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WeFarmThere are over 500 million smallholder farms in the world. Most of these farmers live on less than $1 a day and are highly vulnerable to severe climate change and other factors that can hurt their farms. On top of that, many of these farmers do not have access to the Internet to learn about ways to help their farms or even to help other farmers.

One company, WeFarm, has developed a way to connect farmers without having to have an Internet connection. WeFarm has implemented a free, peer-to-peer service for farmers to share information via SMS, rather than through the Internet.

WeFarm explains how this works with a simple example: “Rose’s crops are suffering from a disease, so she sends a simple, free text to the local WeFarm number.” Rose’s question would then be posted online and sent to certain WeFarm members via SMS. From there, Rose would receive answers within minutes, according to WeFarm, without having to leave her farm or needing an Internet connection.

Because of the use of SMS, these farmers can use simple mobile phones to access this information. Especially now that over 90 percent of smallholder farmers now have access to a basic mobile phone. Over 290,000 farmers have registered with WeFarm. Of 387,000 questions asked, over 540,000 answers have been given. In the six years that WeFarm has been operating, they have made it much easier for farmers to access crucial information, with the only cost being purchasing a basic mobile phone.

As of now, WeFarm is only available in three countries: Peru, Kenya and Uganda. Their website even shows a live feed of questions as they are asked and answered, along with a map to show where the questions originate from.

Although WeFarm is still young and growing, they have created an extremely helpful concept that can be implemented in many parts of the world without an Internet connection. WeFarm has created a way – by using a basic mobile phone – to share necessary information at a low cost to farmers around the world; its success thus far brings hope that WeFarm’s progress will spread to other countries and help farmers all over the world.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small Himalayan country of 750,000 people. Over one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Ninety-six percent affected by the causes of poverty in Bhutan live in rural areas. The ones most impacted work outside the country’s modern economy, and include farmers, day laborers and small traders.

The Power of Nature in Bhutan Poverty

One cause of poverty in Bhutan cannot be controlled: the Himalayan landscape.

Natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, can wreak havoc on communities and ruin crops. Forces of nature can wipe out entire villages, forcing those already living in poverty to re-build their lives.

When weather conditions prevent a bountiful harvest, farmers do not have alternative options to financially recover. Farmers often don’t own enough productive land and livestock to gain financial security. Opportunities to generate cash income outside of agriculture are extremely limited, making farmers exclusively dependent on the success crops.  In rural areas, off-farm employment in rural areas is rare.

Rugged terrain also makes travel difficult for rural populations. A person may have to walk three hours to a few days to reach a highway or main road. These demanding journeys limit access to social and health services, markets, technology and education.

The Struggle of Large Families, Students and Laborers 

Other causes of poverty in Bhutan are due to family size, lack of education and limited jobs.

Large families with a high dependency ratio (children and adults who cannot work) experience more poverty in both urban and rural areas. As of 2004, 49 percent of families in the rural areas of Bhutan had six or more members. These families experience labor shortages when youth and working adults leave their villages for the country’s urban centers.

A student in Bhutan’s rural regions may have to walk two to three hours each way to access the nearest primary school. Because access to education is difficult and limited, the adult literacy rate and opportunities to gain productive skills in the rural areas of Bhutan remain low. As of 2004, less than half of the Bhutan’s rural population was literate.

For day laborers and small traders outside of Bhutan’s agriculture-based economy, low earnings are often not enough to overcome poverty. Even when laborers and traders work more than one job, they are often unable to earn enough to live consistently above the poverty line.

Reducing Poverty and Staying Happy  

Local government is working to address the causes of poverty in Bhutan and build long-term solutions and comprehensive development programs, especially in rural areas.

Despite the various causes of poverty in Bhutan, the country is well-known as one of the happiest countries in Asia. As Bhutan aims to overcome poverty, it carries the rich success of its famous priority: happiness.

 

Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr


Many companies use technology to make farmers’ work easier, especially in rural, underdeveloped places where millions of people depend on agriculture to survive. A new company named Agsol has joined this cause. Agsol brings power to poor farmers with its line of solar-powered agro-processing machines. Agsol aims to change the livelihoods and lives of some of the 1.1 billion people living off the power grid.

