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Milpa farms
For more than 4,000 years, the Mayan practice of milpa farming has thrived in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Now, researchers believe that studying milpa farms could offer new solutions to many of the lingering problems plaguing modern agriculture.

An Ancient Practice

The milpa system’s origins lie in the ancient domestication of maize. Maize, also known as corn, is a particularly nutritious grain that rapidly became the staple crop of the Americas. From tortillas to popcorn, maize offers a wealth of different uses even today, making it widely appreciated for its versatility.

A key difference that sets maize apart from other grains like wheat and rice is that maize is open-pollinated, meaning that it relies on the wind for its dissemination. In practical terms, this means that maize can spread its seeds around a wider, less restricted area. Thus, maize often grows in mixed fields alongside other plants like beans and squash, practicing a kind of mutualism.

Maize benefits from the presence of the beans, for example, whose roots process the nitrogen in the soil that maize requires, while the beans themselves gain the opportunity to climb the tall maize stalks and soak-in the sun. Observing this natural pattern, Mesoamericans extended the concept to their own fields of maize, creating the first milpa farms.

How Milpa Works

So, what is it that makes milpa farms so sustainable? In a word: diversity. Modern agricultural techniques typically rely on rotating fields of single-crop yields, which, while productive, place enormous stress on the soil. Over time, as repeated cultivation leads to intensifying erosion, the fields become less capable of absorbing the nutrients necessary to sustain healthy crops. Milpa farms avoid this problem by hosting an assortment of different crops within the same field. This mimics the real-life diversity that exists in nature.

In a traditional milpa farm, farmers plant around a dozen crop varieties simultaneously (most commonly maize, beans and squash). Because each plant provides the nutrients that another requires, the soil never fully depletes. As a result, there exist fields in Central America which have seen continuous cultivation for 4,000 years without a loss of productivity, something unheard of in other parts of the world

Benefits of Milpa Farms

The milpa’s enduring success has led researchers in recent years to turn to it as a potential model for tackling some of the biggest problems facing modern agriculture. Indeed, while it is unlikely that the milpa’s exact circumstances can function on an industrial scale, researchers believe that further study could potentially lead to major improvements in the way farms operate.

For one, the genetic diversity of the crops the milpa produces brings with it comparative advantages. Crop varieties that have seen traditional use in milpa farms are known for their tolerance and highly resilient nature. This helps them overcome pests, competition and resource limitation in a way that less-diverse modern varieties struggle with. Additionally, as this is process done without need of fertilizer or pesticides, it also prevents pollution of nearby groundwater. This makes it easier for local populations to maintain access to clean drinking water.

Tackling Food Insecurity in Mexico

While a full shift from modern agricultural techniques remains infeasible at the moment, researchers believe that strategic adoption of the milpa system could offer a potential solution to some of the food security issues that plague modern Mexico, where more than 10 percent of the population lacks access to adequate food supply.

For one, small farmers who operate traditional milpa farms are typically far more self-sufficient than those who use the alternative. Furthermore, a lack of need for expensive modern fertilizers and machinery makes milpa more cost-effective for those in Mexico’s impoverished rural regions.

Most crucially, however, milpa farms also require significantly less land than the large-scale industrial efforts that dominate Mexican agriculture. In a country increasingly pressed to make efficient use of its land resources, strategic adoption of the milpa system could benefit millions of Mexicans.

James Roark
Photo: Wikimedia

Securing Water for Food
Water is the most basic necessity. Every living thing on this planet requires water in distinct quantities. Water as a diminishing resource seems like a distant nightmare for the great-great-grandchildren of this generation. However, in actuality, civilizations could be closer to having too little fresh water than they realize. People use approximately 70 percent of the world’s fresh water for agriculture and Dr. Ku McMahan stated that more than half of the world’s population could be without enough fresh water to meet basic needs like hygiene, growing food and having enough to drink by 2025. Luckily, the Securing Water For Food: A Grand Challenge for Development (SWFF) came into being to help solve this emerging problem.

At World Water Week in Stockholm in 2014, USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency came together to pose crucial questions about how to grow more food while using less water and simultaneously supporting small farms. They determined the answer to be sustainable agriculture.

USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of South African Department of Science and Technology, came together to launch an experimental program to help tackle the problem. Together they have gathered inventors and innovators working to improve farming and water usage with the resources and expertise to refine and test their inventions, help them reach more farmers and develop financially sustainable businesses.

The Program

SWFF is one of USAID’s 10 Grand Challenges. As of 2018, this program has in most cases exceeded the expectations of the program at its inception. According to the SWFFs semi-annual report in 2014, it expected the program to reach 3 million customers with sponsored innovators by 2018 (the original end-date of the program). Before the end of the program, SWFF innovators reached a combined 3.6 million smallholder farmers, their families and other customers.

SWFF’s 2017 annual report states how difficult it is to create financially sustainable enterprises while meeting the needs of extreme-poor and low-income households. Taking on the challenge of measuring poverty for specific innovations across an innovation portfolio, SWFF continues to make progress toward improving incomes and yields of farmers who are at or near their country’s poverty line. Estimates determine that 62 percent of innovation customers and end-users in the program at this time are at or near their country’s poverty line. SWFF more often focuses its efforts on assisting customers and end-users near the poverty line who could fall back into poverty easily with an economic shock or prolonged economic stressors.

Attention To Detail

Through research and attention to detail, the Securing Water For Food program was able to realize that 41 percent of its customers and end-users own their land and have multiple income streams. However, they have a very limited income overall, with little to spend on anything outside of their agricultural necessities. These low-income farmers caused a few difficulties within the experiment by selling the fish feed the program provided to them in order to make a quick profit.

To make its product more affordable, the SWFF innovator Water Governance Institute (WGI) introduced a prototype of its semi-commercial unit with an improved design. It has the same capacity as the older model at a 67 percent reduction in price. With this, WGI has helped generate nearly $30,000 in farmer income during the last two years.

The Result

SWFF innovators used every $1,000 of donated funds to impact 156 customers, produce 282 tons of crops, reduce water consumption by more than 832,000 liters and improve water management on 86 hectares of agricultural land, all while generating more than $200 in sales. They also used more than 2.4 million hectares of grazing lands and cropland under improved practices to help produce nearly 4 million tons of food. Expecting to reduce water consumption by 3.6 billion, the Securing Water For Food program outdid itself by tripling that amount and reducing 11.4 billion liters compared to traditional practices by the project’s target end date in 2018.

Sweden has more than a dozen ongoing water-related projects, including but not limited to its Less is More project focusing on the energy-efficient removal of micro-pollutants in wastewater and Aquanet, which studies the resistance and resilience of an ecosystem due to disturbances and environmental disturbances. Through SWFF’s partnership with the USAID, the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the South African Department of Science and Technology, it has been able to make strong, positive strides in producing sustainable agriculture.

– Janice Athill
Photo: Flickr

6 Facts About Water Quality in Sub-Saharan AfricaThe top concerns with water quality in Africa include lack of access to water for drinking, sanitation and agriculture, the cleanliness of the water and the burden of water retrieval. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals have tracked the improvement of access to water in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most challenged and inequitable region. Sub-Saharan Africa’s water system is the most chronically overburdened and stressed area in Africa. This is due to a lack of economic investment, social challenges and environmental factors. Here are six facts about water quality in sub-Saharan Africa.

