A Travellerspoint blog

Working with the Root

This is the first in a five-part series of my visit with the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development and the projects they support in southern Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Stephen Amoah and Nancy Ayesua Otu

Stephen Amoah and Nancy Ayesua Otu


The Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD), based in Accra, Ghana, is a unique organization. Not only has it brought together members of the Christian and Muslim faith-based communities to help improve the lives of farmers, it also collaborates with farmers groups, NGOs, policy-makers, and research institutions. “We can’t do it on our own,” says King David Amoah, which is why ECASARD works with these different stakeholders.

Established in 1991, ECASARD works with some 32,000 farmers in 7 regions of southern and central Ghana.

Their goal, says King David, is to both increase food production and reduce rural poverty. They do this by promoting innovations that are affordable, environmentally sustainable, socially just and culturally acceptable.

One of the most important things they do, according to King David, is the promotion of pilot projects. “Farmers can’t afford to experiment {with different technologies},” he says, “but ECASARD can fund pilot projects,” allowing farmers the freedom to try new things without taking on all the risk.

Their greatest success, says King David, has been “bringing farmers together to organize themselves” into associations and cooperatives, particularly for women. ECASARD “works with the root. We don’t go to big-time farmers,” according to King David, “we go to the villages.”

In addition, ECASARD helps farmers understand the business of farming by helping them connect to markets. Having a market, says King David, gives farmers the incentive to produce more. ECASARD is also making farming a more attractive option, particularly for youth. “If you take farming seriously,” according to King David, “it can be your livelihood and make you a rich man {or woman}.

Stay tuned for more about our visits with the farmers groups ECASARD works with on the ground, including palm oil processors, an association of rabbit and grasscutter farmers, a women’s dairy cooperative, and a women fishmongers association.

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Posted by BorderJump 08:00 Comments (0)

John Jeavons and Jake Blehm on Building a Truly Sustainable

In this regular series we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature John Jeavons, Executive Director of Ecology Action and Jake Blehm, Assistant Executive Director at Ecology Action in Willits, California. Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

John Jeavons at a GROW BIOINTENSIVE workshop in Mexico (Photo Credit: Amy Melious)

John Jeavons at a GROW BIOINTENSIVE workshop in Mexico (Photo Credit: Amy Melious)


Name: John Jeavons

Affiliation: Ecology Action

Location: Willits, California

Bio: John Jeavons is the Executive Director of Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula, a 501 (c) (3) organization. He is known internationally as the leading researcher and method developer, teacher, and consultant for the small-scale, sustainable agricultural method known as GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farming. He is the author of the best-selling book How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine (Ten Speed Press), which has gone into seven editions in seven languages, plus Braille. There are over 550,000 copies in print worldwide. He has authored, co-authored or edited over 30 publications on this high-yielding, resource-conserving Biointensive approach, including a five-part, peer reviewed article that appeared in The Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. Jeavons’ food-raising methods are being used in 141 countries and by such organizations as UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Peace Corps.

Name: Jake Blehm

Affiliation: Ecology Action

Location: Willits, California

Bio: Jake Blehm is the Assistant Executive Director at Ecology Action in Willits, California. Ecology Action has provided training and education in the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method of organic mini-farming to people from nearly 140 countries over the last 40 years. He has worked in sustainable and organic agriculture for over 25 years, working in over 30 countries and visiting an additional 20 countries for agricultural service-learning and education, volunteering with organizations such as ACDI/VOCA and Winrock International. He was worked in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Mali, Ghana, Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras and several other developing countries. He began his career as a biological control producer and consultant, and later moved into leadership and organizational development work with agriculturalists. He is an alumni of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, and was the Director of Programs for the California Ag Leadership Foundation. Before joining ecology action, he was Director of Operations at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Jake received his B.S. in Agricultural Business/Economics at Colorado State University, his M.B.A. in Organizational Development from California Lutheran University and a Certificate in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

What is the relationship between agriculture and the environment? It very much depends on the type of agriculture practiced. The methods, practices, and inputs all affect our relationship with farming. Most conventional agricultural systems deplete natural resources and the environment’s ability to produce or maintain sustainable ecosystems on which all species depend. We need to change this relationship to a healthy one.

What role can agriculture play in alleviating poverty and hunger worldwide? For the majority of the world population, small-scale subsistence agriculture provides the only significant opportunity for addressing poverty and hunger while building sustainable fertility and conserving resources. Healthy and vibrant local agro-ecosystems with appropriately developed infrastructure and markets can provide food security and economic opportunity.

