A Travellerspoint blog

David Lobell on Finding Food Security in a Changing Climate

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

In this regular series we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature David Lobell, Assistant Professor in Environmental Earth System Science, and a Center Fellow with the Program on Food Security and the Environment, at Stanford University.

David_Lobell.jpgName: David Lobell

Affiliation: Stanford University

Location: Stanford, CA

Bio: David Lobell is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University in Environmental Earth System Science, and a Center Fellow in Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment. His research focuses on identifying opportunities to raise crop yields in major agricultural regions, with a particular emphasis on adaptation to climate change. Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Lobell was a Senior Research Scholar at FSE from 2008-2009 and a Lawrence Post-doctoral Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 2005-2007. He received a PhD in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University in 2005, and a Sc.B. in Applied Mathematics, Magna Cum Laude from Brown University in 2000.

Recent Work:
The Poverty Implications of Climate-Induced Crop Yield Changes by 2030
Robust Negative Impacts of Climate Change on African Agriculture
Climate Change and Food Security: Adapting Agriculture to a Warmer World

What is the relationship between agriculture and global hunger? Agriculture plays a critical role in hunger, both in providing the food to eat and providing the income with which to purchase basic needs. I think it's a remarkable success that agriculture has historically been able to keep average food supply per capita at sufficient levels, even with rapid population growth. But obviously there are a lot of problems with access around the world and there is a lot of progress needed just to keep up with growing demand.

What is the relationship between climate change and agriculture? At a fundamental level, climate change will force most institutions involved with agriculture, ranging from poor farmers to international companies, to rethink how they do business. The pace of changes we are seeing, and will continue to see, are unprecedented in agriculture's history. For some, climate change will provide great opportunities to grow and expand, but for most people, especially in the developing world, it threatens to make harsh conditions even harsher.

Can you explain how agriculture can help farmers to both adapt to and mitigate climate change? There are a lot of proposed strategies for adapting to climate change, as well as for using agriculture to mitigate emissions. Without going through each, I can say there is a general need to be more rigorous in evaluating these options, how well they actually work, and thinking creatively about new options and potential co-benefits. For example, some strategies to improve soils could help both for mitigation and adaptation, although exactly how much is not yet clear. I also expect that agriculture will only be able to do so much, and other measures like improving social safety nets will be important.

What sorts of innovations, projects, policies, etc, would you like to see implemented to address hunger and climate change? In general, I think more overall investment in agricultural research will be important, as well as sharing knowledge and resources, such as genetic material, across borders. I would also like to see more effort to identify ongoing actions happening on the ground, and to evaluate their effectiveness. I think this is an area where the Worldwatch Institute is doing a great service.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? My own reasons for caring are that I am convinced agricultural improvements represent a key pathway out of poverty, and that reducing poverty and human suffering is a worthy goal. With climate change, I also think the countries that caused the problem have some responsibility to help identify solutions.

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 for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
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Posted by BorderJump 07:48 Comments (0)

1,000 Words About Ghana

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

7Ghana.jpgWe understand why Barack and Michelle Obama made Ghana their first stop on the African continent.

When you touch down in Accra (or anywhere in Ghana), you are greeted with the word akwaaba or welcome and the place is buzzing with activity: construction projects, vendors hawking antennas and groundnuts to commuters, roads being built and new investment.

Ghanaians boast about their stable democracy – they just peacefully transitioned governments in a 2009 election decided by only 40,000 votes. And we visited several projects across the country, each reinforcing the fact that people in this country are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty.

In Abokobi, just outside of Accra, traveling with the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD), we met with women who are using dairy cows, donated by Heifer International, to make yogurt to sell to local businesses and schools. These woman are working collaboratively on to rear dairy cows and bees, and process the resulting honey and milk.

Cow.jpgIn the village of Akimoda, we met the "King" of the village who is working with farmers to grow and market moringa, a plant known as the green gold of Ghana because of its health benefits for people and livestock.

In Kasoa we met small-scale livestock farmers who are raising grasscutters – large rodents which, to the locals at least, are considered a delicacy.

And in Cape Coast we met with a group of women fishmongers who are working together to process and sell fish. There we also met Mr. Emmanuel Akai-Taylor who is a farmer-innovator that developed a local vaccine distribution program for poultry.

Two Days with ECASARD in Accra, Ghana

Also while in Cape Coast, we visited the Cape Coast Castle, where slaves from all over Africa were imprisoned before being shipped to the US and Europe. We walked through the 'Door of No Return', which was the last thing some two million slaves saw before being loaded on to what the slave traders referred to as "floating coffins". For every one slave that made it to the US, at least four others died somewhere along the journey.

Tree.jpgWe learned that slaves were forced to walk to their prisons from all over West Africa. And once they arrived, hundreds were packed into dark dungeons with little food and water. The ones who survived were then herded on to ships, leaving behind their homes, their families and their culture forever. As disturbing as this was to hear, it only strengthened our admiration for the resilience and strength of Ghanaians.

We ended our journey with a visit to the Kakum National Park to watch birds and monkeys at eye level as they walked along their 350 meter high 'canopy'. Located in a small rainforest about 35 miles from Cape Coas, the walk through the tree tops is a lot of fun, and while we are both afraid of heights, we even managed to look down a couple of times to enjoy the breathtaking views.

Though we didn't see much of the beach, the Cape Coast sits along the Atlantic and the sound of the waves crashing around you undoubtedly beats the docile murmurs of a Caribbean island. If you have the time, waste an afternoon away, watching the ocean, sipping beers at the restaurant “the Castle,” with live Rastafarian music playing most of the weekend for free.

Boat.jpgWe found a terrific organic restaurant called Baobab with tons of vegan food (and the only place you will find a soy latte within 200 kilometers). They make fresh fruit smoothies and are located just a short walk from Cape Coast Castle. The best part is that all proceeds benefit a local childrens charity in the area. They have a terrific gift shop next door that turns recycled water bags into purses and wallets. One block away (and near the local market) is a fun and tasty restaurant called Chic Herbs with excellent lentil burgers.

If you are looking for a hotel, we can recommend a comfortable budget hotel called Mighty Victory ($25.00 USD per night for a double room), which had hot water, wireless internet, and even air-conditioning.

If we've piqued your interest in Ghana, you should know that Delta is running direct flight from Denver and New York City. You will fall in love with this terrific country (just make sure, before you hop on the plane, to you get your VISA (about $55.00 USD) in advance).

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 for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going—-If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

Posted by BorderJump 07:58 Comments (0)

Improving Farmer Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Earlier this week, we highlighted Nicholas Kristof’s OP-ED in the New York Times about Gabon, a country in West-Central Africa where the rights of farmers are frequently in conflict with wildlife conservation efforts. One young village chief and farmer, Evelyn Kinga explained that she doesn’t like elephants because they eat her cassava plants—a crop her livelihood depends on—because she doesn’t benefit from rich foreigners who come to Gabon for eco-tourism.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Raol du Toit, Director of the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe. His organization works closely with farmers on the ground to help communities realize that protecting wildlife can be in their own best interest.

du Toit promotes “landscape-level planning” that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process. Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. Additionally, the Rhino Conservation Trust provides classroom materials for schools so that students may learn the connections between sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation at an early age. (See also Helping Farmers Benefit Economically from Wildlife Conservation)

And du Toit is not alone in his effort to improve the lives of farmers, as well as protect wildlife.

In Tanzania, the Jane Goodall Instutite (JGI) started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But by the early 1990’s the organization realized that in order to be successful it would have to start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park. JGI was planting trees to rebuild the forest but members of the community were chopping them down—not because they wanted to damage the work but because they needed them for fuel and to make charcoal.

In response, JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. “These are services,” says Pancras Ngalason Executive Director of JGI Tanzania, “people require in order to appreciate the environment” and that will ultimately help not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also to build healthy and economically viable communities. (See also: Rebuilding Roots in Environmental Education)

In Botswana, the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve is doing more than just teaching students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, they’re also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers—including elephant dung—the Reserve’s Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.

When school groups come to learn about the animals, the reserve also teaches them about sustainable agriculture. Using the garden as a classroom in which to teach students about composting, intercropping, water harvesting, and organic agriculture practices, the Wildlife Reserve helps draw the connection between the importance of environmentally sustainable agriculture practices and the conservation of elephants, giraffes, impala, and various other animals and birds living in the area.(See also: Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture Conservation)

To read more about innovative ways to protect agriculture and the surrounding wildlife, read: From Alligator to Zebra: Wild Animals Find Sanctuary in the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania, Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Helping Conserve Wildlife–and Agriculture–in Mozambique, Honoring the Farmers that Nourish their Communities and the Planet, and Investing in Projects that Protect Both Agriculture and Wildlife

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 08:31 Comments (0)

1,000 Words About Kenya

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Kenya.jpgOur entry begins in Maralal, Kenya, a place mostly known for its wildlife. And as we made the seven hour, bumpy trek from Nairobi—half of it on unpaved roads—we saw our fair share of water buffaloes, rhinos, impala, and giraffes. But we weren’t here to go on safari. We were here to meet with a group of pastoralists—livestock keepers who had agreed to meet with us and talk about the challenges they face.

Although most of these people don’t have access to cable TV or even radios, they do have a good sense of the challenges their fellow livestock keepers face all over Kenya. They are aware that climate change is likely responsible for the drought plaguing much of East Africa, killing thousands of livestock over the last few months. They know that conflict with neighboring pastoral communities over water resources and access to land makes headlines in Kenya’s newspapers. And they know that many policy-makers would like to forget they exist and consider their nomadic lifestyle barbaric, as our guide Dr. Pat Lanyasunya, a member of the Africa LIFE Network, explained.

pastoralists.jpgWhat surprised me most about these livestock keepers is their understanding that the world is changing. They know that many of their children won’t live the same kind of lives that their ancestors lived for centuries. Many will choose to go to the cities, but they said if their children become “landed,” they want them to maintain links to the pastoralist way of life.

Speaking of the ‘big” city, Nairobi, we had some unforgettable site visits there. Driving through the crowded streets of Kibera, (an urban slum in Nairobi), it's nearly impossible to describe how many people live in this area of about 225 hectares, the equivalent of just over half the size of Central Park in Manhattan. Anywhere from 700,000 to a million people live in what is likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa--it's hard to count the exact number here because people don't own the land where they live and work, making their existence a very tenuous one. Often people are evicted from their homes (most of them wooden shacks with tin roves) because the city government doesn't want to recognize that Kibera exists. But it does. And despite the challenges people here face-lack of water and sanitation services and lack of land ownership are the big ones-they are also thriving.

Kibera.jpgWe met a "self help" group of women farmers in Kibera, who are growing food for their families and selling the surplus. These groups are present all over Kenya-giving youth, women, and other groups the opportunity to organize, share information and skills, and ultimately improve their well-being.

The women we met are raising vegetables on what they call "vertical farms." But instead of skyscrapers, these farms are in tall sacks, filled with dirt, and the women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and planting seeds. They received training, seeds, and sacks from the French NGO Soladarites to start their sack gardens.

leafy.jpgThe women told us that more than 1,000 of their neighbors are growing food in a similar way-something that Red Cross International recognized during 2007 and 2008 when there was conflict in the slums of Nairobi. No food could come into these areas, but most residents didn't go without food because so many of them were growing crops-in sacks, vacant land, or elsewhere.

These small gardens can yield big benefits in terms of nutrition, food security, and income. All the women told us that they saved money because they no longer had to buy vegetables at the store and they claimed they taste better because they were organically grown-but it also might come from the pride that comes from growing something themselves.

tea.jpgWhen we got to the union office in Kerecho, Kenya, union officials were elated to see the staff of the Solidarity Center. Over the last couple of months, more than 6,000 tea workers joined the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU). To help them win more members-and continue to grow-the Solidarity Center provides resources to hire organizers, conduct trainings, and offer communications and transportation support, according to KPAWU branch secretary Joshua Owuor Maywen.