6 Facts About Water Quality in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Many areas in Africa have partially achieved the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals on Water. Before 2015, North Africa had achieved a 92 percent improved source of drinking water for its people. Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, had only achieved 61 percent and was not on track to meet its 75 percent goal. Investment in infrastructure systems such as dams would improve public health and increase economic stability while achieving water access targets.
  2. In sub-Saharan Africa water access is inequitable. In urban areas, 90 percent of the wealthy households have access to improved water sources with piped water in more than 60 percent of the homes. In rural settings, fewer than 50 percent of people access improved water sources with the poorest 40 percent of homes having no in-home water access. Only 16 percent of Sub-Saharan residents have access to a water tap in their home or yard.
  3. The burden of water retrieval falls on girls and women. The time and labor-intensive chore of carrying water home from a distance prevents girls and women from pursuing income-generating work and education. It also puts them at risk of violence on long journeys for water. Approximately 13.5 million women in sub-Saharan Africa travel more than 30 minutes each day to collect water. They carry repurposed cans that hold five gallons of water and weigh 40 pounds when full. The women may have to take several trips in a day depending on the size of their family.
  4. Water scarcity and lack of sanitation threaten public health. Poor sanitation and limited water lead to outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery, which can contaminate the limited stores of fresh water. When people store water in their homes, this creates a breeding ground for mosquitos, which leads to an increase in malaria and dengue fever. Other diseases connected to water scarcity include trachoma, plague and typhus. Prioritizing water quantity over quality can lead to bacterial diseases causing diarrhea, dehydration and death, especially in children.
  5. In sub-Saharan Africa, 95 percent of crops are dependent on rainfall. Increased water storage capacity will increase resiliency to water shortages resulting from droughts. Dependency on rainfall for crops is limiting. Small-scale but efficient usage of ponds, tanks, and wells can improve agricultural output. The implementation of various methods of watering crops can reduce water stress and improve food security. Farmers could use drip irrigation, pumps and shallow wells to reduce reliance on rainwater.
  6. Sustainable agricultural development will lead to sustainable water sources and reduced stress. An example of a sustainable agricultural method may be aquaponics, which requires no soil and little water.

Continued innovation, education and infrastructure development are necessary for Africa to improve access to safe and clean drinking water. While much progress is underway, these 6 facts about water quality in sub-Saharan Africa show that the continent will continue to face climate, political and economic barriers in meeting these goals.

Susan Niz
Photo: Wikimedia

Sustainable Solutions for Indigenous Communities Indigenous communities are pre-colonial societies that are considered ethnically native to a specific region. Recently, such communities have been developing locally sustainable solutions to their regional issues such as poverty, land erosion, unemployment rates, food insecurity, etc. These solutions tend to be nature-based and promote biodiversity and sustainability. Here are five examples of sustainable solutions for indigenous communities.

5 Examples of Sustainable Solutions for Indigenous Communities

  1. Association de Gestion Intégrée des RessourcesAl Hoceima, Morocco
    A group of indigenous people noticed the need for sustainable reform in the fishing methods in their community. The method of dynamite fishing threatened the fish stock and the poaching of osprey nests caused a decrease in the local population. Since then, the community decided to practice legal fishing techniques that do not harm the environment. This switch to sustainable fishing techniques led to a 20 to 30 percent increase in marine resource abundance. It also led to the employment of some 3,000 artisanal fishermen and the complete removal of copper sulfate and dynamite fishing. It also reduced poverty for around 30 percent of the fishermen employed.
  2. TRY Oyster Women’s Association – Banjul, Gambia
    This association achieved many sustainable goals including women’s empowerment, environmental preservation and green trade practices. Around 500 women from 15 different villages practice the trade of oyster harvesting, which they started after learning about environmentally responsible resource management. These women were also educated on microfinance possibilities and received training in small-scale enterprise development. The association also worked with the government to implement policies that positively impact the oyster trade.
  3. The Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands in the Heart of Borneo – Malaysia-Indonesia
    This alliance is a trans-border cultural bond that brings together three indigenous communities to preserve culture and biodiversity. The alliance attempts to reap benefits for the local communities who live on the island of Borneo by preserving the environment. The alliance employs a native manner of producing rice by the traditional wet-rice farming system, which was developed over centuries. It also works towards sustainable development through community-based ecotourism, agroforestry and organic farming, communication and information technology.
  4. FITEMA, Association of Manambolo Natives – Manambolo Valley, Madagascar
    This association successfully improved the conditions of food security within the local Betsileo community by reintroducing an indigenous land-use system in the 7,500-hectare Manambolo Valley. The purpose of the reintroduction is to help protect the environment, including the forests and the wetlands surrounding this region. This would improve food security conditions for 200,000 locals of five neighboring districts.
  5. Reserva y EcolodgeKapawi, Ecuadorian Amazon
    Founded in 1995, this organization was initiated by the Achuar community to create an ecotourism business that benefits the local communities and the local businesses as well. It produces sustainable energy, employs sustainable forestry and contributes to biodiversity conservation. The organization makes use of traditional and modern governance systems to make sure that the enterprise remains for the benefit of the surrounding locals.

