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…]

The World Economic Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals

r2Hb2gvXThe Sustainable Development Goals, described as a social contract to transform the world by 2030, were the focus of a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, which aimed to introduce the advocacy work being done around the SDGs as well as discuss what needs to be done to ensure the SDG agenda motivates action.

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon’s opening remarks introduced the goals as an ambitious blueprint to put the world on a more sustainable path, and as both a vision and a promise by world leaders. In order to deliver on the SDGs, and as quickly as possible, he affirmed that we need partnership and advocacy, introducing the SDG Advocacy Group (see below for a list of all members). Co-chair of the group, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana, was next to speak, further explaining the SDGs as a social contract to fix what is broken and to ensure all people have access to clean drinking water, sanitation, food, shelter, healthcare and education. In order for the world to see progress and peace we need to address the fact that many people do not have access to these goods and services as basic human rights, and we need to fix this fast. As global crises such as child hunger and malnutrition, the creation of refugees through conflict and the rise of terrorism show we do not have the luxury of time. President Mahama made clear that the SDGs cannot be a placebo that peddles false hope, we need to keep meeting, keep generating ideas and maintain momentum. “Our ability to effect change islimited only by our imagination.”

The second co-chair, Mrs. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, then spoke about the role of the SDGs as a call to action and a roadmap to the future we want. We cannot continue as normal without expecting social, economic and environmental bankruptcy. She also laid out the lessons we need to learn from the Millennium Development Goals:

  • Progress is faster with effective partnerships (and sustainable investment models can scale up financing);
  • The 17 goals are a coherent plan, not a menu and we need to get away from a silo mentality and start seeing the synergies between the goals.
  • Establishing the goals is not enough, we need governments to show political will and resolve in dealing with difficult issues such as eradicating tax havens, halting illicit financial flows and combating corruption. We also need to monitor data to measure how effective new policies are at achieving the SDGs.
  • Finally, it has proved difficult to make progress in areas of crisis and conflict so the international community must work together to improve situations in these locations immediately.

[Read more…]

5 New Year’s resolutions to help the planet in 2016

ID-100383599Making small changes can have a big impact so this January do away with impossible-to-keep resolutions and do something that can make the planet greener, help local or distant communities and save you money. Make the change for over 66 days and, according to Lally et al (2010), it could become a new habit.

  1. Help tackle climate change

World leaders agreed the Paris Climate Deal in December, but tackling climate change will take all our efforts, not just politicians and big business. The transport sector in the EU is responsible for about one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions so help reduce this by taking public transport, combining trips and flying less (somewhat easier now with the rise of video/conference calls). The energy sector is responsible for almost 30% of emissions and so being more energy efficient is an important goal across industry and society. Learn how to make your home greener, reduce your carbon footprint and household bills with this infographic.

  1. Fight poverty in your community

While significantly more people are in extreme poverty in developing countries it can be difficult, as an individual, to know how to go about helping people often far away. Poverty is global, however, and can be found in most communities in the world. In the UK, for example, one in five people are thought to live below the official poverty line, despite being the world’s sixth largest economy. There are various ways in which we can tackle poverty in our own communities for example by donating food, clothing and other items, by volunteering in shelters, community centres and after-school programmes. You can find out more about volunteering here and here, and donating here, here and here. Or you can become more involved and join a campaign action group such as with RESULTS or find a local group at Global Justice Now. The Borgen Project list ten ways we can all begin to fight global poverty on their blog.

  1. See the world from a new perspective

Educating ourselves on the challenges the world faces can be both enlightening and motivating. Opening ourselves up to new opinions, discussions and perspectives can also help us figure out the solutions. Here are some educational and inspiring TED talks from the past year.

Gary Haugen: The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now.

Mia Birdsong: The story we tell about poverty isn’t true.

Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food.

Adam Smith: Let’s really feed the world.

