There is no doubt that flaws exist within our global food and agriculture systems. However, there are several innovative options for how to improve these systems. Many farmers and communities worldwide have discovered a possible solution through a technique known as agroecological farming.

The idea behind agroecological farming is to link ecology, culture, economics and society to foster a healthy environment for food production. It focuses on food production that maximizes the use of goods and services without harming these resources in return.

Studies show that agroecological farming programs are more efficient than conventional methods. Improving upon efficiency also increases cost efficiency. By using fewer inputs, expenses are reduced, soil fertility is maintained, pests are managed and higher incomes for farmers are possible.

The Muscatine Island LTAR is a long-term agroecological farming site as well as a soil fertility research field where research has shown the benefits of agroecological farming. In a study comparing the yield of fruit quantity of conventional versus organic peppers, no significant difference in yield was found, but organic peppers fetched prices 70 percent higher at market value. Analyzing this study economically, the organic plants cost more to produce, but being able to sell them for more, they far exceeded the conventional plants in profits made. The benefits of the organic method reach beyond profit. In this study, soil fertility in organic plots actually improved over time. The Muscatine Island LTAR allows for long-term cropping systems experiments that have land tenure and advanced management.

Organizations around the globe are investing in agroecological farming practices to improve them and, along with farmers, develop ways to create more efficiency within these programs.

Agroecological farming allows farmers to participate in innovative processes where creativity and skills are encouraged to jump-start agriculture and food production, which forms the basis for life as well as the economy. Agriculture, especially agroecological farming, and food production are centers for addressing challenges like hunger and poverty.

The U.N. confirms that agroecological farming could double global food production within ten years, reduce the effects of climate change and help alleviate poverty. This farming style also conserves biodiversity and improves nutrition by creating a more well-balanced diet. Since production happens locally, it brings families and communities closer together.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

Economy of Senegal
Year-round, the legume tree Senna Italica can be harvested in the drought-prone country of Senegal. In the commune of Kaymor, women in multiple villages grow the shrub on a large scale to compensate for losses the economy of Senegal has faced as a changing climate threatens their agricultural production.

The shrub provides some 300 women with agriculture training activities to capitalize on the economic benefits, and also brings medicinal benefits. The Senegalese use the plant to treat stomach discomfort, venereal diseases, jaundice, intestinal worms, and even skin irritation. Tea made from its leaves is said to help induce labor, and a root infusion can apparently be used to treat sore eyes. For now, its medicinal use makes local trade more common than anything else.

But outside of Senegal, the plant is still in demand. To the north, in Mauritania, people smoke the seeds. In Eastern Africa, the plant is mainly used to feed livestock. And internationally, the crushed dried leaves of the plant are used in hair conditioner and dye sometimes called “natural henna.”

Senna Italica is easy to produce, available for harvest only two months after it is planted, and seemingly immune to the rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall that agricultural researchers believe will only get worse.

The economy of Senegal is growing regardless of the shrub, In fact, Senegal is second in Africa only to Cote D’Ivoire for growth. For that reason, many of the local women harvesting the plant are happy to reap its medicinal benefits and use the excess profit to buy groundnut seeds for their husbands.

Groundnut seeds are one of the staple cash crops of Senegal, so men so far are less involved in the harvesting of Senna Italica, busy harvesting crops they have relied on for centuries. Yet village women are quickly discovering that as much money can be made from a hectare of the medicinal plant as two hectares of groundnuts, which are only seasonal.

In a local growers association of 70 women, each harvest can produce 500,000 CFA francs (close to $800) to support the local economy. With poverty still affecting 46.7% of the population, helping local economies helps the economy of Senegal, and this medicinal shrub offers an efficient way to empower women and fight poverty.

Brooke Clayton

Certified Sustainable Cocoa
When shopping for basic necessities such as milk, bread or snacks, it is common to look at the price tag. Some might buy the most expensive item, but most will probably buy the cheapest. Either way, both consumers have probably questioned why brands vary in pricing, even though it is basically the same item. When people are constantly buying the cheapest item, this is called commoditization. Commoditization can have negative consequences for the farmers in developing nations producing these commodities.