– Nergis Sefer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Slovakia

Slovakia is a country located in Central Europe. It shares its borders with Poland to the north, Hungary to the south, Austria and the Czech Republic to the west and Ukraine to the east. In July 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent states: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. From the beginning of its time as an independent state, Slovakia has taken steps to eliminate hunger even though the country suffers from high rates of poverty. In the article below, the top 10 facts about hunger in Slovakia are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Slovakia

  1. In 2018, Slovakia ranked 16 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index scale. It has a score of 5.0 which means that its hunger level is very low. In fact, hunger levels in Slovakia are better than in Russia, which has a score of 6.1.
  2. Less than 10 percent of the population in Slovakia are considered malnourished. According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI), about 5 percent of Slovakians are lacking adequate food. The graph shows that hunger levels have been consistently dropping since the year 2000.
  3. The number of people who are considered undernourished in Slovakia is at 2.7 percent. Undernourishment has been declining since 2001 when it hit its peak at 6.7 percent. Even though Slovakia does not suffer from a hunger crisis, they still have to deal with other issues relating to food security and malnutrition. Changes in economic life have led to increased food prices, less spending money for the general population and groups of nutritionally-vulnerable people. Furthermore, changes in the economy have led to difficulties in food distribution. This is a very unique problem regarding the Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Slovakia.
  4. In Slovakia in 2011,  61.8 percent of adults were overweight. Men have higher rates of being overweight in Slovakia in comparison to women. Just under 69.6 percent of males are overweight in Slovakia while 56 percent of women are overweight. By the year 2030, it is estimated that the obesity rate for men will be around 28 percent and, for women,  18 percent.
  5. Agriculture is dominated by large scale corporations in Slovakia, so small, local farms are rare. One major problem is that the youth of Slovakia are uninterested in the farming industry. The Slovak Agency of Environment holds out-of-school environmental programs to increase education and training in agrobiodiversity.
  6. In 2005, there were about 81,500 people working agricultural jobs and more than 59,000 people working in the food industry. A decade later the numbers dropped to 51,000 and 50,200.  In 2016, only one-fifth of companies in the agriculture industry expected growth in their market share. Most of the agricultural companies revenue declined that same year.
  7. Between 2007-2014, milk production in Slovakia fell by 10.7 percent; although milk consumption increased by 17.5 percent. Meat production also fell, beef by 25.4 percent and poultry by 12.1 percent, as the result of a decrease in livestock. However, the consumption of beef, poultry and pork fell as well. The inconsistencies are due to constant changes in EU subsidy programs. “Sanctions against Russia leading to an excess of pork, record-breaking grain harvests, and unresolved problem of milk prices are all factors,” said Jiri Vacek director of CEEC research. This may directly affect some of the most important details about understanding the 10 Ten Facts About Hunger in Slovakia.
  8. In 2016, dairy producers experienced a crisis due to overproduction and low retail prices of milk. As an answer to the problem, the Agricultural Ministry stabilized the industry by supporting employment in dairy farming regions and focusing on a long-term solution. This plan included $33 million of support for milk products. Later that year, 1,760 dairy farmers had joined the project, giving financial support to farmers and providing important information.
  9.  In 2013-2014, subsistence farmers made up slightly less than 50 percent of the total number of vegetables produced. The biggest share of subsistence farmers per vegetable was cabbage at around 24 percent, tomatoes were just below 14 percent and carrots at just below 12 percent. Some of the other vegetables include peppers, onions and cucumbers.
  10. Slovakians do not eat enough fruits and vegetables per capita on a daily basis. The WHO/FAO recommends an intake of 600 grams of fruits and vegetables every day. Slovakians fall short of this number by more than 100 grams per day. Slovakians eat an average of 493 grams of fruits and vegetables per capita per day. This may be a factor in why Slovakians life expectancy falls shorter than the EU average.

Slovakia is considered one of Europe’s biggest success stories. When Slovakia originally separated from Czechoslovakia in 1993, the newly independent nation had an uphill battle to climb. However, a decade later Slovakia has taken major strides in becoming a successful, independent democracy. The country is not perfect, however, as Slovakia’s Romany population still suffers from high levels of poverty and social isolation. These top 10 facts about hunger in Slovakia show that hunger is not seen as a major problem.

