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.

First, a great new resource…

Celebrating science and innovation in agriculture, Farming First

Agriculture, the future, and the SDGs

Are pro-poor benefits of Africa’s ‘green revolution’ based on myths? Thomson Reuters Foundation

Your food is global, Global Food Security

No one left behind, The Guardian

INSIGHT-In southern Africa, an illusion built on aid heralds hope and hunger, Thomson Reuters Foundaiton

Supporting Farmers in Syria Now Is Essential for a Sustainable Future, The World Post

How can higher-yield farming help to spare nature? Science

Digital technology 

Telling Africa’s Agriculture Stories Through Radio, TV, Film, AFK Insider [Read more…]

Four ways digital technology is transforming farming in Africa

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Photo by phanlop88

Digital technology is likely to continue to be a major driver of development and industry in Africa. The capabilities of local entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses to provide services such as technical assistance and finance are growing significantly due to greater access to mobile and internet technology. As such digital solutions are likely to make a huge contribution to addressing local concerns, connecting people in remote areas and to reaching greater numbers of people than more traditional development initiatives. Such technologies are already transforming the way in which smallholder farmers work and interact. Here we discuss five ways in which digital technology can play a part in transforming agriculture in Africa.

  • Extension services

Accessing information on farming practices, crop diseases, pest control and land management can be made easier for rural farmers through mobile technology. At present there is a large gap between extension services provided and farmers being reached. In Kenya, for example, over 5 million smallholder farmers rely on just 5,500 agricultural extension workers so many are not getting the advice and information they need. Provision of phone-based agricultural information, advice and support to smallholder farmers can bridge this gap by utilising Africa’s exiting mobile network (currently the second biggest mobile market in the world). The form of the service can differ between organisations, some relying on coordinating agents within local communities to provide advice via their phone, some being purely an information service providing farmers with text messages containing advice relating to farming activities occurring at that time. Esoko, which provides a variety of agriculturally-related apps, has created several platforms for providing technical assistance, including personalised alerts with market, weather and agronomic information; knowledge-sharing to deliver extension advice to extension agents though audio, video, instruction manuals and information libraries; and bulk messaging to send data on best practice, campaigns and new products to all farmers. [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.

Sustainable resources

The Goldilocks Dilemma of irrigation, Thrive

Severe drought no longer caused just by nature, EurekAlert!

Mobilising African resources for Agenda 2063, ecdpm

Science on the pulse: Top 10 Ecosystem Services and Resilience reads of 2015, Thrive

Sustainable agribusiness and markets

The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2015–16, FAO

The State of Sustainable Markets: Statistics and emerging trends 2015, IISD

Investing in Inclusive Agribusiness – Trends, Opportunities and Challenges, PAEPARD

Lychees: an exotic fruit that provides a lifeline for Madagascar, The Guardian

Sustainable Development Goals 

Are We There Yet? Five criteria for successfully measuring progress on the SDGs, IISD

Poverty and inequality are challenges for the UK, not just poorer countries, The Guardian [Read more…]

Accelerating change for smallholders with digital technology

By Alice Marks

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Using drones for agriculture. Credit: Lima Pix (Flickr)

According to experts at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, we are sitting on the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution builds on the third, which was the digital revolution, and is predicted to blur the lines between the physical and digital world through innovations such as artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, and the use of Big Data, which will integrate digital technologies into daily lives ever more closely. It is predicted to be exponentially fast and far reaching in its scope and impact, transforming entire production, governance and management systems in an unprecedented way. Whether this will mean “promise or peril” for humanity will likely only be clear with the benefit of hindsight, but optimists hope that it offers the opportunities to improve lives and help to eradicate poverty through improved connectivity and better access to resources.

The fourth revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, will build on the digital revolution, but there is still work to be done on bringing the digital revolution to developing countries, particularly to rural areas. Digital technology has the potential to accelerate change and reduce isolation for rural people, while agricultural development has the potential to support the reduction of inequality and diminish poverty gaps. Put the two together, and there could be a plethora of new opportunities for smallholder farmers. For example, electricity, internet and cell coverage can help smallholder farmers to access information on best prices, weather forecasts, and allow them to share knowledge and expertise. [Read more…]

Mechanisms to increase agricultural productivity and spare land for conservation

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“Green rice field in Chiang Rai, Thailand” by punsayaporn

Habitat loss driven by expanding agricultural land is a major driver of biodiversity loss. Two, seemingly opposing, strategies have been proposed as a way of reconciling increased demand for agricultural production and conservation of biodiversity, and in turn preventing further conversion of natural habitat to farming: land sparing (the intensification of agriculture to set aside land for conservation) and land sharing (the integration of farming and conservation on agricultural land such as eco-agriculture).

Up until now the land sparing/land sharing debate has largely revolved around theoretical arguments. Much of the support for land sparing has come from using data to maximise the number of species conserved under a fixed level of agricultural production in various settings, with the finding that more species are negatively affected by agriculture than benefit from it. But, in general, little of the discussion has focused on the way in which land sparing might be achieved. Now in a recent paper in Science by Phalan et al, the way in which land sparing could become a practical approach to biodiversity conservation and improved agricultural productivity is explained in more detail.

Land sparing as an approach has been criticised for failing to consider situations where agricultural intensification has stimulated expansion of farming rather than protection of land for conservation. Proponents of the approach acknowledge this phenomena and the fact that rising demands and increased productivity can increase the “opportunity cost of conservation”. To tackle this significant obstacle authors introduce four mechanisms that aim to link agricultural productivity and biodiversity or habitat conservation, and thus avoid rebound effects of increased yields driving growth in the agricultural industry rather than sparing land.

  • Land use zoning. By zoning areas for agriculture or conservation, expansion can be limited, which may motivate landholders to improve productivity and efficiency on existing agricultural land. There is the potential for habitat to be converted to farming outside of the zoned area though, otherwise known as displacement or leakage. The success of Costa Rica in halving deforestation of mature forests by preventing agricultural expansion onto forests through zoning, and the subsequent increase in fruit production, is given as an example.
  • Economic instruments, such as payments, land taxes, and subsidies. Such instruments can have conditions built in to protect habitat for biodiversity but they are also notoriously difficult to implement and maintain so that all parties benefit. Considered a successful example, the incentive programme jointly developed by herders and local government in the Spiti Valley of Himalayan India to set aside land for snow leopard prey in exchange for payment and technical assistance has, within the first four years of the project, reduced the amount of livestock killed by snow leopards by two-thirds and reduced the amount of snow leopards killed down to zero. [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.

Technology and innovation

Guest Commentary: Technology Can Feed the World, The Chicago Council

What mobile tech innovation offers food security, Devex

Africa gets new centre for agricultural innovation, SciDevNet

Mapping for food safety, iied

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution Can Radically Improve Our Food Supply Chain, HuffPost

The digital revolution in agriculture: Progress and constraints, IFPRI

Policy Brief: Small-scale farmer innovation, QUNO

How digital is solving 3 problems in agriculture, Zero Hunger Challenge

Nutrition, Food Security, and Waste 

Stink bug could boost health and nutrition in Africa, SciDevNet [Read more…]

What urbanisation means for rural areas in Africa

By Katrin Glatzel

Alvise Forcellini 2006 urbanisation blog

Credit: Alvise Forcellini, 2006

“How to feed our cities? Agriculture and rural areas in an era of urbanisation” – that was the theme of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, or for short, the GFFA, hosted in Berlin in mid-January. With Habitat III taking place in October in Quito, Ecuador, urbanisation features on top of the agenda of many meetings and conferences in 2016 including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual flagship report and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). These forums are important as they draw attention to what urbanisation will mean for rural areas, the agriculture sector and those millions of smallholder farmers, upon which urban areas rely for their food supply. This is particularly important in a developing country context.

Urban and rural transformation

According to UN figures, in 1950 only about a third of the world’s population lived in cities, but rapid population growth has led to increased urbanisation, which has seen this figure rise to 54% in 2014. As this trend is set to continue, by 2050 over two-thirds of the global population will live in urban and peri-urban areas. Take for example Nigeria. Under current trends, by 2050, at 397 million, Nigeria’s population would be larger than Central Africa’s population in its entirety. Lagos’ population of 17.9 million is set to double by mid-century. This has a significant impact for the development of rural areas and our food systems. In order to support growing urban areas, to improve rural livelihoods, reduce poverty and to lower Africa’s food import bills, local agricultural sectors in the rural and peri-urban areas will need to adapt to an increased demand for food and changing diets. Pressure on natural resources, such as water, and climate change make the sustainable production of nutritious and affordable food ever more challenging. [Read more…]

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