers have perceived lower risk of crop losses with the flood-tolerant rice.

Swarna Sub-1 seeds increased rice yields by about 10% over the course of two years, as seen in the study. Researchers stated that the productive behavior changes among farmers who planted Swarna Sub-1 accounted for 41% of the long-term increase in rice yields. The higher yields also increased the income of farmers by roughly $47 per hectare.

The Potential of Flood-Tolerant Rice

These flood-tolerant rice benefits have improved the livelihoods of impoverished farmers in India while also contributing to food security and local economies. Increased access to flood-tolerant rice varieties in developing countries has the potential to improve lives and lift people out of poverty.

– Olivia Bay 
Photo: Flickr

Hemp production in PakistanIn September 2020, the Pakistani Government approved industrial hemp production, legalizing hemp and allowing hemp farming in agricultural sectors. Hemp is a type of cannabis plant, used commonly for medicinal purposes due to its cannabidiol (CBD) concentration. Considering the many benefits of hemp production, this landmark decision brings exciting possibilities for many areas in Pakistan. Since the economy of Pakistan has been long in need of a boost, the new approved hemp production and legalization is said to bring economic benefits to the country.

The Economic Benefits of Hemp Production

Officials in Pakistan’s government encouraged hemp legalization and production in efforts to relieve fiscal deficits and Pakistan’s struggling economy. Considering the industrial hemp market is worth about $25 billion globally, Pakistan’s science and technology minister, Fawad Chaudhry, says Pakistan is aiming for a profit of $1 billion over the next three years by joining the global hemp market. Exports in hemp can target CBD oils and cannabis-based products and can be a sustainable cotton replacement during slowdowns within the cotton industry.

A Sustainable Replacement for Cotton

Hemp production in Pakistan is most exciting to the workforce, especially for farmers participating in hemp markets and those working within the cotton industry. Cultivating hemp will create more jobs for the small-scale farmers responsible, but more importantly, become a sustainable replacement for cotton in Pakistan’s markets. As the fourth biggest cotton producer in the world, Pakistan’s cotton production has been declining due to climate change, water scarcity, locust attacks and industrial imbalances such as declining prices and low-grade seeds. The hemp plant’s stalk has strong properties of cellulose-rich fiber which is an effective ingredient in the making of paper, rope, construction and reinforcement materials, due to its strong fiber components. Hemp, therefore, makes for a worthy sustainable replacement to cotton.

Hemp Research Possibilities

For researchers, hemp production in Pakistan is exciting for many reasons. With the new hemp legalization, hemp research is no longer taboo, according to Muhammed A. Qayyum, an advisor in the Pakistani government and the director of Medics Laboratories. With this new allowance, researchers can delve into more potential applications of hemp in medicine and more.

Medicinal Properties of Hemp

Advocates have listed numerous medicinal properties to hemp, more specifically, the chemical cannabidiol (CBD) within the plant. Cannabis is seen as medically beneficial as the cannabinoid compound is said to relieve pain and regulate appetite, mood, memory inflammation, insulin sensitivity and metabolism. Hemp is also a valuable food supplement, incorporated in gluten-free products to increase nutritional value from hemp’s high levels of fiber and proteins.

The Potential of the Hemp Industry in Pakistan

With this new federal approval, Pakistan can enter global markets as a new exporter of CBD with the ability to generate millions of revenue similar to China, the United States and India. Hemp production in Pakistan opens up a wide range of possibilities but also brings thousands of jobs across multiple fields such as farm work, production, marketing, transportation, research and medicine. As a flexible crop, the hemp market can address several demands, from textiles, clothing, home furnishing and industrial oils to cosmetics, food and medicine.  Holding an overall market value of more than $340 billion and 263 million cannabis consumers worldwide, Pakistan’s economy can shift dramatically with the newly approved hemp production.

Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

the BSCFABelize’s sugar cane production has been a major staple to its economy since the 1800s. Today, it supports the livelihood of around 15% of Belizeans, contributes to 6% of Belize’s foreign exchange income and adds 30% gross value to the country’s agriculture. Due to its overall importance, organizations have taken great steps to help protect sugar farmers and improve their working conditions. A major step toward this goal was when the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) became Fairtrade certified in 2008. Since then, the value of sugar from Belize has grown and better working conditions and human rights have been established.

