Tag Archives: Food and Agriculture

Nigerian schools adopt sweet potato to boost nutrition

Abuja (Nigeria) – The school feeding programme of Nigeria is using orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) ̶ Mothers delight ̶to help fight vitamin A deficiency in children. The production of OFSP was the result of research collaboration between the National Root Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), Nigeria and the Peru-headquartered International Potatoes Centre (CIP).

Vitamin A is critical but deficient in most diets in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, one in three children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which accounts for the increasing under-five mortality nationally, says Michael Okonkwo, a nutritionist with the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria.

Olubunmi Ayoola, programme officer of the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme, told SciDev.Net last month (17 May) during a meeting to showcase the importance of OFSP in school feeding programmes that about 41,216 students in Osun state are now fed weekly on the vitamin A-enriched potato.

Edward Carey, CIP regional sweet potato breeder based in Ghana, says scientists at NRCRI and CIP conducted on-farm and nationally coordinated research projects that were completed in 2012, leading to the national release of three proven genotypes – two Orange-Fleshed Potatoes (Mothers Delight and KingJ) and one white fleshed. He adds that the hybrid varieties were officially released for dissemination later in 2013 in Nigerian states such as Benue, Cross Rivers, Enugu and Osun.

In a statement by CGIAR last month (18 May), Erna Abidin, manager of CIP’s Jumpstarting OFSP project in West Africa, explains: “Results from research revealed that one small-to-medium boiled root of most OFSP varieties can supply the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for young children and non-breastfeeding women.”

OFSP roots, according to the researchers, have a nutritional advantage over white- or cream-fleshed sweet potato roots because they have beta-carotene, and therefore their vitamin A content is higher. Cultivating OFSP on just 500 square meters of land can supply the needs of a family.

Continue reading on SciDev.Net

By Alex Abutu

Cover picture: Orange-fleshed sweetpotato in school meals to improve nutrition.  Credit: V. Atakos (CIP-SSA)

Africa: Drought and Jobless, Hopeless Youth, Fertile Grounds for Extremism

Ouagadougou – The high-level symposium, which was held ahead of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17, stressed that Africa’s heavy reliance on the natural resource base for livelihoods is a challenge, and its mismanagement increases household risks and amplifies the vulnerability of millions of people.

Ignoring the plight of jobless young people in sub-Saharan Africa is a recipe for political instability and global insecurity, warned a high-level symposium of Africa’s interior, environment and foreign affairs ministers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The high-level symposium, which was held ahead of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17, stressed that Africa’s heavy reliance on the natural resource base for livelihoods is a challenge, and its mismanagement increases household risks and amplifies the vulnerability of millions of people.

This was the first time high-ranking officials drawn from Africa’s foreign affairs, environment and interior ministries met jointly to find solutions to Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men.

Participating ministers called for support to create land-based jobs in the rural areas to ward off the temptation for the most disillusioned to take up alternative but dangerous sources of income.

They called for the identification of sites where tenure or access to land rights can be secured and provided to vulnerable at-risk-groups.

The high-ranking officials also called for partnerships to create 2 million secure land-based jobs through rehabilitation of 10 million hectares of degraded land.

As well, they called for investment in rural infrastructure, rehabilitation tools and skills development and prioritisation of job creation in unstable and insecure areas.

The symposium examined the threats connected to sustainability, stability and security, namely, conflicts linked to access to degrading natural resources, instability due to unemployment of rural youth and insecurity and the risk of the radicalization triggered by social and economic marginalization and exposure to extremist groups.

Drought, Unemployment and Hopelessness, Fertile Grounds for Extremism

Presidents Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali and Mahammadou Issoufou of Niger stressed that drought, food insecurity, water scarcity, unemployment, hopelessness about the future and poverty are fertile grounds for extremism, and a sign of insecurity, instability and unsustainability.

Two days earlier, more than 400 civil society representatives from African participated in their World Day observance, also in Ouagadougou, and organised by Spong, a local non-governmental organisation, to prepare for the International Summit of Non-State Actors titled, Desertif’actions 2017, to be held on 27 and 28 June 2017 in Strasbourg, France, which will be dedicated to land degradation and climate change, bringing together 300 stakeholders from 50 countries.

