Finding hope in a gloomy view: the state of SDG 2

SDG report picBy Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

On 19th July, the first annual report on the progress of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was launched as part of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016 is designed to set the benchmark for the next 15 years over which the goals will be implemented by evaluating where the world stands now against them.

Although agricultural development will have an impact on every one of the 17 SDGs, it is nowhere more evident than in SDG 2, which aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” So where do we currently stand against this goal?

  1. Nearly 800 million people are still hungry

Despite progress made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), more than 790 million people around the world still suffer from hunger. According to the report, at the start of the new millennium 15% of people in the world were undernourished, and by 2015 this proportion was down to 11%. Although this is certainly progress, there is still a long way to go. Experiences from the MDGs indicate that, where countries failed to reach their target for reducing hunger, it was predominantly due to natural or human-induced disasters, and political instability. With a rising global population and a changing climate, resources such as land and water are likely to become increasingly limited, exacerbating these risk factors. This could destabilise progress towards SDG2, particularly in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the report, more than 50% of the adult population face moderate or severe levels of food insecurity. [Read more…]

Chains, loops, pillars and bridges – building resilience into agricultural systems.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

UN Photo Logan Abassi

Credit: UN/Logan Abassi

As meteorologists report that the El Niño Southern Oscillation is ending and a La Niña may be developing, spare a thought for smallholder farmers. Erratic rainfall, short growing seasons, prolonged droughts and flooding mean that crop yields suffer, and so do the livelihoods of those who rely on farming as their main source of income. And because agriculture does not only provide food, but also provides important environmental services, employment, and economic opportunities for local communities, it is not just the farmers and their families who feel the effects of the unpredictable weather that is becoming increasingly common all around the world. With increasingly global food systems, we will all suffer the consequences.

Despite the volatile weather, the food must grow on. Globally the growing population demands more, and more varied, food, to be grown with ever scarcer resources. However, current agricultural techniques have a voracious appetite for resources, consuming about 70% of all freshwater and using ever more land. But there are other viable ways of farming that are less resource intensive. In the recent submission to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 44), A4I advocated for the practices of Sustainable Intensification (SI) for agriculture. SI integrates innovations in ecology, genetics and socio-economics to help build environmentally sustainable, productive and resilient ways to produce more food with less, ensuring that the natural resources on which agriculture depends are maintained and even improved for future generations – also take a look at the A4I SI database where there are explanations and more than 80 case studies to highlight some of the best practices of SI. [Read more…]

Rwandan agrodealer’s shop may still be small, but her ideas are big

By Alice Marks

DSC_0230

Odette Dusabuwera in her agrodealer shop

The inability to access inputs is often cited as a major barrier to increasing the productivity of farms and improving the livelihoods of rural farmers. One Acre Fund (OAF), known as Tubura in Rwanda, has served more than 113,500 farmers since it started operations in the country in 2007, and now employs more than 1,400 staff members. One of their programs aims to tackle this barrier by working with agrodealers, providing them with credit for OAF seed and other inputs, such as much-needed fertiliser so that they can stock their shops with good quality products. OAF-supported agrodealers can expect to make US$2000-3000 per year in profit.

On a recent visit to Rwanda, OAF took us to meet Odette Dusabuwera, an agrodealer from Rubengera, in Western Rwanda, to find out how this approach was working for the agrodealers and farmers. [Read more…]

Top 8 Quotes from “African Farmers in The Digital Age: How Digital Solutions Can Enable Rural Development”

“African Farmers in the Digital Age” is a special edition anthology, published in partnership with Foreign Affairs that brings together the views of twenty leading thinkers on all aspects of food systems, smallholder farming, and the transformative opportunity presented by digital technology. The authors of the essays in this collection paint a picture of what a thriving African food system can accomplish and lay out some concrete steps for building that system. According to the editor, Gideon Rose, “From mobile phones to big data, nutrition to climate change, the collection covers it all, with authors who have something powerful to say and the authority to be heard.” Here are some of the most insightful and salient quotes to give you a taste of the wisdom the anthology has to offer:

  1. “The combination of digital technology and human creativity in deploying it will revolutionize life for Africa’s farmers by overcoming isolation, speeding up change, and taking success to scale.” — Kofi Annan, Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

Access to digital technology can make the distance between a remote farmer and the market even shorter than a straight line. Whereas many smallholders live several hours by foot from most markets, mobile platforms can share market price information or connect farmers to buyers in an instant.