Chloe Rutzerveld: 3D printed food: the future of healthy eating. [Read more…]

Ecomodernism: creating more questions than it answers

ecomodernistBy Katy Wilson

In April 2015 ahead of the 45th Earth Day, a group of 18 authors, including the founders of the Breakthrough Institute, released An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a report outlining how to “use humanity’s extraordinary powers in service of creating a good Anthropocene”. Released on the 26th September in the UK, the publication outlines the authors’ beliefs that human well-being must be decoupled from environmental destruction and that alongside reducing our impact on the environment we must refrain from trying to balance nature with development if we are to “avoid economic and ecological collapse” and “make more room for nature”. This decoupling is to be achieved through several ways such as intensification, demographic change and through the use of technological substitutes.

Intensification of agriculture, energy extraction, forestry and human settlement is believed to be key to separating the natural world from ongoing human development and to enhancing nature, alleviating poverty and mitigating climate change. Authors use as evidence of this effect the fact that since the mid-1960s the amount of land needed for growing crops and animal feed for the average person has decreased by about half. Net reforestation has also been made possible in some areas such as New England due to agricultural intensification and a reduction in the use of wood as fuel.

Technology has, over history, reduced our reliance on natural ecosystems (or at least their directly obtained goods) and increased our resource-use efficiency but it has also allowed the human population, and associated consumption, to expand exponentially as well as increase the reach of society’s impact on global ecosystems. Although our consumption patterns are changing (in developing countries diets are shifting to include more meat and processed foods, while in some developed countries more sustainable protein sources are growing in popularity) and human population is predicted to peak and decline this century, globalisation and the distance between societies and the resources they consume, continues to increase. The development of technological substitutes could lower the impact our lifestyles have on ecosystems far away. Technological development supported by the report include urbanisation, nuclear power, agricultural intensification, aquaculture and desalination. On the other hand suburbanisation, low-yield farming and some forms of renewable energy production are believed to increase human demands on the environment. [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.

Building a Food-Secure World Helps America Prosper, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Nutrition and Social Protection, FAO

Weak links hamper knowledge sharing in agriculture, SciDev.Net

Paying farmers to help the environment works, but ‘perverse’ subsidies must be balanced, EurekAlert

Creating an enabling environment for livestock development in Ethiopia, ILRI

SPECIAL SERIES -Wanted: data revolution to track new U.N. development goals, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can open data prevent a global food shortage?, The Guardian

The challenge of fighting poverty through farming, The Daily Monitor

Food security: businesses want government intervention to avoid long term risk, WWF

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Plant Doctor Game app was downloaded 1111 times!, Plantwise

As drought hits maize, Tanzania cooks up a sweet potato fix, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Understanding the SDGs: Tom Bigg, IIED

LUMENS is illuminating land-use planning for sustainable landscapes, Landscapes for People, Nature and Food

Farm to Table in Africa, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

FAO Food Price Index registers sharpest fall since December 2008, FAO

Past, present and future: IFPRI’s 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report

CAeEPQKUQAA9iSc.png largeIn the fourth instalment of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s annual report on food policy, launched on 18th March 2015, authors report on the major developments that have happened at a global, regional and national level in 2014 but also, and for the first time, discuss the challenges to tackling food insecurity we face in the near future.

Looking to the past, the report highlights achievements as well as setbacks. For example, achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, of 64 countries meeting the MDG of halving the number of hungry people since 1990, of global undernourishment having fallen from 19% to 11% in the past 2 decades, the commitments made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome to end malnutrition, the African Union committing to end hunger by 2025 and membership in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement continuing to grow.

But 2014 also experienced shocks and disasters such as the largest ever outbreak of Ebola, continuing civil war and conflict in the middle east, extreme weather conditions such as drought in Central America and typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, and continuing distortion of the agricultural markets with the US passing the Farm Bill and the EU implementing the latest Common Agricultural Policy. And ongoing is a lack of food security and adequate nutrition for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

While disease, conflict and climatic upheaval are expected to intensify over the coming years, this year could be a window of opportunity to mitigate and build resilience to future shocks, and to step up in the fight against hunger and poverty as the Sustainable Development Goals are shaped and come into force and as a new climate agreement is (hopefully) adopted.

