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Acute Hunger in the DRCAbout one in three people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suffers from acute hunger, warns both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). A WFP representative within the DRC states that the extent of food insecurity in the country is “staggering.” Armed conflict in the east, COVID-19 and economic decline are all contributing factors to the prevalence of acute hunger in the DRC.

March 2021 IPC Snapshot

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification has released a snapshot of the state of acute food insecurity in the DRC as of March 2021. The snapshot estimates that about 27.3 million people living in the DRC are suffering from crisis levels (IPC Phase 3 or higher) of acute food insecurity. The IPC scale ranges from acceptable (IPC Phase 1) to catastrophe or famine (IPC Phase 5). Between August and December 2021, the snapshot projects that roughly 26.2 million will be in high acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4). Furthermore, more than 5.6 million of these people will experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity.

Organizations Provide Assistance

There are approximately 5.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) living within the DRC as a result of an ongoing armed conflict. The conflict in the eastern DRC consists of roughly 120 different armed groups, each displacing people and preventing access to workable fields. The DRC has 80 million hectares of farmable land, of which, only 10% is currently being used. The farmable land in the DRC has the potential to feed more than two billion people.

Organizations like the WFP and the FAO are both working in the DRC to help the vulnerable populations suffering from food insecurity. The WFP is working in the seven most populated provinces affected by the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, the WFP has been working with other organizations like the FAO to provide an emergency response by aiding farmers in improving their self-sufficiency, yield and resilience to shock. The WFP also addressed malnutrition by providing specialized food to children under the age of 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Other programs include providing meals to students to encourage school attendance, empowering women and rebuilding local infrastructure to decrease vulnerability to disease and conflict. The FAO has been working to restore agriculture-based livelihoods and diversify local agriculture by training farmers, providing livestock and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

The Future of the DRC

Armed conflict and erratic rainfall coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have deteriorated the already difficult situation in the DRC. The number of people suffering from crisis level or higher acute food insecurity has risen from 21.8 million between July and December 2020 to 27.3 million people in the first half of 2021. The global humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis of acute hunger in the DRC has focused on strengthening agriculture in the country and combating malnutrition. The FAO is requesting $65 million in its 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan to continue supporting the Congolese people during their time of crisis. Continued humanitarian support is crucial to stabilizing the situation and ending acute hunger in the DRC.

Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

Digital AgricultureDigital agriculture is a movement to digitize aspects of farming and food distribution. This has the potential to create a more sustainable, cost-effective and socially inclusive agricultural sector. Digital agriculture reduces poverty when smallholder farms use technology to increase efficiency, thereby becoming more competitive on the market. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, more than 100 million people could end up in extreme poverty due to the impact of environmental challenges on the agricultural sector. Although technology is not the only solution to ending global poverty, it is one promising way to improve the livelihoods of small-scale rural farmers. Using digital tools can improve crop monitoring, relationships between buyers and sellers, access to information and help develop more precise farming practices.

Smallholder Farms

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that smallholder farms, farms of two hectares or less, utilize 12% of the world’s agricultural land and family-run farms utilize 75% of global agricultural land. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farms are responsible for 80% of the food produced. These small farms face many challenges. Soil erosion, drought and other environmental issues can completely wipe out crops and leave families with no income. In recent years, environmental catastrophes left 13 million people from Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia with no choice but to rely on humanitarian assistance. In addition to high susceptibility to weather extremes, rural areas have less access to information and affordable internet services. Digital agriculture reduces poverty by alleviating some of these stressors.

E-commerce in Asia

Digital agriculture reduces poverty through already established concepts like e-commerce. Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, started a project in 2014 called Rural Taobao. The project aims to increase efficiency and lower costs of agricultural distribution, similar to how Airbnb and other service apps optimize supply and demand by digitally matching buyer and seller.

Rural Taobao is an online marketplace where farmers can buy products from manufacturers, have those products delivered, and then, distribute their crop yields using the same transportation that delivered the factory items. Essentially, this online platform ensures that trucks going into rural areas do not go back to the cities empty, but instead, go back full of agricultural products to sell.

Central Asia has 10.7 million farmers and a land per capita endowment that is five times higher than China’s. As a result, Central Asia has the potential to be a major exporter of high-quality agricultural goods. A program like Rural Taobao, and E-commerce in general, are ways that digital agriculture in Central Asia can optimize distribution, fulfill its potential as a competitive agricultural market and bring more financial capital into rural areas.

