Smallholder Farmers in Ethiopia
As of 2018, 31.1% of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the country’s agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. These sectors are essential to the country and employ nearly two-thirds of Ethiopia’s workforce. Smallholder farmers in Ethiopia are vital members of the agri-business since they comprise 95% of its production and greatly contribute to poverty reduction.

However, these farmers still struggle to increase production. Climate, poor markets and lack of knowledge and resources contribute to this struggle. Additionally, Ethiopia’s population is growing, as it is the second most populated country in Africa. This makes it more difficult to own land and has resulted in smaller farm sizes.

The World Bank is aiding smallholder farmers in order to stimulate the economy and decrease poverty rates. The World Bank finances the Second Agricultural Growth Project (AGPII) as a way to help smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. AGPII helps agricultural services in many ways, such as increasing resources and technologies and aiding in marketing. With the help of projects like AGPII, agricultural productivity and commercialization can increase by managing and overcoming the adversities of farming.

Smallholder Farmers

A smallholder farmer is a person who works on a small piece of land growing crops and farming livestock. Usually, families run these farms as their main source of income. There are more than 500 million smallholder farms in the world. About 74% of Ethiopia’s farmers live on small farms, with about 67% living below the national poverty line.

Speaking on agriculture, Vikas Choudhary, team leader of AGPII and agricultural operations for Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, told The Borgen Project, “smallholder farmers are the backbone of Ethiopia and its economy.”

The Difficulties of Farming

Farming is one of the riskiest and most complicated businesses to be in. As a farmer, you are dependent on many factors that are difficult to control. Here are a few of the complexities of farming in Ethiopia.

  • Climate. Climate is one issue that can largely affect crop production. Unreliable rainfall can cause agricultural production systems to be unachievable. Many smallholders depend solely on the rain to water their horticultural crops. To develop more crops and better the market, conditions must undergo diversification to offer more of a variety of crops. Additionally, focusing on agro-climate and water resources will help offer more agricultural irrigation.
  • Land Management. Land management has become a difficult factor within Ethiopia’s agricultural business. Choudhary stated, “landholding is extremely fragmented. When you are saying half a hectare, it’s not even half a hectare. It’s smaller than that. And even in that, the land parcels are extremely fragmented. One is here, one can be half a kilometer away, a third can be a fourth kilometers away, so management of those land parcels is extremely challenging.” Most farmers cultivate on land smaller than a hectare, and even then the plots can be divided into four plots.
  • Limited Technology and Education. Limited technology and education are perhaps the largest difficulties that smallholder farmers in Ethiopia struggle with. Within the country, there is a lack of improved seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation. Only 2% of smallholder land is irrigated and as little as 3.7% have access to agricultural machinery. Providing more educational services and agricultural technologies can increase agricultural productivity, and thus contribute to poverty reduction.

The Road to Poverty Reduction

AGPII has many components focused on aiding smallholder farmers with market access and productivity. In 2019, the World Bank’s Poverty Assessment for Ethiopia stated that agricultural growth was the main factor in poverty reduction. The project supports smallholder farmers by enhancing commercialization through an increase in market accessibility, promoting irrigation usage and increasing agricultural services. AGPII has helped 1.4 million smallholder farmers retrieve agricultural services, along with supplying more than 254 new agricultural technologies to assist with crop productivity and possible climate impacts.

The agricultural sector of Ethiopia is essential to improving the economy. Roughly 45% of outputs are from agriculture, and the sector employs nearly 80% of the country’s labor force. Thus, focusing on this sector is necessary, since it is the smallholder farmers in Ethiopia that are the poorest in the country. Choudhary estimated that “for every 1% increase in agricultural productivity, poverty declines by .9%.” Additionally, when asked how smallholder farmers can contribute to poverty reduction, Choudhary shared, “there’s a significant multiplier effect of increased agri-productivity and smallholder farmers are the ones who are contributing, and should be contributing, to this increase in commercialization, and thereby creating jobs, increasing income and reducing poverty.”

Moving Forward

A clear link exists between agricultural productivity and poverty reduction within Ethiopia. “Smallholder farmers are in some way synonymous with Ethiopia,” says Choudhury. Rural areas account for about 80% of the country’s population, and therefore much must happen in order to deliver better technology and education to the farming community.

The World Bank, through AGPII, is one example of an organization contributing to the support of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, providing the funds to help improve irrigation usage, increase commercialization and supply more resources. Overall, this project is going to benefit 1.6 million smallholder farmers living in areas that have the best agricultural growth potential.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Olive Trees in PalestineThe former leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, once said, “I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” In Palestine, the olive tree is a symbol of freedom and represents a deep connection to the earth it grows on. Olive trees take up to 12 years to become fruitful and live an average of 2,000 years. Tending to these trees is a generational task passed on over a millennium. In essence, olive trees in Palestine are proof of the people’s long-standing connection to the land.

Olive Trees

The olive trees function on a socioeconomic level. It is a source of income for farmers and provides security for future generations to ensure that they will have consistent income as well. However, the Israeli occupation has made things difficult for farmers in Palestine. Olive trees on ancestral lands are bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Furthermore, the disjointed great wall has cut Palestinians off from their orchards. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the Israeli military has destroyed approximately 1,800 acres of olive orchards near the great wall.

As such, Palestinian farmers have lost their lands, depriving them of income, food and freedom. More than one million Palestinians are now experiencing poverty. This is well over half of the total population.

Help for Palestinian Farmers

Grassroots efforts are vital to the future of Palestine. Zatoun, named after the Arabic word for olive, is a volunteer grassroots organization that helps Palestinian farmers affected by Israeli military destruction. It sells olive oil online and takes advantage of the global market to serve Palestinian farmers and tell their stories.

With help from Canaan Fair Trade and Palestine Fair Trade Association, Zatoun’s Trees for Life program allows people around the world to sponsor olive saplings for farmers to raise. Since 2004, its efforts have benefited almost 4,000 farmers in Palestine. The organization’s goal is to partner with 250 farmers to plant 10,000 trees in 2021.

Palestinians must be able to earn a consistent income to end poverty. Thus, olive orchards are a vital part of the Palestinian economy as they help farmers ensure financial security for generations to come. Farmers who are able to tend to olive trees without fear of suppression will help the economy thrive.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Farmers' Protests in IndiaOn January 21, 2021, Jai Bhagwan Rana, aged 42, committed suicide by digesting Sulphas tablets during an ongoing protest near New Delhi, India. In his suicide note, he wrote about the current fight to protect Indian farmers’ rights from three new agriculture bills signed by India’s parliament. The note states “The government says it is a matter of only two to three states, but farmers from all over the country are protesting against the laws. Sadly, it is not a movement now, but a fight of issues. The talks between the farmers and the center also remain deadlock.” The farmers’ protests in India have received international attention as people look to protect the rights of farmers in India.

Farmers’ Protests in India

The protests have escalated since the bill signings in late September 2020, with major marches to the capital city of New Delhi following in late November. Violence has disrupted between the stoic farmers and paramilitary troops armed with water cannons and tear gas guns. Mental health counselors have been disbursed to the protest sites and have reported that farmers are burdened with hypertension, anxiety and trouble sleeping and are afraid of losing their homes and their families. Sanya Kataria, a clinical psychologist, reports that “the farmers are not being heard so there is frustration and aggression,” also adding that her patients regularly report feeling anxious.

Violence and Conflict

Five major highways surrounding New Delhi are now filled with protester camps fighting their way through police since November 2020 and thousands of farmers surrounding the northern regions of India settled within the state’s borders. The farmers have rations of food with cooking equipment and shelter supplies on-site and have propped up microphones and stages to keep their mission potent.

Farmers broke the two-month peaceful protest on January 26, 2021, breaking through law enforcement barricades by mobilizing 10,000 protesters on tractors as well as horses and storming into India’s most important 17th-century landmark, the Red Fort. Protesters wielded ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelming the police force with their strength in numbers. Meanwhile, India was celebrating Republic Day, a holiday that exemplifies the country’s strength in military and culture with the attendance of important leaders. The casualties injured more than 300 police officers. Reportedly, one protester was killed by his own tractor and many farmers were bruised and bloodied.

The 3 Farming Bills

The three bills that were approved in early September 2020 were rushed through parliament by the Modi government.