The outcomes of the Strasbourg Summit will be presented to the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to be held in Ordos, China, in September 2017, and the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By IPS World Desk

This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

Caption: According to UN Agencies, more than 13.4 million people are severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Picture credit: FAO.

How going digital will keep us well fed and make our farmers rich

Can Africa become a self-sufficient food producer within a decade? Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), announced this goal at a recent AfDB meeting in May. It’s a bold vision considering that Africa’s annual food import bill of $36 billion could rise to $110 billion by 2025.

Africa’s success in achieving food self-sufficiency rests in large part with its smallholder farmers. The majority of the food produced comes from small farms that are under-resourced and under-financed.

To achieve the AfDB’s bold goal, we must invest in the systems that will enable farmers to produce and earn more from their farms while feeding the continent.

Globally, the demand by smallholder farmers for financing outstrips supply tenfold. In Africa, the gap is even greater. Bridging this gap requires not only stronger policies and action from governments, but also a paradigm shift in how we view and serve farmers.

New financing models and technologies can help us bypass many challenges, such as the limited credit history of farmers and inefficient processes. Sustainable, innovative use of digital technology can also help small farmers.

In Tanzania, for example, smallholder farmers produce nearly 70 per cent of the country’s food, yet only half of them produce enough to sell because they cannot invest in the tools, seeds and other inputs needed to modernise their farms and increase their production.

The challenge: Less than 6 per cent of bank credit goes to smallholder farmers, forcing them to either borrow from mostly unscrupulous lenders or dig into their meagre savings.

Innovative financing

In both cases, they are forced to buy low-quality inputs that keep them trapped in a vicious circle of under-production and poverty.

But what if farmers did not have to amass all the funds they need at the beginning of the planting season? Grameen Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) and Positive International Ltd are testing a new approach that will enable farmers to purchase inputs on a digital layaway plan.

It comes complete with crop management plans and taps into Tanzania’s fast-evolving mobile money network. And by mapping savings to the seasonality of earnings, farmers gain greater purchasing power and control over their farming decisions.

Innovative financing can also transform inefficient processes. For example, Musoni Kenya no longer requires farmers to visit branches to apply for its signature Kilimo Booster agricultural loan.

Instead, loan officers visit farmers to collect the required information digitally on tablets, along with photos of the farms and other details that give Musoni insight into farmers’ operations. Loans are approved within 72 hours, ensuring that farmers get cash infusions when they need them, and Musoni also customises repayment terms to match farmers’ production cycle.

Kilimo Booster, which Grameen Foundation co-designed, takes advantage of Kenya’s almost universal access to mobile phones and ubiquitous network of mobile money agents, easing the burden for farmers who often cannot afford the lost time and money spent traveling to a branch office.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Africa, a panellist noted that only 20 per cent of farmers in Africa were using the correct seed and agri-input combination needed to reap maximum benefit from their farms.

Continue reading on The East African

By Raphael Wolf (Grameen Foundation programme leader in Tanzania).

New tool to forecast nutrition-related vulnerabilities

Nairobi – A new online tool to help decision-makers take early action to resolve problems that cause high levels of malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa has been launched. The tool known as Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS) will be in use by the end of this year in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, according to researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who are developing it.

Speaking during the launch in Kenya last month (29 May), experts said that with recurrent droughts and famine causing hunger, malnutrition and instability across Africa, there is an urgent need for innovations to help stop the vicious cycle.

Mercy Lung’aho, a nutritionist and research scientist at CIAT, Kenya, tells SciDev.Net that despite progress in strengthening early warning systems for food insecurity, current approaches to detect declines in nutrition status still tend to be very late and are based on indicators that identify nutrition crisis after it has already begun.

“There is a need [for] proactive actions, which will require a shift in the way we forecast nutrition-related vulnerabilities and identify the key factors driving undernutrition, while building nutrition resilience to shocks that add to the fragility,” Lung’aho says.

Debisi Araba, regional director for Africa, CIAT, says that NEWS will use cutting-edge big data approaches to process large volumes of information from multiple sources to detect early signs of food shortages and raise the alarm about impending crises.

“The tool will use machine learning and artificial intelligence technology to process a steady stream of data to food and nutrition security, and will get smarter and become more accurate over time,” Araba notes.

He adds that it will complement existing efforts by offering a new level of precision and accuracy to assessments and predictions of food-related challenges.

“We will work with countries to ensure that NEWS adheres to national laws regarding data sovereignty, privacy and intellectual property,” Araba explains.

Continue reading on SciDev.Net

By Sam Otieno and Stephanie Achieng’

Picture credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Heavy Toll of Disrupted Farming, Higher Prices and Displaced Livelihoods

Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report. Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new edition of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

Civil conflict continues to be a main driver of severe food insecurity, having triggered famine conditions in South Sudan and put populations in Yemen and northern Nigeria at high risk of localised famine, it informs, adding that adverse weather conditions are exacerbating the threat of famine in Somalia.

Refugees from civil strife in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Central African Republic are putting additional pressure on local food supplies in host communities, the report notes, while providing detailed information the following situation in a group of countries.

Some 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan, where maize and sorghum prices are now four times higher than in April 2016.

In Somalia, about 3.2 million people are in need of food and agricultural emergency assistance, while in Yemen the figure is as high as 17 million.

In northern Nigeria, disruption caused by the conflict has left 7.1 million people facing acute food insecurity in the affected areas, with even more deemed to be in less dire but still “stressed” conditions.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Southern Africa rebounds, East Africa Parched

While worldwide cereal output is near record levels, production outcomes are mixed across the globe. South America is expected to post strong increases, led by Brazil and Argentina, according to the new report.

Regional production in Southern Africa is expected to jump by almost 45 per cent compared to 2016 when crops were affected by El Niño, with record maize harvests forecast in South Africa and Zambia, FAO reports.

This should help reducing food insecurity in several countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Ips Worldwide service

Picture credit: Members of the local community in Kok Island, South Sudan, known to become an island on a seasonal basis as water levels rise with the onset of the rainy season. Kok, populated by 100 households, recorded soaring levels of malnutrition and food insecurity.

Women Small-Holder Farmers, Key Drivers for Sustainable Production

Harare – The shouts can be heard from a distance as one approaches Domboshawa, 30 kilometres northeast of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. Tokupai madomasi! Tokupai mbambaira! Do you want tomatoes or sweet potatoes? Mune marii? How much do you have? Scores of women and children carrying bundles of vegetables, sacks of sweet potatoes and containers full of farming produce shout above the din of moving vehicles, trying to sell their produce for a meagre profit.

Tsitsi Machingauta, 32, has a two-hectare farm in the area. She decries the numerous problems faced by smallholder farmers, which range from produce rotting in the fields due to the heavy downpours the country experienced this year, to a poor road network that restricts their access to markets.

“Even when supermarket chains come to buy our produce, they pay very little because we do not have the bargaining power. Because of the poor returns, we struggle to make a living, let alone to send our children to school,” Machingauta told IPS.

Machingauta, who is the founder and director of Women’s Farming Syndicate, an organization that supports women smallholder farmers in Domboshaw), explains how the lack of skills to make use of technology and limited time for training for women – compounded by climate change – has worsened the plight of women in the area.

According to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD), in Zimbabwe, women make up 70 percent of the rural population and 86 percent of women are involved in farming. Of the smallholder farmers who benefited from the government’s land reform program, only 18 percent are female; for commercial land, women constitute just 12 percent.

A study by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (2016) on Women Agribusiness Entrepreneurs revealed that fewer women smallholder farmers meet the banking sector’s stringent borrowing requirements, and women are more likely to operate informally.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on Small Holders and Family Farmers, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.

Ali Said Yesuf, FAO Chief Technical Advisor, told IPS that in an effort to address these challenges, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) funded 72 million dollars to implement the Livelihood and Food Security Program (LFSP) to increase agricultural productivity and incomes, improve food and nutrition security, and reduce poverty in rural Zimbabwe.

“LFSP will actively address the specific constraints that smallholder farmers, particularly women, face in raising the productivity of their farms and participating in markets,” says Yesuf. The project covers eight districts in Zimbabwe.

The interventions take into account time constraints, which are as a result of women’s numerous domestic responsibilities. The LFSP promotes labour-saving technologies such as mechanised conservation agriculture, mechanised groundnut shellers, mechanised water abstraction technologies and more efficient wood stoves.

Yesuf said extension services and trainings have been carried out close to homes to avoid disruptions of women’s routines.

“Value chains such as poultry – broilers and indigenous chickens – and groundnuts that are perceived to be dominated by women are also given preference.  This allows women to have some control over incomes that are derived,” Yesuf told IPS.

He said the LFSP would also ensure the following:

  • Women’s participation in decision-making, i.e. membership on committees such as Rural District Councils (RDCs), Internal Savings And Lending (ISALs), commodity associations, lead farmers
  • Household decision-making by working with women and men to integrate gender relations within the household
  • Increasing women’s knowledge about markets

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Sally Nyakanyanga

Picture credit: World Food Programme (Wfp).

Growing Unemployed Youth in Africa a Time Bomb, But…

There are nearly 420 million young Africans between the ages of 15 and 35 today. And it is estimated that within ten years, Africa will be home to one-fifth of all young people worldwide. These millions of young people could be a source of ingenuity and engines of productivity that could ignite a new age of inclusive prosperity.

But there are no guarantees. Although the continent has shown consistent economic growth in the last decade, it has failed in creating the number of quality jobs needed to absorb the 10-12 million young people entering the labour market each year.

And this, according to AfDB Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke, is a time bomb waiting to explode.

“While the youth population is Africa’s asset, it can also easily become a liability, and this is the whole question about demographic dividends,” observes Blanke. “Let us be clear, it is only the existence of opportunity and the young person’s belief that they can access that opportunity that prevents pessimism and political unrest…inaction is not an option, young people without opportunity, and more importantly without belief in their leaders’ ability to provide opportunity are a certain source of civil unrest and we are seeing it every day.”

‘Transforming Agriculture for wealth creation in Africa’ was therefore the major theme of the 52nd AfDB Annual Meetings held in Ahmedabad, India from 22-26 May 2017.

Experts here agreed that transforming Africa’s agriculture requires a business approach that would incentivize youth who still see farming as way of life for the poor. As a result of this scenario, the average age of farmers in Africa is 60, and Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB Group President, fears that “If we don’t change the labour composition of agriculture in Africa, in the next twenty years, there will be no farmers.”

To get youth involved, Adesina believes, “We need to change the mindset about agriculture—agriculture is not a social sector, agriculture is not a way of life, it is a business.”

But the how question is crucial, and he points to finance among other incentives. “There are opportunities for youth but certain things have to be put in place to realize them, such as financing…our young people are doing amazing things with ICT—they are providing weather index insurance, extension services and a host of other things.”

For its part, the Bank has provided a roadmap for the growth of agriculture in Africa with a plan to inject nearly 2.4 billion dollars every year for 10 years to build roads, irrigation infrastructure and storage facilities to attract high-value investors.

With this kind of investment, AfDB wants to transform Agriculture into a money-making business for those involved, highlighting that Africa should position itself to benefit from the growth of agricultural food markets which are set to grow to a trillion-dollar business portfolio by 2030.

The figure is huge and appetising. But certain steps have to be taken, and one of those steps is closing the infrastructure gap.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Friday Phiri

Kenya’s Drought: Response Must Be Sustainable, Not Piecemeal

Food security in Kenya has deteriorated significantly since the end of 2016. UNICEF reports a significant increase in severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 110,000 children under-five need treatment, up from 75,300 in August 2016. Waterholes and rivers have dried up, leading to widespread crop failure and livestock depletion. At the height of the drought, surface water in most counties had either dried up or its level dramatically reduced.

Consequently, within a year, the price of maize flour has risen by 31 per cent, milk by 12 and sugar by 21 per cent. These food price increases have driven inflation up from 9.04 per cent in February to 11.48 per cent in April. Many families are making do with just one meal in a day.

Conditions are dire in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. Livestock and milk production has declined, adversely affecting food consumption levels for communities, particularly women and children.

Malnutrition is widespread among children. In the hardest-hit counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera, a third of children under 5 are acutely malnourished – double the emergency threshold. High malnutrition, when combined with an outbreak of cholera or measles, can lead to a surge in deaths among children and other vulnerable groups.

Underfunded response

We must urgently respond to this malnutrition crisis through treatment and prevention. Blanket supplementary feeding for young children and pregnant and lactating women can avert a catastrophic spike in mortality in the months ahead.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners have developed a US$30 million plan to intervene with blanket supplementary feeding in nine northern hotspots, but only 10 per cent of the required funds have been committed.

By the time the Government had declared drought a national disaster, over 2.6 million Kenyans were in urgent need of food aid. This figure will increase unless an appeal for US$166 million to support the most vulnerable is met; less than a third of that amount is available so far.

Don’t be fooled by the news of floods in recent weeks, this has done nothing to alleviate drought-induced malnutrition among children. Flooding is an indicator of poor infiltration resulting from lack of vegetation and soil degradation. This means that much water is flowing off the soil and too little is seeping in. We will face drought again before the onset of the short rains later this year.

Government efforts

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national drought disaster in February 2017 and committed US$128 million towards the national drought response.

The Government of Kenya has allocated resources for food aid and monthly cash transfers through its Hunger Safety Net Programme.

Its Livestock Insurance Programme offers a lifeline to affected pastoralists, enabling them to purchase animal feed to keep their herd alive during drought. In addition, offtake programmes are helping farmers to sell of their herds and restock as necessary when conditions improve.

These are commendable efforts but the number of people accessing such support is not enough, and the needs are fast outpacing the response.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Siddharth Chatterjee

Time to Close the Gender Gap in Africa with Bold Actions

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and to be bold in promoting gender parity. Our world would be a much better place with gender parity in all spheres. We need more women as CEOs, in parliaments, as engineers, computer scientists, astronauts, and as heads of state, traditional areas dominated by men.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 by the World Economic Forum estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will achieve gender parity in 79 years. We cannot afford to wait so long. Africa would have lost all the benefits of developing faster with several generations of women and girls.

It’s time to close the gender gap in Africa with bold actions.

Women can play a huge role in societies undergoing conflicts, as peace makers, reconciling communities, building peace and building societal resilience. In Sudan, where conflicts abound, the African Development Bank is providing support of close to $5 million for women to help in conflict resolution.

We are doing more: we are taking decisive action to level the playing field for women’s access to finance. Women dominate the small and medium scale enterprises across Africa. They dominate farming but lack access to secure land and property rights. Yet they pay back loans better than men. When Africa gets the issues of women right, it will finally get agriculture right.

The African Development Bank has launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women (AFAWA), a bold effort to help leverage $3 billion for women owned businesses, including women farmers.

At the Bank, we are working hard internally to close the gender gap. Of the recent senior management appointments I have made to run the business of the Bank in our 5 regional offices, 50% are women.

The recruitment of young professionals within the Bank is also more gender balanced, and the 2015 cohort shows that 60% are female.

Another positive move within the Bank is the introduction of a women’s mentorship pilot “Crossing Thresholds,” which provides women with an opportunity to develop their career in a structured and supportive environment.

One young participant commented, “It has provided networking opportunities, professional development and most importantly I feel part of a group; it has created solidarity and given women more confidence.”

We are doing better in mainstreaming gender into our Bank operations. When comparing the years 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, the Bank has improved its performance in gender parity in job creation and gender-specific training for jobs. Gender specific impacts of a Bank’s operations by sector are becoming more equal between females and males, and is even higher at 60% in favor of women in education.

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By Akinwumi Adesina