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Forest management for sustainable water supply
Communities which historically relied on natural resources (water, forests, pastures, land) to provide a livelihood have devised forest management methods to ensure continuous water supply.
Long before science reiterated relations between forest conservation and sustainable water supply, rural communities had acknowledged the existing relationships, and developed systems for forest management. For example, in Africa most of the forests commonly known as "community forests" survived due to the use of indigenous/customary rules and regulations on rights, access and management of the shared forest and water resources.
Rights and access to particular forests came with clear roles, benefits and responsibilities: who could access which forest, when, what forest products to harvest (fruits, firewood, timber, herbs), and how much. To ensure adherence to the rules of access and harvest, the communities had narratives and practices spelling out the type of punishment for those who defied the rules. Stories have always formed part of the daily lives of many communities – to entertain, inform and educate. So, who would cut down a tree at the very top of a hill reserved as sacred for prayer sessions when the consequence was death of a loved one or incapability of one’s body organs? Who would water livestock at locations reserved for portable water when the punishment would be death of their livestock? So, adherence, mainly through respect to the rules saw many forest areas conserved. As we know of the water cycle, trees contribute to rain formation.
How do we document and incorporate some of the customary conservation practices into our education system and policy formulation as a way to enhance forest management for sustainable water supply?
Sustaining African Youth in Agriculture
Congratulations to all the young people practising agriculture and related enterprises. It is a great achievement from the perspective of one who was a youth when the common narrative was that agriculture, especially small scale agriculture was for those who failed to qualify for “office” jobs – or was it a trick used by our parents to keep us in school?
We now know it differently. Whatever career choice one makes, agriculture remains a noble profession. No human being; billionaires, world leaders, the monetary poor, or the young, can survive without food and other agricultural products. Does that sound like one can never go wrong with agriculture as a career choice?
Yes, with a lot of encouragement and support
- The need for society to start accepting agriculture as a career choice and a sustainable way of providing a livelihood. Parents and teachers to reserve their comments whenever children talk of farming as one of their dreams. Schools to divert from using farm activities as punishment to students.
- Learning and training institutions to develop curricular that embraces both family farming and commercial agricultural production as potential activities on land. The result will be that youth who lack access to large parcels of land will be willing to start from family land. Kitchen gardens have proven a success in the achievement of food and nutritional security at the household level.
- Capacity development to focus on agriculture as a system comprised of activities from land/livestock, harvesting and storage, value adding, marketing and consumption. The view of agriculture as a system provides alternatives for the youth to choose from. Those still not ready to touch soil after acquiring a university degree can choose to engage from value addition and marketing stages of the chain.
- The formation and strengthening of youth groups as one way to overcome financial challenges. It is always easier for recognizable groups to access resources from financial institutions or available grants – compared to individual applications. Groups are a source of strength and encouragement in markets and marketing, especially in current times where middlemen have strengthened their hold on transport and marketing. Easier for youth to form groups when one views middlemen as any cohesive group with a common goal.
- For now, not everyone has access to land for agriculture. Youth can initiate public discussions where they ask those with extra land for lease. Youth to lobby policy makers for formulation of policies in support of use of vacant land without harassment from the land owners.
- Develop strategies to share successful case studies – nothing works like field visits to agricultural activities managed by fellow youth. The youth will have a chance to learn from other youth, that farming requires patience and lots of labour, knowledge and skills – not a one year activity for one to reap benefits.
- The need for analysis of available agricultural related policies at the international, national and local levels. The outcome will be a document for youth to refer to whenever in doubt. This will save time and create awareness on available policies for youth to take advantage of, or areas of lacking for them to lobby for formulation of supportive policies.
- Youth to take advantage of their superior access and knowledge on technology. Having acquired an education, youth can access available educational materials in agriculture and life in general. Reading widely means that one will be well-equipped to separate “shining passing objects” from well-tested techniques and inputs that will work. The current world is one of information overload, calling for critical thinking when making decisions and choices in relation to access, affordability, practicality and many other abilities that are area and individual specific.