“When we pay less than $2 for a chocolate bar, we are paying for the systemic poverty of millions of families,” said Emily Stone during a presentation to the United Nations. Stone is the CEO of Uncommon Cacao. This company and 16 others spoke at the U.S. Institute of Peace to discuss ideas on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030; more specifically, the “Decent Work and Economic Growth” goal.

Uncommon Cacao is a company that specializes in cacao, which is the basis for chocolate. The company gives farmers in developing nations access to a steady market that provides fair wages and working conditions. Uncommon Cacao began its work in 2010, building Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize to create meaningful market access for smallholder cacao farmers.

The company’s argument is that cheap food equals cheap labor, which is why they are advocating for de-commoditization.

The Washington Times reports that the company is working to de-commoditize the cacao supply chain by training farmers in higher-quality production. They plan to buy cacao directly from thousands of farmers and pay them higher prices for better quality chocolate. This system produces what is known as Certified Sustainable Cocoa.

Thankfully, the demand for Certified Sustainable Cocoa is on the rise. Hershey’s says it’s committed to using only 100% sustainable cocoa by the year 2020, which means impoverished farmers working these cocoa plants will likely see a rise in pay very soon. Uncommon Cacao already has the ear of the United Nations; hopefully, they can influence the 16 other companies present at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The hope is that Certified Sustainable Cocoa will become a norm for chocolate in the future. With pressure from activists and workers’ rights organizations coming down on companies like Hershey, sustainable cocoa will ensure that farmers begin to see a way out of poverty, finally being able to earn more than a chocolate bar’s worth of pay each day.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Plant Diseases in East Africa
Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is a damaging disease of cassava plants that has recently reemerged in the East African Region. The disease, which is spread by the whitefly, is considered the most significant threat to food security along the coast of East Africa. Recent CBSD outbreaks are creating $100 million in damages yearly and have caused severe food shortages in countries like Tanzania and Malawi. In response, the Cassava Diagnostics Project is studying the disease, educating farmers and analyzing the DNA of the plant in hopes of developing resistant strains of cassava to combat plant diseases in East Africa.

Recent CBSD outbreaks are creating $100 million in damages yearly and have caused severe food shortages in countries like Tanzania and Malawi. In response, the Cassava Diagnostics Project (CDP) is studying the disease, educating farmers and analyzing the DNA of the plant in hopes of developing resistant strains of cassava to combat plant diseases in East Africa.

The Cassava Diagnostics Project currently operates in seven African Countries, studying the genetic makeup of the plant and testing different strains from different areas to see which are most resistant. In October 2016, the CDP launched a new diagnostics laboratory in Kenya that has quickly become one of the leading centers testing for both the Cassava Mosaic Virus and Cassava Brown Streak Virus. This diagnostics lab is just one of the many locations across East Africa bringing students, scientists and farmers together to solve food shortages caused by CBSD and other viruses.

As part of the effort to develop resistant strains of the plant, gene sequencing is a crucial step in speeding up the process and recreating resistant plants, therefore, possibly avoiding the catastrophe of a major outbreak. By analyzing the molecular makeup of favorable strains, virologists in African countries have successfully cultivated several varieties of cassava that are now showing significant resistance. Thanks to these developments made possible by gene sequencing, the disease may be properly controlled before spreading to Nigeria, the world’s leading cassava producer.

New cassava strains have already saved thousands from a food crisis in Kenya. As the disease-resistant and nutritionally enhanced version of the plant continues to be introduced thanks to gene sequencing, food shortages are expected to drop and standards of living should continue to rise. While the future looks promising, progress remains slow in some areas as planting materials may not be available to farmers for at least three years in Kenya.

Not only is the CDP having a positive impact in terms of its crop innovations, but the infrastructure it has put in place may continue to benefit these African countries even long after Cassava Brown Streak Disease is gone. The Project’s established laboratories have inspired dozens of Ph.D. and Masters students to stay in East Africa to study with the CDP rather than go abroad for education. This next generation of scientists will continue to fight plant diseases in East Africa and may prove vital in solving the next food or health crisis.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Google

How to Solve Hunger

Global hunger is an issue that has persisted throughout history and continues to threaten nearly 805 million lives today. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of hunger in impoverished areas around the world, there are a handful of solutions that have successfully encouraged fuller, healthier populations in recent years. In fact, within the last decade, more than 120 million people have been relieved of chronic hunger. In continuing to take these simple steps, global hunger can be greatly reduced, or even completely eliminated.

