A Travellerspoint blog

Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmer

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

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At the Rural Development Foundation’s (RDF) primary school in Kalleda, a small village in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, students carry gardening tools, along with their notebooks and pencils.

All of the students work in the school’s garden, cultivating and harvesting rice, lentils, corn, and cotton that is used to make the daily meals or sold to the village and to other schools. Students also take turns tending a field of marigolds and selling them in Kalleda. All of the profit goes back to the school.

And the students carry another important tool—a camera.

Cameras were provided by Bridges to Understanding (Bridges), a Seattle-based non-profit that uses digital technology to empower and connect children around the world. Students participating in the Bridges curriculum are taught to use cameras and editing software to develop stories about their community and culture. These videos, comprised of a photo slide show with a running narration, are then shared with the Bridges online community which is made up of schools in seven countries: Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Peru, South Africa, and the U.S.

For many students, it’s the first time they have ever even held a camera. “When I first asked my students if they thought they could ever design, shoot and edit their own film they just shook their heads and said, ‘there’s no way,” said Elizabeth Sewell, Bridges program coordinator at the RDF school in Kalleda.

But not only did her students successfully develop a concept for, shoot and edit a video about local water pollution, they are also participating in an online discussion about their school garden with another group of students at the Aki Kurose school in Seattle. Students at Aki Kurose are learning to grow corn, squash, and beans using traditional Native American practices. And they volunteer at a local food bank, a completely new concept to the students at Kalleda. “Thank you for your post about your school garden and information about your food bank,” wrote Sewell’s students. “We had never heard of a food bank before your post. We like the idea of a place where people can get free food.”

Sewell explains that having a conversation about farming with students in Seattle helps students at Kelleda “realize what makes their community unique but also that there are other kids out there dealing with similar issues, providing a model or inspiration for alternatives and creating a global sense of solidarity in facing these problems.”

And, according to Sewell, the Bridges video project gives students a concrete and achievable goal to strive towards as they grapple with larger questions about their role as “agents of change” in their community and the world.

“At first, the prospect of designing, shooting and editing a movie seems insurmountable but then they produce these beautiful films,” says Sewell. “And then you knock down that barrier, you show them what they are capable of doing. And then they can start to approach other, larger and more institutional, problems the same way. Suddenly, in their own eyes, there are no limits to what they can achieve.”

To read more about the use of storytelling and digital technology to connect and educate farmers, see: Acting it out for Advocacy and Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 07:21 Comments (0)

New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group

New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development’s (ECASARD) work in Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Moringa Tree in Akimoda Village

Moringa Tree in Akimoda Village


In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village’s chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described “young leader (he’s 50 years old) with a love for the environment.” He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. “We’re always thinking about how to process the crops we’re growing,” he says. According to him, farmers don’t have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but “processing gives them more leverage.

One of the groups’ biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil—and having the opportunity to make additional income— themselves.

But by “coming together,” says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or “service centers,” which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren’t enough to “fill the need” they’re working on building three or four additional processing plants.

Akimoda Village

Akimoda Village

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They’ve started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called “green gold of Ghana,” moringa. When they’re processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder “generates a lot of trash,” says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, “making it taste more like bushmeat,” and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They’ve also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their “drift” to the cities. He’s created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in the community that uses dancing and music “to bait the youth,” says the Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don’t forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD’s work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can’t be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women’s Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women’s Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 14:06 Comments (0)

Messages From One Rice Farmer to Another

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Some 80 percent of the world’s rice production is grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). From Bangladesh to Benin, these farmers continue to develop different solutions to improve the process of rice production. These methods include using flotation to sort seeds, and parboiling, which removes impurities and reduces grain breakage. The Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) has developed a simple solution to help farmers share this knowledge: Farmer to farmer videos

Working with researchers, rice farmers and processors, they have developed a series of videos to instruct farmers, including, manual seed sorting manually and by flotation, seed drying and preservation in Bangladesh; rice quality and parboiling in Benin; land preparation for planting rice in Burkina Faso; and seedbed preparation, transplanting, weeding and soil fertility management in Mali.

Farmers in Guinea watched videos of Bangladeshi women creating solutions to improve the quality of farm-saved rice-seed. “The farmers pay a lot of attention to the quality of their seed that they store for the next season,” said Louis Béavogui, researcher at the Institut de recherche agronomique de Guinée (IRAG). “Watching the videos on seed has stimulated them to start looking for local solutions to common problems that farmers face. It is by drawing on local knowledge that sustainable solutions can often be found at almost no cost.”

To pique farmers’ interest in the project, AfricaRice researchers approach them with videos on topics relevant to that particular region. And farmers are involved in the production of the videos from the very beginning, helping researchers decide which methods should be highlighted. Edith Dah Tossounon, chairperson from a rice processing group in Southern Benin, was one of the many women who demonstrated how to parboil rice in a video.

The strong presence of women in the videos also helps local NGOs and extension offices—which tend to be made up mostly of male agents—engage women’s groups. A survey of 160 women in Central Benin comparing the use of video with conventional training workshops showed that videos reached 74 percent of women compared with 27 percent in conventional training. Women who watched the videos worked with NGOs to formulate requests for training in building improved stoves and to seek financial assistance to buy inputs such as paddy rice and improved parboilers that allow rice to stay above the water during steaming, so more nutritional value is preserved. More than 95 percent of those who watched the video adopted drying their rice on tarpaulins and removed their shoes before stirring the rice to preserve cleanliness and avoid contamination, compared to about 50 percent of those who only received traditional training. In addition, illiterate woman could easily learn from the simple language and clear visuals of the examples shown in the videos.

“By giving rural women a voice through video, and disseminating these videos through grassroots organizations and rural radio stations,” AfricaRice believes that they can “overcome local power structures and reduce conflict at the community level.”

By 2009, 11 rice videos were available to communities in Africa. AfricaRice partners translated various rice videos into over 30 African languages and held open air video presentations. At least five hundred organizations and more than 130,000 farmers are involved. Distribution has been most successful through farmer associations, where initial distribution to nine associations led to making the videos available to 167 local farmer organizations and their members. Farmers would spontaneously start organizing video shows, taking the initiative to find video and dvd equipment and gathering around an available television in a village.

AfricaRice also paid attention to how the videos could complement existing rural radio to enhance learning, build additional connections and share information. In collaboration with Farm Radio International (FRI), the videos were also used for radio scripts, including information for listeners about how to obtain the rice videos. The scripts were sent to more than 300 rural radio stations, making the videos more widely known and linking different stakeholders who were previously strangers to each other, allowing them to explore their common interests.

For more about innovative ways to share knowledge among rural populations, see Acting it Out For Advocacy.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 07:47 Comments (0)

Nourishing the Planet in USA Today

Nourishing the Planet in USA Today: In a world of abundance, food waste is a crime

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Check out the op-ed on preventing food waste that Nourishing the Planet has in this mornings USA Today. We describe how both the United States and sub-Saharan Africa waste enormous amounts of food. In the U.S. we waste food often by simply buying too much and then throwing it away, while in many parts of Africa food rots in fields or in storage before it ever reaches consumers. But there are ways to prevent food waste and the impact it has on the environment—including buying less food, composting food scraps, and developing better storage systems, such as the PICS bag that protects cowpeas from pests in Niger.

We’ll also be highlighting more innovative ways to prevent food waste in the upcoming State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, will author a chapter addressing innovations that can help prevent waste in the food system from farm to fork.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 09:53 Comments (0)

Making a Living Out of Conservation

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

NAGRAFA staff and Danielle Nierenberg

NAGRAFA staff and Danielle Nierenberg


The farmers of the Neleshi Grasscutter and Farmers Association (NAGRAFA) consider themselves not only farmers and businesswomen and men, but also conservationists. Grasscutters, or cane rats, are found throughout Western Africa and, as their name suggests, they live in grasslands. But many poor farmers in Ghana use slash and burn methods on grasslands to provide short term nutrients to the soil, as well to drive out grasscutters and sell their meat, which is considered a delicacy. To help preserve the grasslands and help other farmers increase their incomes, NAGRAFA offers free trainings to farmers and youth about how to raise, slaughter, and process grasscuttter and rabbit meat.

The group is made up of about 40 active members—both men and women—who have been working together to find better ways to raise grasscutters and rabbits on a small-scale. Their biggest challenges, says Farmer Brown (which is the only name he gave us), the leader of the group is finding inexpensive ways of housing and feeding their animals, finding better packaging for their products, and publicizing the health and nutritional qualities of their products.

NAGRAFA is also reaching out to youth to engage them in farming. Because the rabbits and grasscutters are cute, it’s easy to get children and teenagers interested in them, according to Ekow Martin, one of the members of NAGRAFA. He’s training 5 to 6 youth in his community about how to raise the animals—and earn money from the sale of the meat. And, Mary Edjah, another NASGRAFA farmer says that “we need more hands” to help raise rabbits and grasscutters. She and other members of the group are helping train 6 orphans about how to raise and care for the animals.

Ms. Edjah also says that raising grasscutters and rabbits helps “bring the family together” and “keeps the children at home.” Raising these animals, says Mr. Martin, “changes everything.” The family is happy, he says, because they’re able to supplement their income, as well as improve the family’s nutrition.

And like other livestock such as cattle and goats, grasscutters and rabbits are like walking credit cards, giving families the opportunity to sell them to pay for school fees or medicine, or eat them. Ms. Edjah says “that in times of need, women know they can slaughter the rabbits.”

For more about NAGRAFA, check out the videos below.

Click HERE to watch an video of Farmer Brown and HERE to watch Mary Edjah speak about the benefits of grasscutters and NAGRAFA.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Posted by BorderJump 08:14 Comments (0)

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