  1. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price and Farm Services Bill. The primary purpose of this act is to form contracts between privatized businesses and farmers and legally allow companies to have control of agricultural remuneration, transportation and methodology. Protesters are weary that corporate investors would simply dominate production and exploit farmers through legal clauses.
  2. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. This bill takes agricultural produced trade outside of India’s state-mandated restrictions, allowing food to be sold outside of mandis (food markets) to cold storage, warehouse, processing units and more. Farmers will be able to do direct marketing, eliminating intermediaries, and therefore, securing higher prices for produce. However, this bill cuts ties between government and farmers, releasing all businesses into competitive markets and cuts farmers from government subsidies or procurement in case of low or fluctuating market demands.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. This act removes particular commodities from a federally approved requirement list, which is predicted to boost farmer revenue and ultimately raise retail prices on non-essential items. The bill specifies that non-perishable items can only be deemed essential if the market price rises 50% and perishable items will be essential if the market price rises 100%. This can lead to hoarding, black market activity, and ultimately, raises food prices for everyone.

Support for the Rights of Farmers in India

More than 50% of the population in India works in the agriculture sector, and in 2019, at least 10,281 citizens ended their lives, mostly due to bankruptcy and debt. The protest continues internationally by relatives and families of Indian farmers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and more, demonstrating their frustration outside of embassies. Since December 2020, millions of international Indian protesters have answered the call to cause. Non-resident Indians have been helping protesters by sending money, arranging transportation and sending rations for the farmers camping outside of New Delhi.

Influencers like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg have used social media to show support for the farmers’ protests in India. The Indian government has banned more than 250 Twitter accounts, blaming specific tweets and hashtags as a “motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds.” Since the beginning of the protest, 60 farmers have died in just 40 days from illness, suicide and the blistering cold. Yet, a protester named Kuldeep Singh forebodes that “We will sit here for the next three years. We will sit till the elections, till the laws are scrapped.”

Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

Digital Green Empowers Poor Farmers
World hunger is one of the biggest challenges to overcome in the journey to eradicate poverty. It is impossible for communities to advance into other sectors without access to food. Roughly 690 million people do not have adequate access to food today. However, if information can be readily available and accessible for rural farmers, they could help reduce this number. Digital Green is a company that began in 2006 and aims to reduce world hunger.

What is Digital Green?

Digital Green is an Indian-based company that aids smallholder farmers in implementing better farming practices. It uses a unique software that more conventional organizations do not utilize. However, company co-founder Rikin Gandhi did not always see himself in Digital Green. He graduated from college with knowledge in science and engineering in hopes of becoming an astronaut. Moreover, the way astronauts melded intelligence and courage inspired him.

Gandhi said that he ended up focusing on another group of people who meld intelligence and courage after experiencing rejection from astronaut programs. He focused on the smallholder farmer. Immediately, he knew he wanted to approach things differently. Thus, he teamed up with Microsoft to create Digital Green.

Community Videos

Gandhi believed that the best way for smallholder farmers to improve their practices was by learning tricks from other farmers in the area. However, there was a problem. Many smallholder farmers in India live far apart. As a result, he created a database called community videos. This database is a collection of videos from several farming communities to share their wealth and knowledge.

Community videos are different from YouTube because they specifically target smallholder farmers. Farmers can easily select their desired language and region, and ensure that they are watching content that someone they can identify with produced.

Digital Green has produced more than 6,000 videos relating to farming practices to date. Additionally, the company oversees every video’s production from start to finish, ensuring that the sequence makes sense and that communities find the information relevant. Certain crop yields have soared by as much as 74% after farmers began using community videos.

FarmStack

Digital Green also implemented FarmStack to empower farmers. FarmStack is a platform designed to connect government and non-governmental organizations to smallholder farmers. It allows both groups to upload and download relevant data such as soil conditions and food prices at local markets.

The platform allows for immediate communication and makes sure that farmers receive customized solutions for unusual predicaments. In addition, it ensures that farmers receive relevant data that will help them better manage productivity as well as finances. As a result of the program, farmers’ income has increased and crop failure has decreased.

What is Next for Digital Green?

