Colombian agribusiness
As of June 2019, approximately 4 million Venezuelan refugees had fled their home country in search of shelter from the “State-Sponsored Terror” of dictator Nicolás Maduro; by the end of 2020, this number could increase to as many as 8.2 million total Venezuelans seeking refuge. Already, around 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees have sought shelter in neighboring Colombia, creating an overwhelming demand for food and other supplies in regions closest to the Colombia-Venezuela border. In response to this emerging humanitarian crisis, a Colombian agribusiness has found an innovative solution that ensures Venezuelan refugees receive food and humane treatment while also helping struggling local economies. What exactly is this solution? The agribusiness of imperfect potatoes.

Agribusiness In Motion

The Colombian agribusiness company Acceso works to revitalize the economy of a nation whose rural poverty rate is 35%. Acceso’s success derives from its business model, which links rural farmers to urban marketplaces and provides a variety of resources to farmers–from startup cost aid to seed access–to ensure that they turn a profit.

Essentially, Acceso acts as a middleman between small Colombian farms and larger stores. Acceso buys crops in bulk from small Colombian farmers in order to resell them in commercial marketplaces. However, in doing so, Acceso often ends up purchasing products like “imperfect looking but edible potatoes.” Despite their imperfections, these potatoes hold the key to the success of Acceso’s entire operation.

Crops that are too small or have visual defects like scratches are still nutritious and viable; their defects, though merely visual, impair the ability of farms and Colombian agribusiness firms to sell them in commercial marketplaces. For the small farmer, growing imperfect crops elicits a loss of money. In normal farmer-market relationships, imperfect crops either have to be sold by small farmers in local markets for a lower price or they go to waste.

Because Acceso buys all of a farm’s crops regardless of their condition, they assure that farmers are adequately compensated for all of the crops they grow. An Acceso partnership can increase the revenue of an individual farm by as much as 50%. It maximizes the profit of small farms because Acceso pays more than normal consumers would for every piece of produce grown, enriching every sector of Colombia’s farming industry and helping stabilize the economy of rural Colombia.

Colombia’s agricultural GDP has increased by 1,502 billion Colombian pesos (about $400 million) since late 2019. An increase of this quantity illuminates how the growth of Colombian agribusiness keeps small farmers from falling into poverty, rewards them for their hard work and expands the Colombian economy.

Kitchens Without Food

In 2017, 8 out of 10 Venezuelans reported having a reduced caloric intake due to a lack of food at home, and around one-third of Venezuelans eat less than three meals each day. This explains why many Venezuelan refugees in Colombia–especially children–come across the border severely undernourished.

As they cross the border into Colombia, these refugees–some of whom have only eaten salted rice for an extended period of time–need nutrition urgently. This creates immense demand for food in border cities like Cúcuta, which have seen a massive influx of Venezuelan refugees. The Colombian government has partnered with NGO’s to establish relief kitchens on the border such as Nueva Ilusión in Cúcuta in order to meet the nutritional and humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees.

Unfortunately, these border kitchens still struggle to find adequate funding. International relief aid for the Venezuelan refugee crisis has only totaled $580 million, a number woefully short of the amount needed to ensure humane treatment for all refugees entering Colombia. To remedy this, the Colombian government has launched over $230 million in credit lines to invest in border cities with high numbers of refugees.

Albeit, even an amount that large might be insufficient to meet the needs of the incoming refugees. Many border kitchens providing nutritious meals to Venezuelan refugees lack the appropriate financial resources to provide enough of it.

Supply? Demand.

Each organization mentioned thus far faces an issue. Acceso has acquired imperfect crops that they cannot sell. Border kitchens lack funding and need nutritious foods to turn into meals for Venezuelan refugees.

This is where supply meets demand.

Recognizing the gravity of the malnutrition crisis among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, Acceso partnered with border kitchens like Nueva Ilusión to give Venezuelan refugees the dignified treatment they deserve.

Instead of throwing away the imperfect crops that they cannot sell, Acceso now donates these crops to border kitchens. As of March 2020, the Colombian agribusiness contributed over 480 metric tons of fruits and vegetables to border kitchens, making 4.3 million nutritious meals.

On a daily basis, the products donated by Acceso are made into around 2,000 meals per day per kitchen, 600 of which are served to malnourished children fleeing from Venezuela. By donating food to meet the demand of border kitchens, Acceso has helped make progress towards alleviating the nutritional crisis that plagues Venezuelan refugees both young and old.

With their agribusiness, Acceso links the needs of two impoverished groups in Colombia and assures that their needs are met with reciprocal flourishing. In conjunction with both the farmers and kitchens, Acceso confers economic benefits to small Colombian farms while also ensuring that border kitchens have enough food supplies to provide refugees.

Acceso’s work linking the needs of small Colombian farmers and Venezuelan refugees has helped to fill the gap in relief created by a lack of funding for humanitarian aid efforts in this region. Its successes with rural farmers and malnourished Venezuelan refugees have shown how the most impactful relief can often be found in the most dignified mediums of exchange.

Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Poverty_Agriculture Olam International
Agri-business firm Olam International has pledged to help eradicate global poverty and mitigate climate change impacts that threaten food security.

Olam International is a world-leading firm operating in 70 countries, supplying food and raw materials to over 16,200 customers worldwide. Its business model is based on ensuring that profitable growth is achieved in an ethical, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable way.

The agri-business knows its responsibility to the earth, as changing weather patterns are affecting crops and communities. The organization realizes that climate change will threaten food security by creating less than ideal conditions for optimal food production, thus threatening the world’s chances to end global poverty.

According to Olam, “Ensuring we and our 4 million farmer suppliers, the vast majority of whom are smallholders in emerging markets, are implementing mitigation and adaptation measures to achieve the 2°C goal is therefore integral to our strategy.” In addition, the company has adopted four of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations.

“Based on our configuration of assets and our capabilities across the 70 countries that we operate in, we have chosen four of the SDG Goals where we believe we can create a real impact,” said Sunny Verghese, the chief executive of Olam, at the U.N.’s High Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Olam is prioritizing mitigating climate change through multiple goals: reducing GHG emissions from their farming and processing operations, adapting their own farming operations to build in climate resilience, encouraging farmer suppliers and logistics providers to improve their GHG emissions intensity and collaborating at a sector level to speed up implementation of climate-smart practices.

Olam will accomplish these goals through public, private and plural society partnership. Verghese said at the debate that a U.N.-to-private-sector partnership is key to successfully implementing the SDGs.

Verghese went on to say, “If after all of this hard work and overwhelming effort, if we are not going to be leaving a better place for our children, what is the point of it all?”

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr

food insecurity
A study done by Oxfam finds that large agricultural companies are displacing small farmers in Latin America, creating food insecurity and hindering community development.

Latin America is a region rich with fertile land for crops. Enough food is produced every year to ensure each individual has enough to eat, but the crops are not reaching the hands of its hungry farmers.

The central-west region of Brazil produced 78.5 million tons of soybeans and maize in 2013, a record for the country. Most of the crops, however, did not return to those who farmed them, but were exported to produce biofuels.

Agribusiness has not only had a negative effect on Latin America’s hungry, but also on the environment. Natural resources are contaminated and soil is becoming infertile. As a result, food prices have increased.

Agroecology is emerging as an answer to the problems agribusiness creates. Defined by Agroecology in Action, it is “concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies.”

In other words, agroecology is an interdisciplinary approach to agriculture that takes into account communities, social conditions, environmental health and production. At its base are small farmers,  a sector agribusiness has ignored.

The largest supermarket chain in Ecuador decided in 2002 to make a shift from 2,500 small producers to 250 large producers. This move has caused many families who hold small farms to suffer.

“I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides,” says Emilia Alves Manduca, a farmer in the central-west region of Brazil, “I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects.”

Manduca spoke at an agroecology conference, where she shared the success story of her community, Mato Grosso. By moving away from the monoculture design of big agriculture business, and growing more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides, Mato Grosso became a self-sufficient community and brought itself out of poverty in six years.

As the Guardian writes, “the problem of hunger [in Latin America] is not due to lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.” Agroecology ensures that land and healthy agricultural practices are accessible to all levels of society, including the poorest. The result will be more communities like Mato Grosso.

“Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region’s food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change,” says Miguel Altieri, professor of Agrecology at the University of Berkeley.

– Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Agroecology in Action, Oxfam, The Guardian
Photo: The Alternative

This past Thursday, the World Food Prize, given in honor of those who fight global hunger and foster sustainable agriculture, was awarded to Monsanto. This company and others like it claim that their practices and the goal of these practices – to produce more food – will ultimately end world hunger. However, Monsanto’s policies – which include resource grabbing, creating genetically modified (GMO) seeds and lobbying for questionable free trade agreements – do more harm than good.

Monsanto and other agribusinesses regularly expand into developing countries where their seeds create cycles of dependency for farmers, many of whom are women, while failing to alleviate the burden of hunger or poverty in these countries.

According to the United Nations’ recent Trade and Environment Review for 2013, “the world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development from a ‘green revolution’ to an ‘ecological intensification’ approach.”

In other words, the world needs sustainability, which can’t be obtained through Monsanto seeds that limit or eliminate plant diversity. Rather it is smaller farms, using organic farming practices and diverse crops, that will improve soil health and sustain communities. And there are many such farms doing just that.

The Food Sovereignty Prize, like the World Food Prize, is also granted to companies that fight hunger and promote sustainability. Unlike the World Food Prize, however, the Food Sovereignty Prize this year went to groups that fight against GMO foods, free trade agreements and resource grabs made or supported by agribusinesses. Their winners included Haiti’s Group of 4 and South America’s Dessalines Brigade.

Group 4, in particular, has led the movement against agribusiness likes Monsanto. Representing over a quarter million rural farmers, Group 4 was formed in 2007 to provide a place for Haitian farmers to mobilize and to voice concerns. After the earthquake in 2010, Monsanto offered the country over $4 million worth of seeds. Group 4 made it a priority to stop those seeds from reaching fruition.

It was also Group 4, alongside Via Campesina, the global peasant movement, that coined the term “food sovereignty.” Adding to the spectrum of security and sustainability, food sovereignty is the idea that people have a “right to define their own food and agricultural systems.”  Rather than working under corporations or policies that displace farmers into foreign countries or force mass production of certain crops, food sovereignty is about prioritizing the farmer, the distributor and the consumer.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: AlternetHuffington Post
Photo: DailyMail UK

Food for Progress

The United States Department of Agriculture has long been an advocate of agricultural enterprise here in America. Its support for the improvement and development of agricultural practices is not limited, however, to within these domestic borders. Through its Food for Progress program, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service can spread its agro-influence globally.

The Food for Progress Act of 1985 established the program as a means to help bolster the agricultural enterprises of fledgling democracies. American agricultural commodities are donated to qualifying communities in need. These commodities are then sold in local markets, with the proceeds going toward the funding of development projects, many with an agricultural focus.

The general process to initiate a Food for Progress program is very similar to that of a grant, with an applicant organization submitting a proposal based on eligible American agricultural commodities and the demonstrated need of a community. Applicant organizations can be private voluntary organizations, cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, or foreign governments.

For a recipient community to be eligible, it must be in a country that meets certain priority need criteria. These criteria include per capita income at lower or lower-middle-income standard per the World Bank, greater than 20% of the total population as undernourished per the World Health Organization, and social structures supporting freedom as defined by Freedom House, including political rights and civil liberties.

The project should also involve measurable objectives and a preferred focus on the private agricultural sector. Tangible benefits to this sector can include development initiatives like improved marketing systems, training in more efficient agricultural practices, and updated farmer education. Selected projects are also vetted to ensure no effort would disrupt existing commercial markets.

Once a project is approved, the process is the same as for the other two major U.S. food assistance programs, Food for Peace and Food for Education. The applicant organization, now known as a “Cooperating Sponsor,” assesses its project’s specific needs and orders commodities for delivery to the recipient community. The USDA Kansas City Commodity Office directly handles all purchasing of the type and amounts of commodities requested by the Cooperating Sponsor.

The USDA evaluates the commodity bids by American producers and awards a commodity contract based on the lowest landed cost. The commodity contract establishes the date by which the goods must be at a U.S. port and ready to be shipped to the destination country, but all logistical arrangements for delivery are the responsibility of the cooperating sponsor per their agreement with the USDA, to whom a progress report is due every six months.

During the 2012 fiscal year, the Food for Progress program helped an estimated 6,950,000 beneficiaries, the majority of whom were located in Senegal and Nicaragua. Through its unique approach of fostering local agri-business, Food for Progress is not simply a food aid program but is also a development initiative targeting a critical sector within foreign economies. With continued support from the U.S. government, the Food and Progress program offers an exciting future as a leader in global food security assistance.

– Lauren Brown

Sources: US Food Aid and Security, FoodAid
Photo: WFP

African Agriculture and Agribusiness Will Grow to $1 Trillion by 2030A World Bank report states that agriculture and agribusiness in Africa have the opportunity to grow to a trillion-dollar market by 2030.The report titled “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness” calls for the need to increase access to capital, electricity, technology, and irrigated land to allow for better and increased farming. World Bank Director for Financial and Private Sector Development in Africa Gaiv Tata comments that “a strong agribusiness sector is vital for Africa’s economic future.”

Currently, the size of Africa’s food and beverage market is at $313 billion. This number is projected to increase more than three-fold to $1 trillion by 2030. This growth in the agriculture industry in Africa could lead to an increase in jobs and growth, a reduction of hunger and poverty, and the ability for African farmers to compete better globally by exporting surplus crops.

The report stated that as of now African agriculture and agribusinesses are underperforming with many other developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Thailand exporting more than all of Sub-Saharan Africa combined. The import of food products is still rising as exports are falling, a trend, the report says, that can be reversed through good policies, and public-private investment and partnerships.

Much of Africa’s land and water is left underutilized. More than half of the fertile yet uncultivated land in the world is in Africa. And only two percent of Africa’s abundant water resources are made use of compared to the global average of five percent. Africa is the leading importer and consumer of rice in the world with $3.5 billion spent on importing rice from other countries. Though much of Africa is suitable for dairy production, Kenya is the only country to have established a competitive dairy industry.

The report emphasizes that agriculture and agribusiness should be the main prerogative in the development and business agenda in Africa. African agriculture and agribusiness is now being recognized as a powerful and imperative driver in the continent’s growth, accounting for nearly half the continent’s economic activity. More investment through irrigation expansion and increased research into crop varieties would further strengthen the agro-economy. Additionally, when governments effectively work with farms to link them to consumers, they create a more sustainable and dynamic food market rather than only maintaining a reliance on food imports. A strong agriculture and agribusiness market in Africa is key to greater prosperity and a better future for Africa.

“The time has come for making African agriculture and agribusiness a catalyst for ending poverty,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for African Region.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source:  Flickr