Stories tagged: market access

Mozambican Farming Cooperative for Women Shares Knowledge, Builds Local Access and Capacity

In the past, Celina Cossa would queue for days and even nights just to get the chance to buy a bag of maize to feed her two children, her husband, and herself.  She was one of thousands of Mozambican women finding it difficult to feed her family in a country that was newly independent from its Portuguese colonisers and in the midst of a civil war.  Food shortages in Mozambique in the 1980s were a norm, and many – especially women – were extremely poor.

In response, Cossa, along with 250 other women, began growing crops and raising poultry together. With limited funds at first, many of the women would bring their own agricultural tools and money to support the project.

The women sold the excess and created a business that now has about 2,900 mostly women farmers. And as the numbers grew, they expanded the reach of their operation to begin helping others get credit to start their own businesses.

Now called the General Union of Cooperatives (UGC), this Mozambican network of women farmers is still led by Cossa.  UGC gives them technical training, literacy education, as well as services such as childcare.  Members now supply much of the capital’s vegetables, fruits, and poultry with members making on average 50 per cent more than the national minimum wage.

Now the cooperative also helps women farmers get loans to start and run their businesses, assists with giving them expert advice on how to begin farming and helps them sell their produce at markets. To date, the farmers produce eight thousand chickens per month and are supplying the local markets with their products.

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This post was adapted from an article written by African journalists Menesia Muinjo and Geline Fuko, who took part in a journalist training session coordinated by IPS.

Book Review: “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty”


Two veteran Wall Street Journal reporters, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, have teamed up to write a book addressing one of the most pressing questions of the 21st-century: global hunger.

The authors ask why hunger persists when the technology and tools already exist to feed the world:

Since the time of the Green Revolution, the world has known how to end famine and tame chronic hunger.  We have the information and tools.  But we haven’t done it.  We explored the heavens.  We wired the world for the Internet…. Yet somehow we haven’t eliminated the most primitive scourge of all.

In the opening chapters, Kilman and Thurow introduce the work of Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning plant scientist who died on Saturday at the age of 95.  Back in the 1940s, Borlaug was assigned to a newly launched research centre in Mexico to train Mexican scientists how to boost farm productivity through plant breeding experiments.

Over the next two decades, Borlaug’s research helped boost wheat yields in the research areas almost seven-fold, from 11 bushels per acre in the early 1940s to as much as seventy-five bushels per acre in 1960.  Borlaug then travelled elsewhere in the Americas and across to Asia to demonstrate the potential yields which these new varieties could produce and to convince policymakers and farmers to adopt them to feed their growing populations.  (Apparently, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ripped up her flower garden to plant the new wheat varieties.)

And thus, the Green Revolution was born.  Demographic projections of mass famine and a population implosion were prevented, and the global supply of food exploded.

Yet around the same time, shifts in global agricultural policy began to shift.  Starting in the early 1980s, newly independent former colonies in Africa and Asia started to see a reversal in the foreign assistance being given to agricultural development (inputs, infrastructure, extension training, and research support).  In addition, the money being targeted at the alleviation of hunger came in the food of foreign-grown food aid shipped into areas of need.

A generation later, in the summer of 2008, the world went through a global food crisis where prices doubled and tripled for many staple foods and global reserve stocks of grain were reduced to dangerously low levels.  Kilman and Thurow argue that the time is right for a broad reinvestment into agriculture, similar to how the United States rallied to support the Marshall Plan for Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

The authors argue that public sentiment is in favour of increased support to feed the hungry, and social and political stability are increasingly under threat from those without sufficient resources to subsist.  They present a range of options, from investment in infrastruture and new seed technologies to policy reforms relating to how national budgets are allocated and how trade regulations are drawn up.

Africa is a particular target as it is seen as “the world’s final frontier of agriculture” where yields are still low and modern agricutural practices are often non-existent.  Coupled with a rapidly increasingly population, African farmers will be expected to double their production by 2030 in order to simply meet their own people’s food demands.  This will be no small feat, and it would require a coordinated, collaborative approach to see it through successfully.

A Closer Look at Mozambique’s Agricultural Production System

In Mozambique, differences in rainfall contribute to higher levels of poverty in drier areas.

Poverty levels in drier regions of the country range from 67 to 85 percent, said Professor Firmino Mucavele, Director for Academic Reform and Regional Integration at Eduardo Mondlane University in a presentation of his analysis of agriculture’s true contribution to the Mozambican economy.

Mucavele, a Food Agriculture Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) board member, outlined regional disparities within Mozambique, whose north and eastern districts receive as much as twelve times the amount of rainfall as the southern regions surrounding the Maputo capital.