Digital Green is currently working on projects primarily in India and Ethiopia. COVID-19 has posed new challenges for the organization, but it shows no signs of slowing down. Furthermore, Digital Green hopes to one day reach every smallholder farmer in need. Luckily, the organization has partnered with powerful organizations around the globe to accelerate the process. Some organizations currently partnered with Digital Green include Walmart, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UKAid and Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD).

Although smallholder farmers only support a small aspect of their community, Digital Green acknowledges that they hold the key to ending world hunger. If all of these small communities connected, knowledge would spread like a wildfire. Eventually, every smallholder farmer across the globe may see an uptick of even 5% in crop yield. This impact would be tremendous.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Bug Infestation in Georgia
The year 2021 marks the culmination of a five-year-long partnership between USAID and Ferrero to end a harmful bug infestation in Georgia that damaged over $60 million worth of hazelnuts and other crops. The culprit is the brown stink bug, which gets its name from the repugnant odors it emits. Additionally, Ferrero invested in helping improve the health of hazelnut farms. Local Georgian farmers, the government of Georgia, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID and Ferrero started the Georgia Hazelnut Improvement Project (G-HIP) to address crop devastation and create future sustainable prevention measures.

The Infestation’s Effects on Farmers

Many of the affected hazelnut farms are in Abkhazia, a contested border region between Georgia and Russia. The remote western region has a long history of hardship, and the bug infestation further decimated an already vulnerable economy. Stink bugs destroyed more than 80% of the region’s crops in 2018. One farmer National Geographic interviewed said “this is the third year I’ve had no crops. I have no money left to pay my workers.” Thus, many farmers tried homemade methods of pest control, such as concocting their own pesticides, building traps and even collecting the individual bugs by hand and burning them. People are worried that they will have to leave their homes if they cannot get the infestation under control.

The Georgia Hazelnut Improvement Project (G-HIP)

The hazelnut industry is the sole livelihood of close to 50,000 people throughout Georgia. G-HIP’s mission was to give growers and processors the resources necessary to end the bug infestation in Georgia. The project addressed weaknesses in quality control, outdated infrastructure, technology and marketing. Also, it led to better soil testing, incentives to increase the quality of hazelnuts and technology to improve the post-harvest drying and storage capacity. Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), the Georgian Hazelnut Growers Association (GHGA) and the Hazelnut Exporters and Processors Association (HEPA) all worked together to see the project through.

Success Stories From G-HIP

A new drying, husking and storage facility opened in 2019 and was a big success for the project. The facility is located in Koki, a village in the Samegrelo region of western Georgia. It is 800 square meters large, dries around 1,000 tons of hazelnuts a year and employs 17 people. The high yield this facility will produce has the potential to bring in as much as $1.8 million in revenue. Furthermore, it will support all of the 300 farmers and their families in the village.

G-HIP also acquired a lure and kill trap that is less toxic than other pesticides. The U.S.-based company Trécé produced the trap as an environmentally friendly option. Around 500 villages were able to use the trap to cover 60,000 hectares. Fortunately, USAID and everyone involved in the project celebrated their success with the first annual Hazelnut Festival in the fall of 2020. These successes in combating the bug infestation in Georgia have resulted in high hopes for the coming years. The organization expects to have a yield of 50,000 tons. This is 30% more than the previous season for the 2020-2021 growing season.

Next Steps

Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has worked with the Georgian National Food Agency and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture to implement international standards for pest management. This helps track important data on pests and also makes adhering to international trade standards possible. The Georgian government set up a task force called the National Phytosanitary Steering Committee to see to the success of implementing international pest management standards and develop better policies regarding plant health.

This is the final year of G-HIP, but it is not the end of USAID’s work in Georgia’s agricultural sector. In early February 2021, Georgia’s National Food Agency started a brand new initiative called the Plant Safety System Initiative. This initiative will further improve prior pest management work through country-wide measures and give Georgian farmers the opportunity to earn internationally recognized certificates. These certificates can make farmers more marketable internationally, which leads to more exports. Another bug infestation in Georgia will have to contend with the many new initiatives and policies that have come about from the collaboration between all these organizations.

– Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperativeCoffee production in Nicaragua is a steadily maturing industry. The coffee industry in Nicaragua accounts for more than $500 million a year in exports and is responsible for more than 200,000 jobs. Roughly 40,000 coffee farmers and their families rely on the coffee industry as their primary income and support. But, despite contributing the lion’s share, small-scale producers are often left behind with paltry benefits. The Society of Small Producers for Coffee Exports (SOPPEXCCA) engages this issue by supporting farming families in Nicaragua. The SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperative was founded in Nicaragua in 1997 with the intention of improving the lives of its members and communities in the Nicaraguan coffee industry.

Coffee in Nicaragua

The rise of specialty coffee is promising for Nicaragua. Nicaraguan beans are distinctly known for their mild and citrus-like taste and are consequently gaining traction in the global market. Roughly 60% of the nation’s coffee output comes from northern regions like Jinotega where SOPPEXCCA was founded.

Most coffee growers face economic challenges beyond living a humble farming life. The crops require a decent amount of maintenance and are prone to environmental risks. A leaf disease called “la roya” puts 30-40% of coffee plants at risk of destruction and hurricanes destroyed 10-15% of the coffee harvest in 2020. Additionally, many children often have to dedicate school time to the farms due to the sheer amount of work involved in producing coffee.

The SOPPEXCCA Coffee Cooperative

SOPPEXCCA empowers farming communities with long-term solutions that stimulate financial literacy, strategy and growth. By building educational institutions, promoting gender equality, utilizing sustainable solutions and communicating with farmers, the cooperative helps give farmers life skills to improve their economic standing. The cooperative works in accordance with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Farmers and communities who join SOPPEXCCA are also protected by a number of international securities. This includes Fair Trade certification and Food4Farmers benefits. These efforts are part of SOPPEXCCA’s anti-poverty agenda.

Muchachitos del Cafe

SOPPEXCCA’s youth movement, Children of Coffee, reaches out to younger generations through education. By providing classes, scholarships and building schools, SOPPEXCCA looks to fund programs that help kids who come from farming backgrounds.

Women’s Empowerment

The SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperative is led by Fatima Ismael and boasts a female membership rate of 40%. Ismael took over leadership in 1997 and pointed the cooperative toward a robust plan on a women-centric approach. Participating coffee businesses and entrepreneurs have supported initiatives for improving public health by investing in cervical cancer prevention programs.

The cooperative has also launched a number of movements to support women in the field of coffee agronomics. The coffee-growing industry is generally typified as masculine. But, cooperatives such as La Fondacion entre Mujeres and Las Diosas, within SOPPEXCCA, seek to empower women in roles typically reserved for males. SOPPEXCCA also supports female coffee producers by giving them the tools and knowledge needed to succeed in the industry, such as marketing and management skills.

Empowering Farmers

SOPPEXCCA also equips farmers with the entrepreneurial skills required to participate in the fast-paced global coffee market. In response to la roya, it partnered with a number of crop diversification outlets to help farmers grow safer and more resilient plants such as cacao. The cooperative has started a chocolate factory to help create jobs and support farmers. SOPPEXCCA also connects small-scale coffee producers with large corporations such as Starbucks, allowing them to apply for loans that can jumpstart their business careers.

The Rise of Craft Coffee

Caffeinated beverages are on the rise within the global market and Nicaraguan coffee will likely be one contender among many pioneering trends. Since its establishment, SOPPEXCCA has significantly grown. It started with fewer than 70 men and women coffee producers and since expanded to 650 men and women producers, organized in 15 cooperatives in SOPPEXCCA. By supporting Nicaraguan coffee farmers, SOPPEXCCA supports poverty reduction in the country.

Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

malawian farmersAs a small, landlocked country in East Africa, Malawi relies mainly on agriculture for its economic stability and subsistence. In 2011, agriculture formed 31% of Malawi’s GDP and employed more than 80% of the workforce. Despite the bountiful resources that agriculture offers the people of Malawi, food insecurity is still a very present reality for a significant portion of the population. Farmers in rural villages struggle to attain the income needed to survive. To compound this issue, Malawian farmers heavily divide agricultural and domestic labor along gender lines, placing the brunt of domestic and farming burdens upon the shoulders of women. However, thanks to the efforts of researchers and global activists, educational programs have proven effective in getting Malawian men involved in the process of feeding the family, leading to increased gender equality within the household.

Poverty and Agriculture

Although Malawi has been on a steady upward trend toward increased childhood education and greater access to healthcare, half of the overall population suffers from poverty due to negative factors such as droughts, floods and lack of sustainable farming methods. A majority of Malawian farmers can produce only enough food to survive and cannot grow the extra crops needed for future food supplies or trading opportunities. Thus, rural communities often live from harvest to harvest without a stable supply of fresh food and produce.

The Role of Women in Malawian Agriculture

Within the small rural communities of Malawi, societal norms divide the household responsibilities along gender lines, with the men of the household taking charge in plowing the fields, tending to crops and performing other farming duties. In addition to taking on agricultural tasks, women within the community complete household chores and watch over the children. Although the amount of female participation in Malawian farming practices is commendable compared to other small countries with similar economic conditions and demographics, the farming system is strenuous on women, who must perform double duties to ensure that the household runs smoothly.

With the economic fragility of Malawi, patriarchal structures have proven detrimental to the well-being and security of the community. It is difficult for Malawian female farmworkers to reach their full production potential and devote their full energy to sustainable farming practices and education. Families cannot produce enough food to sustain themselves and others in the village due to unequal task divisions.

Supporting Women in Malawi

A team of researchers recently undertook an experimental project to subvert the rigor of gender roles in Malawi and take some of the economic pressure off of Malawian women, often affected the most by poverty. One practice that researchers implemented to dismantle gender roles is to change the public perception of cooking and food practices in Malawi. Due to the reliance on starchy grains and roots that must be cooked in the Malawian diet, processing and cooking foods take up most Malawian women’s time. Seeing this phenomenon, researchers developed cooking tutorials to educate men on how to cook and also converted cooking into a fun activity by proposing it as a kind of competition in which different villages could contest who had the best male chefs.

Dismantling Gender Norms

As Raj Patel recounts in his lecture on transparency in the food system, although the social experiment that researchers conducted in Malawi initially seemed like a trivial novelty, its impact carried through into the daily lives of Malawian farmers. This small change in daily habits encouraged the men to shoulder more domestic tasks and act beyond the scope of traditional gender norms. In the short four-year period that researchers observed, Malawian malnutrition decreased and the women surveyed reported feeling more fulfilled and supported in their homes. Although there is still far to go in destabilizing the patriarchal structures present in Malawian society, small steps in the food system are the key to achieving bigger milestones such as reducing poverty and promoting gender equality.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Improvements in the Vanilla and Cocoa IndustriesFor generations, the vanilla and cocoa farmers of the world — mostly concentrated in Africa — have been plagued by poverty. But recent trends in each of their respective sectors are starting to change that.

The Vanilla Sector

In the case of vanilla, prices have risen for the past five years to more than 10 times their value for the last several decades. This high market price averages $400-$600 per kilo, where past prices began at $50 per kilo.

Madagascar, responsible for more than 80% of vanilla in the world today, has undergone varying levels of changes as a result. Theft and related protection measures are more prominent as vanilla grows more valuable, but economic changes are also visible. Reporting from NPR suggests that growth in certain towns, like those in the province of Sava, has begun to noticeably outpace areas outside of the heart of the vanilla country. Many formerly-impoverished farmers who could only afford self-grown food can now purchase more than just subsistence diets. Currently, many such farmers are even investing in new homes.

The value of the commodity, as well as the risk of holding it, is partly why vanilla farms are now attracting major investment from external and foreign buyers. These are often big chocolate companies that seek vanilla as a key ingredient. Such buyers are working with nonprofits in the region, such as the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming. These partnerships serve to build new schools, optimize health care and encourage local cooperatives in order to ensure delicious and sustainable vanilla comes from areas with steady livelihoods. The need for quality investment is not limited to the vanilla sector, however. Vanilla and cocoa both share the limelight in this regard.

The Cocoa Sector

While the cocoa market hasn’t seen the same rise in profitability, measures are well-underway to combat poverty in that sector too. Living Income Differentials (LIDs) are among the more popular initiatives spearheaded by large cocoa buyers, including Ben and Jerry’s. LIDs are payments made in addition to the base price of cocoa in order to accommodate the farmers’ living expenses. The LIDs being paid by Ben and Jerry’s is worth about $600,000.

The Hershey chocolate company has also become one of the largest chocolate sellers to begin supporting LID policies. Despite ongoing criticism for Hershey’s shady dealings on the cocoa market that allegedly promote shortchanged (and possibly child labor), which runs contrary to its verbal support of LIDs.

Regardless, LIDs are only the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s also being suggested by many advocacy groups. These include the World Cocoa Foundation, the Campaign for Fair Chocolate, the Barry Callebaut Group and The Counter, among many others. Although some of these groups have seen setbacks due to the pandemic, some, such as The World Cocoa Foundation, have continued their efforts to connect cocoa farmers with big chocolate manufacturers to strengthen partnerships and common sustainability goals. These priorities have also been reflected in the European Union’s agenda, as proposed legislation considers sustainability and human rights concerns.

Barry Callebault, responsible for one in four chocolate and cocoa products worldwide, still maintains its ambitious goal to lift 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025. Investing and goals like that of the “Forever Chocolate” initiative also aim to combat child labor and climate change.

The Big Picture

While markets for vanilla and cocoa have been volatile, the recent upswing has brought with it renewed interest in returning the abundant profits to those who need it most. The impoverished workers who muster the strength to cultivate the crops and prep them for the market despite living below the poverty line deserve more. The initiative has strength in its broad support, but only time will tell whether the resulting actions will be successful and sustainable.

— Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

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

4 Ways Digital Farming Increases Productivity

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

The Future of Digital Farming

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

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Plenitud teaches sustainable farming in Puerto Rico
The small Puerto Rican town of Las Marias lies deep in the island’s interior mountains. At least 43% of its population lives below the poverty levels and another 21.8% are aged over 65 years. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the situation. On the island, 40% of families reported food insecurities, up from roughly 33% prior to the pandemic. Luckily, one organization is busy addressing this. Here is how Plenitud teaches sustainable farming to impoverished Puerto Rican families.

What is Plenitud?

A group of graduates from the University of Florida created Plenitud in 2008 in order to research, learn and educate about sustainable farming techniques. With a strong conviction and purpose, these friends quickly began cultivating permaculture and teaching initiatives in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. Within a few years, Plenitud grew and swiftly established relationships with several major universities across the island. These universities host groups of students for academic and service trips in impoverished areas. In 2011, Plenitud settled on a 15-acre Las Marias farm equipped with a greenhouse, food forests, eco-buildings, campsites, rainwater collection and a Teaching Center. Here, Plenitud teaches sustainable farming and operates as a hub of sustainability.

Building Community Resilience

Plenitud has a strong belief that communities deserve access to safe shelter, clean water, food and health. Because of this, the organization supports community resiliency among the most vulnerable populations. To do this, Plenitud installs rainwater harvesting systems and regularly tests and monitors the water quality. Additionally, Plenitud establishes food security among communities by training a new generation of farmers, installing community gardens and growing fresh and healthy food. These efforts improve food security by ensuring local food sovereignty.

Further work has gone into building “SuperAbobe” shelters. These are a form of earthbag construction that can provide quick and secure housing for vulnerable individuals. These SuperAbode homes, like other bio-construction buildings, aim to minimize the impact on the environment by sourcing local, raw materials. Additionally, SuperAdobe shelters offer a form of alternative housing that easily withstand the earthquakes and hurricanes that frequently devastate the area.

Inspiring the Future Generations

Plenitud believes that teaching the value of cultivating food from an early age is crucial to resolve many of the problems faced by Puerto Rican children and their families. Plenitud teaches sustainable farming not only to promote economic stability in impoverished Puerto Rican regions but also to inspire the youth into choosing organic farming as a profession. To do so, Plenitud developed partnerships with four public schools in addition to universities. Its Partner Schools Program offers over 1,000 students experiential education in food preparation and sustainable farming. In this way, Plenitud is preparing the future generation of sustainable farmers.

With these applied techniques, Plenitud is successfully positioning itself at the forefront of the sustainability movement in Puerto Rico. This movement’s core is about giving impoverished and malnourished communities the right tools to become resilient and self-sustainable. Through community resilience projects and sustainable farming practices, these communities will have the tools to lift themselves out of poverty, contributing to the economic development of the entire region.

– Jesus Quinones
Photo: Flickr