Sparks of prosperity

By Katrin Glatzel

During his visit to Kenya two weeks ago, President Obama told Kenyans that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to “choose the path to progress” by continuing to root out corruption and be more inclusive of women and girls. He emphasised the role of young people in particular, saying that “when it comes to the people of Kenya — particularly the youth — I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve.  A young, ambitious Kenyan today should not have to do what my grandfather did, and serve a foreign master. You don’t need to do what my father did, and leave your home in order to get a good education and access to opportunity. Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now”.

pic1Africa’s youth hold the key to unlocking the continent’s success. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and with estimates suggesting that Africa’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, it will be largest and youngest worldwide. However, 70% of young people live on less than US$2 per day and youth underemployment is high as Africa’s urban labour markets are unable to absorb the increasing young population. This seems like a dim prospect for Africa’s young women and men. However, there is reason for optimism: investment in rural and food sector entrepreneurship in Africa can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban growth. [Read more…]

Constraints to smallholder commercialisation

ID-100136355In the wake of the 2008 food price crisis, which exacerbated food insecurity and increased smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to shocks and stresses, recognition of the barriers smallholders face in becoming more productive and developing their farms as commercial businesses has been growing. In 2010, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation implemented the Multidisciplinary Fund (MDF) project to help develop policies supportive of smallholder commercialisation in Africa, in particular identifying the heterogeneity amongst smallholders in terms of their attitudes to commercialisation.

A new report, Understanding smallholder farmer attitudes to commercialisation – the case of maize in Kenya, by the FAO, focuses on maize producers and rural youth in Kenya by investigating “attitudes, strategies and opportunities related to maize commercialisation” in Meru and Bungoma regions in the country. The report is based on key informant interview, focus group, farmer survey and stakeholder workshop data.

At present farm management is not undertaken with commercial prospects in mind for a variety of reasons – continued reliance on maize production for household consumption and a level of mistrust in markets; production and marketing activities remaining distinct from one another; reactive rather than planned production decision-making processes; poor storage facilities; and low maize quality. That is not to say that there aren’t farmers who do think more commercially but in particular farmers are more likely to require direct payments immediately to meet their household needs rather than selling at times or to traders that might allow them to obtain higher payments for their maize. Net buyers of maize, numbering some 45% of the smallholder farmers surveyed, are found to make more objective business decisions, again likely related to the level of urgent cash needs of poorer households and net buyers of maize. One of the main concerns in finding an outlet to sell maize are the transaction costs and the risks associated with the transaction, most farmers aiming to minimise costs and risks. Those smallholders engaged in more commercial practices, in particular selling maize to more distant traders or modern market channels, were more likely to experience a lack of nearby market opportunities, to specialise in maize, to have access to better price information and to have benefited from government input support programmes.

Given the relatively small amounts of maize sold by most farmers, collective marketing whereby maize is pooled and sold in bulk (and inputs can be bought in bulk) could be beneficial but it was found to be unlikely that net buyers would become net sellers of maize purely through collective marketing. Greater institutional support to partner these collective marketing approaches and a business oriented approach may aid their effectiveness. [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.

Food prices and poverty reduction in the long run, IFPRI

Is ‘Getting to Zero’ really feasible? The new Chronic Poverty Report, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education 2013/2014 Report from the Field, SARE

Research reveals true value of cover crops to farmers, environment, Penn State

From poverty to prosperity: A conversation with Bill Gates, AEI

Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems, Meridian Institute

Pests worm their way into genetically modified maize, Nature

Scientists sound the alarm on climate, The New York Times

Scale up policies that work to eliminate hunger by 2025 – food expert, Thomson Reuters Foundation

GMOs Should Be Regulated On A National Level In Europe, British Scientists Argue, Huffington Post

Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than we thought, University of Leeds

Examining the link between food prices and food insecurity: A multi-level analysis of maize price and birthweight in Kenya, Food Policy

GM maize heads for British fields, The Times

Number of Days Without Rain to Dramatically Increase in Some World Regions, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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.

Highlight: the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association (NASFAM) in Malawi, PAEPARD

FAO launches new standards for plant genebanks, FAO

Africa and India cultivate agricultural research ties, SciDev.Net

Who will pay for ecosystem services?, IIED

It’s not the ‘skipping’ three who should be questioned, it’s the wasteful supermarkets, The Independent

Pesticides halve bees’ pollen gathering ability, research shows, The Guardian

Natural Gas and Albacore: What Tuna Says About the Future of Mozambique, New Security Beat

Press Briefing of H.E. Mrs. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, PAEPARD

Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa, IIASA

Genetic weapon against insects raises hope and fear in farming, New York Times [Read more…]

The Last Hunger Season

indexIt is “far better to accommodate dreams than assuage nightmares”

This is a quote taken from Roger Thurow’s book, The Last Hunger Season, one of our favourite books from 2012. It is a record of the lives of four farmers in western Kenya over the course of one year, encompassing both hunger and harvest. The book documents the hardships these farmers face and provides an insight into their lives. While one person can never fully understand the life of another, we do all aspire to the same things: health, wealth, happiness and security.

For the four featured farmers life is about to change. Immediately prior to when the book is set, Rasoa, Leonida, Francis and Zipporah signed up to the One Acre Fund Programme. This programme, set up by Andrew Youn in 2006, provides smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi with certified seeds, fertiliser and training, inputs that are paid for by the farmers during the course of the year. Basic in its model, its aim is transformational change, enabling farmers to work their way out of poverty and escape the hunger seasons that come each year. As the quote states it is about supporting farmers in reaching their dreams be they to send their children to a good school, build a greenhouse or start a local business. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

ID-100135752

UNDP’s Clark: balancing water, food and energy key to post 2015 goals, AlertNet

Can we feed the world?, Vibe Ghana

 

Cutting food waste crucial to ensuring food security, experts say, AlertNet

New Book: Virtuous Circles: Values, systems, sustainability, Andy Jones, Michel Pimbert and Janice Jiggins, IIED

Our nutrient world: the challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution, Global Partnership on Nutrient Management

What went wrong? Lessons from Malawi’s food crisis, Africa Renewal Online

New pathways to resilience: interactive report on CCAA program, IDRC

Strategies to overcome collective action challenges in the CAADP, IFPRI

Food chain alert for investors, Financial Times

India’s rice revolution: Chinese scientist questions massive harvests, The Guardian

Vandana Shiva: ‘Seeds must be in the hands of farmers’, The Guardian

India’s wheat shortage, sorry, surplus, Financial Times

Gene giants seek “philanthrogopoly”, ETC Group

Credibility across cultures – Steps Annual Symposium 2013, Steps Centre

A hopeful continent, The Economist

Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness markets set to top US$ one trillion in 2030, The World Bank

Kenya’s urban poor feel the rural pull as insurance makes farming viable, AlertNet

Land grabs and fragile food systems, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Nutrition climbs up the global agenda, Bread for the World Institute

What we’ve been reading this week

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

Davos 2013: new vision for agriculture is old news for farmers, The Guardian

Investors wary of going back to the land, Financial Times

USAID, DuPont work with Government of Ethiopia to improve food security, US Agency for International Development

Bill Gates: My plan to fix the world’s biggest problems, Wall Street Journal

Water-stressed Kenyans learn to share to keep the peace, AlertNet

Anti-hunger campaign ‘If’ launches with call for G8 to act, The Guardian

Climate Conversations – Chickpea genome map to benefit poor farmers, AlertNet

Agriculture ‘still the best bet’ in cutting African poverty levels, Africa Review

Support smallholder farmers to achieve food security, Government of Ghana

Resolving the food crisis: The need for decisive action, Aljazeera