Nicholas Bartlett
Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture techniques are the key to successful development Sustainable agriculture techniques increase the profitability and health of farmlands. The easiest sustainable agriculture techniques are crop rotation and reduced usage of pesticides. This is because the quality of the soil is key to the health of plants and consequently people. Sustainable agriculture techniques are the key to the successful and sustainable development of economies around the world. It can benefit both small and large economies.

According to the UN, agriculture is the largest employer in the world. The industry provides employment to 40 percent of the world’s population. However, on average 1 in 4 children suffer from stunted growth around the world due to undernourishment. In fact, poor nutrition kills up to 3.1 million children each year. People in the developing world are more likely to be affected by malnutrition due to food insecurity.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a sustainable agricultural technique that is both easy to explain but difficult to understand. To fully grasp how it works and understand its benefits, one must understand soil composition. According to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, an average soil composition is 45 percent minerals, 20-30 percent air, 20-30 percent water and 5 percent organic material. Water helps to hydrate the plant and circulate the minerals and organic material that feed the plant. Air allows room for the seeds to grow when planted.

Crop rotation involves planting different crops during different seasons every year. Crops such as corn or wheat are nitrogen-demanding and pull much of it from the soil. If they are planted year after year, they drain the soil of its fertility. Therefore, in the following year it is important to plant crops such as legumes. They demand less nitrogen and sometimes even help replace the lost nitrogen. The process continues depending on the farm’s specific soil composition. The time at which different crops are planted may be different for each farm.

Reduce Usage of Pesticides

One might be tempted to say that fertilizers and pesticides are necessary as they are used to increase crop yield. But heavy use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers increases water pollution which can harm humans and other animals and plants. It can also degrade the soil quality over time.

A sustainable farming technique that can be used to reduce a farm’s reliance on pesticides is to stop using pesticides altogether. A study published in a peer-reviewed journal, Nature Plants, claims that in 77 percent of the farms investigated, there was no correlation between increased profitability and high pesticide usage. They estimate that many farms could reduce their pesticide usage by 42 percent and see no difference in their crop yield. Pesticides are not only harmful but are also expensive; reducing use of pesticides can help save money. With so much of the world’s population relying on agriculture as their main source of income, every little bit of money saved counts.

Farmer Field School Approach

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations began a program in 1989 called Farmer Field School Approach. This program has been developing with practice and continued implementation. It has helped educate over 180,000 farmers in East Africa alone about the benefits of sustainable agricultural techniques and how to implement it on their farms.

Farmers who participate in these classes then go on to educate their neighbors. This is where the real impact happens. It has resulted in more sustainable farms. In the end, sustainable agriculture techniques lead to healthier farms, healthier people and a healthier economy.

– Nick DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

 

food insecurity
Food insecurity is, by definition, “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” For many people around the globe, securing a reliable source of nutritious food is a daily struggle. One of the greatest challenges that faces the world today is ensuring that the world’s growing population has enough food to meet its needs. Below are five facts about food insecurity and possible solutions to the world’s growing food requirements.

Facts About Global Food Insecurity

  1. There is more than enough food produced in the world today to feed all people sufficiently. So why do 815 million people go hungry every day? Food waste is a leading cause of food instability. Approximately one-third of the world’s food production is thrown away or lost due to poor farming practices.
  2. After steadily decreasing for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise. Global hunger affects approximately 11 percent of the global population today. This rise in global hunger has been attributed to a famine which struck a large part of Africa in 2017. It is important to note that many global famines and natural disasters often affect the parts of the world that are hit by food instability the hardest.
  3. Food insecurity has adverse effects on children. Stunted growth, a lack of nourishment leading to underdevelopment in children, is directly caused by food insecurity. Stunting affects nearly 155 million children under the age of five in the world today. This contrasts trends of child and adult obesity in first world countries, which highlights the need for a change in the way people look at food and the practices used when distributing food supplies.
  4. Food insecurity and obesity coexist. In many countries, nutritious healthy foods are often scarce and therefore competition for them is high. Many people turn to easily obtained, calorie-dense foods that lead to obesity. An example of this is farmers turning to high calorie, less nutritious foods to preserve their healthy food crops for profits.
  5. Of all of the countries adversely affected by food insecurity, those most affected are areas involved in violent conflicts. Of the 815 million people experiencing food insecurity, nearly 500 million live in areas affected by conflict. Food supplies are often stolen under military protections or targets for strategic military actions when areas are in war times. This leads to food destruction and constant food insecurity in countries which often need food the most. This can be seen in many countries around the world today such as the Sudan regions of Africa, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Libya and rural countries throughout Asia.