- The youth already in practice to step forward as living examples. Visit schools and other learning institutions and share your experience as a youth farmer who is ready to continue practicing agriculture. I am still waiting to watch one of our youth at a TedTalk – local or international.
Many of our youth are already on the right pathway. Keep it up, use your unmatched access to social media to ask questions, share challenges and successes stories.
Always remember that there are thousands or millions of us out here ready to share our experience and skills with the younger generation – I want to be assured that when I retire from farming on my 80X40 parcel of land, there will be enough “good” food for me to access. There will always be a ready market for agricultural produce, aka, food.
Thank you for the timely topic of rural migration, agriculture and rural development.
I have read the outline and suggest the following issues to enrich discussions towards the 2018 SOFA report.
1. The nature and type of educational curricular and how they prepare students to vacate or stay and invest in rural areas (Section 1.3). Do educational institutions prepare students for office jobs, thus making agriculture (rural life) be perceived as a lifestyle to fall back to only when everything else has failed?
2. What is the central focus of national and international policies on rural, and subsequently agricultural development? (Section 1.5) Related to 1 above, to what extent the policies pull or push people out of rural areas through their focus on large scale agricultural development at the expense of family farms? The result in many areas being that those who cannot produce enough for the market consider their land-based activities as a failure, they pack and move to urban areas. What would happen if agricultural and other rural development policies put emphasis on agricultural production for household food security/rural development, not always as a business?
3. Prices for agricultural commodities at urban, national and international markets. Hard to discuss push and pull factors in rural migration without emphasis on what keeps many rural dwellers in poverty, yet they cultivate crops every growing season. The discussion will also focus on issues of the price of agricultural inputs Vs the price of agricultural produce, thus, what are the chances of us achieving rural development if the price of farm produce is way below the expensive farm inputs?
4. The current issue of international migrants as farm workers from the Global South to large scale farms in the Global North (Chapter 6). What policies are in place to enable rural immigrants to return, rather than making them permanent farm workers for industry. Case studies and discussions can focus on labour drain, household set-up and strategic decision-making in rural households. If those with an education migrate, what are the chances that the uneducated left behind will be equipped to negotiate well with middlemen and international investors on price for their agricultural produce, crops to cultivate, etc.
5. Uniformity required in the definition of the main concepts in the report. For example, section 1.2, does the use of city imply urban areas? Use urban which encompasses cities, towns and other urban centers.
6. What length of time qualifies one as a migrant? In many countries of the Global South, individuals are known to travel to a residence in urban areas on Monday morning, work in an office and travel back on Friday evening. They tend to their rural farm endeavours before they travel to town on Monday. Where will such individuals fall in the rural-urban divide of migrants?
7. Will be interesting to include findings from qualitative studies. For example, what factors attract and retain people in urban areas/slums where they lack necessities and infrastructure? What factors make people to leave behind land and some clean air in rural areas for urban areas where they lack the bare minimum?
Thank you. I look forward to read future drafts for further input.
The role of extension and advisory services in realizing gender equality and improved nutrition.
Extension services have been an integral part of agricultural development in several African countries since independence. For example, in Kenya, many national development plans since the 1960s put emphasis on agriculture as the basis for industrial development. The way to enhance agricultural production was through a developed extension system that reached households in rural areas.
Though many of the extension services previously provided by government have now been privatized, the sector still has a role to play, whether through government departments, NGOs or private sector - at the end of the day the objective remains the same; how best to equip agricultural producers to achieve better harvests which in turn provide nutrition to individuals and groups.
One approach would be to learn from past extension projects. For example, one of the most notable challenge was the view that farmers were the legally recognized land holders and the traditionally recognized household heads = men. The end result was that extension officers focused more on finding and imparting knowledge to men within households, leaving out women who happen to be the majority of agricultural workers and the main providers of balanced diets to families. Subsequently, the current extension programs need to review the training curricular for agricultural trainees - to incorporate information on gender in African agriculture and household nutrition.
