food security in ChinaFor about 65% of the Chinese population, rice is the most essential part of a good diet. In fact, rice is a key part of food security in China. For thousands of years, families in China have farmed rice in large fields called paddies.  Surprisingly, the methods for growing and harvesting have remained the same for thousands of years with farmers still using hand cultivation and livestock-drawn plows. In recent years, soil salinity and overuse of fertilizers have presented challenges to rice production, and thus, food security in China. Fortunately, a Chinese scientist has discovered a way to revolutionize food security through a type of grain called “sea rice.”

How Does Rice Grow?

Fresh, clean water is absolutely essential to rice cultivation and farmers construct rice paddies with that in mind. The rice paddies are made with a relatively watertight subsoil on the bottom and at the borders. This allows for the paddy to hold around five inches of water for most of the growing season. Because the rice-growing field must stay flooded for months on end, if it is not naturally filled with rain or floodwater, it must be irrigated. Rice is also very sensitive to soil salinity (salt content) and pH (acid/base content), and as such, rice cannot grow in what agronomists refer to as saline-alkali soil — earth that is too salty and chemically basic.

Why is Rice Farming in Trouble?

Unfortunately, China has a large amount of this saline-alkali land that cannot be used for agriculture, spanning about 100 million hectares. That is a little more than 386,102 square miles; roughly the size of Egypt.

There is currently a lack of food security in China. According to the World Food Programme, around 150.8 million people endure malnourishment in China. Further, more than 186 million people face the impacts of floods and other crop-destroying national disasters.

Additionally, Chinese farmers have dramatically. increased the amount of fertilizer use in recent decades. As of 2014, the average application rate was 434.3 kg/hectare, which is almost twice the internationally recognized safe upper limit. This plays into a vicious cycle; such excessive long-term use of fertilizer turns previously fertile land saline-alkali, providing an incentive to use even more fertilizer to meet previous productivity levels.

Discovery of Sea Rice

Since the 1950s, there has been a consensus among scientists that these problems could be fixed if farmers could grow rice in saline-alkali soil. In 1986, a Chinese scientist named Chen Risheng finally had a breakthrough. While studying mangrove trees at a beach, he stumbled across a single green stalk sticking out of the ground.

Against all odds, there was a wild rice plant actually growing in saline-alkali soil. Chen collected around 500 grains and began a painstakingly precise breeding process. By 1991, that breeding resulted in about 3.8 kg of precious salt-tolerant grains. Chen named his cultivar “sea-rice 86” and continued selecting, planting and harvesting the seeds for years.

The result? A variety of rice with remarkably valuable characteristics. Chen’s research confirmed that sea-rice 86 (also called SR86) can be planted in heavily saline-alkali soil for six years. Not only does the rice survive but it also improves the soil quality in half that time. This variety of rice can withstand up to three times the amount of salt than other strains.

SR86 is also more resistant to flooding and waterlogging, and in strong conditions, the stem does not break as easily. Thus, the strain is less delicate and more resistant to natural disasters in comparison to regular rice varieties. This rice does not require fertilizer, it is naturally resistant to pests and disease. Furthermore, it is significantly more nutritious than other major rice strains.

Recent Progress with Sea Rice

Since the discovery of SR86, scientists have been working to identify the exact genes that make it so desirable. These efforts have been largely successful, and now, the scientific community has a starting point for future projects involving genetic rice modification as they now know the precise genes that give SR86 its astounding properties. In this way, sea-rice 86 has the potential to strengthen food security in China.

Currently, SR86 and other salt-resistant rice strains have yet to be introduced into the mainstream farming community and market, although rapid progress is in motion. In the autumn of 2021, the Chinese district of Jinghai (a location filled with saline-alkali soil) was able to harvest more than 100 hectares of salt-resistant rice.

The research team that led the harvest has since received 400,000 hectares for the purpose of continuing farming and observation. Additionally, the team is confident that it will be able to cultivate salt-resistant rice across 6.7 million hectares by October 2031.

Risheng, the original pioneer of SR86, has also expressed a desire to turn the area where he found the original rice plant into a preserve where SR86 can be grown all over the beach as a permanent commemoration of the advent of sea rice.