Crop productivity is also connected to rainfall since irrigation infrastructure in the country is effectively non-existent. Of the 3.3 million hectares suitable for irrigation throughout the country, only fifty thousand hectares (or only a miniscule 0.13 percent) have this resource at their disposal.  Mucavele said:

The common denominator of the smallholder farmers is low productivity, limited ability of households to generate savings and food insecurity.

He added that access to key inputs is also low; only 2 percent of farmers use fertilisers and only 5 percent use pesticides. Underdeveloped capital markets and harvest losses averaging 40 percent also contribute to decreased productivity.

To boost the contribution of the agricultural sector, Mucavele made several key recommendations. He highlighted that the uptake of improved seeds and better production methods could boost crop yields; the yields from maize, which is Mozambique’s primary crop by volume, could be increased seven-fold, from 800 kilograms per hectare to as much as 6,500.  He also pointed out that introducing value-added processes to raw commodities could also boost export earnings, with milled maize fetching five times the price of whole kernels.

Lastly, a concerted effort to reform and support agricultural markets caould stem disruptive variations in crop prices and ensure Mozambique’s farmers a viable source of livelihoods.

Cautioned Mucavele: “Social, environmental and institutional stability depends on food security.”

Guardian Article Highlights African Agriculture’s Potential, Both at Home and Abroad

africaCan Africa transform itself from an agricultural basket case to the world’s bread basket?

This is the question which Peter Hazell tries to address in a recent article written for the Guardian newspaper.

Hazell discusses how the Green Revolution, which introduced modern agricultural practices and technologies to the developing world, helped Asia and South America to eradicate (for the most part) hunger from within their populations.  Yet most of the African continent and its farmers have not benefitted from an equivalent revolution, and the productivity of their harvests has remained stagnant over the past half century while populations have been rapidly increasing and climate change is causing a less reliable supply of food.

In fact, local access for African farmers is still low.  Historically, African governments have committed much less than their Asian counterparts in funding agriculture.  Hazell estimates that Africa has spent around 5% or 6% of total government spending over the past 40 years while Asia has spent 15% or more over the same period.  At the same time, foreign donors have, until recently, neglected agriculture as a development priority for their funding allocations.

There are indications that this is changing.  African leaders have committed to increased funding to 10% of budgets and world leaders have earmarked money for investing in rural infrastructure support among other actions.  As an example, the G8 just committed to $20 billion in funding at their July summit in Italy.

This momentum makes Hazell believe that

if supported, millions of poor farmers could lift themselves out of poverty and… it [Africa] could provide a solution to the global food shortages and spiraling food prices we are all facing.

Chinese Vice Premier Calls for International Cooperation to Promote Sustainable Agricultural Development

1205801580794_1205801580794_rIn a speech at a recent conference of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, Chinese Vice premier Hui Liangyu called for a continued global focus on agricultural production, according to a Xinhua article, especially in light of the fact that increased demand and resource constraints put pressure on global supplies:

Pressure is mounting to ensure food safety worldwide, especially effective food supply for developing countries, as global population has been snowballing and more agricultural products are being turned into energy.

Calling this effort “the world’s common task”, Hui discussed how China’s agricultural production has evolved since Deng Xiaoping opened up China’s economy to market forces in 1978.  He also outlined some of the next steps that China intends to take to further promote its farmers:

In the new situation [sic], China will further strengthen rural system construction, develop modern agriculture, promote rural public causes ad push forward new countryside construction.

World Water Facts from a Newly Updated WBCSD Report

2959393208_f4fb74f682A newly updated report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) highlights many key facts and trends on how the world uses and manages its freshwater supply.

Agriculture-related activity is responsible for around 70% of freshwater use.  Here are some other interesting facts from the report:

  • Less than 3% of the world’s water is freshwater.  Of this freshwater supply, about five-sixths is frozen and thus inaccessible.
  • Almost 97% of the available freshwater is stored in underground aquifers, with the remainder coming from rainfall, natural lakes, rivers, and other man-made facilities.
  • Fewer than 10 countries possess 60% of the world’s available freshwater supply: Brazil, Russia, China, Canada, Indonesia, U.S., India, Columbia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Globally, roughly 15-35% of irrigation withdrawals for agriculture are estimated to be unsustainable.  Susceptible regins include the western U.S., northern India and Pakistan, northern China, eastern South Africa, southeastern Australia, and parts of the Mediterranean.
  • India, China, and Egypt all use more than 80% of their freshwater for irrigation, compared to about 1% in the UK.
  • 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera)– the equivalent of 15 killer tsunamis each year or 12 Boeing 747 crashes every day.
  • U.S. average annual domestic consumption of water (per capita) is 215 cubic metres per year, 6.7 times the average in China and more than double the average in France.
  • Important trends impacting water use in the future include population growth, increasing global affluence, and climate change.