Poverty in Ethiopia
Like many of the African nations that have gained their independence from a European power, poverty in Ethiopia has been exacerbated by regional conflict that caused widespread poverty to infect communities across the country.

Ethiopia was one of the first countries to claim their independence in 1896 after the Italians were rejected from the nation. Unfortunately, geopolitical conflict continued to plague the nation as the neighboring Eritrea staked a claim to its own independence in the late 20th century. The tension culminated in a border war at the turn of the century.

The social malady that most affects Ethiopia is malnourishment. In 1984, famine struck the nation which required a huge foreign aid response from the Western world. Ever since then, the Ethiopian government has had trouble feeding its large population of over 86 million. The nation remains reliant on Western nutritional support as their developing economy starts to emerge from its fledgling status.

Ethiopia’s GDP per capita began an early improvement in the 1990s, as the country began its recovery from conflict and famine in the 1980s. The Eritrean dispute forced GDP per capita down once again until the mid-2000s. Since then, Ethiopia’s growth has exploded to $541.87 up about 400 percent. The progress in the economy has helped reduce poverty rates significantly.

According to data from the World Bank, poverty in Ethiopia fell from 44 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2011. Fertility rate, which is highest in the poorest countries, fell from 7.0 in 1995 to 4.6 in 2011. Undernourishment, one of the biggest issues in Ethiopia, dropped from 75 percent in 1990-1992 to 35 percent in 2012-2014. These are just a few of the signs of an improving society.

Even so, there is still a long way to go. Based on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, Ethiopia ranks 174th out of 187 countries. In order to improve that statistic and further fight hunger, the East African country needs to improve its use of its valuable arable land. The Rural Poverty Portal estimates that “only about 25 percent of its arable land is cultivated.”

Expanding Ethiopia’s agricultural base is, perhaps, the most efficient way of reaching the population spread out over the country. In 2014, it was estimated that over 78 million people live in rural areas, while the remaining are concentrated in urban hubs. Providing better technology for food production and better infrastructure for distribution could be an ideal way to attack malnutrition.

The International Development Research Center conducted a case study called “Ethiopia: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Ethiopia.” The author, Mike Crawley, investigated deeper into the “simple problem” that plagues the population, “not enough food.” His research found that individual farmers are limited in their production abilities by “too small landholdings, poor agricultural practices, and lack of potable water.”

The solution? Change the way these individual farmers operate so that they can help themselves and their community. The organization’s team sought to convince “farmers to think about whether they could begin to make some positive changes on their own rather than wait for assistance from outside.” The mentality that helping the community is not outside the purview of helping oneself is one that will be essential in the fight against poverty in Ethiopia.

Jacob Hess

Photo: Flickr

Improved Seeds
Posht-e-Bagh Research Farm is one of the most important research farms in northern Afghanistan. Nestled in the Dehdadi district of the Balkhl province, the farm produces breeder seeds. These genetically improved seeds flourish under local growing conditions, enabling farm productivity to increase.

Currently, the 16 employees of Posht-e-Bagh monitor 972 different types of wheat in order to assess their suitability for local growing conditions.

Every seed produced at Posht-e-Bagh passes through five initial stages: introduction (where seeds and the resulting crops are assessed for their suitability), selection, hybridization, mutation and genetic engineering. From there, a breeder seed is selected and then sent out for further processing before reaching farmers in the form of ‘improved’ seeds.

According to Abdul Wahid Wahidi, a researcher with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), the main goal of Posht-e-Bagh is to increase the productivity of farmers in northern Afghanistan. The eventual production and wide-scale distribution of improved seeds will help generate a long-term solution to the eradication of poverty among farmers.

Breeder seeds produced by farms like Posht-e-Bagh Research Farm are sent to one of six Improved Seed Enterprises (ISE) scattered across the country with the goal of multiplying the breeder seeds into foundation seeds. On such a farm is Khasa-Paz farm, where there are six varieties of wheat being grown on the 1.9 million square meter farm this year.

ISE farms eventually sell the seeds to one of 102 Private Seed Enterprises (PSEs) across the country. They then use these seeds to produce the certified seeds, or ‘improved’ seeds, which are distributed to local farmers.

Improved Seeds
“Improved seed is a vital input for proper crop production,” said Hesamuddin Rahimi, Afghanistan Agriculture Inputs Project (AAIP) Agronomy Manager in Balkh Province. The AAIP, launched in July 2013, is backed with $74.8 million in support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). It is their aim to strengthen institutional capacity for the safety and reliability of agricultural inputs and sustainable production of certified seeds.