Sugar Cane Farmers in Belize

Sugar cane farmers and plantation workers often struggle because sugar prices in international markets are low and processing sugar cane is long and expensive. Smaller farms also have trouble getting access to lucrative markets that would buy more sugar. The compensation smallholder farmers receive for cane often fails to cover the costs they incur to produce it, leaving them in a debt trap and with little capital to reinvest in farms. They also cannot pay for newer equipment that would help make the process easier, faster and cheaper. The significant amount of time invested in farming to provide an income often leaves little time to engage in other opportunities that can pull them out of poverty, such as education. Fairtrade aims to alleviate these problems by helping people and organizations get better representation in the market and better prices for their crops.

The Impact of Fairtrade Certification

Since 2008, Belize’s sugar cane exports have increased greatly, particularly in the European market. In the first five years of the BSCFA becoming Fairtrade certified, Belize’s sugar cane gross profit grew significantly. Belize has also been able to increase the amount of sugar cane produced every year due to farmers getting resources to control pests in the early stages of the growing process and access to better farming and processing tools. From 2018 to 2019 alone, Belize went from producing 150,000 tons to more than one million tons of sugar cane.

Impact on Communities in Belize

A huge benefit of being Fairtrade certified is that organizations will receive premiums — extra money that farmers and workers can invest in their businesses or the community. The BSCFA gets around $3.5 million in premiums a year and has used that as grants for education, building and repairs, community spaces such as churches and libraries, funerals for impoverished families, water tank systems and more.

The BSCFA has continued advocacy and empowerment efforts to improve the working conditions of sugar cane farmers. In 2015, the BSCFA took a strong stance against child labor, lobbying the government to make laws against child labor and personally suspending support of farms that violated fairtrade practices.

Due to advocacy efforts such as these, the government of Belize has taken steps to stop child labor, such as working on bills that help others identify child labor situations and updating its Child Labor Policy to add additional protection for children. It also established a Child Labor Secretariat that works on identifying and reporting child labor cases.

Fairtrade and the BSCFA have made significant strides in protecting the rights of sugar cane farmers while expanding the economy. These efforts are lifting people out of poverty and ensuring that fairness prevails.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

Vertical FarmingThe new AI-run vertical farming plantation brings new possibilities to agriculture and efficient production, as Plenty, an ag-tech company, co-founded by Nate Storey, proves there is now more benefit than cost to vertical farming. By utilizing robots and artificial intelligence systems to regulate LED sunlight panels, watering systems and pest control, this futuristic method has surpassed its previous form of being too expensive and complex.

Vertical Farming

Through the current transitions made toward maximizing agricultural use of AI, farming today has already begun employing drones and smart robots to remove weeds or spread herbicides efficiently. Greenfield Robotics had already released different functional fleets active in certain farms. Now, Plenty utilizes similar technologies with robots harvesting and organizing plants in the vertical farming stations. Fundamentals such as water, temperature and light are systematically calculated and regulated through smart systems that prioritize a greater, faster and better crop turnout.

Benefits of AI-Run Vertical Farming

Through artificial intelligence, farmers are now able to adopt a more eco-friendly methodology. Robots and machine learning promote certain technologies such as tracking soil composition, moisture content, crop humidity and optimal crop temperatures. Despite the previous vertical farming history and cost-benefit analysis, modern-day AI-run vertical farming allows certain resources to be recycled, controlled and reused. This can be seen in AI-run water filtration systems that catch evaporated water from the farms or indoor energy renewal systems.

Alleviating Agricultural Issues

These innovations alleviate many issues that arise in agriculture and distribution. The most notable feat is the space that vertical farming saves in comparison to traditional farmland regions. Plenty’s vertical farm covers two acres and yields similar, if not better, harvest and product quality to that of a 750-acre flat farm. Plenty’s website expresses its greatest feat yet: “Imagine a 1,500-acre farm. Now imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.”

Plenty also points out the freedom AI-run vertical farming brings to agriculture today. By being independent and self-sufficient with consistent sunlight, recycled water and a controlled environment, farming is no longer restricted to natural inconsistencies. Climate change and weather patterns do not determine the outcome of the produce, due to this new ability to control the necessary components to production. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires that breakdown supply chains, this factor prevents unprecedented shutdowns of essential services in agriculture.

