A Travellerspoint blog

Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Washington DC last week at the House Hunger Caucus briefing, panelist, Cheryl Morden, Director of the North American Liaison Office of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), concluded that, in the global agriculture funding community’s struggle to alleviate hunger and poverty, there is a “big pay-off in focusing on women,” but “ neglect them and you’ll end up doing harm.”

Although women farmers produce more than half of the food grown in the world—and roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods—they are often not able to benefit from general agriculture funding because of the institutional and cultural barriers they face—including lack of access to land, lack of access to credit, and lack of access to education. Worldwide, women receive only about 5 percent of agriculture extension services and own about 2 percent of land worldwide.

But research has shown that when women’s incomes are improved,and when they have better access to resources like education, infrastructure, credit, and health care, they tend to invest more in the nutrition, education, and health of their family, causing a ripple effect of benefits that can extend to the entire community.

In Kibera—sub-Saharan Africa’s largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where anywhere from 700,000 to a million people live—women farmers, with training and seeds provided by the French NGO Soladarites, are growing vegetable farms in sacks filled with dirt. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way and during the food crisis in Kenya during 2007 and 2008, when conflict in Nairobi prevented food from coming into the area, most residents did not go hungry because there were so many of these ‘vertical farms.’

In Zambia, Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, saw improvements in her family’s quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the “Mosi-o-Tunya” (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased from International Development Enterprises (IDE). In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the task of gathering water—in the driest parts of the continent this can require up to eight hours of labor per day — usually falls to women. Explaining that her children are eating healthier, with more vegetables in their diet, Mrs. Sianchenga adds that she is also enjoying increased independence. “Now we are not relying only on our husbands, because we are now able to do our own projects and to assist our husbands, to make our families look better, eat better, clothe better—even to have a house.”

In Rwanda, the Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI) helps to empower young girls and other students by integrating school gardens and agriculture training into primary school curriculums. Over 60 percent of students in Rwanda will return to rural areas to farm for a living after graduating instead of going on to secondary school or university. While both young boys and girls benefit from the training, it is especially important for young girls to learn these skills, says Josephine Tuyishimire, so that they can avoid dependence on men for food and financial security. And so they can share what they learn.

By “passing these skills to future generations” – or the children that are often under their care- said Tuyishimire, women help to create future farmers who are prepared to feed themselves and similarly self-sufficient and empowered.

To learn more about women’s important role in alleviating global hunger and poverty, see: Farming on the Urban Fringe, Building a Methane Fueled Fire, Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value, Women Farmers Are Key to Halving Global Hunger by 2015, For Many Women, Improved Access to Water is About More than Having Something to Drink, and Reducing the Things They Carry.

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Posted by BorderJump 06:40 Comments (0)

1,000 Words About Tanzania

Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

7Zanzibar.jpgA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania

We arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania excited to catch a flight to Kigoma, a region in the northwestern part of the country to visit a Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania project working with small farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, has suspended all flights for the next several weeks and the other airline is all booked.

No worries, we headed to Zanzibar instead….

Market.jpgZanzibar is a place known for beautiful beaches, but the thing that I liked most about my visit there was the food. Everywhere you look there’s a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and, most importantly given the island’s history, spices. Zanzibar is one of the “Spice Islands,” a group of islands that supplied cloves, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and other spices to Europe in the 17th Century. Today, those spices are grown much the same way they were then—organically, without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, in response to consumer demand. And they’re still grown on large plantations, but instead of slaves planting and harvesting the crops, local Tanzanian farmers use intercropping to grow many of the spices along with fruit trees and vegetables. The spice farms are also benefiting from tourism—I paid a shockingly low $12 for my day long trip to the spice farm, which included a wonderful (and spicy!) vegetarian lunch and a trip to a pristine and deserted beach.

The Tanzanian government, however, controls much of the land where the spices are grown and also where they are sold. Vanilla grown in Zanzibar, for example, is not used on the island or even in mainland Tanzania, but is grown exclusively for export. And Zanzibar is also the world’s third largest supplier of cloves, the main export from the island.

When we arrived back to Dar Es Salaam we did have the opportunity to meet with Pancras Ngalason who is the Executive Director of Jane Goodall Center (JGI) in Tanzania and he explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s. They’ve gone, according to Ngalason, beyond research to address questions of livelihood.