This issue is a growing problem in the world today. One of the largest challenges of today’s generation is figuring out a way to reliably feed the world’s ever-increasing population. Preventing food waste and changing agricultural practices will certainly be the first step to ending food insecurity worldwide. Preventing armed conflicts around the globe and providing nutritious food to the world’s youth will also be on the agenda for those facing food insecurity head-on. Those fighting this major issue have a long road and many challenges ahead in ending food insecurity around the globe.

– Dalton Westfall
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Economic Growth in India in the Face of Climate Change
Hotter temperatures, more frequent monsoons, droughts and climate refugees: these are all predicted to occur in the years to come in India because of climate change. Luckily, it remains possible for sustainable economic growth in India to occur.

India and Climate Change

India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In many ways, however, it is unsustainable and promotes the use of fossil fuels. The research that the Binzagr Institute on Sustainable Prosperity carries out is trying to change this model, and promotes sustainable economic growth which could help local communities in India grow and thrive! Their motto — People, Planet and Prosperity — aims to expand the world to think about more than the bottom line and GDP.

Check out the list below to see three ways that economic growth in India can happen while saving the planet:

  1. Locally-oriented economies could revolutionize the way capitalism operates throughout the globe. The goal is to move from a global-centric, export-oriented model to a more local way of encouraging communities to thrive especially when many members of the labor market depend on agriculture in rural areas. Instead of building foreign factories and paying employees lower than a living wage, focusing on community development is key to ensuring that development, prosperity and sustainable economic growth are promoted in India.
  2. Aquaponics is an agricultural model that combines plant and fish production to create a symbiotic relationship through fish waste and water so as to provide plants with nutrients. The plants use these ingredients to grow and flourish, then release clean water back to the fish. The process is completely sustainable, and provides food for local communities without requiring any soil. By instating this technology, India will fight climate change and spur sustainable economic growth and development in India. This method would also also enable the allocation of fertile land. Just as leafy greens can be grown using the aquaponics system, fertile land can be used to prioritize agricultural products, such as livestock, fruits and grains.
  3. In addition to the above solutions, we must change the world’s mindset about how to measure prosperity. Currently, we use the standard GDP model, but GDP growth does not always mean positive growth. An oil spill will increase GDP because more work is being done to fix the problem — people and businesses are indeed hired, but is this really a positive contribution to citizens’ quality of life? The Binzagr Institute is working on a new way to define growth that takes out negative impacts on people’s quality of life as a contribution to ‘growth.’  This will encourage and support the ideas proposed above.

Hopeful Solutions

As we can see, while there are a lot of problems facing this world, there are solutions developing that can rectify the situation of poverty in India and hopefully prevent the disastrous effects of climate change that could have dire consequences for India’s impoverished. Sustainable economic growth in India can be promoted through the implementation of these strategies.

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Flickr

tools to solve farmer povertyFarmers constitute around 75 percent of the world’s poor. This fact is singularly important considering the perspective that global poverty is solvable by providing easily accessible, effective and economical farming solutions to people around the world.

Experts believe there are three simple tools to solve farmer poverty. These are:

  1. Hybrid seeds
  2. Skill training
  3. Microloans

How to Best Address the World’s Current Needs

The world is struggling to meet the demands of consistently rising rates of population and consumption There are only two alternatives to meet this increasing demand and multiply production: either dedicate more forest land to farming or increase the efficiency and productivity of the existing farmland.

Increasing land use is an inefficient short-term solution that is also detrimental to the environment, whereas the latter option can be achieved as an enduring solution. The most simple and proven way to produce a greater volume of crops from existing farmlands is through the use of hybrid seeds.

Using Hybrid Seeds as Tools to Solve Farmer Poverty

Hybrid seeds are one of the three simple tools to solve farmer poverty. Using a hybrid can yield a product that has the benefits of both its parents; for example, improved resistance toward disease from one and climate tolerance and high yield from the other. Several agricultural experiments in Africa, South America and South Asia have successfully proven the effectiveness of hybrid seeds in multiplying the crop production.

In rural Kenya, a farmer support initiative called One Acre Fund reported an average gain of 65 percent in farmer income using hybrid maize seeds along with microdoses of fertilizers in 2017 alone. Several farmers reported that they doubled or tripled their produce.

Skill Training as the Second Solution to Farmer Poverty

One of the other two tools to solve farmer poverty is skill training. Providing skill training to farmers can help them navigate their lives out of poverty’s vicious circle. Skill training can range from simple things like seed spacing or the right amount of irrigation to more advanced cultivation techniques; for example, sustainable agricultural practices and innovative cross-pollination methods.

In March, the Indian government’s Ministries of Agriculture and Skill Development signed an agreement to impart training and skill development to farmers at 690 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (farming science centers) all over the country. The scheme aims to double the farmer income.

Solving Farmer Poverty Through Microloans

The third one among the three simple tools to solve farmer poverty is microloans. As the name suggests, a microloan is a small amount of money borrowed from a bank or a local financial institution. Microloans are an essential key to solve poverty due to a small principal amount ($2 – $500), small monthly installments (only a few cents), flexible tenure (12 to 60 months) and a low-interest rate (12 – 20 percent).

Startups like Branch and LendUp are helping farmers in developing countries to borrow money using their mobile phones. Branch charges 15 percent interest on a loan as low as $2 at the end of a month. It never charges an overdraft fee and employs 100 employees in San Francisco, Lagos and Nairobi.

Though they appear to be small changes, these three simple tools to solve farmer poverty can change the world sooner than it might seem.

– Himja Sethi

Photo: Flickr

terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods
One of the ways that companies that create genetically modified seeds protect their intellectual property is with terminator seeds, ensuring that farmers cannot save seeds from past harvests and need to buy new seeds every year. Because of this practice, terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods and make farmers reliant on the biotechnology companies producing the seeds.

What Is a Terminator Seed?

A terminator seed, also called a suicide seed, is a seed that is genetically modified so that any crops grown from it do not produce fertile seeds. Because the crops produce sterile seeds, farmers need to buy a new batch of seeds every year rather than using the traditional farming method of saving, reusing and sharing seeds.

Some biotechnology firms use seeds that require the farmers to use a special compound to activate the seed so that farmers that are using genetically modified seeds become dependent on the biotechnology firm if they want to plant the seeds from their crops.

Any technology that the biotechnology firms use to prevent the farmer from saving, sharing or reusing seeds and control the reuse of seeds threatens both biodiversity and sustainable farming methods in developing countries.

How Do Terminator Seeds Work?

Terminator seeds contain a repressor gene that kills the embryo in any seed that a genetically modified plant protected by terminator technology produces. Even though the seeds produced by the plants look normal, they are not viable and cannot be used to plant more crops, which forces the farmer to buy new seeds from the biotechnology firm selling the genetically modified plant.

Since saving and cross-breeding seeds is an integral part of traditional African practices, farmers in African countries are much less likely to use terminator seeds than farmers in other third world countries. In Africa, farmers use many varieties of seeds and are less likely to use biotechnology because the farming methods in Africa have been shown to be more sustainable than the solutions offered by biotechnology firms.

The Financial Impact of Terminator Seeds

Since biotechnology firms cannot use the law to stop farmers from reusing seeds, they are relying on science to stop farmers from reusing seeds. About 10 farmers a day commit suicide in India because the exorbitant prices of seeds produced by biotechnology companies are putting the farmers into a cycle of debt and despair that leads them to suicide.

Terminator seeds provide a viable way of protecting plants that cannot be protected by patent laws, and terminator technology is being used to ensure that farmers cannot reuse seeds that cannot be protected by other legal methods to regulate the use of new technologies that are sold by many of the world’s leading biotechnology firms. Technologies such as terminator seeds make it next to impossible for impoverished farmers to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Because terminator seeds threaten sustainable farming methods, many third-world farmers are starting to use organic and chemical-free methods to control pests and are starting to replace terminator seeds with seeds that are free to save and to share with other farmers. These practices can break the hold that terminator seeds terminator seeds have over farmers, while also helping them practice sustainable farming methods and become more self-sufficient.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr