Stories tagged: agriculture

SDG2.4 in 2 Minutes: Steven Were Omamo, World Food Programme

The spectre of almost 800 million hungry people globally suggests that food systems do not meet the needs of a large part of society. Food systems are disrupted by shocks linked to climate change and globalization, broken by conflict and even in stable contexts, they often have major flaws. In this interview with Farming First, World Food Programme notes three deep systemic problems that need to be tackled: the “last mile” the “bad year” and the “good year”.

What WFP calls “Systemic food assistance” is food assistance that improves the performance of food systems by addressing their problems at the root. Systemic food assistance is happening through use of WFP’s supply chain expertise and capacity to strengthen markets; support of Home Grown School Meals programmes that connect local farmers to the supply chain; and reform of the structure and functioning of public food reserves.

For example, in Kenya’s Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, WFP is leveraging its purchasing power and consumer demand created through its cash-based transfers to address inefficiencies along the supply chain and achieve lower prices for both refugees and host communities.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.4 on resilient food systems.

Music: Ben Sounds

SDG2.5 in 2 Minutes: Debisi Araba, CIAT Africa

There’s a unique type of grass that when fed to livestock, it not only makes the animals more productive, but it lowers the greenhouse gases they emit. Because this grass was preserved in CIAT’s genebank, scientists have been able to transform the lives of farmers in Latin America, and hope to bring the innovation to Africa as well.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.5 on protecting genetic diversity.

Music: Ben Sounds

John Corbett: Information Services Grow Resilient Agriculture

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In this guest blog, John Corbett, Gabe Stalcup and Leila Al-Hamoodah of big data company aWhere, Inc. discuss the need for “information agile” agriculture that can help smallholder farmers adapt to a changing climate.

Increased weather variability and weather disasters are a manifestation of our warming atmosphere.  This variability includes shifting rainfall and temperature patterns, as well as a significant increase in extreme weather events.  Of course, these events and weather variability are rarely positive for agriculture.  Crops are vulnerable to extreme events, like droughts and floods, and extreme temperatures, both too hot and too cold.

With weather variability increasing the risk of poor harvests, farmers seek more information to guide their decisions.  This new information is balanced against the farmer’s local knowledge as they plan their farming practices, and includes anticipation of “normal” weather.

To build resilience and adapt to these changing weather conditions and possible weather disasters, farmers must leverage environmental information and translate it into actionable signals.  This type of adaptive farming is already the norm in the much of the United States and Europe. Wet spring? Farmers can swap long-season seeds for shorter-maturity seeds to account for the later planting.  Conditions suitable for a foliar disease in the forecast?  Farmers can spray the appropriate protection. This type of agile, information-driven farming continues to leverage more and more data to the point where variable-rate seeding, crop protection, fertilization and irrigation are all adopted, commercially viable, agricultural technologies.

The Need & the Opportunity

Agronomic weather information is one key element to dampening the impact of weather variability.  Big Data methods and analytics combine to create agricultural intelligence, which is useful to farmers adapting to a changing climate.  And getting the message to farmers across the planet is helped enormously by modern technology, such as the ubiquitous cell phone.  The expanding presence of cellular systems provides the communication infrastructure to close the loop on the “final mile”, as millions of farmers have recently become reachable this way.  It is estimated that there are more than 570 million farmers on the planet – most of whom are only now being connected, and, thus, are accessible to information services.

However, throughout most of the world’s smallholder farming areas, there is a distinct lack of truly “information agile” farming. Traditional practices often rule, and with weather variably increasing, the likelihood of crop failure due to extreme weather events also increases.  The newfound access to farmers via ICT is both an incredible opportunity as well as a tremendous challenge.  The current lack of information services provides an opportunity for ICT to assist in improving agricultural productivity, and innovation is rapidly coming to the agricultural value chain in smallholder farming areas. At the same time, millions of these farmers have never previously had access to a localized, short-term weather forecast, thus necessitating education and training surrounding the value and use of such forecasts.  Early assessments of the impact of information services to small holder farmers often note 30-50 percent increases in productivity – the upside is solid. Notably, the overarching impact of connecting smallholder farmers to information services extends well beyond agriculture, and includes the opportunity for improved human health, child nutrition, social movements, and, of course, general education.

Delivering localized, relevant agricultural information to smallholder farmers is perhaps the only way to mitigate the impacts of weather variability, but more importantly, the connection to the farmer enables a whole host of possibilities across the spectrum of needs. Leo Tobias, Director, Technology and Product at the Grameen Foundation, noted: “If an individual is plugged into the information system, they are in a position to adopt good agricultural practices.”   Good agricultural practices will help agriculture and address climate adaptation and resilience, or “climate smart agriculture”.  These practices, from information on when to plant, as rainfall onset has become more variable in many areas, to what crop or variety to plant, to crop protection and fertilizer timing advice, address the challenges of changing weather, agricultural resilience, and smallholder farmer adaptation.

Agriculture sits at the core of the development process: “If the history of development has taught us anything, it’s that a strong agricultural sector is a cornerstone of inclusive and sustainable growth, broad-based development progress, and long-term stability,” a report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs noted recentlySupporting agriculture delivers real returns, and innovation in information services is needed to achieve food security in the coming decades.  Across the agricultural value chain, information services serve to connect and optimize the food chain and make it more resilient.

The Information Solution

aWhere provides a range of timely agronomic and weather information to smallholder farmers, through NGO and on-the ground partners.  With more than 600,000 farmers globally, and over two-thirds of those in sub-Saharan Africa, we continue to learn how localized, up-to-date information impacts farming.  What we also have learned is that this connection to the farmer is a conduit that inspires innovation.

Localized and personal, trusted communication channels are viable and attractive to entrepreneurs.  Startups and emerging companies specializing in agriculturally relevant information vie for attention across the agricultural value chain.  The provision of information, and inputs, is a complex challenge with so many small businesses and the multitude of smallholder farmers. This complex challenge is risky and “paying down the risk” is where the blending of public and donor efforts with private, commercial endeavours can be quite enabling.  Timely information across the agricultural value chain is needed and necessary, but the introduction of new services is difficult in resource constrained areas.  As proof of viability becomes more pronounced, capacity building to encourage innovation is needed.  Communication channels along with public and donor support can be leveraged to create sustainable businesses supporting resilient agriculture.

For example, to encourage innovation in data-driven agriculture, aWhere hosts hackathons and data jams through its Hack4Farming series.  With events in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, these capacity-building efforts enable agricultural businesses, often with little information services, to meet-up with software developers for the express purpose of connecting big data methods to local business needs and challenges.  These events build a growing community in this ag-tech space, where startups can emerge and become sustainable, while commercial businesses work to make a more resilient agricultural value chain.  Meanwhile, on-the-ground startups like Esoko, iShamba, and FarmerLink lead the way in providing innovative and timely information to smallholder farmers, using aWhere’s agronomic real-time information.  With these final-mile connections, food security is greatly improved as existing information services can and will help with on-going adaptation and disaster mitigation.

Localized and timely agronomic information is a key piece of the puzzle to developing a sustainable and resilient agricultural system.  While more variable weather is here to stay, existing and yet to be developed agricultural information services can serve to dampen the impact of both long and short-term weather-based agricultural stress.  Given our changing climate, farmers need information to help them thrive with what the environment provides, as do input providers, markets, and actors all across the value chain.  While agricultural production shortfalls due to weather disasters and variability leave us vulnerable to food insecurity, building local capacity to connect data-driven science to smallholder farmers will reap dividends and build resilience.  Wherever trusted communication channels are in place, our risk is reduced.

This article appears in the May edition of WFO’s F@rmletter. Featured photo credit: V. Meadu (CCAFS)

Global Food Security Symposium 2017: Making Food Security the Focus in Uncertain Times

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Amid recent turbulent political shifts around the world, a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs puts food security at the heart of global peace and prosperity. Launched at the Council’s two-day Global Food Security Symposium in Washington DC, the report – Stability in the 21st Century – calls on political leaders to make food security a pillar of national security policies.

The authors highlighted links between high food prices and unrest, and said commitments to end hunger and malnutrition were more important than ever to address the challenges of instability, climate change and a growing young population.

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Yvette Ondachi: Helping Women Play A Pivotal Role in the Food Value Chain

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Yvette Ondachi is the founder of Ojay Greene, a Kenyan agribusiness that connects rural farmers to urban markets. Ahead of International Women’s Day, she shares stories of the female farmers she works with, and offers her own advice to female entrepreneurs.

Sub Saharan Africa imports food worth $30billion annually, yet the continent has enough land to grow food that will feed itself and still have more to export to other parts of the world. Kenya is not exempt from this equation. The big question is why the mismatch?

The majority of the Kenyan population depends on agriculture for a living – 26 million people are smallholder farmers and close to 70% of these live below the poverty line – earning $700 annually or less. The underlying cause of these miserable statistics is that these smallholder farmers have an over-reliance on rain fed farming – this is despite the changing climate patterns. They find themselves unable to meet the rising demand for fruits and vegetables in urban areas brought about by increasing populations and a rapidly growing middle class.

Ojay Greene is an innovative agribusiness with a social mission: to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers. The enterprise does this by working with smallholder farmers to help them tap into the growing demand of fresh fruits and vegetables in urban markets. By interacting with farmers, Ojay Greene strives to change their behaviours from subsistence farming to commercial farming using an approach that involves tackling their immediate and potential risks; the main one being climate change.

So how do we do this? Ojay Greene uses a mobile platform to offer smallholder farmers advisory services, agronomic extension services, access to farm inputs and market linkage. Farmers get weekly instructions on their mobile phones enabling them to follow the exact steps when planting. This enables them to produce a standardized product, that complies with market specifications. In addition, they can ask questions through the platform when they are in doubt. They can also alert our team about any unusual pests or diseases they encounter during production. Ojay Greene sees to it that farmers are visited monthly by their agronomists to ensure that they get the technical support they require and that they are following the right steps to produce high quality and competitive products. These measures ensure that smallholder farmers have a consistent revenue stream.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to share with you a story about Mary, a female farmer who embodies a true picture of resilience. Mary lost her home and became internally displaced person during the post election violence that occurred in 2007. She was fortunate enough to lease a piece of land from the government to enable her cultivate crops to sell in the local market. Despite this opportunity, she had to contend with herdsmen from the neighbouring pastoral community who would let their cattle feed on her hard-earned crops. She would consider herself very fortunate if she managed to make $500 annually. Ojay Greene was introduced to Mary’s farmer group in September 2016. Mary grows leafy green vegetables – (both conventional and indigenous African varieties) which happen to be in very high demand in urban areas. By working with Mary, we have helped her access quality seed, harvest a bountiful crop and access a profitable urban market. If she continues with this trend she will be able to increase her annual income to US$ 1,000 by September 2017.

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From our work with smallholder farmers, we have observed that female farmers have immense potential to play a pivotal role in the food value chain in Kenya and Africa. This is because they tend to be more organized in regards to conforming to our model which requires smallholder farmers to work together as a farming community in groups. Our model fosters team work; farmers agree to plant on the same day, visit each others farms, give each other developmental feedback and have a sense of healthy competition amongst themselves. Most of the ones we’ve worked with are beginning to realize the benefits of working together. Together they have collective bargaining power that spurs them on to generate enough income to educate their children. This said, women need more access to financing – stronger links to market and continuous knowledge transfer to make them more productive.

As a female entrepreneur, my biggest barrier being the barrier to financing – I faced broken promises from potential financiers and investors, as well as delayed payments from clients. I observed that an underfinanced company fails to realize its potential and the growth is hampered. I have learnt that laser focus is a critical attribute when all else fails. I remember the initial reason that drove me to start Ojay Greene and realize that quitting is not an option. I lift myself up and encourage myself to hold on because the road to success is filled with setbacks and roadblocks, but those who endure to the end leave a legacy that surpasses their generation.

My advise to other female entrepreneurs: “Don’t wait to be validated. Follow your aspirations no matter what barriers come your way. Focus on what’s working and seek to replicate it. I look forward to seeing you at the top.”

Can We Turn Generation Yum into Generation Ag?

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This week, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is exploring the issue of youth as the future of agriculture – a key topic at their upcoming Global Food Security Symposium in March. Farming First Co-Chairs Robert Hunter and Yvonne Harz-Pitre have penned an article for this blog series asking: “Can we turn Generation Yum into Generation Ag?

As the author of Generation Yum, Eve Turow, explains in her book – young people in the developed world care much more about the quality, nutritional value, and provenance of their food than previous generations. This wave of interest comes at a critical moment, this article argues. Our food system faces the colossal challenge of doubling production to feed a growing global population as natural resources dwindle and a changing climate takes its toll. So can the agricultural community encourage this powerful cohort not only to care about food, but to actually shape its future by taking up careers in agriculture? Continue reading