JGI.jpgJGI started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But in the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn’t start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn’t work. JGI first started by planting trees in the region, but soon found that communities cut them down, not because they wanted to, but because they needed them for fuel and for making charcoal. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we “thought beyond planting trees” and more about community-based conservation.

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. They like to say that their products are “Good for All”—good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.

They’re also working training community health practitioners about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, educating youth, establishing micro-credit programs, and working with UNICEF and USAID to supply clean water to communities.

We then hopped on a bus to Arusha, Tanzania to meet with the World Vegetable Center…

4140238499_db519b6a1a.jpgAs hunger and drought spread across Africa , there’s a huge focus on increasing yields of staple crops, such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice. And while these crops are important for food security, providing much needed calories, they don’t provide much protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, other important vitamins and micronutrients—or much taste. “None of the staple crops,” says Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center’s Regional Director for Africa, “would be palatable without vegetables.” And vegetables, he says, “are less risk prone” than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods of time.

Because vegetables typically have a shorter growing time, they can maximize often scarce water supplies and soil nutrients better than crops such as maize which need a lot of water and fertilizer.

Unfortunately no country in Africa, according to Dr. Tenkouano, has a big focus on vegetable production. But that’s where the Center steps in. Since the 1990s, the Center (which is a part of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan) has been working in Africa to breed cultivars that best suit farmers’ needs.

Despite the focus on staple crops, vegetable production generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises, according to the Center’s website. And unlike staple crops, vegetable production is something that benefits urban and rural farmers alike (See our posts on urban farmers in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya).

In addition, vegetable production is the most sustainable and affordable way of alleviating micronutrient deficiencies among the poor. Often referred to as “hidden hunger,” micronutrient deficiencies—including lack of Vitamin A, iron, and iodine—affect some 1 billion people worldwide. They lead to poor mental and physical development, especially among children, and cause poor performance in work and in school, further crippling communities already facing poverty and other health problems.

But by listening to farmers and including them in breeding research, the Center is helping to alleviate these problems.

Introducing a new weekly series where we recommend one song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today’s selection is from Zimbabwe.

There is a great diversity of music to be heard in Zimbabwe but one classic is John Chibadura and the Tembo Brothers. This music feels like nothing but good times.

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 11:23 Comments (0)

1,000 Words About Ethiopia

Cross posted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

4058150241..9aa01_m.jpgWe started this trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place most Americans associate with war and hunger because of the famines of the mid 1980s and 1990s. Even today, more than 6 million people in Ethiopia are at risk for starvation so we think we had mentally prepared myself for seeing very desperate people. Instead, though, we found farmers and NGO workers full of hope for agriculture in their country. That's been our greatest surprise about the continent in general — how vibrant, entrepreneurial, friendly, positive, and alive people are here. Six months and fifteen countries later, we're now in Dakar, Senegal, feeling more hopeful than ever that things are really changing.

The trip is surprising in a lot of different ways. While we’ve seen extreme poverty and environmental degradation during our trip, we’ve also been impressed by the level of knowledge about things like hunger, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other issues from the farmers we meet. The people in many of these countries know better than anyone how to solve the problems their facing, they just need attention–and support–from the international community. In Africa, maybe more than anywhere else we’ve traveled, a little funding can go a long way (if used the right way).

We met Kes Malede Abreha, described by our guides/interpreters as a “farmer-priest,” on his farm near Aksum in the Central Zone of Tigray region. A small, wiry, soft-spoken man with a neatly trimmed beard, Kes Malede is one of the leading “farmer-innovators” in his community. Roughly eight years ago, he started digging for water on his very dry farm. His neighbors thought he was crazy, telling him he would never find water on the site. His wife even left him, moving their children into town.

But about 16 meters down, Kes Malede hit water. After his wife returned, he began sketching ways that would make it easier to “push” that water to the surface. He developed a series of pumps, improving on each one. The one he’s using now is built from inexpensive wood, iron, and metal piping, all available locally. It can push or lift water not only to the surface, but also through a system of hoses to irrigate his fruit trees and farm crops, including teff, sorghum, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

As part of a group of farmers who can apply for and receive funding for their innovations from the global, NGO-initiated organization, Prolinnova, Kes Malede is teaching other farmers in the community by example, showing them how small investments in technology can make a big difference on the farm.