Can you describe how GROW BIOINTENSIVE practices work and how they can help improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers? When properly used, the techniques included in GROW BIOINTENSIVE sustainable mini-farming can build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, while making possible per unit of production:

* 67 to 88% reduction in water consumption
* 50% reduction in the amount of purchased fertilizer required
* 94% to 99% reduction in the amount of energy used
* 100% increase in soil fertility, with an increases in yield
* 200% to 400% increase in caloric production per unit of area, and a
* 100% increase in income per unit of area.

What kinds of policy changes would you like to see implemented immediately to alleviate poverty and hunger? One good place to start would be to sequentially reduce crop subsidy payment programs. When the United States and European Union make farm subsidy payments, it changes commodity prices worldwide, and makes it very difficult for farmers from smaller developing countries to compete. These farmers are forced out of the market, and the U.S. or other G8 countries end up needing to provide food aid or other economic assistance. A better concept for agricultural support payments may be to pay farmers to build their soil fertility, sequester carbon, improve the soil’s water-holding capacity, reduce nutrient loading and develop better ecosystems. These would provide multiple benefits and everyone would win.

Can you discuss the relationship between consumers in the United States and global hunger? When consumers demand a food supply that is not fully sustainable, we support a farming model that depletes our soil and degrades water, air, and species biodiversity. This, in turn, decreases our ability to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Why not support living, regenerative, local farming systems that support the improvement of the natural resources upon which the Earth depends?

Why should consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? Because a world with food security and social stability benefits us all.

What could be done to encourage more investment in an agriculture that assists with the alleviation of global poverty and hunger? A relatively small percentage of the developed world’s “security and defense” budget could provide the education, training, tools and other resources needed to increase food security, improved nutrition, healthy ecosystems and increased economic opportunity for hundreds of millions of people. It simply takes the courage and political will to begin the building of a more fully sustainable world that works for everyone.

In Candide, Voltaire points the way: “The whole world is a garden and what a wonderful place this would be, if only each of us took care of our part of the garden!” Each of us is needed. And building a truly sustainable agriculture is an essential part of building sustainable communities. In order to accomplish this, we need to shift our perspective. We need to stop growing just crops and begin growing living soil!

Photo Credit:Amy Melious

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Posted by BorderJump 12:33 Comments (0)

Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities

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

Ankole Cattle (Photo Credit: ILRI)

Ankole Cattle (Photo Credit: ILRI)


For pastoralist communities like the well-known Maasai in Kenya, livestock keeping is more than just an important source of food and income; it’s a way of life that has been a part of their culture and traditions for hundreds of years.

But, in the face of drought, loss of traditional grazing grounds, and pressure from governments and agribusiness to cross-breed native cattle breeds with exotic breeds, pastoralists are struggling to feed their families and hold on to their culture.

The key, however, to maintaining the pastoralist way of life, at least in Kenya, may also be the key to preserving the country’s livestock genetic biodiversity, as well as improving local food security.“Governments need to recognize,” says Jacob Wanyama, coordinator with the African LIFE Network in Kenya— an organization that works to improve the rights of pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa, “that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity.” (See also: The Keepers of Genetic Diversity)

Anikole cattle, for example, a breed indigenous to Eastern Africa, are not only “beautiful to look at,” says Wanyama, but they’re one of the “highest quality” breeds of cattle because they can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—something that’s more important than the size and milk production of the cattle, especially as climate change takes a bigger hold on Africa. And indigenous breeds don’t require expensive feed and inputs, such as antibiotics to keep them healthy.

More than just a consistent and reliable source of food, Anikole cattle also help preserve the pastoralist culture and way of life. Though most pastoralists recognize that many of their children might choose to go into the cities instead of continuing the nomadic herding lifestyle of pastoralists, the preservation of Anikole cattle and other indigenous breeds will allow those that choose to stay to feed and support their families and community for years to come. (See also: Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World)

And, similarly, in Mozambique, the International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are promoting livestock as more than just a means to improve food security.

The two organizations are partnering to work with farmers—most of them women—to raise chickens on their farms. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer. (See also: Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa)

In Rwanda, Heifer International is helping farmers use livestock to rebuild their homes and improve their income after the devastating genocide that occurred 15 years ago. Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, introducing a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide.

And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.” Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows—including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture—which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

And these animals don’t only provide milk—which can be an important source of protein for the hungry—and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program. And they give families a sense of security as they, and the entire country, continue to recover and rebuild. (See also: Healing With Livestock in Rwanda)

To read more about how smallscale livestock can improve food security and preserve and rebuild communities, see: Teacher Turned Farmer. . .Turned Teacher, Got Biogas?, Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya.

Photo Credit: International Livestock Research Institute

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 09:22 Comments (0)

"Greening" Fisheries Could Calm Troubled Waters

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Fishing is a critical means of providing food, livelihood, trade, and economic growth in many developing countries—as well as the United States. In many small island developing nations and coastal countries – such as Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and Ghana – fish provide at least 50 percent of the population’s total animal protein intake. And approximately 43.5 million people’s year-round incomes depend on fish production while another 4 million’s depend on seasonal jobs as fishers and fish product workers.

Yet, despite the important role of fisheries in maintaining economic and social well-being, “fisheries around the world are being plundered or exploited at unsustainable rates,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Speaking about the preview release of the UNEP’s Green Economy Report: A Preview, Mr. Steiner argued that the current fishing industry “is a failure of management of what will prove to be monumental proportions unless addressed.”

The Green Economy Initiative report, scheduled for release later this year, argues that investment in “greening” the economy across a range of sectors – including agriculture, fisheries, and water – can drive global economic recovery and lead to future prosperity, job creation, and improved environmental conservation.

Currently, some 52 percent of the world’s marine fisheries are fully exploited and producing at— or close to— their maximum limits. Another 28 percent of the world’s marine fisheries are categorized as overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion—a producing less than their maximum potential. And when fisheries collapse, there is more than just the loss of fish life to worry about: livelihoods, communities, and entire economies are ruined.

Though the current outlook on fisheries may be troubling, researchers say that all is not lost. According to the Green Economy Initiative’s report, an $8 billion annual investment in rebuilding and “greening” the world’s fisheries could have a positive, and lasting, impact on the fishing industry worldwide. Researchers say this investment has the potential to both increase fish catches and generate $1.7 trillion in long-term economic returns over the next four decades.

Some possible methods for “greening” fisheries highlighted in the report include providing job training in alternative jobs industries; reducing the size of fishing fleets to limit excess harvesting capacity; and providing additional funding for fishery management to expand marine protected areas.

To read more about fisheries and the impact of the fishing sector, see: Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans, Farming Fish for the Future, and Vital Signs Online: Global Fish Production Continues to Rise.

[p]To read more about fisheries and the impact of the fishing sector, see: Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans, Farming Fish for the Future, and Vital Signs Online: Global Fish Production Continues to Rise.[/p]

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 13:06 Comments (0)

Acting It Out for Advocacy

This is the final blog in a three-part series about FANRPAN’s work. It was co-written by Sithembile Ndema, FANRPAN’s Natural Resources and Environment Programme Manager and Danielle Nierenberg. Crossposted from Nourishing the Planet.

3FANRPAN.jpg
The Food and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project aims at strengthening the capacity of women farmers influence in agriculture policy development and programmes in Southern Africa. It doesn’t sound especially entertaining—but it has some innovative strategies for bridging the divide between women farmers, researchers, and policy makers.

FANRPAN is using Theatre for Policy Advocacy to engage leaders, service providers, and policymakers; encourage community participation; and research the needs of women farmers. Essentially, theatre is being used to explain agricultural policy to people in rural areas, and to carry voices from the countryside back to government. Popular theatre personalities travel to communities in Mozambique and Malawi and stage performances using scripts based on FANRPAN’s research, to engage members of the community. After each performance, community members, women, men, youth, local leaders are engaged in facilitated dialogues. The dialogues give all community member—especially women—a chance to openly talk about the challenges they are facing without upsetting the status quo. More importantly, it allows women to tell development organizations what they really need, not the other way around.

Ultimately, FANRPAN hopes to train women community leaders to use the theatre advocacy platform to discuss other issues and problems in their villages, including HIV/AIDS. And because this project involves all members of the community, it doesn’t alienate men, but includes them in developing solutions.

For more information on FANRPAN and its work in Africa see the following www.fanrpan.org

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.
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Posted by BorderJump 09:48 Comments (0)

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