Africa: a continent of resilience and opportunity

ID-100224355Africa is often referred to as a continent of opportunity, economic or otherwise. In part because of the progress made – since 2000, rates of extreme poverty and hunger have dropped as have the number of new HIV infections, and access to education and health care is increasing. But also due to the predicted changes to take place over the next few decades – 6 of the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and a growing youth population means that the continent will have a working-age population bigger than that of China or India by 2035.

Indeed the theme of the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit which recently drew to a close, was “Investing in the Next Generation.”. 40 or so heads of states and government from across Africa joined President Obama in Washington to discuss the opportunities for developing sustainable African economies. A key message from the summit is that to achieve future growth, economies must tackle the drivers and impacts of climate change, and John Kerry remarked at a Working Session on Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate that in order to “ensure that farmers, fishermen, and the billions who depend on the food that they produce are able to endure the climate impacts that are already being felt, let alone yet to come” is to focus our efforts “on the intersection of climate and food security, by adopting creative solutions that increase food production and build resilience to climate change”.

Some political progress on supporting climate change adaptation is happening. The African Union agreed in the 2014 Malabo Declaration to increase agricultural growth to cut poverty and hunger in half by 2025, to double agricultural productivity, halve post-harvest losses and reduce stunting to 10% across the continent as well as to reduce vulnerability to climate and weather risk, and mainstream resilience.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, planned to launch at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit on September 23, is an international alliance, aiming to drive momentum and interest on climate smart agriculture (CSA) and to become a platform to coordinate the adoption of CSA. The USAID and the Rockefeller Foundation have also recently announced a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership to “accelerate promising technologies and ideas and identify new opportunities that can better build the resilience of families, communities, countries and regions”, for example, improving drought cycle management and expanding climate-resilient agricultural practices.

Also recently launched in Nairobi, a UNEP report, Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa, presents practical examples of successful low-cost adaptation solutions from around sub-Saharan Africa. The report details several examples of adaptation projects that have helped people cope with the impacts of climate change and have also stimulated local economies and incentivised government investment and policy change. The report is in part responding to the 2013 Africa Adaptation Gap Report which recognised the potentially staggering costs of climate change for Africa. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Deep emissions cuts needed by 2050 to limit warming: U.N. draft, Reuters

Teaching a humongous foundation to listen to small farmers, Grist

New report links aquaculture and poverty reduction, WorldFish

The MDG Hunger Target and the Contested Visions of Food Security, Fukuda-Parr & Orr

The Power of Numbers: Why the MDGs were flawed (and post2015 goals look set to go the same way), From Poverty to Power

At last, some evidence on the national impact of the MDGs. In Zambia, rivalry with other governments and measurable indicators have made a difference, From Poverty to Power

The GMO Fight Ripples Down the Food Chain, The Wall Street Journal

How GMO crops conquered the United States, Vox

Coming soon: Genetically edited fruit?, EurekAlert

Let’s Use Organic and GMOs to Feed the World, Huffington Post [Read more...]

Hungry to learn: The rise of Home Grown School Feeding

By Sunit Bagree, Partnership for Child Development at Imperial College London

An innovative approach helps smallholder farmers and supports children’s education at the same time

What does it take to get a child to attend school regularly and then learn effectively when there?

Common responses to this question would probably include things like no school fees, well-trained teachers and high-quality textbooks. Others would likely argue the need to combat discrimination faced by certain marginalised groups (e.g. girls, orphans and children with disabilities) both inside and outside of the classroom. Indeed, all of these are essential for building strong education systems and ensuring that every child enjoys their right to education.

policy doc coverI doubt that many answers would highlight the role that smallholder farmers can play in educational participation and achievement. Yet a new policy paper from Imperial College London’s Partnership for Child Development shows how food grown by some of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers is being used in school meals to feed children – with some impressive results.

These government-led interventions, known as Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF), may be described as a ‘win-win’ for children and smallholder farmers alike.

Nutritious snacks and meals can provide an incentive for the poorest children to attend school. Considering that 57 million children are still not going to primary school, school feeding can be a crucial form of encouragement. Moreover, it’s hard to concentrate if you’re hungry. Children also struggle to study – and develop cognitively – even if they’re getting enough food in terms of calorie intake but not satisfying their nutritional requirements.

The smallholder farmers benefit by having a ready-made market for their produce. School feeding programmes are predictable as they run for a fixed number of days per year and can elect a pre-determined food basket. Serving this school feeding market can reduce risks for vulnerable farmers as they seek to build their livelihoods and pull their families out of poverty.

HGSF works best when smallholder farmers, particularly women, are empowered through the provision of training, credit on reasonable terms and appropriate technology, and also when there is political commitment to protect farmers’ land rights. Complementary investments in physical infrastructure, education, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene are also necessary to maximise the impact of HGSF.

The paper stresses that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ HGSF model. Examples from Kenya, Nigeria and Mali illustrate how every country that implements HGSF programmes requires different approaches suitable to its specific context.

[Read more...]

The indoor farming revolution

ID-100257129Indoor, vertical, hydroponic, urban. Whatever you want to call them, these high-tech farms are popping up all over the world from office buildings in Japan to research laboratories in the Netherlands to O’Hare International airport in Chicago, and even your own home. Here we talk about what they are, how they can revolutionise the food industry and what the major drawbacks are.

Introducing indoor farming

Access to arable land and fresh water is declining, traditional commercial farming methods are environmentally unsustainable and climate change is becoming less of a threat and more of a reality. In the face of these challenges we must produce enough food to feed a growing population, many of whom are chronically hungry. Some believe the answer lies in a radical transformation of our food production systems, namely indoor farming, a method that can reduce the inefficiency and waste (e.g. of water or of crops) associated with modern farming practices.

Indoor farming is happening across the globe, although predominantly in developed countries. The world’s largest indoor farm at 25,000 square feet is located in the old SONY factory located in eastern Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture. Some 380 enclosed farms growing fruit and vegetables are operating in Japan, including some run by electronics companies Fujitsu, Toshiba and Panasonic. But what is indoor farming? [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Why nutrition-smart agriculture matters, Devex

The next steps for Africa to meet its potential, The Washington Post

Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation, Powlson et al, Nature Climate Change

Getting caught with our plants down: the risks of a global crop yield slowdown from climate trends in the next two decades, Lobell and Tebaldi, Environmental Research Letters.

Smart Aid for the World’s Poor, The Wall Street Journal

Crops v conservation: how farmers can solve the dilemma, Financial Times

Food, farming and antibiotics: a health challenge for business, The Guardian

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss, EurekAlert [Read more...]

Human Development Report 2014 – Resilience and Vulnerability

cq5dam.web.221.289At Agriculture for Impact we talk a lot about resilience and in particular how farms and rural economies can become more resilient to shocks and stresses like climate change, pests and diseases and food price fluctuations. In the new UNDP Human Development Report 2014 released recently, the concept of resilience in terms of individuals, communities and of global political systems is explored. As the report states, “resilience is about ensuring that state, community and global institutions work to empower and protect people”.

In particular the report highlights the precariousness with which we view advances in human development, improvements in peoples’ welfare and the state of the environment and global governance. Corruption, environmental and humanitarian crises, crime, changing leadership, negligence of key sectors such as health and civil unrest can all spell disaster for progress made in tackling poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, environmental degradation and poor health. As the report states achievements in human development should not only be measured in terms of the gains made but in how secure these gains are or how likely they are to be lost when under pressure. Key then for this report is exploring the vulnerability of current progress and of future human development being sustained. The report also emphasises how human vulnerability, in this case taken as the erosion of people’s capabilities and choices, prevents human development.

Vulnerability appears to be on the increase due to continued environmental degradation, climate change and instability in financial systems. Perhaps this is contributing to the rate of progress in human development falling significantly since 2008. Globalisation increases connectivity around the world which can increase resilience but also introduce vulnerability across broader areas. If one system faces collapse its interconnectedness puts other systems at risk while national abilities to address shocks and stresses become more tied to global rules. A global system seeking to build resilience, however, can be supportive of actions at a local scale.

To understand the causes of vulnerability the report asks why certain people do better in the face of adversity than others and what enabling environment helps people become less vulnerable and thus more resilient. Typically we think of women, children and the elderly as being more vulnerable whether in terms of personal safety, health or economic freedom but what type of interventions can lessen this vulnerability? Responsive policy mechanisms, institutions and social norms that diminish vulnerability and structures that support human choice and empowerment could be included in these. For the most vulnerable groups in society, targeted and sustained interventions are needed as is addressing inequality. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Africa Needs Science, Not Aid, The New York Times

Biotechnology in Africa, Springer

AfDB’s NERICA dissemination project receives US Treasury Award, PAEPARD

Can we change the goals of development without changing the implementers?, IIED

Fishy business, Nature

Climate change research goes to the extremes, Northeastern

Harvest of controversy, The Hindu

UPDATE 1-Brazil farmers say GMO corn no longer resistant to pests, Reuters

Geneticists offer clues to better rice, tomato crops, Phys.org

Climate change wins precarious slot in proposed development goals, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Milking it in Malawi, Global Food Security [Read more...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,096 other followers