“Khasa-Paz farm has managed to help farmers to some extent,” Rahimi said. “As it is one of the farms where tons of registered seeds are being produced and sent to PSEs to produce improved seeds for distribution to the market.”

In fact, last year Khasa-Paz farm produced 87.5 tons of foundation seeds.

“The improved seeds result in good harvest. There is an almost 60 percent increase in yield of improved varieties compared to the local seeds,” Rahimi said. “The good thing about the improved seeds is they are suitable for this climate, a factor that increases both the quality and quantity of the crops.” The crops are also resistant against pests and diseases, adds Abdul Fatah, a farmer at Posht-e-Bagh farm.

Many farmers across Afghanistan still use low-quality seeds that result in poor harvests, a critical factor in perpetuating poverty among farmers. Those who have used the improved seeds now see the difference in output.

“Luckily now, farmers’ conditions are better because of the improved seeds,” Mohammad Ghani, a farmer who has been working on Khasa-Paz for eight years, said.

Farmer Lal Mohammad, a colleague of Ghani’s, echoes that sentiment: “Now that I see and understand the difference between good and poor quality seeds, I try to share the knowledge that I have gained with other farmers I know.”

Kara Buckley

Sources: ARTF, CIMMYT, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, World Bank 3
Photo: The World Bank, Agchallenge2050

Literacy_in_AfghanistanNutrition and Education International (NEI) is aiding the Afghanistan government in carrying out nutrition programs that aim to improve literacy in Afghanistan.

Education has been a priority of the Afghan government postwar, but childhood stunting is affecting brain health and learning development in Afghan children. Studies have linked childhood stunting to poor cognitive development.

A third of Afghanistan’s population falls short of daily calorie needs, with 20 percent of the population lacking enough protein in their diet and 40 percent of children ‘stunted,’ or small for their age.

“A malnourished mother has a higher risk of delivering a fetus that is malnourished, small for its gestational age, and sometimes even premature,” explained child-health expert Zulfiqar Bhutta. “By virtue of this handicap, these babies often have issues with lifelong learning.”

To tackle the issue of food security in Afghanistan, NEI has been working with local governments and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to encourage the farming of soybeans.

Soybean was selected because it contains high-quality protein, zinc, iron and plenty of calories. In a country recovering from a war, cultivating soybeans is the most economical option.

NEI program has also provided employment and education for Afghans. NEI has trained over 70,000 farmers on cultivating soybeans and how to turn them into flour and milk.

Soybean is not a traditional part of the Afghan diet or landscape and the endeavor was initially met with criticisms, but with government support and local trainers that teach villagers about the benefits of soy, the program has expanded.

In 2014, the Republic of Korea contributed $12 million to the WFP to build Afghanistan’s first soy milk factory. The leftover soybean pulp will be distributed to local women as chicken feed in order to encourage them to raise poultry and generate income.

NEI aims to eliminate protein malnutrition all over Afghanistan by aid farmers in producing 300,000 metric tons of soybeans, which in turn will provide growing children with more protein in their diets, which then has a direct effect on increasing literacy in Africa.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: WFP, Project Literacy
Photo: Google Images


Recent progress in Africa’s agriculture sector faces a number of potential threats according to Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the president of Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Kalibata, formerly the Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, cites global climate change as African agriculture’s biggest threat if it’s not met with increases in further investment.

Thanks to recent financing in the form of development aid, agriculture insurance and foreign direct investment (FDI), many African farmers have developed the means to overcome the formidable climatic and economic conditions that threaten food access for hundreds of millions of people. But Kalibata says that without sustained investment, Africa’s food needs, which are set to triple by 2050, could prove unattainable.

“[Climate change] is eroding the momentum we had gained in terms of getting farmers to use improved seeds and buy fertilizers,” said Kalibata. “If a farmer puts his small savings into seeds and fertilizers and loses the whole crop, that’s the end of his whole career … Farmers are getting less rain, it’s more irregular and it’s beginning to affect their production and undermine the investment they are making.”

In a policy paper presented at the development finance summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, AGRA estimated that the value of African agricultural output could increase from $280 billion to $800 billion by 2030. In order for the sector that employs around two-thirds of Africa’s population to realize this possibility, potential investment needs to be substantially increased and diversified.

One such opportunity for American investment comes in the form of agriculture insurance, which people and countries are increasingly relying upon to withstand conditions out of their control, such as natural hazards and climate-related disasters. Because agriculture is a high-variable venture, particularly in the harsh environments of sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are often left without the means of recovering lost investments or repaying debts associated with past loans. Insurance coverage enables those farmers to participate in riskier but more lucrative activities, like diversified harvests or mechanization.

Investment in African agriculture comes with economic and moral implications that reach deeper than the immediacy of food insecurity. Access to reliable sources of food is essential for countries in the early stages of economic development and, once established, can empower people and countries to achieve previously unattainable levels of security and self-determination.

“Agriculture is everyone’s business: national independence depends on its development because it enables us to escape the scourge of food insecurity that undermines our sovereignty and fosters sedition,” writes The New Partnership for Africa’s Development CEO Ibrahim Assane Mayaki in the United Nations’ Africa outlook. “[It] is the sector offering the greatest potential for poverty and inequality reduction, as it provides sources of productivity from which the most disadvantaged people working in the sector should benefit.”

The Food for Peace Reform and Electrify Africa Acts introduced earlier this year mark a number of Congressmen’s sustained efforts to make African development a focus of U.S. foreign policy. But in order for Africa to meet its future agricultural needs, investors and donor organizations will need to take further steps to establish infrastructure, mechanization and resistance to climate-related challenges. Those investments in food security could help to deliver increased opportunities for the African and American economies alike.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, AGRA, United Nations
Photo: Flickr

Rice-Flour-Food-SecurityNutrition is a basic human need, and the lack of nutrition is a sad result of the poverty plaguing so much of the world. South Asia, one of the largest producers of rice, also has the highest overall number of hungry people in the world, with a current estimate at 295 million. A new kind of rice flour could help.

Food insecurity is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”

Rice flour is a kind of flour made from finely milled rice. It can be a good substitute for wheat flour because it does not cause digestive system irritation. It is used in many of the foods eaten across South Asia, and although wheat flour is slightly higher in nutrition than rice flour, rice is grown in abundance compared to wheat across Asia.

The problem with “normal” rice flour is that it is typically not as efficient at making bread as wheat flour, due to the presence of a particular protein called PDIL1. Researchers studying protein compounds in rice flour at Yamagata University in Japan have discovered that rice flour deficient in the PDIL1 protein active during seed development can produce dough far superior to normal rice flour.

A type of rice flour better suited to make bread could be an incredible leap forward in the fight to end global poverty because more food could be made in a better way across the developing world where rice is widely grown, thus improving food security in poverty-stricken areas.

According to the World Food Programme, hunger kills more people every year than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life. That’s about one in nine people on Earth.

The vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 13.5% of the population is undernourished.

Asia is the continent with the most starving people—two-thirds of its total population. The percentage in southern Asia has fallen in recent years but in west Asia it has increased slightly.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished.

Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five—3.1 million children each year.

One out of six children, roughly 100 million, in developing countries is underweight. One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries, the proportion can rise to one in three.

If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

The World Food Programme calculates that $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.

With the new improved rice flour, dough becomes easily stretched and less sticky. It also holds bubbles better during fermentation and baking, and holds its shape and texture after baking. Researchers are already experimenting with PDIL1-deficient rice plants that can be grown in varying climates to improve food security and nutrition globally.

– Jason Zimmerman

Sources: Economic Times, SciDev, Phys
Photo: Brittany Angell

In the past few weeks we have seen the rapid spread of what could become a devastating threat to the world’s banana population – a fungus known as Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

TR4 is a soil-born fungus that attacks plant roots and is now known to be deadly to the Cavendish banana, which is the world’s most popular and valuable banana crop, making up 95% of banana imports.

The fungal banana disease began its devastating journey in Southeast Asia, decimating tens of thousands of crops in Indonesia, China, Malaysia and the Philippines. TR4 has most recently been discovered in Jordan and Mozambique, indicating its spread beyond Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that there is already a risk that the fungus has spread to the world’s most important banana-growing areas in Latin America. These countries include Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia, where hundreds of thousands of people rely on the banana trade to make a living each day.

Not only is the banana an essential component of more than 400 million people’s diets, it is also an essential component of their monetary livelihood. According to one estimate, TR4 could destroy up to 85% of the world’s banana crop by volume, decimating thousands of plantations across the globe and severely impacting the $8.9 billion banana trade.

One leading banana expert, Professor Rony Swennen claims, “If [TR4] is in Latin America, it is going to be a disaster, whatever the multinationals do. Teams of workers move across different countries. The risk is it is going to spread like a bush fire.”

The FAO has further warned that TR4 represents an “expanded threat to global banana production” and that virtually all export banana plantations will be vulnerable in the coming weeks unless TR4’s spread can be stopped or new resistant strains developed.

The Cavendish banana is not the first to fall prey to such a fungal epidemic. Prior to its cultivation, the Gros Michel banana had been wiped out by a similar strain of the Panama disease.

Current researchers are attempting to discover new banana varieties that are resistant to the fungus or develop disease-resistant GM strains. However, a concerted effort between the industry, research institutions, government and international organizations will be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Bloomberg, The Independent
Photo: Flickr

Cambodia is currently facing a dilemma whereby 80 percent of its population lacks reliable access to electricity. In order to address this problem, the country has begun to seriously consider hydroelectric power generated by dams. However, the improvement in Cambodia’s electricity situation may come at the cost of other, equally important resources.

A total of 42 dams are expected to be built along the Sekong, Srepok, and Sesan rivers in Cambodia, These three rivers are the most critical tributaries feeding into the Lower Mekong River, as they provide major routes for migrating fish and essential water and sediment flows to the downstream flood plains, including those that nourish the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the most productive inland fisheries on the planet.

The primary concern with the construction of the dams is that a significant portion of the fish migration into the Tonle Sap Lake will be wiped out and 90 percent of sediment flow will be blocked. This blockage would have a negative impact on the Tonle Sap Lake because the sediment flow delivers nutrients to the water body and maintains fertile soils for agriculture. These changes could potentially impact the health, livelihood and food security of more than 55,000 villagers from 16 ethnic groups that live along the path of the three rivers. Several million more people downstream could be affected as well due to their dependence on the freshwater system’s fish populations and agriculture.

A new film highlights the concerns stemming from the construction of the dams in Cambodia. The film, entitled, “Hydropower in Cambodia: Impacts and Alternatives,” highlights several changes that can be made to improve the current building plans for the dams.

Such changes could potentially include alternate placements of the dams and the design of sediment release mechanisms, both of which will help to minimize damage to the ecosystem. According to Dr. Tracy Farrell of Conservation International’s Greater Mekong program, the film “clearly and visually articulates the critical importance of this river system for its energy provision potential, as well as the fish migration, sediment and water flows that nourish critical ecosystems and feed Cambodia’s people.”

Cavarrio Carter

Sources: National Geographic, Food Processing, Cambodia Hydropower

Who Is Mercy Corps?
Mercy Corps is a non-profit organization that was started in 1979 and based in Portland, Oregon. Their mission is to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. They aim to help people grappling with hardships survive by turning crisis into opportunity.

Mercy Corps is structured on a set of core values, which include belief in the intrinsic value and dignity of human life, and the belief of all people to thrive. Additionally, they believe that all people have the right to live in peaceful communities and participate in decisions that affect their lives. Mercy Corps members strive to be stewards of the Earth’s health, as well as stewards of the financial resources entrusted to them. Mercy Corps strives to use its resources to achieve peaceful change.

Mercy Corps is staffed by individuals who speak the local languages, know the culture, and understand the challenges of each community. Most of the time, their representatives are from the countries where they work. This enhances the sense of community and allows community members to help lift their neighbors from poverty.

The type of work Mercy Corps is involved in focuses on places in transition where conflict, disaster, political upheaval and economic collapse are present. The organization strives to provide emergency relief and to move quickly to help communities recover and build resilience to future shocks. They work to support community-based initiatives that are community-led and market-driven. And finally, Mercy Corps seeks to use innovation to fight against poverty in the places they work.

Mercy Corps has established programs in forty-six countries. Their programs have many different themes including agriculture and food, children and youth, conflict and governance, disaster preparedness, economic opportunity, education, emergency response, environment, health, innovations, water, and women and gender.

An example of an agriculture and food initiative Mercy Corps works with is in Timor Leste, one of the newest, poorest, and most poverty-stricken countries in the world. Mercy Corps is working with 4,500 subsistence farmers to improve their crop production, increase their income and diversify their diets. The goal of this project is to create a solid foundation for sustainable development in the country.

Access to freshwater is a serious problem for many communities in the developing world. In Yemen, Mercy Corps is working with local water vendors to accept vouchers to provide families with 20 liters of drinking water a day. Additionally, they have trained community members on the importance of hygiene practices such as hand washing, and they have installed a 5,000-liter plastic tank to store washing and general use water closer to people’s homes. This initiative has given over 1,000 people better access to water, greatly improving health in the communities.

Mercy Corps relies on donations and fundraising to sustain its programs. They encourage people to attend their events, donate, and volunteer with their organization. For more information, visit their website here.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Mercy Corps