Agsol founders Matt Carr and Greg Denn created several small mills that can turn harvested crops, such maize and rice, into marketable products. Agsol’s solar-powered products include rice polishers and hullers, coconut scrapers and cassava scrapers.

Agsol currently works with Project Support Services, which provides Agsol’s products to customers in Papa New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. According to the supplier’s website, Agsol’s machines are “built strong for harsh environments…have zero fuel costs, require little maintenance, have a long life and are easy to use.” In this way, the products drive food production efficiency.

The machines save farm families from performing backbreaking, repetitive manual labor. In minutes they do what would have taken much longer before. The machines’ speed and efficiency mean farmers can prepare more products for the market, increasing their incomes and allowing them to rise out of poverty.

When rural farmers can grow and sell more, others also benefit. A 10 percent increase in farm yields contributes to a seven percent poverty reduction in Africa and a five percent reduction in Asia.

Agsol’s agro-processing machines also solve energy needs by producing electricity. “It could power a water purifier, a fridge, or even a community office server for computers,” Carr stated, as reported in Anthill, an Australian magazine that highlights innovation and entrepreneurship.

Providing energy to smallholder farmers and rural communities can further alleviate poverty. The energy created by Agsol’s machines could power a medical clinic, which would help decrease the rate and severity of illnesses. It could also power a school, enabling children to receive a quality education. Even something as simple as a smartphone charger could allow a farmer to communicate with other farmers about current local conditions and share tips for success.

Agsol was one of five companies that recently graduated from The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s “ON [email protected],” an eight-week experience for small businesses to gain connections and knowledge to further develop their businesses.

The training Agsol received has set it on pace to sell around 800 machines in 2017. With each machine sold, Agsol brings power to poor farmers: the power to improve farm yields, incomes and communities.

Kristen Reesor

Photo: Flickr


In the last century, worldwide water utilization, most of which is used in agriculture, has surpassed population growth, and many developing countries are facing severe water scarcity. While water usage goes up, climate change brings more droughts and extreme weather, reducing the water available for agriculture. That’s why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has turned to water accounting, a process that measures the efficiency of water use in agriculture and helps farmers in developing countries improve their crop yields.

FAO recently launched WaPOR, which stands for Water Productivity Open-access portal. WaPOR, as its name suggests, is an open-access database that uses satellite data to track water usage. Part of a $10 million project funded by the government of the Netherlands, WaPOR will evaluate water usage in Africa and the Near East, focusing on countries facing water scarcity.

WaPOR measures evapotranspiration, a phase in the water cycle which consists partly of water that evaporates into the atmosphere via plants and foliage. Evapotranspiration provides a measure of the water that plants and crops consume during a growing season and helps farmers understand the efficiency of their water use based on their crop yields. In brief, WaPOR monitors how effective current irrigation schemes are and offers cost-effective solutions for farmers in developing countries.

The program uses satellite data show how many crops farmers produce per cubic meter of water used. Using WaPOR’s data, agricultural extension agents help farmers in developing countries create sustainable ways to grow more reliable crop yields. FAO updates WaPOR’s water maps every one to 10 days.

The International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable uses of water in agriculture, and the IHE Deft Institute for water Education, the largest international school for water education in the world, will help developing countries use WaPOR by boosting capacity in those areas.

WaPOR allows smallholder farmers to have access to critical information that they didn’t have before. This new technology will help farmers improve water availability and protect them from climate change.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rural India
In India, one of the world’s most culturally diverse and populous countries, one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of India’s poor live in rural areas, where a lack of access to basic resources and social services, high rates of illiteracy and inadequate healthcare contribute to high poverty rates.

The NM Sadguru Water and Development Foundation works to empower those living in nearby rural communities and reduce poverty through sustainable development. The nonprofit works to provide education and training for farmers, implement environmentally-sound structures and build community through farmer organizations and cooperatives.

Before the organization began its work that now spans more than 500 villages throughout the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, farming in the semi-arid, drought-prone region could only occur during the three-month monsoon period. The only crop farmers could grow was corn, and they had to migrate with their families to other areas in India to find work as laborers to supplement their income. Making only a few thousand rupees per year, they lived in extreme poverty.