Access to Information in Niger

NOVATECH, a startup in Niger, developed an Interactive Voice Response Platform (IVR) in 2017 called E-KOKARI. The E-KOKARI platform lets agricultural workers use their cell phones to access information about crops, weather forecasts, market prices and other information relevant to farming or agriculture. It is as simple as dialing a number on a cellphone that will take the individual to a navigatable menu. The platform provides advice and information in all of Niger’s primary languages — French, Hausa and Zarma. The information is also available in voice format. About 70% of the adult population is illiterate so access to spoken information is extremely helpful. The number of people with cell phones has grown over the years. In 2016, more than seven million cellphone users existed in a population of 20 million.

E-KOKARI is still in the prototype phase but has a promising future. Developers of the technology interviewed farmers to find out exactly what problems needed addressing and worked to make the technology sustainable. Moreover, the developers ensured that the technology was reproducible for communities in other countries.

Digital Agriculture Reduces Poverty

Digital agriculture reduces poverty because it makes farmers’ lives easier. Similar to other sectors of society, technology can save time, increase productivity, lower costs and increase access to key information. As digital agriculture evolves and becomes more widespread, it is vital that creators pay attention to who the user is and what the user needs. Historically, marginalized groups such as women, differently-abled people and the elderly have greatly benefited from technology but frequently were not part of the production process. It is imperative that creators and producers of digital agriculture incorporate the voices of all potential users.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Drones and Precision AgricultureIn Africa, farming provides more than 30% of the continent’s gross domestic product and employs more than 60% of the working class. Unfortunately, Africa’s agriculture sector is hurting because environmental challenges have affected the continent’s weather patterns and temperatures, making farming extremely difficult. Outdated practices also hold Africa back, such as planting based on the moon phases, which further affects productivity. These issues bring new challenges to a struggling market trying to provide for a growing population but drones and precision agriculture may be able to help.

A Growing Population

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in three decades, Africa’s population will rise to about 2 billion people, requiring the farming sector to grow exponentially to sustain Africa. Luckily, a new relationship has formed between technology and agriculture. Drones and precision agriculture are helping farmers increase food production, protect their crops and protect themselves from poverty.

4 Ways Drones and Precision Agriculture Benefit Africa

  1. Drones and UAV’s can speed up the land registration process. Just 10% of Africa’s rural land is mapped and registered, leaving people insecure about land ownership and affecting rural farmers more than others. People involved in trades besides farming would benefit because they could use the land as a backup plan if a period of economic instability occurs instead of falling into poverty.
  2. Drones also provide farmers with an aerial view of their crops, allowing them to manage them better and notice changes. UAV’s with specialized sensors can alert farmers to changes like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), leaf area index and photochemical reflectance index. This allows farmers to notice developments the human eye would not. Using NDVI, a person receives information about water pressure, infestations, crop diseases and nutrient problems that may affect crop production. Around 7,000 African farmers in Uganda have used these drone techniques to better manage their crops.
  3. Drones and precision agriculture provide data that helps farmers take inventory of their crops and estimate crop yields faster. Drone use also lets a farmer know the location of livestock and helps to monitor fencing. Additionally, if farmers have detailed layouts of their land, including size, crop health and location, it will improve their ability to get credit, which will provide more economic advantages.
  4. Drone technology is also changing the schema of crop insurance. Crop insurance helps small farmers recover when natural disasters destroy their crops but poor reporting delays payouts. The use of UAVs makes it easier to quickly assess disaster damage and compensate farmers that disasters affect. Some larger reinsurers, such as Munich Re, have partnered with UAV service providers to improve response times and reporting accuracy after natural disasters strike. This use of technology to better assess farm damages keeps farmers from falling into poverty and allows them to protect their livelihood.

Drone Regulations

Over the past couple of years, Africa’s food exports have increased. This rise increases farmers’ productivity, especially those who can grow staple crops, allowing them to sell their produce for more money. Drones and precision agriculture help low-income farmers learn new techniques to keep up with the demand.

While multiple countries have proven the benefit of using drones, African farmers still face a problem. About 26% of African countries have laws about drone usage. Regulations restrict drone use in certain areas, which thus restricts farmers’ productivity. In Mozambique and Tanzania, drones undergo deployment at random to assist small farmers but most drones in Africa monitor wildlife. Increasing beneficial regulations for drone and UAV usage is integral to transforming Africa’s agriculture sector.