IFPRI’s report highlights some key food policy aspects of hunger and malnutrition such as the importance of sanitation, social protection and food safety, which need to be considered in future policy making. The report also discusses the role of middle income countries in combating hunger and the future of small family farmers.

Middle income countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Mexico are growing fast economically but they are also home to almost half of the world’s hungry (363 million people). These countries must be part of any strategy to combat hunger and malnutrition and they also have the resources to make a huge difference as we’ve seen in Brazil. Although the challenges faced in these countries are diverse and nation-specific, the report identifies several shared factors affecting food and nutrition security such as rising inequality, shifting diets, rapid urbanisation and the absence of nutrition-focused policies. The report points to the examples of South Korea and Chile in reducing hunger and malnutrition while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. As the report states, economic growth is not sufficient alone to tackle hunger and thus suggests that MICs use nutrition-specific and –sensitive interventions and value chain approaches to reshape the food system; reduce inequalities, for example, through providing education to the underprivileged and supporting women in accessing productive resources; improve rural infrastructure, expand effective social safety nets and improve south-south knowledge sharing.

2014 being the UN International Year of Family Farming, the report looks to the role of small family farmers in meeting a country’s agriculture needs as well as how such farmers can become more profitable or when they might need to leave farming for a more economically justifiable pursuit. Agriculture is mainly a family affair with family farms producing some 80% of the world’s food. As such family farmers play a significant role in global food security and nutrition in both providing the food we eat but also because many small-scale farmers are themselves food insecure. [Read more…]

The Budongo Forest Landscape: Diets, Food Security and Nutrition

IMG_1366Around the Budongo forest, expanding sugarcane production, the establishment of tree plantations and forest loss have altered the landscape. In this rural area where nearly all households have a home garden or farm and, as such, rely, to varying degrees, on the food produced on their own land, such land use change can have a dramatic impact on livelihoods, diets and nutrition. Be it because of an increased incidence of crop raiding, unreliable weather patterns and seasons, or soil erosion, all thought to be a result of forest loss in the area, the changing landscape is a cause for concern among those who live there. A key element of the research in this landscape is to try to understand the links between land use change and food and nutrition security. As a first step this included investigating current levels of food insecurity, the diets of local people, how households characterise food security and what the drivers of food insecurity might be.

In Uganda, 48% of households were food energy deficient between 2009 and 2010 and the number of people suffering from hunger has increased from 12 million in 1992 to 17.7 million in 2007, mainly due to high population growth.

Deaths in children attributed to malnutrition 40%
% of children under the age of five who are stunted 38%
% of children under the age of five who are underweight for their age 25.5%
Prevalence rate of vitamin A deficiency 5.4%
% of the population affected by iron deficiency anaemia >50%
Total goitre rate due to iodine deficiency >60%
Average calorie consumption as a per cent of recommended requirements 75-90%
% below minimum recommended levels for protein consumption 33%
% below minimum recommended levels for fat consumption 20%

Source: MAAIF & MIH, 2005

In the Budongo Forest landscape, individuals and communities were asked about their ability to access and produce enough food. Many people reported that due to decreasing soil fertility, land exhaustion, high food prices and unpredictable or extreme weather such as droughts and floods, they were not able to produce enough food for their families year round. Many families (just under 50% of the 540 households interviewed) shared that they had experienced food shortages in the last year, with 3 to 6 months being the most common length of time such food scarcity occurred for. During these times coping mechanisms, apart from eating less, included turning to a neighbour or family member for help or trying to obtain a job on someone else’s land as a labourer. Income earned off the farm is then used to buy food or rent land to produce more food. [Read more…]