The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will hold a workshop on Perennial Crops for Food Security later this month to highlight the development of a perennial wheat variety by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), CSIRO and Charles Sturt University.

DPI was recently successful in growing a perennial wheat variety in the Cowra district in Australia. Perennial crops offer significant benefits in sustainability that support efforts to address food security. The wheat variety will produce for three consecutive years compared to other wheat varieties produce only one year. DPI is also pursuing research in inter-cropping of perennials in Cowra. Their work involves planting perennial grain and legumes side by side to boost soil nutrition.

In addition to discussing developing new perennial crops the workshop will focus on increasing perennial crop yields and integrating these crops in production cycles. Perennial crops are more sustainable as they are able to be harvested without killing the plant. This ensures that the plant continues to grow and produce. The perennial crops are also heartier and able to survive temperature changes and extremes. However, annual plants have received the vast amount of technological attention (i.e. corn).

However, there are several barriers to encouraging farmers to adopt these crops. In regions where land tenure or ownership rights are tenuous, investing in perennials crops does not appeal to farmers who do not need investment security of perennials. Many of these crops take several years to establish and produce a crop and it can be difficult to convince farmers that this investment is worth the wait. The specialized equipment and the new techniques required do not make conversion any easier and often involve a high price tag.

The FAO expert workshop will include speakers from several countries. These experts will discuss trends and the status of various perennial crop developments. The gaps and opportunities for integrating these crops in the production chain will also be addressed by presenters. Speakers and participants also come from diverse public and private backgrounds.

Perennial crops will be a long term solution for food security, as demonstrated by the various barriers that must be overcome. However, the many benefits that they present make it an important endeavor. If food security is to be achieved and 9 billion people fed by 2050, scientists and international development specialists must pursue a variety of options.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Cowra Guardian, FAO, Perennial Solutions
Photo: Perennial Solutions

Coffee, cocoa, and other major products have become the food faces of the fair trade market. Soon, shea butter may well be added to those ranks. But what does this mean for shea butter workers and farmers?

Grown in the Sahel region, farmers extract shea butter from a small almond like nut which grows on the karite tree. From South Sudan to the western shores of Senegal, shea butter extraction provides major labor employment opportunities for women.

Shea butter, used mostly in the cosmetic field, provides multiple dermatologic benefits. These include healing burns, ulcerated skins, stretch marks, and dryness by moisturizing the skin. Recently, the Shea Butter Trade Industry hosted its first conference in North America. The event allowed African producers to meet with L’Oreal, the Body Shop, and other cosmetic industry players. With an expanding demand for shea butter, the creamy exfoliant has potentially reached a level that allows African producers to negotiate fairer prices for their labor.

Currently, the extraction and production of shea butter employs millions of women on in Africa. To access the butter, the nut is crushed. It is then boiled, cleaned once more, packaged and sold in local markets or exported. Despite the individual preparation of shea nuts, women create cooperatives to sell their product in their local markets.

With a rise in demand for their product, many women have also found an increase in income. Empowering women both in their own household and community has given rise to shared decision-making in family and community structures. This sense of freedom through successful employment is set through a traditional service, and many daughters learn it from their mothers who pass down the craft.

But not only do prices and gender equality rise with demand, fair trade over the production market rises as well. As the popularity of shea butter and other new products have reached new levels, Fair trade organizations such as Fairtrade International, have set their efforts towards promoting fair prices that protect producers. “Fair trade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which too often leave the poorest, weakest producers earning less than it costs them to grow their crops. It’s a bit like a national minimum wage for global trade. Not perfect… but a step in the right direction.” stated Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fairtrade International.

However, there are others that do not believe farmers and laborers benefit from fair trade, citing that there is little evidence of their benefit. Philip Booth, Editorial and Program Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, contends that “no clear evidence has been produced to suggest that farmers themselves actually receive higher prices under fair trade. Fair trade may do some good in some circumstances, but it does not deserve the unique status it claims for itself.”

Despite a difficulty to decipher between marketing and real action, quantifiable claims made by companies such as L’Occitane, allow agencies to verify what companies claim. Unlike your average marketing attempts, L’Occitane’s claims have been analyzed and reported on by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The written report detailed L’Occitane’s collaboration with 15,000 rural women producers, paying $1.23 million in revenue each year to their shea butter laborers.

– Michael Carney

Sources: How We Made it in Africa, Alaffia
Photo: Tree Aid

Escalating tensions over the issue of land rights gave rise to protests, which turned violent after security forces shot and killed four unarmed peasants on June 22 and 25 in Catatumbo, Colombia, as reported by Amnesty International. They are only the most recent casualties in the ongoing battle over land in Colombia.

Land is becoming ever more scarce for farmers throughout Colombia, as big businesses and mining companies have been consolidating their ownership over land for years. Rural farmers are struggling to earn a living, and growing enough food to feed their families is becoming increasingly difficult as land is disappearing from beneath their feet. Colombia is home to the world’s largest internally displaced population. Farmers are continuously forced to leave their homes and farms as more and more land is granted to wealthy companies. While the government has recently passed the land restitution law, no landholding entity has yet returned land to displaced peasants. Over 16,000 people involved in land disputes have simply “disappeared,” according to Catalina Ballesteros Rodriguez, Program Officer for Christian Aid.

The 14,000 strong protest this past June was organized by the Peasant Farmer Association of Catatumbo, with support from the Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers’ Collective. CALCP is an all-female organization of lawyers, who offer legal advice and provide training to support grassroots organizations and displaced communities. Judith Maldonado, director of CALCP and winner of the German ‘Shalom Award’ for her human rights work, says “we seek to bring the rule of law to the communities… so that it can be a tool for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights, and for the transformation of their communal, social, political and cultural realities.” Their operations are based in northeastern Colombia, a place so rich in natural resources that it is a curse rather than a blessing for indigenous and small scale farming communities, who are forced off their land in large scale extractive projects to make way for big money-making business interests. They also advocate on an international level, to raise awareness about the violent removal of peasant farmers and land rights issues. Their work is done at great personal risk, and human rights lawyers have often been threatened, repressed, even “disappeared” or killed. Judith Maldonado has personally faced threats from armed groups, and illegal surveillance by the state. CALCP is supported by Peace Brigades International, a UK based group that provides support and protection to human rights defenders all over the world who are subject to repression.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: The Guardian, Peace Brigades International

Why Women?
A lack of distinct land ownership laws leads to poorly cultivated land and hungry families who are forced to work as day laborers or indentured servants. This weighs even more heavily on women, who are rarely given the opportunity to act as a land owner. In addition to benefiting the women themselves, recent studies have shown that giving land rights to women can have a direct impact on the elimination of global poverty.

Women Can Bring Home The Bacon Too

Rural women play a large part in agricultural production. According to the UN, women workers are involved in fisheries, agro-forestry, and wild-harvesting systems. They work along-side men to produce commercial crops, manage livestock and grow vegetable gardens. However, women also have the added burden of caring for their families.

Despite their crucial work in both production and family well-being, rural women are often under recognized laborers. Most rural women are unpaid or highly underpaid. This means that rural women frequently work in “unofficial” or informal agricultural settings. In India alone, 34% of informal women’s employment is made up of unpaid agricultural work. In Egypt, the percentage comes in at a staggering 85% compared to the 10% for men. Furthermore, many institutions do not recognize or define rural women’s work as economically active employment.
However, the UN is now calling for the economic empowerment of women as a means to combat global poverty. Economic empowerment can first come through the recognition of women’s land rights. Land ownership leads to greater respect, status and increased decision-making power for women.

Research indicates that land ownership can lead farming communities to reinvest in improving their production. This no doubt contributes to greater food security alongside increased welfare for individual families. Research also indicates that when women have land rights, there is an even greater improvement upon food security and hunger. This is largely due to the fact that women are more likely to focus on sustainable crops for their families as opposed to the riskier cash crops that are exported out of the nation.

Women with rights to their own land are also more likely to have a higher status and higher income within their community. This kind of empowerment enables women to make decisions that ensure improved nutrition for themselves and their children. Additionally, women with higher social standings are also likely to be healthier themselves. The effect of such is increased infant survival rate and higher birth-weight children. In fact, research on child malnourishment in Nepal suggests that infants born to mothers that own land are half as likely to be born critically underweight.

Ultimately, increased support for land rights coincides with Millennium Development goals to reduce poverty. But more importantly, land rights give hard-working rural women a chance to better enjoy the fruits of their labor.

– Grace Zhao
Sources: The Christian Science Monitor UN
Photo: Declan McCullagh

Climate Change Affects Africa
Recently the World Bank released a report entitled “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience” that underscores the urgency of supporting African farmers now so that they can better cope with the potential impacts of a changing climate. This report finds that an increase of 4 degrees Celsius worldwide would lead to increased droughts, more frequent flooding, and shifts in rainfall in Africa, jeopardizing the region’s food security and economic growth.

The changes that should be expected to take hold if the global temperatures rise include: Rainfall patterns shifting, more frequent heat extremes, dry arid regions spreading, and rising sea-levels. It is predicted that around the 2080’s the annual precipitation may decrease up to 30 percent in southern Africa, while East Africa will see more rainfall. By the 2030’s, when temperatures could be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer, heat extremes could cover one-fifth of the land areas in the Southern Hemisphere during the summer. Arid regions are expected to expand by 10 percent. The sea-level is expected to rise by 50 cm  by 2060, threating important seaports such as Mombasa Kenya.

These potential climate changes could bring harm to the African agriculture and food security. Maize, wheat and sorghum are all sensitive to high temperatures, and as a result of an increase in global temperatures farmers could see lower crop yields.  Temperature increase of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius by 2040 would increase drought and aridity throughout Africa causing farmers to lose 40 to 80% of their croplands. All these decreases in crop production would thereby lead to less food being available and the amount of malnutrition increasing.

In order to prepare and lessen the consequences of rising global temperatures in Africa, there are many tools that we have at our disposal. We can promote the development and adoption of crops that can tolerate higher temperatures and drought conditions. We can improve energy access, which would enable countries to expand irrigation systems. Overall, it is critical to boost agricultural productivity now by facilitating investment in the sector and improving crop management techniques.

– Matthew Jackoski
Source: ONE, IDRC
Photo: BBC

Food Aid Reform Act Faces Fight in Congress

Initial support for reforms to food aid came from both parties. It turns out everyone believes money for food aid in emergency situations should go to feed people. The problem comes when determining how that aid should work and where it should be spent. President Obama has introduced reforms to policy dating back to the Eisenhower era, but the food aid reforms have hit trouble in Congress.

The discussion is focused on whom the US should buy food in emergency situations.  Currently, the US purchases food from US farmers and ships it overseas. Reforms to food aid include using money allocated to purchase food from overseas farmers. The US is currently one of the only major food-producing nations that still ships its food overseas rather than purchasing food directly from poorer farmers.

The money involved is around $2 billion; US agriculture is expected to bring in $128 billion of profits this year, making this a small amount in comparison. For poor farmers around the world, it is life-changing. It allows farmers in developing nations to improve their crops and continue to produce and sell their goods. This amount also would help prevent food insecurity, a source of unrest in many nations. Food insecurity is often accompanied by other insecurities as well.

Nigeria’s Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development, Akinwnumi Adesina, is a major supporter of the reforms. The money would help Nigeria continue to promote national security and help farmers grow economically. The Obama plan would shift the $2 billion spent on food aid to the USAID and allow them to use it to purchase food overseas.  Farmers would get a subsidy for at least the first year to replace some of the lost profit. In addition, 55% of food aid dollars will still go to American farmers.

Food aid reforms are long overdue and a key to promoting global development worldwide. They are also a key step in helping the US keep nations secure and conflict at a minimum. The reforms will help countries like Nigeria shift away from food dependence to food independence and become growing, thriving economies.

Call your Congressional leaders today and request they support the Food Aid Reform Act (H.R. 1983).

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Bloomberg

Agricultural Innovation for Pakistani Farmers

Pakistani farmers will get the benefit of an agricultural innovation program due to a partnership between the USAID, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, and the Pakistan Agricultural Research Center.  The agricultural innovation program will work to increase the use of modern technologies in the agriculture sector.

USAID is working hard to boost the economy of Pakistan and putting new technology in the hands of farmers is one way to accomplish that goal.  This will help meet some of the agricultural needs and improve the economic development of the country.  The program hopes to increase agricultural productivity and quality to create more jobs on farms and produce more goods.  Pakistan’s agricultural sector is a major component of its economy, but its slow growth pace is a detriment to economic development. Growth numbers have fallen behind similar nations in recent years and the USAID is hoping to change it.

The project will use scientific methods to develop a model to enable economic growth and improvement to the lifestyles of Pakistani farmers.  Pakistan, the USAID, and the other international partners on this project are committed to a solution that will include research, collaboration, and investments to ensure success.

The project duration is set for four years with a budget of $30 million. USAID will sponsor the research in hopes of encouraging the adoption of new techniques and practices. In addition, the project hopes to increase employment and incomes of rural families. Some of the ways this will be done include land irrigation and through connecting small farmers to major agribusinesses. The USAID has helped over 800,000 rural families increase their farm yields and earn better incomes through their agricultural innovation programs.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Business Recorder, The Nation

Grow Africa: Agriculture First
The call to end global poverty by the year 2030 has been sounded, but the real question is, where do we focus? Grow Africa is a partnership platform that seeks to accelerate investments in Africa’s agricultural sector by bringing public and private partners together. Their goal is to increase private sector investments, enable multi-stakeholder partnerships, and expand knowledge and awareness of the most effective practices and initiatives.

Because most of Africa’s poorest people live in rural areas on small farms, the goal to increase rural productivity seems a good place to start. The acceleration and improvement of the agricultural sector would lead to a quickening of the process of urbanization. This growth would undoubtedly support economic stability and success. The increased food supply will also aid tremendously in the fight against hunger.

Grow Africa has initiatives in many African countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda. These programs focus on commercial agriculture, local investments in commodities, and the strengthening of infrastructures such as irrigation canals and hydropower. Their first annual report showed over $3.5 billion in investments across the eight countries supported by Grow Africa. These investments allowed for around $300 million in sales from farmers as well as 800,000 smallholders that were reached and provided with training and sourcing.

While Grow Africa is focused on only one part of the developing world, if their reports continue to be positive and foster growth and development, other organizations and investments would very likely begin to pour into other developing regions such as Asia. In order to ensure long-term economic success, it is important to focus first on the development of agriculture. This focus will allow for a dramatic decrease in hunger-related deaths as well as an increase in economic stability, not only for farmers but for all those living in developing countries.

– Sarah Rybak

Sources: Grow Africa, The Globe and Mail

Women Farmers Get Help From USAID Dairy ProjectPakistan’s rural economy has been growing in part due to a USAID-funded Dairy Project.  The project works to help women farmers increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods.  With the project, USAID has trained a group of 5,000 female livestock workers who are available to provide veterinary services and advice on the care and feeding of cattle.  These livestock workers are trained locally and speak the language.  Aside from providing education, the USAID project also provides supplies for animals such as feed, vitamins, and medicine.  The hope is that the USAID Dairy Project will create new jobs and improve the lifestyle of rural farmers throughout Pakistan.

Rural women farmers are a huge part of the workforce in Pakistan. One resident told of how her husband used to work but due to an illness had to quit leaving her as the sole income source for their family.  She was educated through the 12th grade and was able to get a position as one of the livestock extension workers and help both her family and her village.  The hope she will be able to bring to her children and her family is just one of the positive results of the USAID project.

The USAID Dairy Project began in July of 2011 and employs rural women with a high school diploma. They are trained in basic animal health skills and entrepreneurship.  The program has trained 2,470 unemployed women since it began and helps them to earn an average of 2,500 rupees a month. The program aims to train additional 2,530 farmers.  The USAID project has connected rural farmers to livestock experts and pharmaceutical companies and helped them gain additional knowledge and skills.  One of the women involved has been able to treat around 6,000 animals and earn 46,000 rupees. Her household is growing and she is able to reinvest in her own agricultural business.

Dairy and livestock sectors contribute around 11% to the gross domestic project (GDP) of Pakistan. The USAID Dairy Program is helping rural women contribute to the improvement of the sector and earn an income to better provide for their families.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Pakistan Observer

USAID and Syngenta Sign Collaborative Agreement
To continue to advance U.S. efforts to fight hunger, USAID has signed an agreement with global company Syngenta International AG. The agreement will seek to increase food security and reduce hunger in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  The agreement will go to support farmers.  According to USAID, each night, around 870 million people around the world go to bed hungry and Syngenta is joining the fight to reduce those numbers.  Their partnership in the fight will help to increase the adoption of innovative technologies and create mechanisms for crop insurance.

The USAID and Syngenta agreement will allow both groups to reach the impoverished and malnourished across three different continents in joint efforts to end global poverty.  USAID and Syngenta will work together in research and development and capacity building. They will work together and with scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and other donors. This commitment advances the goals set by Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

As previously announced, Syngenta will invest over $500 million in Africa alone to help farmers adopt new technology to increase their yields. With 27,000 employees in 90 countries, Syngenta is truly a global company that is making a global impact. Part of their mission is to bring plant potential to life through science while protecting the environment and improving health and quality of life. Syngenta hopes to ignite change in farm productivity worldwide through the partnership.

Feed the Future is part of this global effort and supports countries as they develop their own agriculture sectors to increase economic growth and trade. In 2012, more than 7 million food producers were helped through Feed the Future. The USAID and Syngenta partnership will continue to grow agricultural development and promote the goals of Feed the Future.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: allAfrica
Photo: USAID