Our food systems are under unprecedented pressure. With the global population expected to reach 8.6 billion by 2030, making food systems more sustainable will depend on the development and deployment of innovative tools and approaches around the world. Continue reading
Sarah Jones, Associate Scientist at The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) Continue reading
With severe weather on the rise, farmers and downstream water users are being besieged by the impacts of erosion. But researchers are finding that the right interventions can cut soil runoff by up to 40% – a benefit that might find its way into struggling farmers’ incomes. Jane Gicheha, a Researcher with The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) explores this topics for Farming First.
With no shoes and little pause, Rachel Njeri bounds down her steep hillside farm, hopping from terrace to terrace until landing at the bottom. A grandmother in her 60s, she can reach the tiny stream 100 meters into the valley of her farm in about two minutes.
At the bottom, Rachel looks up to assess her yields, but also to examine the waves of crumbling land that once sustained crops. Rachel’s farm sits along a steep hillside and erosion is washing her soil downhill, causing small landslides, as well as soil and nutrient loss.
“Look at this maize crop, I will not harvest a thing this season,” laments Rachel. “The soils have been eroded and the remaining are just too acidic for food production. Planting maize and beans results in hunger in my house since most of it will not produce anything.”
Researchers tasked with helping Kenyan farmers stave off erosion cautiously follow her path, arriving minutes after. They examine the damage and results of interventions. “With this kind of loose soil, you need something drastic because whatever you plant is just going to wash away with the next rain.” says CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems scientist Ravic Nijbroek.
Erosion is dramatically reducing land productivity in many African countries, especially for smallholders who often work hillside plots. But the challenges are affecting millions downstream too. Erosion increases the rivers’ sediment load – the amount of soil transported downstream into rivers. And with heavy rains and climate unpredictability, the recent loads have been shockingly high.
More than five million Nairobi residents rely on the Tana River for their water use. One Senior Engineer of Kenya’s Ndakaini Dam says, reports that their operating costs are relatively low during the dry season… But during the rainy season, the sediment levels of the rivers rise, leading to siltation of dam, and increasing operating costs.
Researchers show us the evidence
To find the right solutions, it’s critical for researchers to understand how much sediment loads increase during extreme weather events, and during rainy season when farms receive twice the usual amount of rain. And solutions need to work across different farm conditions.
One project addressing these challenges is The Nairobi Water Fund, founded by The Nature Conservancy business, utilities, and governments together with researchers, NGOs and farmers.
The project’s Business Case showed that investing at least US$10 million in on-the-ground environmental management efforts for the Upper Tana River over a decade can reduce sediment concentration in rivers by more than half.
Success could also mean farmers receive payment for ‘ecosystems services’, like protecting water sources for downstream users, such as Coca-Cola and utility companies.
Transforming that vision into reality hinges on providing evidence that shows that the activities being funded upstream are translating to the expected benefits. This is where research is proving vital.
Scientists have been monitoring water at the farm level since May 2015. This means regularly collecting data on water levels, flow, sediment load in rivers, and water turbidity – the level of “dirtiness” in the water.
This data is used to find out whether sustainable land management (SLM) activities such as building terraces, planting trees and installing grass strips are reducing sediment load within the waterbodies.
This data provides a way to prove interventions are making a difference upstream. This is crucial for farmers and for downstream investors who have a stake in the quality of water upstream. In an on-going impact assessment study, which includes interventions on Rachel’s farm, CIAT/WLE researchers have found that the magnitude of runoff and sediment for areas with no SLM were up to 40% higher than in the areas with interventions such as grass strips and terraces. This underpins the importance of trialling a range of interventions on individual farms such as Rachel’s.
With these techniques, the water companies will also find less sediment clogging their equipment, lessening a problem that hikes up treatment and maintenance costs. The benefits and reduced costs can be passed along to Nairobi residents using the water.
Finding the right solutions for sustainable land use
Of course, farmers’ livelihoods are also crucial, along with how benefits flow to women. WLE has provided farmers like Rachel improved fodder seeds for more diverse and productive crops. “I decided to plant Napier grass since it will provide fodder for my livestock and help my soil from being eroded,” says Rachel. “Keeping livestock is also a better investment because I sell milk, and once in a while I sell a cow. I get a lot of money to feed my family and even pay school fees for my grandchildren.”
While evidence shows interventions are helping, Rachel continues to struggle with some erosion. But researchers are working with her and others to better understand how SLM practices can best reduce soil erosion and runoff – on particular farms, and across the watershed. The evidence is paving the way for the best solutions to be scaled up and adapted across the basin – with benefits flowing back to farmers.
So while Rachel continues to bound down her steep hillside to take stock of her crops, the farm’s best soil will hopefully not make that same journey. With the right, well-tested solutions, researchers hope her soil will remain intact, nourishing crops, providing her a comfortable livelihood, and also contributing to the water security of millions of users downstream.
Fall Armyworm has arrived in Kenya to stay, but while the government develops a long-term strategy, farmers need ready and accessible solutions now.
From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.
The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.
This year, the losses could be as high as 50 per cent, threatening Kenya’s food security and farmers’ economic security in a country where the average annual consumption of maize surpasses 100kg per person. Continue reading
By Maggie Kamau-Biruri, Head of Partnerships at HarvestPlus.
After more than a decade of steady decline, world hunger is again on the rise, according to a 2017 report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. As the need to address growing malnutrition rates grows more pressing, global leaders tackling this challenge must consider engaging in public, private and government partnerships to maximize the reach of critical nutrition programs.
One of the most common forms of malnutrition plaguing the world’s population is micronutrient deficiency, a phenomenon that occurs when people may have enough to eat but lack the micronutrients that are critical to living healthy and productive lives. Currently, micronutrient deficiency, also known as hidden hunger, affects more than 2 billion people worldwide.
The micronutrients most lacking in diets around the world include vitamin A, zinc and iron, according to the World Health Organization. Most frequently, these deficiencies lead to cognitive and physical stunting, blindness, lower resistance to disease, fatigue and even death.
Vitamin A deficiency alone affects 190 million preschool-aged children in rural areas around the globe, 5.2 million of which suffer from night blindness. Meanwhile, zinc deficiency claims the lives of roughly 116,000 a year.
Many African countries are currently endowed with the so-called demographic dividend, a large and growing cohort of young people, estimated at 200 million strong, according to the United Nations. This dividend, if well tapped, has strong potential to bring innovation and energy to Africa’s economy. However, the risk of losing this opportunity is real, with many of the children’s early years threatened by lack of micronutrients needed for body and brain development. Countries cannot take advantage of their demographic dividend if their children are stunted and unable to achieve their full potential.
Affected countries in Asia and Africa see an average annual GDP loss of 11 percent because of the effects of hidden hunger. And worldwide, malnutrition costs the global economy as much as $3.5 trillion USD, or $500 per individual, according to a report from the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.
One proven solution that is playing an important role in addressing hidden hunger throughout the world is biofortification, an agricultural and technological innovation that draws on conventional breeding processes to boost the levels of micronutrients in staple crops.
The consumption of biofortified foods improves vitamin and mineral levels and is proven to reduce chronic diseases stemming from undernutrition, such as anemia and chronic diarrhea.
In one recent study, young women attending university in Rwanda who consumed daily meals that incorporated high-iron beans experienced complete reversal of their iron deficiency and significant improvement in their cognitive recall in just over four months. Similarly, iron-rich pearl millet reversed iron deficiency in school-aged children in India in only six months.
HarvestPlus, a nonprofit within the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, has played a critical role in developing and scaling out biofortified crops, in association with several international research partners. Today, more than 150 varieties of 12 nutrient-rich crops that meet farmers’ demands for yield, quality and climate tolerance are being grown in 60 countries.
Through coordinated efforts among dozens of research institutes, nonprofit organizations, private companies and local country partners, biofortified crops are currently being consumed by 26 million people and are steadily improving nutrition and health around the world. Still, too many people continue to suffer. To ensure that biofortified crops reach people in critical need of micronutrients, HarvestPlus set a goal to reach 1 billion people with biofortified crops by 2030.
Over the next 12 years, the jump from 30 million consumers to 1 billion will require a coordinated effort rooted in ongoing cooperation and the establishment of lasting partnerships between the private, public and government sectors. Luckily, this process is already underway.
Relationships with local country governments have played an instrumental role in reaching rural populations lacking access to foods rich in micronutrients. To date, several countries ranging from Bangladesh to Brazil have incorporated biofortification in their national strategies for reducing malnutrition.
There are now models for how these partnerships can successfully reach farmers and consumers. In Nigeria, the Youth Agripreneurs program works with farmers throughout Africa to provide biofortification training. The program, operated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and supported by organizations such as HarvestPlus and others, was initially developed to combat high youth unemployment rates throughout Africa, a challenge that many expect to remain at the forefront in the continent over the next 30 years.
Through the Youth Agripreneur initiative, youth are trained in emerging agribusiness trends —simultaneously tackling unemployment, food and nutrition security. As youth continue to play a growing role in scaling out biofortification, it is likely that their generations will carry on the legacy of biofortification as a valuable tool in the effort to end hidden hunger and as a lucrative investment for farmers.
In addition to scaling out access to improved nutrition, the adoption of biofortification by national governments has given biofortification a stamp of approval as an effective solution to hidden hunger, which has encouraged new private sector investment in bringing biofortified food to more people.
Beyond governmental support, private sector engagement is a critical component of scaling out biofortification. By engaging private companies, such as those that produce seeds or food manufacturers, to use biofortified seeds or crops both farmers and consumers have increased access to biofortified seeds, crops and finished food products.
In Nigeria, biofortified food products have become readily available in supermarkets with the support of companies like Niji-Lukas, a local Nigerian corporation. Niji-Lukas produces vitamin A garri and vitamin A fufu, traditional Nigerian dishes that have been made with biofortified vitamin A maize and are now sold in grocery stores throughout the country. Further developing these types of partnerships will help bring biofortified seeds and products to new markets and expand the reach of biofortification.
National government and private sector support are vital to helping more farmers and consumers access biofortified seeds and crops, but partnerships within the public sector are integral to encouraging farmers to grow biofortified seeds and educating consumers on the benefits of eating biofortified crops. Success with farmers and consumers in these areas is often reliant on training and support schemes.
As the biofortification movement continues to spread it will be vital to engage the private sector as a critical player along the value chain. Working both with SMEs at country level, multinationals around the world while supporting farmers to view farming as a viable business. With more than 30 million people consuming crops across the globe, biofortification is well on its way to becoming a sure pathway to ending hidden hunger.
This post originally appeared on the Chicago Council’s Global Food for Thought blog.
7th – 14th November 2017
A series of side events at COP23 for setting an agenda for transforming agricultural development in the face of climate change.
Both part of the cause of climate change, but also part of the solution, agriculture is central to any debate on global warming and extreme weather events. The interactions between the agricultural sector and climate change have undeniable implications for both global food security and our environment. Despite this global significance, and perhaps due to the complexity of the subject, there has been little progress to date on agriculture in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. Although COP17 in Durban made issues relating to agriculture in an agenda item under the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the process has failed to conclude and determine concrete next steps. However, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) under the Paris Agreement overwhelmingly prioritise the sector for climate action. 119 countries include agricultural mitigation in their INDCs, and of the 138 countries that include adaptation, almost all (127) include agriculture as a priority (Richards et al. 2016). Agriculture is also key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals set by countries.
“Agriculture Advantage: The case for climate action in agriculture” is an initiative and collaboration effort between different organizations with the same mission to transform agricultural development in the face of climate change. The event aims to articulate the different dimensions of climate actions in the agricultural sector.