Drones and precision agriculture have the potential to revolutionize agriculture in Africa, presenting a way to lift Africans out of poverty.

Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture in EgyptImprovement in agriculture is essential to fighting poverty in developing countries. Agricultural growth leads to economic growth which results in employment opportunities and improves food security. Agriculture is a major component of the Egyptian economy. Agriculture in Egypt accounts for 11% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 23% of all jobs. In Upper Egypt, 55% of employment is related to agriculture. In addition, more than half of the population in Upper Egypt is living under the poverty line. Expansion of agriculture through technological innovations can help productivity and alleviate poverty in all areas of Egypt.

Water Conservation

The Nile River provides Egypt with 70% of its water supply. In a 2019 report, measurements determined that agriculture uses more than 85% of the country’s share of the Nile, according to the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies. However, due to drought, Egypt is “water-poor” because it provides 570 cubic meters of water per person per year. A country is water-poor when people do not have access to a sufficient amount of water, which is less than 1,000 cubic meters a year.

In 2020, to combat the water shortages, a government project that the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and Cairo’s MSA University developed, launched a mobile app that receives data from a sensor buried in the soil to detect moisture levels. This technology allows farmers to tell whether or not their crops need water, preventing excessive watering of crops. This modern irrigation method will lead to reduced water consumption, lower production costs and increased crop productivity, which will improve agriculture in Egypt.

Digital Agriculture

In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Egyptian government launched a program to enhance agricultural productivity through digital technology. Implementation of digital technology helps farmers access information to better manage crops and livestock and thus help them make better agricultural decisions. Digital technology also helps to enhance food security by reducing production costs and waste. It also increases crop productivity with the availability of accurate data to calculate production activities like estimating the daily needs of irrigation and fertilization.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications facilitate the flow of information to farmers, provides services to farmers and expands access to markets. With the help of several research institutions of the Agricultural Research Center, the program converted technical content into digital content that one can access via mobile application. With the adoption of mobile applications, agriculture in Egypt will expand as a result of increased access to resources.

Agricultural Innovation Project

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR)lead the 2020 to 2023 Agricultural Innovation Project (AIP). The initiative aims to promote innovations in technologies to improve several issues in agriculture. These issues include inefficient farming techniques that lower farm output and food production and other inhibitors of processing crops like poor post-harvest facilities and marketing infrastructure. The focus on creating innovative solutions will increase income for small-scale farmers in Upper Egypt.

The project supports digital access as a technological innovation so that farmers can better understand and access information surrounding the market and input supply. In addition, the project works closely to support small-scale farmers by improving market access for smallholders and improving institutional support.

Overall, food insecurity and poverty can reduce over time with the expansion of agriculture in Egypt by means of technological innovations.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Sustainability in the DRCDespite the Democratic Republic of the Congo harboring the second-largest cultivable land in the world at 80 million hectares, food insecurity and malnutrition are pressing issues in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) characterizes almost 22 million of the 89.5 million residents as severely food insecure, despite 70% of the employed population working in the agricultural industry. Lack of infrastructure combined with prolonged national armed conflict has led to only 10 million hectares currently under cultivation, leaving enormous potential for agricultural and economic growth. Agricultural sustainability in the DRC is crucial to address food insecurity and poverty.

The Joint WFP-FAO Resilience Program in DRC

A combined effort from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on the optimization of agriculture production as well as market revisions and improvements to reduce food insecurity and bolster a declining national economy. Improving agricultural sustainability in the DRC could prove effective in stabilizing a region with enormous agricultural potential.

The Need for Agricultural Sustainability

Providing direct financial relief to the DRC has proven both necessary and effective, especially in the wake of nationwide flooding in 2019 and 2020 on top of widespread armed conflict and displacement. Since 2018, USAID reports that the DRC has received roughly $570 million worth of direct food relief. However, direct relief does not equal sustainability and is a relatively short-term solution. The joint program from the WFP and FAO implements successful strategies to provide much-needed agricultural sustainability in the DRC and creates an important foundation for further improvements.

The Benefits of Cooperation

Promoting organizational cooperation and improving managerial structure has allowed for combined agricultural improvements nationwide. Since 2017, this project has reached 30,000 small farm households and stimulated cooperation that has improved organizational structure and operational capacities. This cooperation has allowed for the distribution of newer agricultural technologies and concepts such as improved seeds and more advanced tools to optimize production.

Increased cooperation has also helped eliminate local conflicts between farmers and has increased the total area of land being cultivated. The program has also provided 7,000 local women with functional literacy education, allowing for more female community engagement as well as involvement in managerial duties in farming communities.

Addressing Nutrition in the DRC

At a local level, the joint program has implemented enhanced nutritional programs to utilize the increasing resources. Increased cooperation and education have allowed for the growth of crops with enhanced nutritional value. To promote long-term sustainability, in 2020, the project utilized direct aid to establish 300 vegetable gardens, reaching 13,510 residents. The program also held 150 culinary demonstrations regarding optimal cooking techniques that are both affordable and nutritious.

Developing the DRC’s Infrastructure

Large agricultural areas such as the DRC rely heavily on infrastructure for transportation and storage of goods. The joint program has fixed 193 kilometers of agricultural roads since implementation in 2017, with 65% of the road rehabilitators being women.

Not only has the program enhanced transportation capabilities but it has also constructed 20 different storage buildings as well as 75 community granaries, allowing for the long-term storage of agricultural products. This enhanced storage capacity reduces waste from spoilage and allows product to be sold during favorable selling seasons, allowing for advanced agricultural sustainability in the DRC.

The Joint WFP-FAO resilience program in the DRC has made significant accomplishments in the country. With further efforts, agricultural sustainability in the DRC can be further developed to improve poverty in the region.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Antimicrobial resistanceAntimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is a growing trend among newly discovered viruses. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 30 new diseases that threaten half the world’s population, which are particularly prevalent in developing nations.

Background of Antimicrobial Resistance

Drug-resistant diseases (AMR) have grown in prevalence over the past 40 years. Many of the medicines used to treat common infections like the flu and pneumonia have been around for decades. Eventually, viruses and bacteria develop their own microbial methods of fighting back against these drugs and inevitably become fully resistant to treatments.

Perhaps the most well-known example is the virus known as pneumococcus, or streptococcus pneumoniae. Penicillin has been used to treat pneumococcus since the early 1950s, giving it plenty of time to develop a strong resistance to the drug. Now, pneumococcus is practically untreatable, killing over 300,000 children below the age of 5 annually.

The CDC explains that germs that grow resistant to medications can be almost impossible to treat, often resulting in severe illness or death. This problem is only getting worse, as the U.N. finds that while 700,000 people die every year due to AMR diseases now, by 2050 that number will skyrocket to 10 million people.

The AMR crisis has severe economic implications as well. Antimicrobial diseases affect livestock as well as humans, leaving our international agricultural sector to collapse if not dealt with. All in all, the AMR crisis is projected to cause $100 trillion worth of global economic damage by 2050, only pushing people further into poverty.

Three organizations have stepped up to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance.

The AMR Action Fund

The AMR Action Fund is a financial project created by an international group of pharmaceutical companies. It aims to bring four new antibiotics that combat AMR to the consumer market by 2030. The fund expects to invest over $1 billion into late-stage antibiotic research by the end of 2025.

The AMR Alliance

The AMR Alliance is a massive coalition of more than 100 of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies, dedicated to fighting AMR. In 2016, the AMR Alliance signed the Industry Declaration, an agreement promising the development of anti-AMR medicines.

In 2018, the AMR Alliance spent a record $1.8 billion in the war against AMR. In 2020, the  AMR Alliance released its second progress report, detailing the progress made so far. The results are promising: 84% of relevant biotechnology companies are in the late stages of research and development for AMR cures and more than 80% of them have strategies in place for releasing the drugs.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO is taking serious steps to battle antimicrobial resistance. These dangerous antimicrobial superbugs threaten livestock in farms throughout the world. The FAO explains that two-thirds of future antimicrobial usage will be in livestock. These AMR superbugs will only increase in danger over time, as they develop stronger resistance to medicines.

The FAO has worked to improve agricultural practices across the world, specifically in developing nations. The FAO is raising awareness about this issue with rural farmers and is providing millions of dollars in funds to combat AMR.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is an annual campaign designed to increase awareness of the issue and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers, and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant diseases. Over the week of November 18, millions of posts are made around the globe in support of antimicrobial resistance awareness. Expanding awareness is key, as the WAAW campaign website explains that less general use of antibiotics could help to mitigate the effects of this issue.

– Abhay Acharya
Photo: Flickr