AI-run vertical farming allows farms to exist within metropolitan sectors instead of weather-dependent regions. By having a closer source, distribution is more efficient leading to less CO2 emissions and dependency on preservatives. This method also allows cost reduction, since transportation, product cost and labor are reduced, which allows impoverished communities access to better produce.

The Future of AI-Run Vertical Farming

All things considered, this new innovative alternative brings a cleaner and more sustainable future for agriculture, whether it be in produce quality or carbon footprint. With Plenty’s ongoing environmental adjustments and technological updates, the organization continues to expand its service, with a $400 million investment capital from Softbank, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Plenty has also partnered with Albertsons to supply 430 stores in California.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Shrimp FarmingLong condemned by environmentalists and many others as a significant contributor to the loss and destruction of mangroves and subsequent damages to coastal communities and the environment, shrimp farming has developed the economies of many countries and is depended on by many. A difficult problem has been addressed by Selva Shrimp and can mean the conservation of mangroves as well as the shrimp farming industry, and thus, the livelihoods of many communities.

The Importance of Mangroves

Mangroves are found along coastlines and have adapted to live in salty and brackish waters with their own filtration systems that allow them to filter out the salt in their environment. They help prevent coastline erosion and are a vital part of ecosystems, serving as habitats and food sources for many organisms. In addition to water filtration and prevention of erosion, mangroves also serve as protection from storms and provide resources valuable to coastal communities such as food and timber. Mangroves are also highly effective carbon stores, making them an increasingly important shrub in the fight against climate change.

According to the Global Mangrove Alliance, to date, 67% of mangroves have deteriorated or been altogether eradicated. Already a rare tree, they are at risk of disappearing entirely.

Shrimp Farming and Mangroves

While aquaculture, specifically shrimp farming, is not the only threat to mangroves, it is one that, without sustainable alternatives will only continue to grow in the future as the demand for and consumption of shrimp increases. Shrimp farming, which is primarily practiced in South and Southeast Asia, requires the use of coastal lowlands which are then converted into shrimp ponds. Often, these areas are rife with mangroves which have to be destroyed for the creation of shrimp ponds or are left depleted and damaged as a result of the growing shrimp. The removal of these mangroves leaves these coastal zones vulnerable to erosion and damage from storms, which can endanger the livelihoods of coastal communities as well as destroy habitats for many fish and marine life. In fact, in 1991, a cyclone moved onto land in Bangladesh where a large area of mangroves had been destroyed. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean also served as a wake-up call as the damage was intensified by the fact that many coastlines were left exposed after the removal of mangroves.

Shrimp farming is a billion-dollar industry and there are many who rely on it as a livelihood and source of income. The reality is that it is not a practice that can be stopped without harsh economic and social impacts to many. On the other hand, it can be practiced sustainably in a way that does not harm mangroves and ecosystems that are valuable to coastal communities and the greater environment. That is exactly what Selva Shrimp intends to do.

Selva Shrimp Program

Using nature-based solutions (NbS), Selva Shrimp, a program developed by Blueyou Consulting and initially established in Vietnam, is working to create jobs and protect the livelihoods of those who depend on shrimp farming and mangroves. While the initiative still relies on mangroves to assist the growth of the shrimp and provide them with necessary nutrients, it also allows farmers to harvest some of the trees, sell them for wood and other uses and then promptly reforest those areas. The shrimp are not provided with any other feed or chemicals beyond what is naturally available through the mangroves, including small organisms. Thus, the production of shrimp relies on the upkeep and maintenance of healthy mangrove forests and incentivizes the small-scale farmers that Selva Shrimp works with to preserve these forests rather than leave them destroyed and move on to other areas for shrimp ponds. Additionally, this sustainable approach to shrimp farming means that prices for shrimp will increase and so will the incomes of these farmers, providing shrimp farmers with an incentive to practice sustainable shrimp farming and addressing the growing demand for shrimp while also conserving mangroves.

The Future of Shrimp Farming

Selva Shrimp comes at a time when mangroves are at dangerously low levels in many areas and global demand for shrimp is at an all-time high. While still a fairly recent initiative, it is able to tackle several issues at once, including creating jobs in the shrimp farming industry that can alleviate poverty in the many countries where shrimp farming is a prominent practice. This could mean a future where the growing consumption of shrimp and increasing need for mangroves are no longer mutually exclusive.

– Manika Ajmani
Photo Flickr

Harmless HarvestHarmless Harvest is an organic coconut brand that guarantees nonpesticide, chemical or GMO supplements in its young Nam Hom coconuts, harvested from Thailand. Known to be the first brand to introduce non-thermally pasteurized coconut water in the United States, its mission is to “create remarkable coconut products through sustainable farming practices while having a positive community impact,” says Harmless Harvest CEO, Ben Mand. Utilizing organic-certified Nam Hom coconut farms, Harmless Harvest ensures growing coconuts without “persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge.”

Fair Wages for Workers

In addition to its commitment to clean practices and natural coconut products, Harmless Harvest guarantees social accountability through its Fair for Life certification. Fair for Life certification demonstrates the organization’s efforts to provide fair wages for its workers in Thailand. Fair for Life advocates for financial resiliency for all its workers and reallocates funds to support communities of farmers to found mobile health clinics and provide dental checks and water filtration systems. The certification promises social responsibility and fair trade to all the people involved in the production, which starts with farmers that harvest in the very beginning to the consumers that take home the products. 

Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP)

In December 2020, Harmless Harvest announced its partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to introduce a new agricultural project called the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP). This project aims to ensure a sustainable farming model with innovative coconut harvesting and the training of farmers to maximize their overall productivity. With plans to implement new regenerative farming methodology and agricultural management training for Thailand farmers, ReCAP considers many aspects of the harvesting process other than just the coconut’s quality.

Sustainable Farming and Education for Farmers

The main aspect of the project is to reinvent coconut farming and produce more eco-friendly efficiency. Harmless Harvest aims to implement new sustainable coconut harvesting practices by utilizing cover crops, which then increases the soil’s water absorption and reduces soil erosion during heavy rainfall. Other methods such as intercropping, bee-keeping and organic inputs were included in the coconut farm regeneration in efforts to promote clean farming.

The project also seeks to provide farmers with education in farm management and innovative agricultural practices that target longevity and resistance against climate change. By teaching farmers new strategies to increase biodiversity and resilience, sustainable coconut harvesting becomes a stepping stone to transitioning modern farming to regenerative agriculture. The brand’s overall goal is to rediscover a more environmentally sustainable and resistant farming methodology while also promoting farmers’ wages by the end of 2023.

Addressing Poverty Through Coconut Farming

Harmless Harvest’s project ReCAP shifts the coconut industry and other farm-dependent brands away from chemical-laden monoculture crop farming, which is susceptible to climate change and is inefficient environmentally. The project alleviates ecological stress and utilizes a more efficient system of production, which corresponds with Harmless Harvest’s overall mission of ethical practices. ReCAP seeks to encourage new methods of sustainable coconut harvesting and aims to increase the income of farmers by 10% or more by the end of 2023. From celebrating zero coconut waste in September 2020 to up-cycling and utilizing all parts of the coconut up to the husk, the brand continues to introduce techniques to better the planet and help farmers lift themselves out of poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Farming Reform in IndiaToward the end of November 2020, more than 250 million people around the Indian subcontinent protested for farming reform in India. Protestors are pushing back against the three-piece legislation passed by the Indian Parliament which attempts to liberalize the agricultural sector by increasing Indian farmers’ access to bigger markets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, argues that the recently passed agricultural bills intend to grant farmers autonomy and increase their income. However, Indian farmers fear these laws will threaten their livelihoods by leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by powerful agricultural corporations.

The Indian Agricultural Sector

The agricultural sector is an essential part of the Indian economy, as it generates livelihood for nearly 60% of the Indian population. Despite the vital role of Indian farmers, the agricultural sector only makes up 15-16% of the subcontinent’s GDP, leaving farmers grappling for livelihood. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, almost three million farmers have committed suicide in India since 1995. Having one of the highest suicide rates in the agricultural sector, Indian farmers have long suffered despair from tyrannical policies, debt, low income and climate change inducing production risks. On September 28, 2020, the Parliament attempted farming reform in India by passing three bills that the government and Modi claim will benefit farmers’ livelihoods by decreasing financial burdens and increasing profit.

The 3 Farming Acts Passed

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act

  • Allows for intra-state trading, inner-state trading, electronic trading and e-commerce of produce.

  • Abolishes the imposition of government-determined financial burdens.

Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act

  • Withdraws the previously determined list of essential commodities.

  • Removes stockholding restriction on essential commodities.

  • Demands that levying of stockholding limit on produce emanates from increased price.

The Reason Behind Protests

With support for farming reform in India from all over the world, hundreds of thousands of farmers and those in solidarity have taken to the streets with a common goal: to have the acts repealed. The laws spark deep worry that transitioning to a free market will enable powerful agricultural businesses to take advantage of the farmers, potentially leading to loss of land, income and autonomy. Indian farmers, who sell their produce at a set rate, are certain that a market-aligned system will solely increase private equities welfare while continuing to forbade domestic benefits. Farmers are also concerned that differences in business objectives could leave farmers at risk of financial consequences from market unpredictability. Finally, farmers are fearful that the abolition of stockholding limits will empower corporations to distort prices for personal monetary reward.

Global Support for Indian Farmers

There is a consensus among Indian farmers that their agricultural sector requires reform. Although the new laws of farming reform in India promise to improve farmers’ livelihoods and freedom, the lack of trust in a market-friendly reform and the government’s incentive has prompted a collective demand for change. As the protestors persist with force, the demand for alternative farming reform in India is being heard by Prime Minister Modi who is beginning to listen to farmers’ concerns. The exploitation of farmers continues to spark global support for farming reform in India from organizations, advocates, politicians and humanitarians until fairness and justice is achieved.

– Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Technology in KenyaAround 75% of working Kenyans make their living through agriculture. Being the largest industry in the country, the ability of Kenyan farmers to produce crops is essential for both economic and food security reasons. Agriculture provides food and money to the many farmers and their communities. This vital sector is in danger, with unpredictable climate conditions and the emergence of pests that can decimate entire crops. Artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile smartphones are new resources being used to save the produce of these farmers and the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans. Mobile technology in Kenya has great potential to increase the production of the valuable agricultural sector, keeping millions above the poverty line.

Cellphone and Internet Acess in Kenya

The mobile phone industry has been steadily growing in Kenya. According to a survey of 577 farming households, 98% of respondents own a mobile phone. The increasing affordability of cellphones and internet access in the country has opened the door to bring new forms of aid to the farmers who produce more than a third of the country’s GDP.

Project FARM

Mobile apps that machine learning powers have emerged to help farmers all over the world make as much from their crops as they can. In Kenya, which has been experiencing unpredictable levels of rainfall each season, a mobile app is working to consolidate data to help determine the best course of action for the farmers during changing weather conditions. Project FARM (Financial and Agricultural Recommendation Models) is a program that can take into account weather, temperature, strains of crops and success rates from other farms in order to determine what actions will produce the largest yield. FARM sends notifications to farmers via text so that they can be readily alerted of any danger as heavy rain can occur suddenly and damage entire fields. Farmers can operate the program from their cellphones so they can easily access and implement the resources. After just one year using FARM, on average, a single farmer increased their yield from six 90kg bags of maize to nine bags.

AI Apps as an Educational Resource

Programs like this also work in conjunction with resources that seek to educate farmers about ways to sell their products as well as how to maximize efficiency and yield. These resources are free and greatly help those who could not afford to hire an agronomist to inspect their farm. This combination helps farmers produce more and know how to manage more products so that they can sell them in the most efficient way possible.

Apps for Crop Pest Control

AI also helps farmers by giving them valuable information about crop-decimating pests. Pests pose a grave threat to African farms and estimates have determined that Africa loses around 50% of all crops each year due to pests and diseases. The Fall Armyworm (FAW) is a type of caterpillar that has recently plagued East Africa and is capable of ruining huge amounts of produce. The Farmers Companion App is a program that AI powers which is capable of determining which crops are infested and the stage of the lifecycle of the pest. This will allow farmers to take the best possible steps to contain the spread. Another app, PlantVillage Nuru, is capable of diagnosing crop diseases without an internet connection.

Mobile Technology in Kenya Helps Agriculture

Mobile technology in Kenya is an important step to help farmers deal with the evolving problems of the 21st century. With agriculture being such an important industry in Kenya and with so much of the produce at risk each year, it is vital for the economy and wellbeing of the country that crops are protected and that yields are produced at an effective rate. These types of developments in AI and mobile technologies have the potential to significantly help the livelihoods of millions of farmers in Kenya and other countries too.

– Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Aquaculture for Poverty Reduction
Can aquaculture reduce global poverty while improving ocean health and the renewable energy crises? The short answer is that aquaculture for poverty reduction is possible. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals and plants, such as fish or seaweed. Aquaculture is prominent in coastal communities, particularly in eastern regions of the world. Here is how such a simple concept could resolve the complex aforementioned issues.

Progressing the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations established the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the intent to create a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

The first goal is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the eighth goal is to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

In order to fulfill both of these goals, countries must prioritize creating decent jobs and incentivizing productive employment to create sustainable economic growth. Aquaculture provides employment opportunities for those impoverished in coastal and rural communities across the globe and provides nutritious food that can often be hard to access without monetary resources. A prime example of aquaculture’s socioeconomic contribution to said communities is that of the Mwenezi district of Zimbabwe. Members of the district were facing decreased employment availability due to severe weather conditions. Their dilemma caught the attention of several NGOs that introduced fish farming as a way to increase employment opportunities. Not only did employment opportunities increase, but household income and food security increased as well.

Ocean Health: Nitrogen

In 2014, between 18.6 and 37.2 million tons of nitrogen that people used for global fertilization ended up in the ocean. As a result, 245,000 square kilometers of the ocean suffered from hypoxia. Hypoxic areas, also known as dead zones, cannot support marine life as there is not enough oxygen dissolved in the water.

If global production of seaweed reaches 500 million tons by 2050, the World Bank estimates that the ocean could absorb 10 million tons of nitrogen. That is just 30% of the predicted amount of nitrogen that enters the ocean. This would undoubtedly improve oceanic conditions for marine life by preventing dead zones.

Ocean Health: Carbon Sequestration

Part of carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon to mitigate the effect of greenhouse gases on the ocean. Excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes ocean acidification and negatively impacts the health of marine life. Carbon dioxide lowers the pH of the ocean making it more acidic than usual, and in turn reduces the availability of minerals that corals, mollusks and other organisms use to form shells. Increased seaweed production would combat the amount of carbon dioxide added to seawater from greenhouse gas emissions. For example, 500 million tons of seaweed could absorb 135 million tons of carbon. Moreover, due to the positive effect of carbon sequestration, the profitability of seaweed farming could increase.

Renewable Energy

Seaweed farming, a subset of aquaculture, has the potential to create a highly efficient form of renewable energy called biomass. Biomass is material that comes from plants or animals and can be effective for energy production. In 2015, nearly 5% of the United States’ energy came from biomass, making it the largest form of renewable energy. According to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), seaweed farming in the United States could reach production levels of up to 500 million tons of algae which would provide more energy than 23 billion gallons of gasoline.

Dry seaweed has a carbohydrate content of roughly 50%, which people can use for biofuel production. In concurrence with ARPA-E, the World Bank stated that if 500 million tons of dry seaweed underwent harvesting annually, it would produce around “1.25 billion megawatt-hour’s worth of methane or liquid fuel.” This amount of renewable energy would equate to 1.5% of the 85 billion megawatt-hours of fossil fuels used worldwide in 2012.

Global Aquaculture Alliance

The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that began its operation in 1997. Its mission is to “promote responsible aquaculture practices through education, advocacy and demonstration.” The following are successful manifestations of this mission and shows the benefits of aquaculture for poverty reduction.

In 2019, GAA conducted an educational campaign called Aquaculture 101. The purpose was to spread awareness and inform people on the basics of aquaculture, particularly those skeptical of fish farming. GAA has also funded a joint project with the Marine Ingredients Organisation to better understand fisheries in Southeast Asia that are responsible for providing raw material for fishmeal production. While the fishmeal sector has grown exponentially over the course of 50 years, the two organizations seek to better understand the challenges undermining management practices so that they may make informed suggestions. Furthermore, Best Aquaculture Practices, a subset of GAA, has seen a 15% increase in producers operating in 36 countries from 2010 to 2019. Producers include processing plants, farms, feed mills, hatcheries and reprocessors. This is an incredible trajectory that shows the GAA’s impact on aquaculture across the globe.

Aquaculture for poverty reduction has proven to effective while providing decent employment opportunities to create sustainable economic growth. Moreover, it has shown its capacity to improve the health of the ocean and provide new forms of renewable energy so that the world may sustain its current energy standards. Organizations like the Global Aquaculture Alliance and the Marine Ingredients Organisation are working toward these goals so that the world may become a more habitable place for all.

Mary Qualls
Photo: Wikipedia Commons