Before he developed his water-management system, Kes Malede and his family lived in a one-room house and could grow only enough staple food to feed the household. Today, the family lives in a bigger house, grows a diversity of crops, and raises chickens, cattle, goats, and bees. Kes Malede’s investment in more beehives has not only provided income from honey production, but also helped pollinate his fruit and vegetable crops. He’s now helping other farmers—the same ones who thought he was crazy—by teaching them about his water lifting system and by selling modern, box-style beehives that allow farmers to both manage the bees better and harvest more honey.

Also, we've been reading about how China is investing in African agriculture for a few years now, but this week is the first time we've really seen what that means on the ground. As we traveled from Addis to Aksum, it's impossible not to notice who is building the roads here. Hint: it's not the Ethiopian government. The Chinese, even though they can't legally own land in Ethiopia, have brought in bulldozers and trucks to improve already-existing roads and build new ones. Along with building roads, they've also built good will with Ethiopian policymakers and farmers because better roads allow farmers to get their goods from farm to market more easily.

In Aksum alone, the Chinese have built more than 150 kilometers of roads and provided cell phones for farmers -- allowing them, for the first time ever, to check prices before they go to market and to call ahead for supplies and materials. The Chinese are also leasing huge amounts of land for isolated compounds stacked with pre-fabricated homes, complete with satellite TVs and Chinese cooks, for the road engineers.

But this investment isn't entirely altruistic. China, a nation of more than 1. 3 billion people and counting that is concerned about its ability to feed its own population today and into the future, is buying up Ethiopian-grown cabbage, carrots, onions, and other crops to ship back home. One of our guides/interpreters said that sometimes the Chinese show up at markets near Aksum before they open, buying up all the goods before Ethiopian customers even arrive. It's an ironic situation, to say the least, as news reports warn of impending famine in the southeastern region of the country, where more than 6 million people are on the verge of starvation.

Because we are limited by length, here are some additional observations:

1) We ended the trip in Addis Ababa, which is one of our favorite cities in Africa. Alongside the bumper to bumper traffic, are people hearding flocks of sheep, vendors walking between cars hawking everything from mentos to vacum cleaners.

2) Lots of government control over services, the one major internet company was frequently out of service, sometimes spanning across the entire coutnry.

3) It's a terrific place to be vegetarian. Most restuarants observe "fasting" days twice a week, and almost all menus have good veg and vegan options.

4) It's generally pretty safe. We never felt scared or threatened in any way. Tourists are welcomed. People are extremely friendly and as excited to learn about you are your culture as you are about them. While it may be off-the-beaten path, it will be a visit you never forget.

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 07:19 Comments (0)

Peanut Butter and Progress

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Originally featured in the North Carolina News Observer.

9Lusaka.jpgIt's not every day you meet someone from Raleigh while traveling in Lusaka, Zambia. Dale Lewis might not have intended to spend decades in the landlocked African country of 12 million, but his passion for protecting wildlife and for conservation led him there - and his entrepreneurial spirit and desire to lift farmers from poverty while protecting the environment compelled him to stay.

How does Lewis, who attended Broughton High School and whose parents were longtime Raleigh residents, help alleviate hunger and poverty in Zambia's most rural areas?

By making peanut butter, and lots of it!

One of the first things you notice about grocery stores in Zambia is the plethora of processed foods from around the world, from crackers made in Argentina and soy milk from China to popular U.S. breakfast cereals. Complementing these foreign foods, however, are a variety of locally made and processed products, including indigenous varieties of organic rice, all-natural peanut butter and honey from the It's Wild brand.

It's Wild was started by the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), which Lewis founded over 30 years ago to conserve and protect local wildlife.

COMACO helps farmers improve their agricultural practices in ways that can protect the environment while also creating a reliable market for farm products. It organizes farmers into producer groups, encouraging them to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management and other practices so that they don't have to resort to poaching elephants or other wildlife.

By targeting hard-to-reach farmers who live near protected areas, "we're trying to turn things around," Lewis says. For decades, many farmers in eastern Zambia practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and were involved in widespread elephant poaching. It was their only option. Degraded soils and drought left many farmers in the region desperate.

By training more than 650 "lead" farmers to train other farmers, COMACO hopes not only to protect the environment and local wildlife, but also to help farmers increase their incomes by connecting them to the private market. The organization supports creation of regional processing centers and trading depots to make it easier for farmers to process their crops and transport them to market. It also offers a higher price to farmers who grow rice and other products organically and for those who use the conservation farming techniques they've learned from trainers and lead farmers.

Lewis says that when farmers comply with COMACO, they see benefits, including improvements in food security and health.

The resulting products are then sold under the It's Wild brand in major supermarket chains across Zambia, such as ShopRite, Checkers and Spar. Next year, COMACO plans to export its products to Botswana. The organization is trying to do as much of the product distribution as possible so that the money stays with the farmers and not middlemen.

COMACO has also gotten technical support from Minneapolis-based multinational food giant General Mills. The company paid for a COMACO food technician to visit its headquarters in early 2009 to learn how different food processing techniques can increase the nutritional and economic value of the foods the organization is selling. Lewis hopes that eventually COMACO will be self-sufficient, and profitable, without the current dependence on donor funding. But that's not easy for an organization that works with thousands of farmers and has high administrative, transport and salary costs.

He says that he is 70 percent there and is determined to show that his model is not only sustainable, but also profitable.

Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and co-project director of "State of World 2011: Nourishing the Planet." Bernard Pollack is a travel writer from the District of Columbia, currently based in Africa.

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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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 07:46 Comments (0)

1,000 Words About Rwanda

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Barn.jpgWe’ve taken some long bus rides in Africa. We spent eight bumpy hours on a bus from Nairobi to Arusha and another eight from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam.

The longest so far, though, has been between Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda. As usual, we were looking out the window, admiring the crops growing by the side of the road, desperately trying not to think about how we had to pee, and trying not to panic about how fast our bus driver was maneuvering between other buses, cattle, and street vendors hawking roasted corn, bananas, and pineapples on the side of the road.

But once we arrived, we quickly realized, that we've never traveled anywhere quite like Rwanda.

Fifteen years ago one of the largest modern genocides occurred here.

More than one million men, women, and children were senselessly murdered, not by strangers, but by their own government, their own neighbors, and in some cases, their own family members. It was one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. If you were a Tutsi (an ethnic tribe, now about 15 percent of the population), you were marked for death, with very few places to hide.

Kigali.jpgOur visit to the genocide memorial museum in Kigali, was a painful reminder to us that, as Jews, our shared global commitment of "never again" was just words. The world turned away as this happened. It would be easy to lay the blast solely on former President Bill Clinton or Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, who now admit that the United States and the world failed Rwanda. The blame lands in all our hands, another reminder of how are able to turn our backs on events in Africa and of our apathy or sense of hopelessness about a continent we know so little about.

Today Rwanda, a decade and a half after the atrocities that occurred here, knows all the right things to say. The newspapers are strictly controlled by the government--and censored. New nationalistic slogans have emerged: "One Rwanda, One Country" is the motto heard everywhere.

Yet, we couldn't help but wonder as we walked the streets of Kigali that anyone over 30 years old was likely either a culprit or victim. And today Hutus still occupy Tutsi homes, many possessions were never returned, and mass-graves continue to grow as bodies are discovered. Although, more than 180,000 people went to jail under a village-by-village court system -- many evaded punishment, received minimal sentences, or were freed a few years later on good behavior.

It's clear that the country and communities are creating spaces for healing. Radio, print, and TV are filled with multi-ethnic dialogues about renewing and rebuilding Rwanda. Communities are holding public forums, counseling is offered, and dialogue is growing everywhere.

We also found a country bustling with energy as it rebuilds. A lush landscape of green hills and trees, filled with infinite possibility. Cities are now becoming used to a growing number of tourists, with WiFi hotspots, European and Chinese restaurants, and growing numbers of satellite televisions. With the growing stability and security, the international community is coming back.

Kid.jpgTraveling in the countryside we saw many success stories, including the work of Heifer International Rwanda who are training farmers and increasing food security.“Heifer is helping a recovery process,” explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it’s close to the border with Uganda. Residents who weren’t killed fled to Kigali for safety.

In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer International works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how raise them.

Family.jpgHeifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group—because they were giving farmers “very expensive cows,” says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn’t understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s. And 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.

Heifer introduced 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.”

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.

We were very inspired as we met with several farmers all over the countryside, who were lifting themselves out of poverty using help provided to them by Heifer.

Several of the farmers became teachers in their own communities, helping their neighbors learn new skills and techniques that they were benefiting from, and working with them to implement them.

Rwanda may be our most interesting and beautiful visit in Africa but the country also feels lost, still struggling to find itself, still deciding what direction it will go. Its wounds may never completely heal--especially when "never again" happened here such a short time ago.

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 09:45 Comments (0)

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