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…]

So many metrics, so few options for resilience

By Stephanie Brittain, Agriculture for Impact

“Poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. We are therefore committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency”.

This introductory quote from the draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) highlights that tackling poverty and hunger are still key targets for the SDG’s, the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). Aims to ‘End Extreme Poverty including Hunger’ and ‘Improve Agriculture Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity’ show that poverty and hunger are intrinsically linked. Indeed, most of the world’s poorest and hungriest are the smallholder farmers that ironically produce 80% of the world’s food. It’s important that the SDG’s meet the needs of these farmers if they are to meet their targets.

So what are the SDG’s going to offer the world that the MDG’s didn’t? Well this time we have metrics, and potentially lots of them. So with an emphasis on developing indicators to measure change, how then are we actually going to make these changes and meet these indicators of poverty reduction and food security? Meeting these development goals isn’t purely about economics as previous development indicators would have you think. Furthermore, since no country has yet achieved all three economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, we need to approach and achieve progress in a holistic way.

What is resilience? 

Working under a resilience framework may be the answer. Resilience can be thought of as a ‘buffer zone’, providing people with the ability to ‘bounce back’ from socio-economic and environmental stressors. In the latest report the Sustainable Development Solutions Network on the proposed indicators for the SDG’s, resilience is often referred to in the context of building resilience against natural disasters. But there is so much more that could, and should be done to encourage resilience thinking in the new SDG’s with regards to social cohesion and food security, for example.  

Recently, the Agriculture for Impact (A4I) team saw an example of building resilience in practice when we went to the Meki Batu Vegetable Cooperative, a project supported by Self Help Africa in Ethiopia. As the video below highlights, they are building resilience by creating cooperatives, giving access to credit and markets for farmers that helps them to become food secure and generate an income where they previously struggled.

emilyStronger Together: How Co-operatives Help Smallholder Farmers Thrive” 

Entrepreneurship for resilience

Part of building resilience is also creating the enabling socio-economic and political environment for people to develop. The need for entrepreneurship in Africa is highlighted in the June 2014 Montpellier Panel Report, where the Montpellier Panel believe that rural and food sector entrepreneurship can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban economic growth.

Agroways (U)For example, AgroWays (U), a grain warehousing system in Jinja, Uganda was first set up in 1995 by Managing Director Herbert Kyeyamwa with the intention of buying grain at the peak of harvest, storing it, and then selling it in the off-season when prices are higher.

Now in 2014, the business has grown to service 134 farmer groups with a total membership of 8,560 smallholder farmers. Herbert employs nearly 150 full and part time staff to assist with a variety of tasks from harvest, the collection and transport of grain to village aggregation centres and central warehouse staff. 

Herbert is a shining example of an entrepreneur that has responded to market demand to create a company that generates employment and wealth within the agribusiness value-chain. This, however, did not happen without external technical assistance, training, and finance—key components for any business to thrive.

Resilience for development: The SDG’s

By approaching the new SDG’s with resilience in mind, it helps us to acknowledge that development, including poverty reduction and food security is multi-disciplinary. It allows us to plan with a longer term vision and encourages a more holistic way of measuring success and failure that moves away from the traditional ‘deaths’ and ‘income’ indicators. Building resilience also means to build strong and healthy communities, as the video and our experiences in Ethiopia highlight. 

It isn’t just natural disasters that we need to build resilience against – the impacts of seasonal stressors such as poor harvests, pests, volatile food and input prices all negatively impact vulnerable communities and smallholder farmers. A poor harvest will leave vulnerable families in worse shape to recover from a major natural or economic disaster.  Because these stresses continue to drive food insecurity and poverty and increase the gap between the worlds’s richest and poorest, they also risk  endangering our ability to meet the SDG of no extreme poverty or hunger before even starting. Conversely, by building resilience across all sectors, farmers are better equipped to recover or ‘bounce back’, creating a necessary safety net for the worlds more vulnerable communities. In the face of an increasingly volatile environmental and economic climate, resilience should be actively built in to the SDG’s aims and metrics. 

How To Make An Entrepreneur: Recent blogs from the Agriculture for Impact team

Imperial College London

 

Emily Alpert from Agriculture for Impact was published on the Chicago Council’s ‘Global Food for Thought’ blog, as she discusses the skills, training and enabling environment required to allow entrepreneurship along the agricultural value chain to flourish.

Click here to read Emily’s blog “How to make an Entrepreneur“.

 

Emily was also featured on Thomson Reuters, where she explains how entrepreneurs in Africa are showing that farm labour isn’t the only way to be involved in agriculture and keep food in steady supply in the face of climate change. You can read Emily’s blog “Farm entrepreneurs feed Malawi despite climate change” here.

Agribusiness for Africa

ID-10038867The role of big business in African agriculture often divides opinion. Some seeing it as an opportunity for sustainable economic growth in the sector, some as a new form of colonialism with richer countries exploiting Africa’s food growing conditions and spare land to supply their own countries. Whether a positive development step or a risk to food security, agribusiness on the continent looks set to grow.

Agriculture, particularly the development of agribusiness and agro-industry sectors, has been the driver of economic growth in countries across the globe. In Africa, agribusiness and agro-industries account for more than 30% of national incomes as well as the bulk of export revenues and employment. Given its links to smallholder farming, development of agribusiness could be used to help tackle poverty and hunger in rural communities.

Colonial systems of governance were designed to extract resources from Africa for use elsewhere rather than processing and adding value within the continent. Agribusiness could develop the value addition arm of the agricultural industry and help reduce Africa’s dependence on unprocessed commodities where the bulk of the average retail price is retained by the countries in which the commodity is consumed. The introduction of new players in the agricultural sector could also help diversify sources of growth and exports to reduce reliance on a limited number of export commodities.

