The power of working together: International day of Cooperatives, July 2nd 2016

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

International Day of Peace celeberation in Juba.

Camaraderie in South Sudan – Credit UN Photo, Isaac Billy

The International Day of Cooperatives is the perfect time to celebrate the power of pulling together in the face of adversity. Working together can create social capital that enables individuals to achieve goals that they may not be able to achieve alone. Although ‘Social capital’ might sound like something intangible, it has a huge value. It is a measurement of connections between people – the glue that binds people and the reason to work towards common goals. In other words, it’s the value of ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’ and evidence shows that communities with high social capital are more able to become economically and sustainably prosperous.

A group of people that is cohesive, value each other and stick together through hardship, is more able to work together to overcome challenges. The ability to do this is particularly important for communities with low incomes, limited education and few physical assets because it can create a social safety net that helps mitigate shocks or stresses. This is where cooperatives can come in and form a framework through which people can unite under shared needs and aspirations. Agricultural cooperatives work in a number of ways that can be beneficial to individuals and communities. A group of farmers make a more attractive customer than a single farmer because they spread risk amongst them, so facilitating access to finance, agricultural inputs and external markets.

Cooperatives support one another

For example, the Association pour la vision des Eleves de Nyonirima (AVEN) is a group of twelve young men and women from northern Rwanda. The AVEN members decided to form a cooperative after participating in Technoserve’s STRYDE training program, which equips school-leavers with training in business management skills, financial literacy and personal development, then links them to financial services. [Read more…]

Sustainable water management in African agriculture

By Katrin Glatzel

Ngomene Farm Senegal June 2015 (15)

Credit: Katrin Glatzel, 2015 (Senegal)

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where agriculture is predominantly rainfed, farmers’ access to water is often limited based on seasonal variation. Yet water scarcity in the region is not necessarily caused by a physical lack of water, but rather by an ‘economic water scarcity’. This implies that the necessary public investments in water resources and infrastructure are not substantial enough to meet water demands in an area where people do not have the means to make use of water sources on their own. In fact, in many parts of SSA there is plenty of water available. However, groundwater resources, such as aquifers, remain a relatively abundant yet underused resource, with less than 5% of the water used for irrigation coming from groundwater.

The challenge is therefore to increase the amount of available water that is ‘harvested’ for crop growth. Such water harvesting can be done at the field, farm or watershed level. In some places, there is a potential for groundwater extraction using boreholes. And research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has shown that motor pumps have the potential to expand the amount of agricultural land irrigated during the dry season to 30 million hectares — four times the current area. There is urgent need to sustainably increase the amount of irrigation from the current 6% of arable land. Until then an estimated 200 million people in SSA – that is 18% of the continent’s population – face serious water shortages.

Furthermore, climate change and a growing population continue to pose additional challenges to water management in agriculture. Prolonged periods of drought in many parts of SSA are becoming increasingly frequent. This increases pressures on valuable water resources and agricultural irrigation. In response, water conservation policies, strategies, and activities such as water harvesting, are ever more important to manage and protect fresh water as a sustainable resource to meet current and future human demands. [Read more…]

Agriculture is in every SDG: Part 1

By Alice Marks

Story-2-SDGsSkimming the eye across the colourful chart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is easy to spot a couple which are intrinsically and directly linked to agriculture, but a closer look reveals that they are in fact all linked to agriculture. A healthy global agricultural sector underpins and supports so many aims of the SDGs that its development will be important for their overall success. As sustainable agriculture is essential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods, here is a breakdown of how agriculture, farming and nutrition fit into the first 7 goals

1. No Poverty

Over 70% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and rely heavily on agriculture for their survival and livelihoods. According to the World Bank, evidence shows that GDP growth generated in agriculture has large benefits for the poor, and is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth generated by other sectors. Particularly with investment and growth of sustainable value chains, agriculture can help to lift people out of poverty. [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.

UN official stresses link between healthy soils, sustainable development as Global Soil Week starts, UN

US Announces Plans to Reduce Agricultural Carbon Emissions, The New York Times

Guest Commentary – Agriculture: The Common Thread Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Food for Thought

Lifting the lid on the household: A new way to measure individual deprivation, From Poverty to Power

New crop insurance math, new challenges for farmers, Politico

UN urged to demand free access to crop data, SciDev.Net

Fostering Economic Resilience, Greenpeace

Meeting the Global Food Demand of the Future by Engineering Crop Photosynthesis and Yield Potential, Long et al, 2015, Cell

Universities join efforts to combat climate change in East Africa, Daily Monitor

This Earth Day, think agriculture, Plantwise

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes: An example of a naturally transgenic food crop, Kyndt et al, 2015, PNAS [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.

Do Aid and Development need their own TripAdvisor feedback system?, From Poverty to Power

Rebranding bran: teaching nutrient-rich cooking in Mali, The Guardian

African hub set up to boost research autonomy, Nature

Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution, The Huffington Post

Managing for Resilience: Framing an integrated landscape approach for overcoming chronic and acute food insecurity, Buck and Bailey

Agri-tech for Africa’s food security, development, SciDev.Net

Water-Smart Agriculture in East Africa, PAEPARD

New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life, Devex

Fateful Harvest: Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides, Reuters

Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs, The New York Times [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.

Report: Photosynthesis hack needed to feed the world by 2050, EurekAlert

For Monsanto, a Season of Woes, The Wall Street Journal

GM crops: Vital for food security? Or overestimated potential?, The Independent

How genetic engineering can fight disease, reduce insecticide use and enhance food security: Pamela Ronald speaks at TED2015, TED

Is Monsanto on the side of science?, New Internationalist

China Seeks to Develop Global Seed Power, The Wall Street Journal

Discovery of heat-tolerant beans could save ‘meat of the poor’ from global warming, EurekAlert

Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance, Civil Eats

Genetically Modified Crop Industry Continues to Expand, Worldwatch Institute

World Health Organization: GM-Crop Herbicide a Probable Carcinogen, Food Tank

Achieve Global Food Security by Investing in Universities, Global Food for Thought

The GM crops debate moves to Africa – and it’s just as noisy, The Independent

Can ‘down to earth’ innovations keep hunger at bay in the Sahel?, Thomson Reuters Foundation [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.

Pope Francis Urges Concrete Action in Global Nutrition Challenge At UN Conference in Rome, All Africa

Researchers Find an Area the Size of the EU is Cultivated in Urban Areas Around the World, Food Tank

Want to grow more food? Boost investment, women’s land tenure, researcher says, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Mobilising The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, PAEPARD

World Food Programme: ‘Without enough food people can’t fight Ebola’, BBC News

Monsanto, Dow Unit Sue Maui County Over GMO Law, Huffington Post

World Water Summit Coverage – Key Themes for Agriculture, Farming First

How do farmers’ behavioural attitudes affect uptake of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies?, ILRI

Improving Nutrition Outcomes Through Optimized Agricultural Investments (ATONU), PAEPARD

Farming in the face of climate change? Monsanto has an app for that, GRIST

IFAD programme builds small farmers’ resilience through knowledge sharing in water-scarce countries, IFAD [Read more…]