  1. “It is time to change the way we think. Farmers are not the cause of Africa’s poverty; they are a potential solution. They are key to creating the future envisioned by the SDGs.” — Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Check out this blog “Agriculture in Every SDG” to find out how agriculture is a central element for achieving each and every one of the recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  You might also want to have a look at the report “No Ordinary Matter” – the Montpellier Panel shows several ways that farmers can help to improve their soil quality and even sequester carbon!

soil carbon sequestration

  1. “If Africa’s evolving food system leaves its smallholder farmers behind, the continent will not reach its immense potential.” — Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

[Read more…]

Mechanisms to increase agricultural productivity and spare land for conservation

ID-100380198

“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…]

Foresight Africa 2016: Africa’s priorities for the year ahead

foresightafrica_2016promo_16x9In a recent post we discussed some of the priorities for global development research. The Foresight Africa report, by the Brookings Institution‘s Africa Growth Initiative, has been assessing and laying out Africa’s top priorities for the year ahead since 2011. The Foresight Africa project is a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. The new Foresight Africa report, is a collection of issue briefs, viewpoints, and infographics on the major issues for Africa in 2016.

In 2016, African countries will have to react to many changes and challenges coming from outside the continent such as shifting dynamics in the global economy; potential adverse effects of China’s and other emerging economies’ economic slowdown; and decreasing commodity prices, all of which will require mitigation and policy reform. Within its borders, Africa also faces many challenges, for example in trying to maintain its trade competitiveness, tackle youth unemployment, deal with rapid urbanisation, security threats and reduce barriers to human development. The Foresight Africa report believes that “if managed prudently with timely action from African policymakers in 2016, the continent could equally recover from external and internal shocks, accelerate regional growth, and further expand the benefits of growth to the more than one billion people living throughout Africa”.

The study identifies six priorities for 2016 that will help continue Africa’s current economic growth:

  1. Managing economic shocks (including the economic slowdown in China, declines in commodity prices, the US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes)
  2. Sustaining domestic growth: revitalize the region’s industrial development and focus on job creation
  3. Supporting human development
  4. Capitalizing on urbanization. As the second fastest urbanizing region in the world, Africa needs strong infrastructure and planning policies
  5. Maintaining governance gains: the regional governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes
  6. Expanding African trade: creating a comparative advantage and strengthening regional partnerships

Critically the report not only lays out priorities for African governments and policy makers, it provides different viewpoints on the best way to develop policy to cope with oncoming shocks and stresses and further development. For example, Njuguna S. Ndung’u, Associate Professor of Economics, at the University of Nairobi, discusses how African economies should build resilience to manage external shocks in 2016. Instead of cutting long-term development budgets in times of crisis, buffers at four levels need to be created ahead of coming shocks: foreign exchange reserves, strategic food reserves, oil reserves for oil-importing countries, and, in countries dependent on commodity prices, a fund for smoothing out commodity prices during times of extreme variability.

The report also discusses the Sustainable Development Goals, noting the common criticism that in trying to do everything the SDGs have become too large, too messy and too ambitious. But it is noted that due to Africa’s involvement in the development of the SDGs they are much better suited to the continents aspirations than the Millennium Development Goals were. An important focus of the both the SDGs and the Foresight Africa report is the need for jobs, which pay a living wage. In Africa only one in five workers find employment in the wage economy. The SDGs in Goal 9.2 sets as an objective: “By 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries.” Here the link between industry and jobs in made and the need for industrial development in Africa. [Read more…]

How climate-smart soil management increases resilience and helps mitigate climate change

Originally posted on: 4th December 2015, Grantham Institute 

As we mark World Soil Day, and with COP21 well into its first week, Dr Katrin Glatzel of Agriculture for Impact takes a look at how good soil and land management practices can help us achieve important climate and development goals.  

Soil matters. The decision made at the Rio+20 conference to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the agreement ‘to strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development’ gave momentum to discussions on the role of soils in the global sustainable development agenda. This is now, at least partially, reflected and anchored in SDG goal #15, ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.’

In addition to this, earlier this year the French Government launched its “4 per 1000” initiative, aimed at making agriculture a solution in addressing climate change while also advancing food and nutrition security. Agronomic techniques, including for example Sustainable Intensification practices, can sequester carbon from the atmosphere – at an average rate of four-thousandths of the existing carbon stock in the soil.

soil humusThe quality and amount of soils’ humus (decayed organic matter) and its soil organic carbon (SOC) are a key determinant of soil quality and crop productivity. When the concentration of SOC falls below a certain threshold, key soil properties are adversely affected inhibiting plant growth. Increasing the amount of humus and SOC in the soil requires adding nitrogen (N) and other plant nutrients, such as phosphate (P) and sulphur (S) in order for the transformation of biomass carbon into SOC to occur.

Conventional means of soil management often cause more harm than good, while organic approaches are sometimes too demanding of labour, reliant on scarce or unavailable inputs and insufficient to produce the yields required to move people out of poverty and achieve food security. Part of the solution is to combine the best of organic and conventional approaches in a way that is environmentally appropriate and sustainable. This includes bringing nutrients to the soil in from the outside to improve the SOC, either through livestock manure, the prudent use of inputs, such as the microdosing of fertilisers, or cultivation of legumes. [Read more…]