Here’s a list of actions to solve hunger in affected areas:

  1. Emergency relief
    Starvation can occur as the result of natural disasters or man-made conflicts. Displaced populations, such as refugees, are at a far greater risk of experiencing hunger. In precarious situations, populations become susceptible to hunger suddenly and without warning. It is critical that aid services are able to react quickly and support people when disaster strikes.
  2. Safety nets
    Around 80 percent of the world’s population lives without a safety net in case of a sudden famine. A bad harvest can throw entire villages into a poverty trap that takes decades to escape. Having governmental or affordable, privately-provided insurance protects impoverished populations from the debilitating consequences of unexpected setbacks.
  3. Nutrition for infants
    Studies have proven that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucial to long-term mental and physical development. Prioritizing nutrition within this window minimizes the negative effects of hunger.
  4. Support for farmers
    Small-scale farmers often need to take out loans to buy more land, seed, fertilizer and tools. However, in low-income countries, it can be difficult to obtain an affordable loan. Ensuring that farmers are supported financially increases yields and encourages local food markets. Additionally, supporting farmers is a tried and true method of how to solve hunger within the agricultural population.
  5. Effective and efficient food distribution
    Many think how to solve hunger is to simply grow more food. In reality, food shortage is due to inadequate distribution. Only 40 percent maximum of any crop makes it into a market to be sold, and many food producers in developing countries do not have access to global markets, thereby limiting their clientele and potential growth as a business. Improving food handling and giving small-scale farmers access to larger markets is crucial in approaching the issue of how to solve hunger.

While solving hunger is certainly an enormous task, the success in recent years by organizations like the U.N. World Food Program is more than promising. Aid-supported communities are far less likely to experience chronic hunger; therefore, understanding the link between poverty and global hunger is essential to confronting the issue. Ultimately, as with many global issues, empowering communities with the goal of sustainability is how to solve hunger.

Kailey Dubinsky

Photo: Flickr

Mohammad Al-Jabri, Minister of Municipal Affairs, announced that Kuwait is in full support of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as it seeks the elimination of international hunger and poverty.

According to Kuwait Times, Jabri made this announcement in Rome during the 40th Session FAO Conference on July 3, 2017. Jabri solidified Kuwait’s efforts to cooperate with FAO by signing an agreement for the agricultural development, which will help enhance Kuwait’s food and nutrition security while developing human and natural resources to eliminate hunger in Kuwait.

Additionally, a representative of Kuwait announced Kuwait’s preliminary approval of two projects including the DNA project for agriculture and the project of agricultural waste recycling. The increasingly high temperatures of Kuwait’s regional waters and immense environmental pollution put the country, specifically fisheries, in danger of climate change, which has a notoriously negative impact on hunger in Kuwait.

Climate change imposes a number of threats on the people of Kuwait. Without proper modern technology to combat the rising temperatures, a large portion of the country’s food supply is being compromised. Additionally, potable water is diminishing at rapid rates due to the lack of proper technology necessary to clean local water.

The amount of potable water is diminishing as the water supply is getting smaller and smaller in a country that is getting hotter and hotter. With this destructive climate change comes the lack of water needed to cultivate crops. Thus, leaders of Kuwait are teaming with FAO in an attempt to save the scarce water supply via water harvesting, drip irrigation and wastewater treatment.

Rising temperatures make land that was once fertile incapable of producing the food that the people of Kuwait rely on. Only approximately 0.3 percent of the country is utilized for crop production. According to FAO, the land that is used for the cultivation of crops is frequently unreliable as it is very poor in the organic nutritional matter, so there are limited opportunities to alleviate hunger in Kuwait.

The Center of Kuwait is one of the few areas that possess rich, sandy soil that allows for the transfer of air and water, making crop production much more possible. However, this small area of the country is unable to produce enough food for the entire population of Kuwait. With the desert-like climate of Kuwait that is constantly increasing in temperature, this already limited farmable area is rapidly diminishing.

A country constantly battling poverty and hunger, Kuwait is pursuing joint Arab action to help people in Kuwait. By tackling economic, humanitarian, educational and media objectives, leaders of Kuwait are uniting to protect Arab societies and interests. And at the forefront of these is, as it long has been, hunger.

With massive economic issues, an outbreak of diseases, poverty and famine, Kuwait is struggling to fight the inevitable consequences of living in a world of immense poverty and hunger. Jabri and the rest of Kuwait are hopeful that by partnering with FAO, these issues can be stopped in their tracks and eventually hunger in Kuwait will be reversed entirely.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Help the Hungry

One of the U.N.’s sustainable development goals for ending poverty by 2030 is to end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The question raised from this information is how to help the hungry?  The answer is to support global works that engage in local communities and advocate for hunger-related issues.

Below are six ways to participate in the reduction of global hunger.

  1. Reduce food waste.
    Being more conscious of eating habits and not overbuying can ensure food does not go to waste.  Buying produce at a local farmer’s market that may be thrown out because of their size, shape, or color can also prevent food from going to waste.  One can also volunteer with a local gleaning group to pick up fruit and vegetables thrown away.
  2. Shop local.
    Shopping at local farmer’s markets can also improve an individual’s local economy. Many people earn their income by running local businesses, and by supporting them, one can help keep people employed and assist them in making a living.
  3. Support food banks.
    Since most food banks serve ready-to-eat foods, one can host a food drive in their local community.  After the drive is over, the donated food such as canned or shelf-stable foods then has the potential to feed the hungry. One can also give money to food banks and other nonprofits that fight hunger on top as being a volunteer.
  4. Elect officials who support alleviating starvation and contact Congress in support of bills that help the hungry.
    By electing officials who support ending hunger and contacting Congress, one can increase their country’s involvement in efforts fighting global hunger. Phone calls, sending emails, and letters to ones elected officials can also influence the national agenda. Once elected representatives begin to understand constituents care about ending global hunger, accomplishing this change is possible.
  5. Organize a meal packaging event with groups that one is involved with or join groups that support sustainable agriculture projects, clean water initiatives, or provide food aid.  Engaging in community-based efforts and advocacy has a substantial effect at fighting global hunger.
  6. Be an advocate.
    One can help the hungry by supporting hunger-related issues in their community and finding out how they can help. Through advocacy, one can create an informed public who will join the fight to end hunger.

According to the U.N., “A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today’s 795 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050.”

Sarah Dunlap

Photo: Flickr

As of October 2015, 68 percent of all households in Samoa are raising various forms of livestock. There are currently 513,000 chickens and 168,500 pigs being raised. The country is dominated by agriculture, and instances of extreme poverty are very low, but 26.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

For the poor of the country, poverty in Samoa contributes to the disparity in levels of higher education for females. Seventy percent of females that reside in households at the bottom half of income earning families usually only have a primary school education.

While food is affordable, other essentials take up a lot of the budget for most Samoan households. The World Bank is committed to supplying Samoa with increased funding, which is appropriate considering 29.4 percent of the population age 15 and above are employed.

Roads that are necessary for trade would be rebuilt, and the reinvigoration of the Samoan agricultural sector would be a part of the initiative. Making sure the country is able to meet its growth goals as well as enable an increased partnership with the World Bank would help alleviate factors of poverty in Samoa.

Many households only engage in agriculture as a secondary activity. Those are called minor agricultural projects and are a way of subsistence for people experiencing poverty in Samoa.

Upgrading cattle farms in order to strengthen the agricultural sector is one strategy the government is using besides the increase of crop production. Along with road construction to improve trade, Samoa has positive plans for the future. However, the high cost of non-food items will continue to be a burden on earnings making poverty in Samoa more apparent.

Nick Katsos

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Paraguay
Paraguay is a lower-middle class country with a population of 6.6 million people. The population is mostly concentrated in the eastern region. In 2009, a third of the population was living below the poverty line and about 20 percent of the population was living in extreme poverty. Even though poverty in Paraguay has decreased in urban areas, rural poverty is still prevalent.

Over the years, the agriculture sector, which is where the country’s economic potential comes from, has been rapidly expanding. This is due to high international commodity prices and the demands of agricultural and livestock products.

The agricultural sector has increasingly been on the lands of large-scale commercial farming operations. However, about ninety percent of all holdings are still in the hands of small-scale family farmers. There are high levels of inequality in the country. This inequality is the main reason for the devastating poverty in Paraguay.

In the late ’90s, less than 10 percent of the population owned and controlled 75 percent of the land. This left most of the rural population without land and living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, 46.6 percent of all income went to the top 10 percent of the population.

To this day, poverty in rural areas is still at an all-time high. About half of the rural population is living in poverty, and women and indigenous people are affected the most. Some of the main causes of the prevalent poverty in Paraguay are the following:

• Piteous access to land, markets and financial services
Deterioration of natural resources and loss of soil fertility
• Limited access to appropriate technologies and quality technical assistance
• Insufficient productive assets at the farm level
• Absence of essential public goods and services
• High levels of dependency on commercial agriculture and agribusiness

In 2013, Paraguay grew economically by 13 percent, however, most of the country did not experience the recorded growth. About thirty percent of the population was still living in poverty. In fact, Paraguay was at the bottom among the South American countries in decreasing poverty over the last decade.

However, advancements have been made as Paraguay is getting the help it needs to improve its poverty condition. The World Bank has approved a $100 million loan to help improve Paraguay’s social welfare programs and help the poor.

Solansh Moya

Photo: Flickr

According to statistics released by YieldWise, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative, approximately one-third of all available food in the world spoils or gets thrown away before it reaches the consumer. With one out of every nine people on the planet either undernourished or food-insecure, this loss of resources is unacceptable. Additionally, the environment unnecessarily suffers due to the waste. YieldWise reports that 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide from uneaten food is released into the atmosphere and 66 trillion gallons of water are used on crops that are never eaten.

A Solar Power “Refrigerator”

Kenya is no stranger to unnecessary waste. Kenyan farmers used to watch 30 to 50 percent of their harvests go to waste because they had no means to extend the life of their fruits while they searched for buyers. Many lacked cold storage to preserve their harvests.

Launched in 2016, YieldWise has already made great strides in mitigating those losses and making sure more food makes it to the table. In partnership with TechnoServe, a cold storage facility that runs on solar power was recently made available to approximately 150 Kenyan farmers. With a simple car battery, an inverter and four solar power panels, the facility prevents approximately 3.4 tons of mangoes from spoiling prematurely. Although the facility does not get quite as cold as a traditional refrigerator, it still adds precious days to the shelf lives of the fruits.

Chemical-Free Pest Control

The oppressive heat is not the only hurdle Kenyan farmers face. Another foe, this one with wings, threatens profits by destroying more than 60 percent of fruits. The insect menace is Bactrocera dorsalis, a species of fruit fly. The increased temperatures create a favorable environment for the invasive flies.

Previously, farmers used pesticides to kill the flies, but many buyers were uninterested in produce that has been exposed to chemicals. In response, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Entomology (ICIPE) in Nairobi instituted a fruit fly pest management program. Ivan Rwomushana, who leads the program, reports that ICIPE is training farmers in alternatives to chemicals. Unique solutions like pheromone traps and parasitic wasps are being used in lieu of pesticides.

Reaping the Rewards

Farmer John Musomba is a big supporter of the new pest control methods and the solar power facility. “With the organic control interventions in addition to the cold storage facility, I now harvest and sell 250 tons of mango fruits in a year,” Musomba said. Prior to the introduction of the solar power cold storage facility and the organic methods, he only sold 100 tons of mangoes.

Musomba and his family are reaping the benefits. He said that buyers used to snub their harvests because of the exposure to pesticides, but that all changed with the new pest control approach. “Since we switched to organic farming, traders are now trooping around here for our fruits,” he said.

Thanks to the new cold storage facility, those fruits last even longer.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr