Food insecurity crisis in SomaliaSomalia’s climate consists of sporadic periods of intense rainfall between long periods of drought. So far in 2021, a devastating mix of severe droughts, intense floods and locust infestations in Somalia have devastated crop production and livestock herds, leading to a hunger crisis. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the previously high rates of poverty in the country and have contributed to the food insecurity crisis in Somalia. USAID is aiming to combat the hunger crisis in Somalia by providing food assistance while also targeting assistance efforts to limit malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Causes of the Food Insecurity Crisis in Somalia

Typically, heavy rains strike Somalia between April and June and again between October and December. During the two rainy seasons, extreme rainfall and flooding regularly displace Somalis across the country. However, in 2021, the rainy season ended in May instead of June. This early end caused intense droughts in Somalia.

Rainfall in some areas of Somalia has amounted to only half of the year-to-date average. As a result, deficit farmers in the south and northwest of Somalia have not been able to access water supplies adequate to plant Somalia’s staple crops. Moreover, pastoral households’ inadequate access to water has decreased the size and productivity of livestock herds. The subsequent meat, milk and crop shortage might surge food prices in Somalia.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network projected that the Somali yield of cereal crops in 2021 will be up to 40% less than the yearly average. The drought has already decreased the food and water intake for farmers and pastoralists across Somalia, and low crop and livestock yields in the late summer harvest will lead to lower incomes for farmers and pastoralists. This will limit the purchasing power of Somalis employed in the agriculture sector. Altogether, the drought and subsequent low-yield harvests could extend the risk of a food insecurity crisis in Somalia past the summer.

The State of the Somali Food Insecurity Crisis

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale is a system that governments, non-governmental organizations and the U.N. uses to analyze the severity of food insecurity situations. The IPC scale ranges from minimal (IPC Phase 1) to famine (IPC Phase 5). By the middle of 2021, the IPC expects 2.7 million Somalis to encounter at least the crisis level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3). Specifically, the analysis expects 2.25 million Somalis to be at the crisis level of food insecurity while another 400,100 will be at the emergency level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4).

COVID-19 in Somalia

While the COVAX initiative and the Somali Federal Government have started the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Somalia, the virus continues to devastate the fragile economy. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate (percent of the population below $1.90/day, 2011 PPP) in Somalia was at 69%. The poverty rate among Somalis in rural areas was at 72%.

Further, the worldwide COVID-19 induced lockdowns have limited employment opportunities for Somalis working in foreign countries. Consequently, Somalis working internationally are not able to send much money back to their families in Somalia, which heavily supports consumption in the country. Moreover, Somali businesses have reduced their full-time staff by an average of 31% since the pandemic first struck Somalia.

Lastly, a global reduction in demand for Somali livestock has decreased Somali livestock exports by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic, which further weakens the income of already impoverished Somali pastoralists. Thus, the global economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 threatens to intensify the food insecurity crisis in Somalia.

US Aid to Somalia

On June 24, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a pledge of $20 million in assistance to Somalia. USAID’s aid pledge to Somalia was part of a larger USAID plan to provide a total of $97 million to African countries to combat the health and socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic. The U.S. aid plan will focus on tackling the food insecurity crisis in Somalia and will supply the country with staple crops like sorghum and yellow split peas. The funding also aims to limit the malnutrition of children and pregnant women.

The aid package builds on a U.S. commitment of $14.7 million in June 2021 to provide drinking water, fight malnutrition and support victims of gender-based violence.

While Somalia’s struggle with poverty and malnutrition is a longstanding and complicated issue, assistance from the U.S. and the rest of the global community could prevent a famine in the short term and boost the country’s economic development in the long term.

– Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam rice farming appFarming is becoming more valuable to Vietnam’s development as a nation. Vietnam has a rapidly growing economy and is highly reliant on its agricultural sector. The value of Vietnam’s agriculture, fishing and forestry markets accounted for almost 15% of the country’s GDP in 2020. However, there are a few roadblocks standing in the way of Vietnamese agricultural success. A Vietnam rice farming app is helping farmers to overcome these obstacles.

Rice and Salt Water

Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest rice producers. These rice farmers depend on certain environmental conditions to take place in order to produce their influential yield. If natural variables are out of alignment, an entire season’s crop can go to waste. Without a successful crop, the livelihood of farmers is put at risk and they can easily slip into poverty. Thankfully, a Vietnam rice farming app was designed to keep rice farmers aware of precisely how their paddies are doing.

The smartphone app is helpful for farmers all across Vietnam, including in the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a vast expanse in the southern part of Vietnam where the majority of the country’s farming and fishing occurs. The pronounced wet and dry seasons affect the delta greatly since it’s a very low-lying area. During the wet season, there is plenty of fresh rainwater that fills the rivers. In the dry season, rivers are not filled with rainwater, so seawater laden with salt flows into them. A high saltwater content in rice fields can make the roots of the rice inefficient at absorbing water and can kill the plant. Regulating the salt content is a crucial aspect of being a rice paddy farmer. The Vietnam rice farming app aims to help local farmers monitor salt levels among its various other features to protect farms.

Impact of the App

Technology is offering a simple solution to the problem. The Vietnamese government, in conjunction with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), launched a mobile app that provides farmers with information about the state of water in their rice paddies. This Vietnam rice farming app reports data collected by various sensors placed on farms across the Mekong Delta to each app user.

This Vietnam rice farming app gets information to the farmers quickly, which helps the farmers to make the necessary changes before it’s too late. Farmers can easily check the app for updates on the water quality in their rice paddies, such as the water’s salinity, pH, alkalinity and tidal water levels. This information helps farmers to prevent their crops from going to waste. For example, when the app reports salinity being too high, farmers know they must pump fresh water into the fields.

Before this mobile app, farmers were only getting one out of the usual three harvests annually. During a salinity wave, 300,000 hectares of rice fields were lost. But due to the implementation of the sensors and tracking abilities, the next salinity wave brought only 21,000 hectares of damage. This Vietnam rice farming app is protecting farmers from the costly reality of a ruined crop.

Of Poverty and Rice

The Vietnam rice farming app has a broad impact. About half of Vietnam’s 47 million labor force workers engage in agriculture and a poor harvest could prove detrimental to many Vietnamese people. Many in Vietnam don’t have savings and live a subsistence lifestyle, which can make any financial blow very serious. This is particularly true for the nearly 70% of the country lives in rural areas where poverty is especially concerning. The rate of rural poverty is around three times the urban poverty rate. By reducing the variables and uncertainty in the farming process with an app, Vietnamese farmers can feel empowered and less threatened about falling into extreme poverty. Utilizing this technology in agricultural practices can help save the rice paddies and protect against poverty in Vietnam.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Farming in South Africa
The AgriTourZA Limpopo is an initiative that will showcase 20 innovative South African youth creating apps for sustainable farming in South Africa. The South Africa Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), mLab South Africa and the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) will select four of the 20 finalists. These finalists will create a sustainable ecosystem for farming and travel in Limpopo, South Africa.

Closing the Digital Gap in Africa’s Farming Community

Africa is continuing to evolve digitally as more advancements in mobile technology improve communities in the economic and work sector. However, developing countries are still behind in gaining the resources necessary to use technology like mobile phones, which can help with communication and benefit the farming industry. In the past few decades, farmers in Africa experienced successful advancements like access to affordable mobile phones. These mobile phones provide apps that improve access to vital services like mobile banking. Mobile phones also make it easier for farmers to receive weather alerts and marketing opportunities.

Despite these technological advancements for farmers, there is still a need for digital integration within rural farming communities in Africa. Three South African organizations are working together to shine a light on the local tech developers creating effective solutions that benefit the farming communities in Africa.

Supportive Organizations Guiding Future Tech Innovators

The Southern Africa Mobile Applications Laboratory (mLab) is a nonprofit organization with an aim to support innovative startups in the technology field. It currently holds an open innovation lab with programs assisting youth in skill development and co-creation sessons with industry partners. mLab’s 2014 report showed that its startups created jobs for participants. Furthermore, mLab has aided sustainable farming in South Africa as farmers connected to its local markets earned an additional $155 per month, adding up to $2.7 million a year. mLab is actively looking for startups aimed at making a social impact. One of these is AgriTourZA, an organization involving youth.

The South Africa Science and Innovation Department (DSI) provides leadership and resources for science, technology and innovation within South Africa to further strengthen the country’s development. Its latest achievements include opening an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) building in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune Technical College. The ICT building is a multimedia center with a design to assist the school’s visually impaired students.

Along with mLab and DSI, the Council for Scientific Research in South Africa (CSIR) also works towards accelerating technological advancements in South Africa. Beginning in 1945, through an Act of Parliament, the organization is continuing to accomplish scientific development. This has occurred through research, innovation, socio-economic transformation and building human capital and infrastructure for South Africa. With the help of the CSIR and DSI, mLab will help bring AgriTourZA finalists to the Startup Accelerator Program where participants will get the chance to see their startups become real-world solutions that serve their communities.

AgriTourZA

The AgriTourZA Limpopo Innovation Platform will bring young technologists to the forefront with their tech-centered creations aimed to improve conditions for farmers across Africa. Four of the 20 participants will become finalists in the Accelerator Program with the opportunity to start on their projects and contribute to real-world solutions for their communities. They will also gain technical, business and soft skills to successfully bring their ideas to the market. Additionally, the chosen contestants will receive mentoring from mLab to develop and achieve success in their solutions. The 20 participating startups include Nosetsa, Riverside Tech Solutions, Easy Farming, CODECS, Software Fanatics and several others.

mLab’s provincial coordinator Palesa Anthony says South Africa’s local youth have the drive and insight to solve the region’s unique challenges in today’s agriculture. These startups will contribute to lessening the digital gap between Africa’s farming community and the rapidly evolving technology happening.

These digital solutions can bring innovation and ease to farmers who lack resources to connect with other farmers and provide farming solutions in South Africa so they can enter more lucrative and profitable positions. On the other hand, Africa’s youth will have an opportunity to gain lifelong skills within the technology and business sector by building their skills in the program.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Drought in Taiwan
For the first time in nearly 60 years, not a single typhoon hit the island of Taiwan in 2020. With no typhoons and little rain otherwise, the current drought in Taiwan is the worst the country has endured in decades.

Although droughts occur every few years, the current drought in Taiwan has brought water levels in the country to alarmingly low levels. Reservoirs in the country are very dry, with some reaching less than 10% total capacity. So far, the drought has lasted for more than 18 months. With 2021’s rainy season already nearly over, the end for Taiwanese citizens and farmlands is nowhere in sight.

Affecting the Farmers

Doughts have hit Taiwanese farmers particularly hard. The Taiwanese government has stopped irrigating more than 74,000 hectares of farmland. This was to conserve water and protect the island’s booming microchip manufacturing infrastructure. Manufacturing giant Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) reportedly uses up to 156 million liters of water daily while recycling an estimated 86% of consumed water. Farmers have transitioned from traditional crops including rice to low-water crops that include watermelons and sunflowers.

Poverty rates in Taiwan are low in comparison with poverty rates globally — with roughly 1% of the population “poor or belonging to the low-income bracket.” However, the drought in Taiwan will hit the rural poor the hardest. Poor farmers will suffer as landowners accept government subsidies in exchange for leaving farmland fallow. The farmers are unable to speak their minds for fear of angering the landowners.

Manufacturing giants including TSMC can use a portion of the profits to transport truckloads of water from rainier regions in Taiwan. However, farmers have had to resign to sipping tea and bicycling around town as the lands crack under the beating sun. As one Taiwanese farmer, Hsieh Tsai-shan, told the New York Times, “being a farmer is truly the worst.” 

The Struggle to Balance

The historic drought in Taiwan has highlighted shortcomings in the country’s handling of water across the nation. While some chide Taiwanese households for consuming too much water due to low water prices, others clarify that rainfall in Taiwan has been decreasing steadily over the past few decades.

The government has been working hard to address the drought efficiently. Taiwan depends heavily on microchip manufacturers, including TSMC, as a country. The TSMC accounts for “more than [90%] of the world’s manufacturing capacity for the most advanced chips.” Because of this, the Taiwanese government has authorized the companies to continue working within normal capacity. However, the companies recycle water at high percentages. Recycling does not fully make up the 63 million gallons of water TSMC consumed in 2019 across all of its manufacturing facilities. 

Restoring the Water

The allowances for manufacturing companies come at a cost. The recent drought in Taiwan has decimated its farming industry. It is not unusual for the government to shut off irrigation on a large scale in order to save water. However, it has only been six years since the last shut-off and farmers are struggling as a result.

The government is not only helping manufacturers including TSMC. It is also helping farmers by:

  • Offering farmers subsidies in exchange for not irrigating their fields
  • Looking into imposing extra fees on Taiwan’s 1,800 water-intensive factories
  • Drilling extra wells to create more water sources
  • Researching to fix leaky pipes, which can result in the loss of up to 14% of water in transport
  • Dumping cloud-seeding chemicals in hopes of triggering downpours

Only time will tell how long this crushing drought in Taiwan will last. Through the Taiwan government’s work, it may be able to overcome its shockingly low poverty rate of 1%, or at the very least, prevent poverty from rising. 

Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

AgUnity fights PovertyAgUnity is a global technology platform working to provide rural farmers with cellphones equipped with technologies that aim to make agricultural work more efficient. Since its founding in 2016, AgUnity’s digital solution fights poverty by using cellphones to allow farmers the tools and resources to thrive in global supply chains. AgUnity’s technology provides resources to the “last mile,” or to those living in poverty in rural communities worldwide. Through “technology that builds bridges,” AgUnity fights poverty by allowing for both digital and financial inclusion in the agricultural sectors of developing countries.

How AgUnity Works

AgUnity operates through a “Super-App” that aims to reach remote communities and users, create strong lines of trade and solve issues involving transparency and transportation. The award-winning platform provides simple, connective and secure remote support at a low cost, with its operations securely recorded on a “dedicated blockchain ledger.” The company relies on extensive partnerships, a strong global network and “a framework of trust.”

One significant feature of AgUnity’s technology is the built-in digital identity (KYC) feature. This digital user ID records business transactions, and thus, empowers farmers to build a credit history. Having a credit history is essential for obtaining access to financial services such as banking, loans and insurance.

Another key feature is living income data, which tracks the impact of projects by monitoring the changes in income of farmers and their surrounding communities. This feature also helps farmers create a consolidated income record that can help them access credit and financial services.

Finally, the transaction record feature fosters cooperation between farmers and other stakeholders, reducing the likelihood of corruption in business activities. Despite the features’ centrality to the Super-App, AgUnity prides itself on constantly improving and expanding upon the app. AgUnity stresses the importance of not assuming all solutions will be universally successful. Instead, it regularly adjusts its technology to meet the unique needs of different places, communities and time periods.

AgUnity’s Progress

Today, AgUnity’s technology is utilized in nine countries with 328 total contracted cooperatives since its founding in 2016. The company’s work is recognized by major organizations such as the International Finance Corporation, the Mastercard Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.  In addition, in September 2020, AgUnity beat hundreds of competitors in a competition held by Startup Avalanche, winning €200,000 worth of investment funding.

AgUnity’s COVID-19 Response

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts those living in poverty, AgUnity prioritizes using its technology to help those who have experienced heightened financial hardships as a result of the virus. Specifically, in May 2020, the company started planning for a new initiative called AgUnity Response. The initiative will use the original AgUnity platform “to keep farmers in the food supply chain that have suffered from effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The platform will allow farmers to directly transact with consumers to help address the supply chain disruption caused by lockdowns and social distancing. In this way, AgUnity fights poverty. With the AgUnity Response App, products move from the farmer straight to a delivery driver, and then, to the buyer. This limits unnecessary handling in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Furthermore, “the AgUnity Response App is specifically tailored for farmers in rural and remote areas and for farmers with low-literacy, low-technology usage.” At the time of the initial announcement, the company was in the process of raising funds for the new venture.

Overall, AgUnity’s success in fostering economic empowerment is a strong example of the power of creativity and technological innovations in contributing to the global fight against poverty. As the company grows, its positive impact on people’s lives is sure to grow as well.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Unsplash

Farming Crisis in India
Being an agricultural country from the beginning, India ranks second worldwide in farming outputs. With agriculture employing more than 50% of India’s workforce, it also is the largest source of livelihood in India with more than 70% of its rural households depending primarily on farming. Despite the incredible importance of farmers to the Indian economy and way of life, farmers in India have a history of debts, extreme poverty and low quality of life. In addition to these existing problems, the global pandemic has greatly intensified the pressure on farmers and has made it considerably more difficult for many to sustain themselves, resulting in a farming crisis in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 296,438 people in the farming sector in India have committed suicide from 1995 to 2019. Predictions have determined that this number will increase.

Farmer Debts and Loans

According to an NSSO report from 2016, the average Indian farmer earns about Rs 77,112 annually, which is about $1,045. As the Economic Times in India stated, only about 50% or less of the household income of a farming family comes from farming, while the rest comes from other sources. To supplement for low income, many farmers take up more than one job, sometimes working as a bus driver or security guard for example. With the pandemic and nationwide lockdown, many farmers have lost their second source of income, further aggravating their already strained financial situation.

The rising costs of farming and the low pay for farm produce have pushed many farmers into a cycle of vicious debts. The New York Times published an article describing the life of Leela Singh, a farmer in Akanwali village. Mr. Singh attempted to secure a loan of a few thousand rupees which is about $100, due to fears that his farm would be seized. Unable to sustain himself and his attempt to secure a loan failing, he hung himself in June 2020. Gurpreet Singh, his 24-year-old son, had to stop his schooling in order to save money on tuition fees so that he could help his family.  Gurpreet Singh described the pandemic and the enormous stress that his family must endure when he said: “We are now having to beg for money from someone or the other.”

The Reason Farmers are in Debt

According to the Economic Times in India, 85% of India’s farmers operate on less than five acres of land. With 82% of farmers being small and marginal and contributing 51% of agricultural input, small farmers are the backbone of the agricultural industry. Despite this, farming remains an unstable and difficult profession. In order for many small farmers to escape the clutches of poverty, they must find additional sources of income.

Risks in production further aggravate the low quality of life for small farmers. The increased cost of cultivation, inadequate irrigation, drought, flood and crop failure all contribute to the lack of viability in the farming profession and debt of farmers. Additionally, difficulty in selling within the market can make or break the income of a farmer. Agricultural costs and unstable incomes have caused many farmers to take on even more debt. Furthermore, money-lending due to necessity and often the inability to pay back loans, have pushed farmers further into poverty and debt. The nationwide lockdown has only exacerbated these existing problems, which has resulted in difficulty in taking produce to the markets and selling it.

Solutions to the Farming Crisis in India

Despite the potential for productivity in the agricultural sector, low productivity in agriculture contributes to the difficulty and poverty among farmers in India. Unutilized scientific knowledge and the mechanization of small farms are major solutions to the issue of low productivity. According to the World Bank, a key solution for increasing agricultural productivity and improving the incomes of farmers is the adoption of innovative technologies and practices by farmers. These actions will facilitate farmers in improving their yields, managing inputs more efficiently, having a better quality of products, adapting to climate issues and conserving resources.

The Open Knowledge Repository states that efforts to improve agricultural productivity include the gradual reforms in the agricultural sector that have spurred innovation and changes in the food sector due to private investment. These efforts have been successful and continue to succeed in light of the ongoing policy and investment imperatives. Due to these efforts, agricultural growth has improved in recent years, but with a long-term rate of 3% improvement, agricultural improvement has been meager in comparison to its potential.

Organizations that are Making a Difference

 The World Bank offers major support to the agriculture and rural development of India. Focusing on agriculture, resources, irrigation and rural livelihood development, the World Bank’s program in India has committed about $5.5 billion in net commitments. This money is going towards new technology, innovation systems, farmer livelihood support and poverty reduction efforts.

Many NGOs have emerged in recent years in order to improve the livelihood of farmers and to make farming a viable profession. One organization, Haritika, works on projects that target water harvesting and management, crop optimizations, afforestation and the conservation of resources. Additionally, it focuses on improving child education, promoting women’s empowerment, reducing illiteracy, responding to a lack of health care and assisting farmers struggling with extreme poverty. It provides farmers with seeds, saplings, pesticides and other supplies in order to alleviate the financial strain of farmers and ensure that they are able to support their families. Founded in 1994, Haritika has constructed water harvesting structures, built trenches around hills to treat non-arable areas and improved and diversified agriculture in order to create additional employment in the farm sectors. To support those in poverty, it has aided in the formation and strengthening of village water supply and sanitation.

The farming crisis in India has resulted in challenges for many families in the country. However, the efforts of organizations like Haritika and the World Bank should reduce some of the challenges farmers in India are facing.

– Arya Baladevigan
Photo: Flickr

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