The union, despite having more than 200,000 members in the agriculture sector and representing some of the most vulnerable workers, has still lost density over the last two decades. During this time, companies are trying whatever they can to cut costs, including implementing child labor, mechanizing the plucking industry--according to one of the workers: "the machines pluck everything including snakes and spiders, while the tea pluckers pluck tea"-and hiring casuals or "temporary" workers at lower wages and reduced benefits.

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 for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going—-If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

Posted by BorderJump 08:47 Comments (0)

A Conversation with Norman Uphoff

In this regular series we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Norman Uphoff, professor of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University.

Norman Uphoff

Norman Uphoff

Name: Norman Uphoff

Affiliation: Cornell University

Location: Ithaca, United States

Bio: Norman Uphoff is a professor of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University and former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development, 1990 to 2005. His work has focused on development administration, irrigation management, local participation, and strategies for broad-based rural development. His current development interests have expanded beyond the social sciences to include agro-ecology, particularly the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and its extrapolation to other crops beyond rice.

Published work:

-“System of Rice Intensification responds to 21st Century Needs, Rice Today 3 (3): 42-43
-Reasons for Success: Learning from Instructive Experiences in Rural Development (1997), with Esman and Krishna, Kumarian Press.
-Agroecological Innovations: Increasing Food Production with Participatory Development (2002), Earthscan Press.
-Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems, managing editor (2006), CRC Press.
-“An assessment of physiological effects of system of rice intensification (SRI) practices compared to recommended rice cultivation practices in India,” with Thakur and Antony (2010) in Experimental Agriculture, 46:77-98
-“Learning about positive plant-microbial interactions from the System of Rice Intensification (SRI),” with Anas, Rupela, Thakur and Thiyagarajan (2009). Aspects of Applied Biology 98: 29-54.

On Nourishing the Planet: Nourishing the Planet is looking ahead at ways that we can, first, avert the most dire outcomes that will be the likely consequence of our present practices, and, second, reverse the present adverse trends by capitalizing on new opportunities. Both are necessary. Not enough people realize that we are ‘in a hole,’ and that continuing to ‘dig deeper’ will not get us out.

Our food production methods need to be reformulated and reoriented to approximate more closely the natural processes that have supported vegetation growth on the planet’s surface for some 400 million years. All herbivores, carnivores and omnivores (including us) are supported by these photosynthetically-driven processes and their associated soil system dynamics. Nourishing the planet in the decades ahead will depend on a profound understanding of ecological opportunities and limits.

The December 2009 issue of Farming Matters calls you “one of the most energetic and persistent promoters of SRI.” Can you describe your evolution from being a skeptic of the technique to becoming one its biggest supporters? When I first learned about ‘SRI’ from the Malagasy NGO Association Teffy Saina in December 1993 it sounded fantastical. How could farmers, who had very poor soils, significantly improve their yields—by 5, 10, even 15 tons per hectare—without the use of new, improved rice varieties, and without the use of chemical fertilizer (just compost made from any available biomass), and with less water? This was not believable. Even though I was a social scientist, not an agronomist, I knew this was not possible.

But the Teffy Saina officers who offered to work with us were quite confident, and the Malagasy professional managing the project vouched for their character, so we signed the subcontracts with Tefy Saina to introduce SRI in the peripheral zone of the USAID-funded conservation and development projects intended to save the rainforest ecosystems around Ranomafana. After the farmers used SRI methods for three years, they averaged eight tons per hectare, and some reached 12, 14, and 16 tons per hectare in one case. I decided that I had better learn enough agronomics to figure out what was going on, and enough French so that I could understand the papers for the originator of SRI, Fr. Henri De Laulanié, S.J. He has spent 34 years of his life trying to help poor farmers in Madagascar raise their rice yields without depending on purchased inputs. To my everlasting regret, I never met him before he died in 1995, and because I was still to skeptical about SRI to realize what a remarkable innovator he was, in the tradition of Gregor Mendel.

The same story in Farming Matters emphasizes the importance of involving farmers’ needs and opinions when developing innovations. How does your research and outreach integrate the feedback of farmers using SRI on the ground? In part because most agricultural scientists have been so skeptical, even dismissive of SRI, our work has usually begun with NGO’s and the farmers they assist. There have been a few agricultural researchers who have had open minds and have taken an interest in SRI from the outset, but mostly we have developed our understanding of SR and have made adaptations in close association with farmers. Now the scientific community is becoming more interested.

Because SRI is ‘not a technology,’ nothing fixed or rigid, but rather a distillation of the insights and methods that Fr. Laulanié put together from his own experience and from working with Malagasy farmers, we try to explain to farmers the reasons for changing their age-old management methods for plants, soil, water, and nutrients, rather than telling them how they should change. We want farmers to understand the rational, and to make adaptation to their own local conditions: how young seedlings should be for their soils and temperatures, how far apart is the optimum spacing, how much they should let their paddy soils dry out before re-wetting them, etc. Some farmers have quickly grasped the principles and techniques, and become leaders in their own communities, and beyond. We start with those who are most curious and innovative and try to spread them from there.

What are the qualifications you look for in a successful innovation and how do suggest information about the innovation can most effectively be shared? That not all farmers adopt something immediately does not mean the innovation has no merit, or will not spread once its productivity is demonstrated and once appropriate adaptations have been made for local conditions. SRI was developed for irrigated rice production, for example, with transplanting as the method of crop establishment. But we have seen the ideas successfully extrapolated to rain-fed (non-irrigated) rice production, using only rainfall, and also extended to other crops. When farmers take ownership of an innovation this way, maybe only a few at first, this is a mark of success. Farmers in many countries have taken it upon themselves to spread the innovation to other farmers. That was very persuasive to me.

What kinds of policy changes would you like to see implemented immediately to address the needs of small scale farmers? This is too broad a question for a quick answer. To support SRI extension, perhaps the first thing would be to improve the physical infrastructure and (especially) the management of irrigation systems so that more water can be provided reliably to farmers wanting to get more yield with less water. Also, because SRI paddy (unmilled) rice gives about 15 percent more milled rice per bag or per bushel, because there is less chaff (fewer unfilled grains) and less breakage of grains during milling, millers should pay 10 percent more per bag or per bushel for SRI paddy, to give the benefit of the higher quality rice to its producers (rather than pocket this windfall themselves). That would be a big boost to getting farmers to shift their production methods since this is on top of a higher paddy yield.

Can you discuss the relationship between consumers in the United States and small scale farmers in Africa? I think that fair trade should be promoted more widely, and subsidies to U.S. farmers that tilt the playing field against African small-scale farmers should be revised and probably ended. If the U.S. wants to promote free trade, it should itself be practicing fair trade, i.e. unsubsidized production.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? In the case of SRI, reduced requirements for water (more crop per drop) do not directly affect U.S. consumers, but the whole world benefits from movement toward more water—economizing food production. In the case of SRI, the reduced requirements for water (more crop per drop) do not directly affect U.S. consumers, but the whole world benefits from movement toward more water-economizing food production. Also from less use of synthetic fertilizers and agrochemicals. We have been working with a U.S. rice-importing company in San Francisco, Lotus Foods, to help them import very high-quality indigenous rice varieties, organically-grown by small farmers with higher income for their produce, which helps conserve rice biodiversity and benefit farmers and the environment.

Few U.S. consumers realize the richness of rice biodiversity (oryza sativa), with thousands of varieties having desirable qualities of taste, texture, color, aroma, etc. and often higher nutritional quality. I think that with the increase productivity of SRI methods, also for traditional varieties as well as improved varieties, lowering the prices of rice for consumers while still giving farmers a better income, we are going to see rice becoming a much more popular and widely-consumed food in the 21st century. Rice is much more and much better than the ‘white stuff’ that used to be consumed just for its calories. Rices are good for soups, salads, desserts, casseroles, poultry stuffing, etc. Few Americans know what a wonderful grain the many kinds of rice can be; but now that SRI methods are being used for wheat, millet, sorghum, teff, and other grains, I have to avoid becoming a complete partisan for rice.

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 07:17 Comments (0)

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