500 Grains Toward Food Security

It is strange to think that a single stalk of rice could provide such a natural solution to enhance food security in China. Because of one plant, the Egypt-sized portion of Chinese land now has agricultural potential. In the future, people will have access to a grain that does not waste freshwater, improves the quality of the soil it grows in, stands strong against the elements, needs no fertilizer and is very nutritious. SR86 provides agronomists today with the tools necessary to solve tomorrow’s problems regarding food security in China.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Food Systems in Ecuador
In 2020, 930,000 tons of food went to waste in Ecuador, according to The Global FoodBanking Network. Much of this waste is due to the inefficiency of food systems in Ecuador. However, there are programs making efforts to decrease this waste and much of these efforts have proven to be very successful. Much of the produce in Ecuador comes from small-scale farms that families run.

According to the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, families or smallholder farms occupy 75% of the world’s agricultural land and many of these individuals live in poverty. Without an abundance of employees and a lack of training on commercialization for these small producers, it is difficult for farmers to make a profit suitable for the size of their families. The Joint Programme took notice of this issue and is working to increase access to nutritious foods in the province of Imbabura.

The Joint Programme

The Joint Programme began in September 2020 and helped increase the production of vital foods such as quinoa and lupine. It educated farmers on sustainability and good production practices to get the most benefit from their crops. The initiative also supports the National Plan For Good Living 2013-2017, as reported by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. The Joint Programme strives to reduce poverty and undernutrition in the cities of Ecuador.

According to the Sustainable Development Goals Fund, this effort helped 716 families to grow agro-diverse plots and increased their access to markets and fairs to sell their produce. The efforts also helped 118 producers of chocho, a high-protein legume, and gave assistance to 112 quinoa farmers to diversify their crops. Out of the 483 families in the program, 60.1% diversified their diets to include more fruits, vegetables and legumes.

The Future of Food Program

After the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, more concerns arose about the ability of food systems in Ecuador to adequately provide for citizens. Only supermarkets were able to sell produce, whereas, before the pandemic hit, producers could sell their food at fairs and marketplaces. This was a necessary option for many farmers due to the small number of collection centers in Ecuador, making it difficult to sell products to supermarkets. It was also more difficult for people to access produce at markets due to stay-at-home orders.

The Future of Food program started in 2019, according to the Diplomatic Courier. The program members deliver baskets of produce from small-scale farmers directly to families in need after the baskets pass a sanitation check. This ensures no produce from farmers goes to waste and provides a source of food to families so that they can stay home during the pandemic. The program has reached more than 9,300 families in Ecuador and has inspired the first farmer-owned online marketplace.

Programs that address the shortcomings of food systems in Ecuador are helping the nation inch closer to food security and sustainability. Implementing these programs in more cities may be helpful to small-scale producers in making a liveable wage and will increase families’ access to healthy foods.

– Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty and Hunger
In September 2021, the White House introduced two of USAID’s new programs to reduce poverty and hunger. USAID, the U.S.’s international development agency, provides aid to countries to support various sectors such as agriculture, trade and human rights. The latest programs of USAID include the Gender Responsive Agricultural Systems Policy (GRASP) and its latest collaboration with the Eleanor Crook Foundation’s Global Nutrition Financing Alliance. GRASP will provide African female policymakers with a three-and-a-half-year virtual leadership development fellowship to empower women in food systems. USAID’s collaboration with the Eleanor Crook Foundation will mobilize $100 million over five years to reduce COVID-19’s impact on food insecurity and reduce malnutrition worldwide.

GRASP: African Women in Agriculture

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women account for 43% of the world’s agricultural workforce. Although women make up nearly half of all global agricultural workers, they may not receive equitable opportunities in developing countries. In some regions of Africa, women make up 60% of domestic farm labor. Despite their participation, African women hold limited leadership roles in food systems.

Issues regarding legal ownership of land, fair compensation and access to financial resources hinder African women’s leadership in agriculture. According to Feed the Future, “women tend to own less land, have limited ability to hire labor and face impediments to accessing credit, agricultural extension services and other resources.”

GRASP intends to address gender inequality within African agriculture by empowering female policymakers and inciting change in food systems. With help from USAID, GRASP will provide 100 women with mentorships, networking opportunities and virtual leadership programs targeted to create food-secure communities. By empowering African women in leadership, GRASP strives to develop improved and equitable food systems beneficial to all.

USAID and the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance

USAID has also joined the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance in mobilizing $100 million to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries. The Eleanor Crook Foundation (ECF) and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC0 initially established the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance. The partnership combines public and private sectors to address the pandemic’s effect on malnutrition.

The ECF projects a 50% rise in severe malnutrition due to COVID-19’s economic and existing food programs disruption. USAID’s partnership will help catalyze comprehensive approaches to decrease food insecurity. The alliance will prioritize health and food systems along with food-oriented small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The collaboration seeks to address the financing gap among SMEs, bolster women-led businesses and advance food safety. The alliance also seeks to end malnutrition by 2030.

USAID’s Promising Next Moves to Reduce Poverty and Hunger

USAID’s latest programs will benefit not only those in need but also the rest of the world. GRASP can open new markets by supporting African women in agriculture. The program will also expand leadership and business in African food systems. With accessible development opportunities, African women can create social and economic change to address global poverty and food insecurity.

Additionally, USAID’s alliance with the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance will help reestablish the world’s progress to reduce poverty and hunger. The alliance’s monetary aid will also function as a sustainable investment in global food systems. In helping the world’s poor and hungry through programs like GRASP and the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance, USAID helps the world get back on track.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Secretary Vilsack
The secretary of agriculture in President Barack Obama’s administration, Thomas J. Vilsack, has returned in 2021 to serve in the same position under President Biden. Secretary Vilsack has received recognition for his civil service and efforts to combat global poverty, receiving recognition from the Congressional Hunger Center and the Global Child Nutrition Foundation. He is also “a former member of the board of directors for GenYOUth as well as Feeding America.” At the U.N.’s Food Systems Summit in September 2021, Secretary Vilsack declared that the U.S. would invest $10 billion to ensure global food security over the next five years. Here are five global food security initiatives that Vilsack supports.

5 Global Food Security Initiatives Secretary Vilsack Supports

  1. Feed the Future. Secretary Vilsack supports Feed the Future, the United States’ program to ensure global food security “by boosting inclusive agriculture-led economic growth, resilience and nutrition in countries with great need and opportunity for improvement.” Feed the Future began in 2010 following the 2007-2008 global food crisis. In 2016, Secretary Vilsack supported the Global Food Security Act, a bill ensuring that the efforts of Feed the Future could continue on even after Obama’s end of term. By backing the bill, he expressed his support for sustainable food systems for the world’s impoverished. The Feed the Future program significantly contributes to poverty reduction, reducing poverty by 37% over 10 years in countries like Bangladesh.
  2. McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program combats global poverty and hunger through the support of the USDA. As secretary of agriculture, Vilsack oversees this program, which supports education and child development in low-income countries, donates “U.S. agricultural commodities” and provides financial assistance for school feeding and community nutrition programs. Overall, the program aims to increase literacy and education to break the cycle of poverty. By overseeing the McGovern-Dole Program, Secretary Vilsack works to ensure that students in need, especially girls, receive the nutrition and support required to thrive in schools.
  3. Food for Peace. Secretary Vilsack also oversaw Food for Peace in the International Affairs Budget during the Obama administration. The Office for Food and Peace began with President Eisenhower’s Food for Peace Act in 1954. Food for Peace aids people in low-income countries and areas of conflict by providing international emergency services, organizing development activities and providing nutritional support. Its development activities shares tools and resources with people in food-insecure areas to end global hunger.
  4. Food is Never Waste Coalition. Secretary Vilsack announced in 2021 that the U.S. would be partnering with the Food is Never Waste Coalition. The coalition emerged from the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. The coalition aims “to halve food waste by 2030 and to reduce food losses by at least 25%.” Reducing food waste involves member collaboration to create sustainable food pathways and invest in food loss reduction methods.
  5. School Meals Coalition. While attending the U.N. Food Systems Summit in September 2021, Secretary Vilsack remarked on collaborating with the School Meals Nutrition, Health and Education for Every Child coalition. The coalition strives to provide all children access to nutritious school meals by 2030. In 2021, 150 million students continue to go without school meals worldwide, which sometimes stands as their only meal of the day. The coalition seeks to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing nutrition within education. As a member state of the coalition, the United States will invest in feeding programs to incentivize education globally.

Reducing Global Poverty and Hunger

Secretary Vilsack maintains his efforts to reduce both poverty and hunger through his work in the USDA. By supporting and overseeing various food security initiatives and aid programs, Secretary Vilsack positively impacts the lives of those in need across the world.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Pope Francis
Hunger is a “scandal” whose crime “violates basic human rights,” according to Pope Francis. In a recent United Nations (U.N.) meeting in Rome, the Pope argued that the world holds enough food for all yet sees prevalent hunger. The Pope’s message aligned with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s assertion that a third of greenhouse gas emissions is due to global food systems. Further, Guterres warned that an 80% loss of biodiversity serves as another drastic consequence of those food systems.

The Message

The Pope spoke during the July Pre-Summit of the U.N. Food Systems Summit that focused on scientific, evidence-based solutions to food systems transformation. Pope Francis noted that COVID-19 has underlined the “systemic injustices that undermine our unity as a human family.” Further, he pointed out the paradoxical nature of the technologies designed to increase food capacity as it “exploits nature to the point of sterilization.” He said that the poorest people suffer the most because we inflict damage “…through irresponsible use and abuse of the goods God has placed in it.”

In a similar July message that the Vatican published, the Pope spoke of the preventable nature of forced displacements, terrorism and wars. He contended that these are all precursors to hunger. In the message, Pope Francis also elaborated on the lack of solidarity plaguing humans that stunts resolutions to end malnutrition. He spoke of a desire not to promote “mere progress” or “development goals in theory.” He wrote, “All of us realize that the intention to provide everyone with his or her daily bread is not enough.”

The UN’s Call to Action

An early July U.N. report credited COVID-19 to the additional 161 million people facing hunger compared to 2019. It discussed that healthy diets are now out of reach of a staggering 3 billion people. This is due to the high cost of food, income inequality and poverty. The fact that the Agricultural Commodity Price Index rose by 30% from January 2020 supports this argument. Also, Guterres noted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in three people lacked adequate food sources.

Also recently, the U.N. agency International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) appealed to decision-makers to rectify the “failures in food systems.” IFAD suggested that food production should factor in protecting the environment, supporting biodiversity and fairly compensating laborers.

Finally, according to the chief economist of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), alleviating hunger for 100 million people would require $14 billion a year until 2030. Moreover, to triple that amount would see a goal of zero hunger across the globe by 2030.

Moving Forward

The calls to action by Pope Francis and the United Nations are loud and clear. Together, they should positively impact the fight against hunger by transforming the current global food systems.

Pope Francis specifically urged “bold local and international policies.” He said, “Therefore, it is everyone’s duty to root out this injustice through concrete actions and good practices.”

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Flickr

Olive Trees
Olive trees hold symbolic, agricultural and economic meanings for Palestinian farmers. In a nation where almost one-third or 1.6 million people face food insecurity and do not have access to “nutritious food,” essential crops, like olives, are vital for many communities’ survival. Here is some information about the importance of olive trees in Palestine.

Harvesting Crops Despite Denial of Access

The rise of Israeli forces and conflict on Palestinian lands in May 2021 forced Palestinian farmers from their olive tree harvesting grounds. However, after the olive harvest season started earlier in 2021, a cohort of Palestinian olive farmers decided to take the risk of returning to their farmlands despite the armed Israeli guards in their path.

Residents and landowners from the small Palestinian town in the Northern West Bank of Palestine returned to Jabal Sabih, Mount Sabih, to handpick olives from their trees. Israeli guards are still present at the site. However, the Palestinian farmers successfully harvested their trees despite the Israeli presence.

Impact of Growing Tensions

Tensions between Israeli and Palestinian communities have remained high throughout history, but escalated tensions between the two occurred in May 2021. Israeli settlers attempted to take over Palestinian lands, and 50 Israeli families set up camp on the Palestinian olive farming grounds in May. Israeli families then evacuated in July. Palestinian farmers said these farming lands have passed through generations of family members and the trees are “part of their souls and more.”

The farmers emphasized that olive trees are one of only a few arbors that can grow in their mountainous farming areas. The trees do not need water, which means they can grow in drought conditions. Farmers said that transporting water into the region would be extremely difficult due to the terrain.

The Many Uses of Olives

The production of olives is a main source of income for more than 80,000 families in Palestine, showing the importance of olive trees to the country. More than 90% of the oil that farmers harvest from olive trees goes toward making olive oil, with them allocating the remainder to making olive soap, table olives and pickles. In the West Bank, farmers have planted more than 12 million olive trees. The nation exports some of the olives to Jordan but the rest are for local consumption.

Following the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, the Israeli army began destroying or uprooting olive trees in farmlands. The army stated that it needed to use the grounds for military operations and to provide pathways between villages. However, later reports suggested that the military specifically targeted the farmers to make it difficult for them to earn a living.

Foundations Wanting to Help

Some local organizations are helping olive tree farmers. The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature started a campaign after the severe removal of the olive trees. In 2011, AP Nature replaced 1 million olive and fruit trees. To date, the campaign has planted more than 2.5 million trees.

The Near East Foundation, an organization with a focus on building more sustainable communities in the Middle East and Africa through education, community organizing and economic development, directly supports Palestinian communities through three programs. These include early childhood education and school feeding, support for the olive oil groups and support for women’s economics.

The Near East Foundation renovated and upgraded 18 olive oil mills in Palestine and Israel due to the importance of olive trees and olive oil production to the Palestinian economy. The organization also facilitated training for oil producers to increase their production and quality of olive oils.

The ongoing tension between Israel and Palestine has extreme effects on Palestinians’ ability to access their crops to provide food for themselves and earn a living. Though permits for Palestinian farmers are available to access the lands that the Israeli army now dominates, these permits are hard to obtain and there is still no guarantee Palestinian farmers can access their land even with a permit. A group of Palestinian olive farmers had the bravery to enter into Israeli military grounds to harvest their olives, but tensions between the two nations must subside before Palestinian farmers can have full access to their own lands once again.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

UN Food Systems Summit
The U.N. Food Systems Summit recently took place on September 23, 2021. The U.N. Food Systems Summit highlighted the key nexus between food sustainability and food insecurity. The Summit was a virtual conference, and it described the food-related challenges that many people around the world are currently facing. Statistics highlighted the magnitude of the nutritional issues.

The UN Food Summit: Igniting Action and Hope

The World Food Program’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, mentioned several concerning facts. For example, 3 billion people are unable to attain a balanced diet. Beyond that, 9 million people die from hunger each year. In 2020 alone, 25,000 people died per day due to starvation. However, following these morbid realities, the Summit revealed the goals of the U.N. and some solutions to the pre-established issues. The emphasis was on galvanizing people to care for one another. At its core, the Summit was a rallying call to action.

Main Objectives of the Summit

The main objective of the Summit was to raise awareness of the food system’s importance to the entirety of the sustainable development agenda. The urgency of addressing the issues plaguing global food systems has increased, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Summit also aimed to unite stakeholders around a common understanding of food systems as a foundation for action, to recognize the necessity of innovation addressing global food obstacles and catalyze action for the transformation of food systems in every corner of the globe.

António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, issued a summary and statement of action for the Summit. One of the key points of the statement was how the pandemic has significantly worsened food insecurity, resulting in a 20% increase in the number of people facing hunger between 2019 and 2020. Furthermore, the Secretary-General established five action areas to help ensure the necessary changes to achieve all of the SDGs by 2030:

  1. Nourish All People
  2. Boost Nature-Based Solutions
  3. Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work and Empowered Communities
  4. Build Resistance to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses
  5. Accelerating the Means of Implementation

This statement of action was very robust. It included details about how the U.N. Resident Coordinators and U.N. Country Teams will work with national governments to develop new national pathways to improve food systems and ensure the accomplishment of the SDGs by 2030.

Global Leaders Reactions

During the Summit, leaders from a variety of countries spoke in an attempt to elicit empathy and initiative in the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Agriculture Ministers and others were present at the Summit. The Summit’s goal was to “transform food systems to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Many of the leaders who spoke focused on the specific issues plaguing the food systems within their state and established courses of action and priorities for tackling those issues.

Spain stated that it will be focussing on boosting family farming, with President Pedro Sanchez saying that “family farming…contributes to the economic and socio-cultural fabric of rural areas.” He followed that statement by announcing that the Spanish government will support family farming by boosting the coalition for the Decade of Family Farming. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), made a strong statement condemning humanity’s current state of production and consumption. He emphasized the urgency of investment into global food systems and called upon food manufacturers to change the composition of their products.

The Conversation Needs to Continue

The U.N. Food Systems Summit provides hope and reassurance that action will occur to address food insecurity and poverty worldwide. The Summit was available to watch for anyone with internet access, and those who registered were able to connect in chat sections. Globalizing the combat of food insecurity and reaching the individual level increases awareness and participation in the Summit, which is beneficial to the U.N. cause. International humanitarian organizations and NGOs should continue to host these community dialogues to raise awareness of the issues plaguing humanity and to establish roadmaps to alleviate these issues.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Flickr

arable land lossAgriculture stimulates the large majority of economies in nearly all African countries. For the past couple of decades, the value of agricultural production has almost tripled (+160%). This large boost imbues every nation with great potential. With that potential lies a grand obstacle that is forcing leaders to think differently about the situation in Africa. The loss of arable land is an issue that threatens the progress of Africa’s agricultural economies, and while the issue remains largely invisible across the continent, the impacts have been widespread and devastating.

The Extent of Arable Land Loss

According to a report published in 2015 by the Montpellier Panel, a group of agricultural and economic trade experts, “about 65% of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.” This statistic, shocking as it may be, has ramifications that extend beyond its effect on the land.

When soil becomes degraded, food production decreases dramatically, causing severe economic side effects in agriculturally dominated communities. Ecological imbalances such as these decimate the livelihoods of people all around the continent. Ultimately this results in increased poverty rates. According to the Montpellier Panel report, “In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) an estimated 180 million people are affected, while the economic loss due to land degradation is estimated at $68 billion per year.” In short, this issue is not limited to one country or another. It extends beyond national and even continental borders.

The Causes of Arable Land Loss

The roots of this complex issue are spread across the continent and draw from a wide variety of international issues. However, the causes that can be immediately addressed lie in the heart of Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) writes that the “available evidence leaves no doubt that soil degradation caused by erosion, desertification, deforestation and poor agricultural practices is undermining the very resources on which African farmers and their families depend for their very survival.”

These natural causes, while addressable, require the effort and consent of the leaders of Africa’s nations. Much of the burden that Africa faces currently falls on the shoulders of the most impoverished farmers with the least resources. The solution begins when governors grant their farmers the resources to practice water and soil conservation among other sustainability practices.

Though the situation seems dire, there are many opportunities available to change-makers in Africa’s agricultural sector. The international community, in conjunction with Africa’s national governments, has the opportunity to foster major structural changes to combat the ecological threat of arable land loss.

Solutions to Boost Agriculture in Africa

  • Underused cultivatable land, sometimes available in abundance. Compared to other continents, Africa has much more room to pursue greater agricultural productivity. There is a trove of untapped resources in a small number of countries surrounding the Congo Basin. With these resources in hand, Africa can increase agricultural productivity and inputs without adversely impacting the environment.
  • Water resources are often underutilized. Contrary to popular belief, there are large pockets of underutilized water spread throughout the whole of Africa. While this allows farmers to irrigate better and prevent soil degradation, its fragile state must always be taken into consideration.
  • Available technological methods to rapidly boost productivity. There is a diverse web of new technologies that have the potential to offer African farmers the tools they need to enable the growth of agricultural production and the protection of their natural resources.

Food security and environmentalism have the potential to go hand-in-hand. With that said, overexploitation as a result of desperation will only lead farmers and their land into further degradation. Nonetheless, there are potential opportunities to consider in order to combat arable land loss and boost agriculture in Africa.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Pixabay

Twiga Foods
COVID-19 has caused many issues for poor families around the world. However, Kenyan food distributor Twiga Foods is helping families during COVID-19.

What is Twiga Foods?

Twiga Foods emerged in 2014 as a mobile-based food distribution company. What it does is source produce from local farmers and manufacturers. Suppliers can post their produce online so vendors can order it at an affordable price. Today, Twiga employs about 4,000 suppliers and about 35,000 vendors.

Fast Company has listed Twiga Foods as one of the most innovative companies. Twiga Foods was also listed as one of the World Economic Forum’s “Technology Pioneers.” The company has “reinvented Africa’s approach to retail, making it less time-consuming and more efficient.” The company “presents a convenient and reliable alternative to the current expensive farm and factory-to-market processes.”

The mission for Twiga Foods is simple: “to feed and supply Africa’s growing urban population with traceable, quality and affordable products whose quality, health and safety standards are at one with global conventions and best practice.”

What Twiga is Doing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The spread of COVID-19 created a lot of concern for Twiga Foods. Some of its clients include hotels and restaurants which have run minimally during the pandemic. However, Twiga was listed as an essential business, and the company was able to keep operating and employ thousands of people.

In June 2020, Twiga partnered up with Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and Jumia to support families during the pandemic. The program these companies created offers a “convenient way for customers who wish to donate during the pandemic period.” Twiga Foods is providing discounted prices of fresh produce up to 50% as an incentive for people to donate to the cause.

How Companies like Twiga Foods Can Help the Market

The success of Twiga Foods matches Kenya’s growing economy and reduction of poverty. Kenya’s GDP went from $61.45 billion in 2014 to $95.5 billion in 2019. However, Kenya’s GDP in 2020 has gone down to about $80 billion.

Not only has the GDP risen over the past few years, but poverty rates in Kenya have gone down. From 2005 to 2006, 46.8% of Kenyans lived below the poverty line. From 2015 to 2016, the amount of Kenyans living under the poverty line dropped to 36.1%. This drop in the poverty rate was due to the increasing importance of non-agricultural income to supplement agricultural income for rural households.

Between 2013 and 2017, about 25% of the nation’s GDP came from agriculture. However, farmers across Kenya find it hard to make a living due to the insufficiency of the African agricultural market. Having companies like Twiga Foods support these farmers can help improve food safety, environmental and social practices.

When Twiga Foods connects rural farmers to informal retail vendors in the cities, it can enhance the agricultural market for both the suppliers and the consumers. Farmers can have guaranteed access to a fairly-priced, transparent and mobile marketplace. Vendors can get high-quality and fresh produce to sell to consumers at a lower price. Having food sold at a lower price is a way that Twiga foods is helping families afford the food they need to survive.

Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Paraguay's COVID-19 ResponseParaguay is a landlocked country in South America surrounded by Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. As many South American nations grapple with the spread of the coronavirus, Paraguay appears to have control of the disease. In total, the country has only had a few dozen deaths from the disease. Here are five facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 response efforts.

5 Facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 Response

  1. Paraguay, with a population of about 7 million people, has had about 5,338 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths. This is drastically different from its neighboring countries of Bolivia and Brazil. Bolivia has about 11 million inhabitants, with 76,789 recorded cases and 2,977 deaths. Similarly high, Brazil has a population of roughly 210 million, with about 2.71 million confirmed cases and 93,616 deaths.
  2. According to epidemiologist Dr. Antonia Arbo, the reason that Paraguay’s COVID-19 response has had success in mitigating the effects of the virus is because of the stern measures put in place by the government as well as the “good behavior” from its citizens.The government of President Mario Abdo Benítez was one of the first in the region to implement containment measures after just the second confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 10.”
  3. Unlike other responses, Paraguay’s containment measures are effective due to the “fast and forceful” nature in which authorities acted. The country was in a consistent lockdown from March 20 until May 3. During this time, the Ministry of Health increased testing and improved contact-tracing capabilities. This allowed the country to initiate a “gradual reopening program.” Additionally, the country is still maintaining precautions even while they ease social distancing restrictions. Masks are still mandatory and medical professionals conduct temperature checks in the entrances to public spaces.
  4. Despite these successes in Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, the country’s economy has definitely suffered. In January, prior to the pandemic, most predicted the economy to grow as agriculture began to bounce back following the droughts and floods of 2019. Since then, however, the lockdown has severely impacted the country’s economy. There was a stark decrease in overall consumption, investment, imports on capital goods, tourism and trade. Though it is difficult to accurately predict the exact impact of the recession, experts predict that the GDP will decrease by 5% in 2020.
  5. The pandemic halted a project between Paraguay’s government and the Food and Agriculture Organization, which would have provided more opportunities for rural communities. Many Indigenous community members in Paraguay live in abject poverty and have no choice but to earn income through marijuana crop cultivation. Unfortunately, this has resulted in severe deforestation. The joint plan, named the Poverty, Reforestation, Energy and Climate Change (PROEZA) Project, intends to provide aid to these vulnerable, low-income families. However, this project has halted for the time being due to the pandemic.

Going forward with Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, as the country’s economy prepares to reopen, Paraguay is working to reduce the deficit and repair the damage to public finances. It is hopeful that with the implementation of social plans for low-income households, Paraguay will be able to truly prosper.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr