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Scientific Breakthrough in Stress: Free CropsThe ability to grow crops in acidic soil environments has, up until recently, been feasible with only a few species of maize. However, current scientific research into the genes responsible for plant tolerance may enable the cultivation of stressed free crops in soils once considered impossible, opening up exciting new frontiers in the field of sustainable farming.

Researchers from Cornell University in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research have been conducting fascinating studies into the high aluminum tolerance of Ethiopian Maize and Brazilian Sorghum. Why aluminum? Well to start, the aluminum present in the clay of soils with a highly acidic pH dissolves, which is toxic when absorbed by nearby root systems. Amazingly, researchers were able to break down the genome of the aluminum tolerant species of maize and identify key gene copies known as MATE1 that were linked to the unusual trait. Moreover, by isolating and identifying the genes that enable crops to thrive in lands regarded as non-arable, stress-free crops can be grown in all types of climates and soil compositions.

In regards to stressed free crops, USDA Director of the Agricultural Research Service Leon Kochian remarked that “Aluminum tolerance in Maize is associated with higher MATE1 gene copy number. This could be a key factor for other traits of agricultural importance.”

The prospect of farmers being able to grow stress-free crops in areas that were once written off as unusable gives pause for optimism in nations that have been plagued with chronic food shortages and low soil efficacy. By unlocking the amazing potential of stressed free crops, remote areas that were once dependent on foreign aid can now reach the goal of sustainable development through aluminum tolerant maize.

– Brian Turner
Source: Science Daily
Photo:Nation Sydication

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their CommunitiesFood is one of the most basic human rights and needs: without adequate, nutritious food, people are unable to work and, in some cases, live. Almost a billion people in the world today are chronically undernourished, and many more are food insecure, meaning that they do not know where their next meal will come from. About three-quarters of those in Africa that live off of $1 a day are subsistence farmers. Helping subsistence farmers grow more food is key to lifting rural communities out of poverty. The following are some of the methods the Millennium Villages Project uses to help poor farmers, in its pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Here are 10 ways to help poor farmers.

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their Communities

1) Protect and preserve the natural environment: Without a healthy natural environment where native flora and fauna live productively, long-term sustainable agricultural practices will fail. Farms must be developed in conjunction and cooperation with local ecology, not at its expense.

2) Implement community – specific programs: Every region has unique characteristics and therefore unique needs. Individualized programs that meet the needs of specific regions are more likely to succeed. This is the approach used by the Millennium Villages Project.

3) Teach and implement sustainable farming techniques: Farming techniques such as agroforestry, organic agriculture, and permaculture are more sustainable and practical on a small, rural scale. Poor farmers need to learn about these techniques and have access to the resources they need in order to implement them.

4) Build and maintain soil productivity: Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy farm and leads to increased crop yields. Rebuilding soil after intensive cultivation is necessary to maintain soil productivity. Essential soil nutrients can be replenished through techniques such as fertilization, composting, inter-planting, and crop and field rotation.

5) Sustainable water access: A consistent water source is necessary for growing crops and for human survival. Rainwater harvesting systems and wells can provide water to a community, while drip irrigation systems give farmers access to water for their crops.

6) Increase sustainable crop production: Increasing crop yields is important to improving food security and fighting undernourishment. Farmers need access to high-quality seeds of appropriate crops, as well as information about planting, growing, harvesting, and crop management.

7) Economic organization: Farmers need a way to connect with customers in nearby communities in order to sell their products. Additionally, small-scale farmers can benefit from farmer cooperatives, wherein all the farmers in a community combine their resources in order to receive a better price for their crops. Aid organizations need to invest in the infrastructure and education necessary to create viable economic systems for farmers.

8) Supplement programs for newborns and their mothers: Even with an adequate food supply, pregnant and nursing mothers and their young children have unique nutritional needs. They need more protein, folate, calcium, and iron, as well as more calories.

9) End subsidies to wealthy US farmers: One Oxfam study showed that ending subsidies to wealthy US cotton farmers would do more to help Africa’s poor than the amount of aid they receive now. Farm subsidies drive down the prices of US-grown crops, making it impossible for small-scale farmers abroad to compete.

10) Improve food security: This means making sure that everyone in the community, including farmers, consistently has adequate calories and nutrition. Food security can be improved in many ways, including building food storage facilities, providing access to fuel-efficient cookstoves, and sourcing food locally, just to name a few.

Kat Henrichs

Sources: Borgen Project
Photo:

New Proposals for Development in Haiti
In an ambitious goal to help other nations help themselves and possibly shift the paradigm of foreign aid forever, Canadian aid worker Hugh Locke has started a forestry program aimed at fostering a sense of independence in the Haitian citizenry. Lock, critical of the current state of NGO and government involvement in projects, is employing his aptly titled “exit strategy aid” to change the scope of development in Haiti.

The country of Haiti, still emerging from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy and previous natural disasters, has had no shortage of challenges involving their crippled infrastructure and forecasted food shortages. However, Lock, armed with his forestry background, noticed that the Caribbean nation was lacking key ecological resources and decided to embark upon a re-forestation program dependent upon native farmers to encourage development in Haiti. When questioned about the efficacy of such a program, Lock remarked: “A road that is built by donor money using foreign contractors is never going to be fully a part of the national transportation system,” before clarifying that such a project, because of its foreign ownership, would need foreign aid to maintain it, which is neither sustainable nor helpful to empowering local projects.

Lock, along with his Haitian counterpart Timote Georges, were able to bring together a group of farmers in a forestry cooperative whose primary goal is both the growth and sales of trees. The Haitian forests, a natural resource that once afforded certain energy and topsoil advantages, has since been stripped from much of the countryside, devastating crop and charcoal production levels.
Subsequently, by having farmers plant trees, Lock hopes to encourage greater internal participation in the development of Haiti. Thus, by establishing a strong ecological and agricultural foundation, the people of Haiti can look forward to a much brighter, more independent future for years to come.
– Brian Turner

Source: World News
Photo: Trees for the Future

agroforestry- big
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has presented a new guide for governments and NGOs to promote agroforestry, a farming practice that benefits both the farmers and the environment, ensuring food security in a sustainable way. Agroforestry involves planting trees with crop or livestock rearing, integrating agricultural and forestry technologies, which results in a more effective and sustainable use of land.

The FAO has suggested that agroforestry could alleviate poverty and urges countries to promote this practice. The nature of agroforestry requires coordination between various government sectors from development to agriculture and forestry. Because of the complex nature of methods of this practice, policies and legal constraints often inhibit it. In its guide, the FAO illustrates how agroforestry can be incorporated into policies, accommodating various specific environments.

The FAO guide advocates for raising awareness of the benefits of agroforestry, creating incentives, and reforming regulations that restrict or impede the practice. Using Costa Rica as an example of a success story, the FAO guide reveals how the country has planted more than 3.5 million trees on farms in less than a decade.

– Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: UN
Photo: World Agroforestry

CIFOR Bamboo 2_opt
A case study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) finds that bamboo has the potential to answer the problem of poverty in rural China. Nicholas Hogarth, a researcher with CIFOR, asserts that despite bamboo’s many uses and qualities, its potential to increase income for many households living in poverty remains surprisingly untapped.

Bamboo is used on a daily basis in the region to make household utensils, handicrafts, scaffolding and so on. The commodity is easily harvested, incredibly durable and flexible, relatively light and readily available. Hogarth’s study finds that there is much potential for bamboo to heavily benefit the region. Bamboo is an important “green” step as it is a valuable non-wood forest product. Bamboo, through its international commodity value, is increasingly seen as an answer to provide economic means to livelihood development and those in poverty.

Hogarth identifies the concern that most farmers’ knowledge about utilizing this resource is limited to smaller-scale management rather than for commercial production. In areas where off-farm income opportunities are scarce, forestry enterprises such as bamboo shoot production should be capitalized on. In his study, he writes that benefits could be provided to the poor in “areas of China’s south-western provinces, where over 73 percent of all new bamboo plantations have been established in recent years.”

Hogarth hopes that the ongoing research could serve as a catalyst to bring more focus to larger-scale and access to bamboo production.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: CIFORCIFOR