Kenya since the 1990s have invested in products, internal systems, and supply chains to supply fresh vegetables to British supermarkets. Considered a success, Kenya’s experience shows that a well-organized industry in a low income country through collaboration between the public and private sectors and the strengthening of links between businesses and educational institutes, can use standards for competitive gain.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) book, Agribusiness for Africa’s Prosperity, outlines the current status of agribusiness and agro-industrial activities in Africa, and situates them in historical and global context. It analyses the opportunities for diversified growth, and assesses the existing and potential sources of demand growth for agribusiness development in Africa.

With the advent of agribusiness, the whole agricultural sector could benefit through improved infrastructure, access to technology and better functioning markets. Indeed for companies to invest in African agriculture, an enabling business climate must be developed through government and international partnership, action that may enable farmers to capitalise on market opportunities coming from better trade links and growing urban populations. An emerging, productive and modern agricultural sector may also act to engage youth in the agricultural sector (youth unemployment is a growing concern on the continent).

The 2013 World Bank report, Growing Africa. Unlocking the potential of agribusiness, documents the potential of the agribusiness sector in Africa through examples and highlights the important of good policies, a conducive business environment, and strategic support from governments. Agribusiness in general being seen as needed to build global competitiveness and as an opportunity for growth employment and food security. [Read more…]

Imagining the future of agriculture

So often discussions around agriculture and food security focus on all or nothings: small farms or large-scale industrial farming, organic or conventional agriculture, public sector support or private sector investment. In December 2012, Oxfam asked agricultural experts, champions, farmers and knowledgeable individuals from the field to the United Nations to take part in a two week online discussion about how we can meet the world’s growing need for food in a sustainable and equitable manner. The aim was to move past the disagreements and discourse and to imagine a positive actionable future for agriculture.

image_miniThis task was put to 23 essayists such as Kanayo Nwanze, Director of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Shenggen Fan, Director of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Susan Godwin a farmer in Nigeria and Harold Poelma, Managing Director of Cargill Refined Oils Europe. These essays were then showcased online for two weeks allowing participants to respond. Both essayists and participants in the discussion were asked to consider the following questions:

  • What if all farmers had adequate risk management systems to deal with climate trends and shocks, as well as with price volatility in input and product markets?
  • What if fossil fuels were no longer required in any form of input to global agricultural production?
  • What if all farmers, male and female, had full and equal control over the necessary resources for farming, and over the outputs of their labour?
  • What if the ideas and innovations of resource-poor farmers leading to improvements of their natural resource base were supported by adequate access to public and private sector investments?

The results of these discussions and the 23 essays, have now been published in a report, entitled The Future of Agriculture.

There was general agreement that  we need to foster creativity and innovation. That while we possess some of the technologies and practices to achieve a more sustainable and equitable agriculture, we will need to test the limits of human creativity and idealism to meet future challenges.

Much of this innovation will come from farmers themselves, who by the nature of their job must respond to unpredictable challenges, and be inventive and adaptable. Putting this vision into action will require political will and leadership. Supporting farmer innovation within established systems, sharing innovations between farmers, linking farmers to markets and to information, and facilitating partnerships. As Roger Thurow, author of The Last Hunger season, explains , to tap into the wealth of information farmers can contribute, we will first need to create a level playing field for all the farmers in the world, most notably smallholder farmers, on whom the majority of the world depends for food.  As Thurow puts it, ” Neglected for so long, they are now indispensable to the future of agriculture and food.”

Agroecosystem Analysis and Agricultural Extension in Cambodia

ID-10045570 (2)The technique of Agroecosystem Analysis (AEA) is discussed in Chapter 11 and is essentially a way of engaging farmers and utilising their knowledge to inform research agendas and development programme design. Chapter 11 outlines the development of AEA in Chiang Mai in Thailand in the 1970s, and now a recent guidance manual authored by the Cambodian Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) outlines the key principles for using AEA in Cambodia.

Commune Agroecosystem Analysis (CAEA) was officially adopted in 2004 as the national policy by MAFF as part of their extension system. CAEA has been conducted in over 500 communes and in 2008 was extended to cover fisheries, which are often closely linked to farming. The programme is funded by the public sector and range of international donors.

CAEA in Cambodia is only one of four pillars around which a national extension service is designed. The others being Technology Implementation Procedures (TIPs); Commune Agricultural Plan (CAP); and Farming Systems Management Information System (FSMIP). The first pillar, CAEA, is used “to identify and prioritize agricultural development needs at the commune level”. The technique uses “multidisciplinary investigation and participatory analysis” to get a picture of the main agroecosystems in each commune, to understand the problems and opportunities food producers face and, as a result, plan appropriate agricultural interventions. [Read more…]

Farmer Innovation in Malawi

A new study conducted in 2011 by Find Your Feet aimed to document and promote farmer innovations in the district of Rumphi in northern Malawi. It did so through focus group discussions with farmers in four of the Extension Planning Areas of the district; through individual interviews with farmers (14 in total); and through visits to renowned innovative farmers (14 in total).

Due to the nature of agriculture farmers must adapt and innovate to ensure a stable and high level of food production. The outcomes of smallholder farmer innovation have not always been recognised, however, and it is only in the past thirty years that there has been a move away the traditional and linear ‘top-down’ approach to technology transfer to a recognition of the value of farmer knowledge and the importance, as end-users of technologies, of their inclusion in broader innovation systems. [Read more…]