The area transformed when the NM Sadguru Foundation constructed check dams and lift irrigation systems to slow water from nearby rivers, conserve rainwater and distribute the water to various sites through gravitational force. This new system eliminated farmers’ need to walk long distances to find water, which made it possible to farm year-round and enabled farmers to plant a more diverse set of crops.

Farmers who once were only able to grow corn now grow eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, beets, pointed gourd, onions, papaya, mangoes, potatoes, wheat, chickpeas, rice, cilantro and garlic. While the new crops greatly increase their incomes, farmers and their families are now also much healthier. Many farmers have even turned to floriculture, earning six times more harvesting chrysanthemums, marigolds and roses than their income from farming corn.

With an increased profit, farmers and their families are able to do things they never dreamed possible before Sadguru, such as build better homes, buy and raise healthier livestock and even send their children to school.

Aside from improving access to water, the NM Sadguru Foundation also provides sustainable farming education to farmers and even trains them to become community leaders. Farmers can then supervise their villages and surrounding areas, providing training and support to all those in the community.

While this spreads knowledge of the best farming practices quickly, it also empowers rural people who may have been on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder previously. For example, some women have transformed their entire villages through introducing and developing fruit orchards in their communities.

The NM Sadguru Foundation’s work shows that it doesn’t take much to lift many people out of poverty. Improving access to basic needs creates a ripple effect that expands to impact health, security, income, education and so many other factors. With the right solutions and the proper support to maintain growth, eliminating poverty is something that can be achieved.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Protecting the Coffee Farmers
The exponential rise in demand for coffee has led to insuperable pressure on coffee farmers all over the world. The 22 percent decrease in global coffee exports has adversely impacted the supply of coffee as climate change patterns continue to debilitate.

The major cause of the decrease in supply lies in the rapidly rising global temperatures. This temperature spike has culminated in poor yields as the coffee plants thrive on more moist and cooler conditions for flowering and fruiting. If not, the crop becomes more vulnerable to the combined effects of pests and various diseases.

Consequently, a large proportion of coffee growers in developing economies in African countries, Brazil, Colombia and India are smallholder farmers. Protecting coffee farmers is especially essential because they do not have the means to support and adapt to the changes in the market, especially during the concurrent price volatility for coffee. There are around 120 million individuals who rely on this produce for their livelihoods.

A recent report consolidated by Australia’s Climate Change Institute highlighted that by the year 2050, 50 percent of the land dedicated to growing coffee would shrink. This will lead to negative impacts on yields.

Protecting the coffee farmers is vital to ensure continued production of coffee to meet the increasing demand. Using sustainable practices and approaches will be instrumental in achieving this goal, along with carefully monitoring supply chains. Many organizations have therefore recognized the need of addressing this key objective.

The 15-year collaborative effort that Conservation International has embarked on with Starbucks, with the establishment of the CAFE (Coffee and Farmer Equity) practices program, has been a pillar of strength to coffee growers. Moreover, the concept of Ethical Sourcing has brought about the inception of the components: Quality, Social Responsibility, Economic Accountability and Environmental leadership. These initiatives will ensure that coffee growers have an efficient way of sustaining their produce every year.

The Smart Coffee ID Card has also helped in protecting the coffee farmers in Colombia. Through this scheme, farmers get a chance to make payments effectively. Digitizing payments has been proved to stimulate more financial and social inclusion within communities to help combat poverty, as accentuated by the U.N. led coalition, Better Than Cash Alliance.

Fortunately, this channel is now also being used for the provision of government subsidies and incentives. From 2007- 2014 alone, a record 5.4 million payments were made.

Moreover, the Kagera Co-operative is also protecting coffee farmers. It has a widespread influence in Tanzania and reaches out to 60,000 smallholder farmers who aspire to sell their products on the fair trade market. Fair trade Coffee Cooperatives have a massive outreach with a renowned reputation for alleviating trading and price restrictions, along with granting workers considerable autonomy.

Overall, protecting coffee farmers effectively can be achieved by the concerted efforts of the coffee farmers, governments, local charities and international organizations so that coffee farmers continue to have an outlet for their produce and can earn high returns. Collaboration in this manner will pave the way for a sustainable future, where conservation, farming practices and livelihoods are all safeguarded.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Loans in BangladeshNearly half of the population in Bangladesh work in the poor agricultural sector where they have traditionally been excluded from accessing credit facilities that could improve their livelihoods.

To help farmers lift themselves out of poverty, USAID’s Development Credit Authority has partnered with Bangladeshi banks to provide customized financing options that fit the needs of local communities. Here are several benefits of small loans in Bangladesh:

  1. Bank loans give farmers the opportunity to become self-sufficient. Many poor farmers lack the resources to invest in the land they work on and often spend a significant portion of their income on rent or lease  agreements. Through credit facilities, small farmers can purchase the land they work on providing them with stability and opportunities for growth.
  2. Some farmers have used loans to diversify or increase their crop production or to purchase livestock. Through loans, some workers have even been able to make the switch from being a laborer on someone else’s farm to developing a farm of their own. Each small investment that farmers are able to make moves them one step closer to economic stability.
  3. Entrepreneurs have the option to expand their businesses through bank loans. One of USAID’s success stories is of a man who had run a carp farm for 16 years. His business was well-established but in order to expand he required a loan, which he received through the USAID program. Farmers can increase their livelihoods when they have more land, because they can cultivate more crops or raise more livestock.

The availability of loans in Bangladesh that are customized for small borrowers will go a long way to benefit farmers, their families and local communities.

Emily Milakovic

Photo: Flickr

Small Farmers WeFarm InternetNowadays, it seems everything can go viral on the Internet in seconds, from a social justice movement to a funny cat video. But what do people in developing countries do to share ideas, ask questions and communicate with their peers who live in remote areas without the Internet as a permanent fixture in their lives?

For small-scale farmers in developing countries, the slightest challenges can quickly become insurmountable. Issues like climate change, access to profitable markets and below-average growing seasons hit small farmers much harder than their larger counterparts.

According to the Huffington Post, there are currently about 500 million smallholder farmers around the globe. On average, these agriculturists live on less than $1 a day.

In order to survive year after year, many small farmers have developed low-cost, effective solutions to the everyday problems they face. Until recently, these solutions could travel no farther than word-of-mouth could take them.

In 2014, WeFarm was founded with the mission of becoming “the internet for people without the internet.” The organization offers peer-to-peer communication amongst farmers in developing countries. Users can ask and answer questions using SMS or text messaging. The service is offered to smallholder farmers free of charge.

The service translates queries and advice so that small farmers from around the world can communicate and share the valuable information they have accumulated through their personal experiences. So far, over 100,000 answers have been provided to the 43,000 farmers registered to the program.

The founders of WeFarm thought strategically about how to make information available to all the small farmers who live without the Internet. Six billion of the world’s seven billion citizens have access to a mobile phone but only 25 percent of the global population has an Internet connection. SMS is a far more trafficked channel of communication for the world’s poor, compared to email or Internet messaging.

WeFarm has big plans for the data collected by the service. The organization sees the questions farmers are asking and answering as an opportunity to address some of the major issues inhibiting food production around the world.

The data gathered by WeFarm’s service is sold to major food producers to give them a sense of the daily struggles faced by small-scale farmers. The buyer companies can use this information to better analyze the issues and develop long-term strategies to address them.

According to Zoë Fairlamb, a spokesperson for WeFarm, “Small scale farmers produce 70 percent of the world’s food globally. Global brands rely on what small scale farmers are producing, yet they have next to no visibility on what is going on at the bottom of the supply chain. A lot of food is wasted in this way through very preventable diseases.”

Though WeFarm has already taken significant strides toward a more sustainable farming system, this is only the beginning for the organization. According to the Huffington Post, WeFarm is currently seeking investments in order to expand and reach one million farmers by the end of 2016.

As a connector of major players in the food industry and small farmers across the globe, WeFarm is in a unique position to change the way the world grows food and transfers information.

As Fairlamb put it, “WeFarm wants to be about changing [the] conversation and giving [farmers] a voice, showing their knowledge is valuable and giving them a way to share that information.”

Jennifer Diamond

Sources: Huffington Post, WeFarm, Global Citizen, Space Innovation Congress
Photo: National Geographic

Farmers_Following_the_SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been officially chosen and released with a target date of 2030. According to Farming First, “agriculture accounts for 37 percent of employment, 34 percent of land use, 70 percent of water use and up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”

If agriculture can be made more efficient, we may have a shot at feeding everyone in the world, a number that will reach 9 billion in 2050.

Farmers following the SDGs can help end poverty and hunger, consequently reducing negative effects caused by these problems. They can also help fight climate change globally. Farming First talked to farmers to see what they had to say about what they needed most to help them reach goals that were attainable for them.

In Bangladesh, Anwar Hosen had been selling seed, fertilizer and crop protection without any formal kind of training. The Feed the Future initiative taught Anwar about high-quality agricultural inputs and was given more readily available access to these inputs. Anwar now understands the difference that high-quality seeds and fertilizer can make, as his clients have reported a higher crop yield.

In Cambodia, Chieng Sophat is a bean and cucumber farmer in the province of Battambang. Sophat has been farming since the 1980s and has always had trouble making money due to flooding that can often destroy an entire crop yield. Sophat notes that things are getting worse as climate change all over the globe intensifies.

Thanks to the project Cambodia HARVEST, Sophat has been shown ways to better manage the water on his farm. Through methods like raised plant beds and drip irrigation, which help get his crops through the dry season, Sophat has seen notable success.

He now has extra income from his higher crop yield that he is able to use to “pay for his children’s school and household improvements,” according to Impatient Optimists. Most of the world’s farmers live in developing countries, and growing agriculture has been proven to be twice as effective in reducing poverty compared to the growth of any other sector.

In order for us to be able to end global poverty and be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050, we must ensure that farmers have access to the knowledge and training that will allow them to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of their crops while using sustainable methods.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Farming First, Impatient Optimists
Photo: Pixabay

essential_living_foods
Working with indigenous and small communities to obtain eco-friendly, organic and healthy superfoods for their clients is Essential Living Foods’ goal.

This company works directly with farmers around the world in order to get the quality products it offers to its costumers. At the same time, the company is bringing sustainability to its farmers.

Essential Living Foods’ global trade partnerships support farmers’ sustainability and development. The company donates one percent of its profits to the communities and farmers that supply them with superfoods products.

According to the Essential Living Foods website, the company’s mission is to “improve the health of the planet, its people and their communities.”

Dedicated to fair and ethical business practices, Essential Living Foods also works to maintain a healthy work environment for its partners and employees.

Part of its vision of a healthy and sustainable environment is to have eco-friendly packaging that produces zero waste in its products. This packaging goes hand-in-hand with the company’s mission to improve the planet, people’s lives and communities’ health.

Cardboard, glass, tin and plastic are some of the materials that the company uses to package its products. For example, its cardboard boxes are made of 100 percent recycled materials. It also uses recyclable and resealable bags that keep the freshness of its superfoods, as well as reusable tins made from recycled steel that help maintain the company’s powdered products.

As if that were not enough, in order to label its products, the company uses soy, vegetable and water-based inks that help make the packaging recyclable.

As mentioned before, Essential Living Foods donates one percent of its profits to the indigenous communities that provide them with their products. This is done through the “One Percent for the Planet” organization membership, in which each member donates at least one percent of their annual profits to different causes.

A member of “One Percent for the Planet” since 2008, Essential Living Foods has collaborated with this cause to improve lives and protect the environment, expand and support their philanthropic causes and continue providing its customers with quality superfoods.

Among the products that Essential Living Foods offers are cacao bars, goji berries, smoothie mixes, trail mixes, protein concentrates, peanut butter and almond butter.

Customers can shop Essential Living Foods products by ingredients, by function or by nutrients. Ingredients encompasses cacao, berries and fruits, nuts and seeds, oils and butters, salt and olives, among others. For function, the company divides its products into sections such as energy, cleanse/detox, balance, skin, immunity, appetite/metabolism, healing and rejuvenation. Some of the nutrients offered to clients are antioxidants, fiber, protein, magnesium and selenium, among others.

Besides providing healthier and organic superfoods products for their costumers, Essential Living Foods is a company that is also dedicated to creating and improving the health of the planet, the people and communities around the world. It does this through fair and ethical business practices as well as donations that help improve lives and protect the environment.

Diana Fernanda Leon

Sources: Essential Living Foods 1, Essential Living Foods 2
Photo: The Appropriate Omnivore