A similar focus on evaluation of past projects will lead to a new focus on other agricultural support areas such as technology, more so agricultural machinery - are they relevant, affordable and practical enough to be used by women? In the past, the majority of improved agricultural implements tended to be designed for men in terms of the required strength to handle the machinery. This will be one area where equity comes in - the current developers of agricultural technology put more emphasis on machinery for women and girls, otherwise we will continue to see them with the jembe while men are on tractors.
In relation to improved nutrition, there is need to consult more with women within rural households, where they are the majority of food providers and as a result developed knowledge on food items for a balanced diet. The objective will be to start from where they are, rather than where we want them to be. For example, if they still get most of their nutrients from indigenous vegetables and other foods, how best to equip agricultural extension people to use those familiar food items, rather than introduce a new food product that will be too new/foreign for many to adopt = is food cultural?
Once extension providers have a good idea on where women and men are as agricultural producers, it will be easier/practical to promote relevant seeds, food crops, agricultural machinery, information on harvesting/storage and consumption which will result in improved nutrition - people will consume proper nutrition once the food items are freely available.
How to incorporate children/students/youth into the new message for they are the agricultural producers, consumers and extension providers of tomorrow.
How can value chains be shaped to improve nutrition?
Thanks for the timely topic, my contribution focuses on challenges related to awareness creation at various levels; policy makers, private sector, research, producers and consumers, on the benefits of a value chain.
I start my contribution on awareness creation with a question, when and where did so many people get the idea that one should throw away an old cloth each time they get a new one?
Awareness creation on production:
- Reason for food production. Like never before, we now have malnourished farmers. Did people misinterpret the message of treating agriculture as a business (agribusiness) to mean that they produce just for the market, forgetting that their family members need a balanced diet first.
- The need for new messages on the cost-effectiveness of cultivating a variety of food crops. There is a new trend whereby families opt to monocrop with the hope that returns from sales will be used to purchase other necessary food items to meet a balanced diet.
- What and how to grow? Calls for increased collaboration among policy makers, private sector, research and (rural) farmers to achieve a need-based production. For example, are the available seeds relevant to the climatic conditions and food needs of the community or market?
- Considering that women make the majority of farmers in rural areas, is the technology, e.g. machinery for land cultivation, harvesting and processing matched to the needs and capability of women or men?
- Awareness creation on the benefits of processing, especially to give the harvest a longer shelf life.
- How to process, start from known to the unknowns. The introduction of processing technologies has resulted in mass abandonment of traditional food processing methods, for unaffordable technologies. The challenge here is how to introduce a technology without making people feel that their previous practices are inferior, to be abandoned.
- For example, I have come across women who have formed groups to grow vegetables and tomatoes for the market. Since most of their production is seasonal, based on rain, at harvest time there are thousands of them with a similar produce, forcing many to sell at very low prices, because, unlike the other group they heard of, they do not have a solar vegetable dryer. When asked how they preserved extra produce in the past, many say they have been told that the indigenous method of kitchen or direct sun drying are not hygienic enough. How do such farmers process and store the extra harvest for household consumption or to market at off-season?
- In the recent past I have noticed that whenever our youth talk about their involvement in agriculture; most are asking questions related to support to enable them to package their produce for profitable markets.
- The need for expansion of school curricular to include all stages of value chain and food systems – otherwise we will continue to hear youth who have graduated from agricultural institutions still asking on what to do with their bumper harvest - critical, especially in rain-fed agriculture where bumper harvests go to waste.
Distribution and marketing
- The issue has been elaborated on in past sessions to include formation of cooperatives, use of information and communication technologies to learn on new markets, etc.
- The challenge is how to manage the issue of selling local at a lower price, Vs selling outside, mainly through middlemen at a comparably higher price – one of the reasons most of the nutrition-filled food is shipped, out of reach to rural consumers and the urban poor.
- Awareness creation, especially as more and more people migration to urban centers. What food choices are they making? Are many migrants equating a higher income to over-processed and readily available meals?
- In cases where men migrate, leaving women in rural areas, do the men have enough food skills to prepare and consume balanced diets?
Changing rural-urban contexts, potential approaches to address food security and nutrition
I use my rural home to discuss change, emerging rural-urban reality and suggest approaches to achieve food security and nutrition.
In the last 20 years, every time I have made a visit to my rural home in Kenya, there is noticeable change to the landscape, and height of people; previously a healthy and tall group of people.
In the 1990s, once darkness set in, only unavoidable circumstances could make me walk the rural road from the main road to my home, worse still, walk 10 kms past my home area. The place was made up of a rural road where the occasional public transport stopped operating by 5:30-6:00pm. The telephone and electricity grid system extended barely beyond 5kms inroad. Homes were visible mostly during the day due to their metallic-roofing. The rest of the land was trees, a variety of food and cash crops and livestock.
Fast forward to 2016 and the whole place is lit up. A drive from the urban center 15 kms away is squeezed by shops and houses along the main road and deep into former croplands. Branch off to my rural home and beyond, no more fear walking the area after sunset; there is development; as it were.
The thicket at hilltops and along rivers, food and cash crops on farms along the rural road have been replaced by grocery stores and imposing residential homes. The rural public transport is very frequent, dominated by the newly introduced motorcycle transport to people’s door steps. The electricity grid system now extends as far as the rural road; branching into many homes and on to the far end of another main road.
When I asked if all the sons from the various homes decided to construct huge houses with red-tiled roofs, I was told most of those houses belong to land buyers, many who reside in urban centers (nearest town or the nation’s capital city)!
Whenever I visit, I look forward to consume only the best natural food items (that self promise of many city dwellers). I ventured into the nearby farmer’s markets, to more surprises; the price of bananas and indigenous vegetables was almost what I pay in Canada, where all bananas are imports. My researcher brain got into gear and I spent many days at various markets, not on formal research, but observing, purchasing and chatting with sellers on the price and food items.
What has changed?
Many rural areas are now linked to an urban center; directly and indirectly.
Devolution in Kenya has brought about rural development in the form of expanded road networks, telephone and electricity networks.
- The expansion of previously small towns into large cities – sort of competition on which region has the largest town or city!
- Able urban residents constructed city-like homes in rural areas.
Government supported land titling programs led to quick land transactions; previously, many rural lands belonged to families, acquired through inheritance, never sold.
Introduction of modern farming technologies with pros and cons on rural farmers.
o Farmers who have a good comprehension and can afford the whole package (seed to processing, storage and marketing) have seen increased food yields.
o Small scale farmers, especially the older generation of family farmers; lacking in literacy, have embraced the new farming technology in bits; seeds without related fertilizers, processing and storage. The result is part of the failed crops on many rural family farms.
Climate change, witnessed in the form of changing weather patterns, extended drought periods and floods catch many farmers unaware. The result is wasted seed and destroyed harvests.
Increased rural-urban migration left many rural farms lacking workers. Once rural labour arrives in urban centers, the immigrants prefer to consume familiar foods; multicultural foods, yet rural areas lack labour to produce the desired food.
Approaches to address food security and nutrition
- On-going land titling programs to incorporate information on the role of a title deeds; provision of security of tenure and not a license to sell land.
- Civic education on the value of land; goes beyond the one-off payment of thousands or millions of shillings – wasted money when handed over to a family lacking in knowledge on cash investments.
- Information on devolution as more than expansion of urban centers, to include inclusive decision-making to maximize on regional advantages - my rural home, a highland landscape, previously known for its bananas, cash and other food crops, can continue to safeguard that advantage to feed urban centers.
- National and local programs on food diversity and nutrition. The expansion of road networks provided false food security – rural families base their food security on the market to feed them – the tragedy; who will grow the food?
- Though more and more people prefer that governments set the market free to regulate itself; it has not worked in rural settings where literacy levels are still wanting. The old debate is still relevant on governments watching out on agricultural technologies (especially seeds) now aggressively marketed to rural farmers.
o Noticeable in cases where youth farming has succeeded – partly because they have the education, hence comprehend the whole agricultural production system, including inputs and outputs. Raises the issue of gender, access to education, agricultural inputs, and inclusive decision-making from household to national levels.
- Climate change and food security takes us back to evaluate the extent to which national governments implement global and national policies.
o For example, relations between land sales, clear felling and rivers drying up.
o Expansion of road networks and pollution from the long distance that food travels.
o Urbanization increases competition for water resources; construction of houses, roads, etc., – and pollution of water sources and food crops.
- Food, markets and marketing in relation to the rising cases of overweight and obesity (in both urban and rural areas) – calls for awareness creation on food diversity, food choices and nutrition.
The need to promote pollinator insects becomes more critical as reductions in biodiversity occur. The more the world moves towards mono-cropping, the more pollinators will be lost. Fortunately, there is ecological farming to safeguard pollinators.
My contribution below is based on my two experiences; rural and urban
In my rural home in Kenya, households have realized that their indigenous crops, especially vegetables are not as productive as before, lackily enough social networks have enabled them to share information on the need to increase the variety of crops on farms. The new trend is that once households have extra financial resources, they pull down live fences and put up fences of posts and wire or concrete. Households need more encouragement to plant live fences with flowering plants within homes - can be done together with the wire or concrete fence.
One way to communicate the pollinator message effectively is to link the solution to challenges rural people are faced with. For example, households with sickly livestock or poultry or crops be encouraged to plant certain pollinator friendly plants as a way to prevent the frequent occurence of some ailments.
In my urban setting, the practice of "beautiful" farms, yards, roadways and more has led to loss of biodiversity. But nature has it's way of crying out; large and small scale farmers, especially honey producers are feeling the effect of loss of diversity/pollinators, resulting in ongoing aggressive media campaigns on the need to protect and promote pollinator insects. The "cry" on loss of pollinators seems to have been heard as government (national, provincial, municipal) has formulated policies in support of biodiversity conservation, hence pollinators:
Our city authority has devised ways to encourage households to grow green lawns and avoid use of chemical sprays as the way to manage unwanted plants/weeds. The message is for people to uproot undesirable growths, rather than spray them.
Neighbourhoods are known to hold beautification competitions mainly based on the planting of flowers whenever weather conditions allow. In the process, many front and backyards are filled with bright flowers; habitat for pollinator insects. The city has put together guidelines for residents who want to "go green" - http://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/gardens-lawns-trees.aspx
Residents who have decided to "go green" can get a city lawn on their front yard with a message that they have gone green/bagless in tending to their yard. The trend is picking up, for once one neighbour goes green with the lawn sign, a nearby neighbour who sprays to "control weeds" will see the sign and hopefully rethink their practice.
Urban gardening is also used to promote pollinator insects. The current EatLocal movements in my city have seen increases in urban farming (see photos of my summer harvest on my Google+ account). Cities are comprised of multicultural groups and as more and more city dwellers buy into the idea to grow their food, most will obviously plant ethnocultural foods - indigenous vegetables = increased biodiversity = attract variety of insects = pollinators. Community gardens seem to have increased as more city dweller are in search of land to farm. To support urban farming activities, in 2016 the City formulated a policy to support farming activities http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/urban_planning_and_design/urban-a... There are numerous on-going activities in support of pollinator insects.
Based on observations from my two homes in rural and city, I am tempted to conclude that the message on sustainability, eat local, protect pollinators seems to have taken a faster and positive effect in my urban city compared to my rural home. In the rural area, business messages advertising intensive use of farming chemicals still overwhelms messages on the need to protect and promote pollinators through ecological farming. Based on this observation, my suggestion is the need for more emphasis of the pollinator message in rural areas; the same places where households rely on pollinators to sustain a land-based livelihood.
Regards to my readers.
All I cannot forget is that as a bachelors student at a university located in a capital city, and as a high school student in a boarding school; street foods, roadside foods, by-fence foods made our days. Looking back, they made a contribution to our nutrition as well.
I knew that the maize vendor located halfway from our university halls of residence and lecture theaters was linked to some nearby farmer; how else did he manage to access and provide fresh maize and mangoes on a daily basis? Each morning there was a whole sack full of fresh maize which he pulled out, removed the green self covers and roasted on the fire kiln. The numbers at any one time varied with the time of day. I guess he had information on when lectures started and ended so as to have ready hot roasted maize for students. The vendor tended to have just enough supply for the day. The good thing about foods such as roasted green maize is they are easy to tell if not fresh. Thanks to the vendor, students were able to access not only a snack to and fro class, but a delicacy not provided for in the university menu. Anyone recalls roast maize as part of the university variety of rich menu items?
Based on my networks in the city and daily reads of local newspapers, I gather that the services provided by street food vendors have become more important as universities shift more towards cost-sharing whereby students have to pay-eat or cook. The street vendors help students save on costs and cooking time. The vendors, unlike formal establishments in the form of restaurants and hotels, tend to be affordable and providors of variety and fresh foods. The street food providers do individual research on supply and demand, and after a short period of time are able to cook just enough food for the day: they end up not wasting food while the consumer receives freshly harvested and cooked food on a daily basis. Subsequently the street food providers enhance food security of not only students, but the employed who commute to the city for work.
The street food vendors rely a lot on relationships to run their business. Good relationships with the urban, peri-urban and sometimes rural farmers means that they are assured of a supply of raw materials. The nature of the business being direct, with limited middle-men means that farmers and street food providers have a direct relationship, so is the relations between the food vendor and individual buyers. I remember while in university, the maize and fruit vendors knew their customers so well that on some evenings they would inform you that they have run out of the food when you could see the mangoes or roast maize on the stand; then they explained that whatever you see there is because the expectant women or aenamic student will be leaving class at 6;00 pm and they will need their share of the food to have a good evening and night. Therefore in large cities, where restaurant are struggling to supply "modern mass meals", the street food vendors are left to provide for individual and seasonal needs. The established social relations also ensure that the food provider supplies food of good quality - if a customer falls ill from consumption of such foods, they will have a direct conversation with the vendor without the bureaucracy of making an appointment to meet with a restaurant manager who will require time to establish who the supplier of the raw food was, etc.
At the same time, the existence of street food vendors is an indication of goverance, regulation and formal markets. Unlike what many people perceive, street food vendors are licenced operators; an indication that government recognizes their role in food security and nutrition. On the other hand, the existence of street food vendors can be an indication of the failure in formal establishments/restaurants to purchase foods from small scale farmers. For example it restaurants and hotels in urban areas rely only on large scale farmers for supplies, who will provide a market for the small-scale farmers in urban and peri-urban areas? Street vendors emerge to fill that market gap of not only purchasing from the farmers, but supplying unique ready food items to individuals with particular food needs.
Nutrition education to strengthen family farming and improve people’s diets
Thanks for introducing and facilitation of discussions on pertinent issues of family farming and people’s diets and nutrition. My contributions, narrated as a personal experience focuses on three issues, i.e., communication strategies, constraints, and future focus:
I will share my experience from Kenya (rural) where I was brought up. I recall the 1970s, 1980s and part of 1990s with nostalgia. The home science classes were introduced and taught at lower levels in school, and the focus was on the three main food groups - energy foods, Vitamins and minerals. Examples were drawn from foods grown in the particular locality where the school was situated. Such a focus helped to demystify the jargon of food groups to locally available foods. My home area was full of bananas, maize, guavas, livestock, chickens, mangoes, berries, sugarcane, potatoes, etc. from which teachers pulled examples of foods into the three food groups. Schools by the lake-side gave examples to include fish and other water-based foods.
The school curricular included displays and competition through theater and drama, music and poems. Through the activities, students and people from local communities (audience) shared and received information which linked food crops on family farms to nutritional needs of family as infants, children, youth, mothers, and seniors.
Inter-school competitions and exchanges exposed students to information on alternative foods available in other localities. Other parts of the school curricular such as history and geography helped students learn from a young age of the different types of climatic conditions that support the growth of different types of crops. Parents received information on foods through pre and post–natal clinics. Once again, mothers to be were advised on foods based on what is available in their particular locality or family farms, rather than what is available in the larger market.
Shared market-days exist to date in both rural and urban areas and people travel from near and far to sell and purchase foods. Interactions of people from different parts of the country avails different foods and becomes a channel through which individuals get to ask questions and learn on different foods. To date, my visits to urban grocery stores remain a learning process: I get asked by other customers what I do with some of the `strange’ vegetables in my shopping cart. I too ask how they cook a particular food and its goodness. Over time I have added new foods to my menu; partly because my traditional foods are rare or very expensive (in my current location), and as I interact with people from other parts of the world and learn of the nutritional value of their foods.
Education, education, and education: We are always learning; while at the family table where children ask endless questions on `why they should consume foods, meaning vegetables’ that they do not like. Within our families where Mum insists that we must cultivate some traditional vegetables for consumption, and in the process we learn not only on the value of different foods, but how to cultivate, harvest, cook and consume them. The knowledge gained from the family setting and school follows us into adulthood as we eat in hotels, restaurants and prepare meals in our kitchens. Equipped with valuable knowledge on foods, I am well-placed to sieve information in the media advertisements of foods and drinks. Once individuals develop this basis sense of ‘good food’, they are less likely to sell their chicken and bananas to purchase bread and soda for their children.
At the regional and national levels are specific government, NGO and other development agency supported programs with a focus on foods and nutrition. For example, agricultural extension officers share knowledge on all aspects of farming to include crop cultivation, value adding, consumption and marketing. Research also tends to focus on the nutritional value of locally grown foods, etc.
My contributions here relate to access to education, media, and purchasing power of families. At some point, the school curriculum changed into a more national and international institution, whereby students are being prepared to fit in as national and international citizens. So did the knowledge imparted and information shared on foods, diets and nutrition. For example, school text-books at my rural home will be found to contain apples as an example of fruits, yet, no apple grows in my home area. Young people end up losing knowledge of locally grown and available foods as they acquire knowledge on news foods that they will struggle to obtain (access and afford) later on in life.
Today’s availability and access to information and communication channels, including social media has exposed both the young and old to information than never before. Do individuals and families accessing the information have capacity to differentiate foods being advertised mainly as a market item for profit, from food items for nutrition? Goes back to the level and strength of internalized foods and nutritional values at a younger age – those will less knowledge and skills will be easy to sway to advertised foods, some whose nutritional value is not readily available to them.
1. More emphasis on locally grown and available foods through the educational system, government-focused and NGO programs on food and well-being.
2. Emphasis through the school system on the different climatic conditions and linkages to specific foods, diets, and nutrition, i.e., if there are no apples in your locality, it does not mean you lack access to nutritious fruits. Eat local.
3. Provision of infrastructure, for example the construction of roads to enable timely transportation of fresh foods from farms in rural areas to consumers in urban centers.
4. Encourage the private sector to process, add value, package and sell locally produced foods.
5. Collaboration with the private sector in the advertisement and campaigns to encourage rural families to consume traditional foods or locally available foods.
6. Encourage `middle class’ families to consume traditional foods – the standards they set in terms of nutrition, dress, mannerisms, etc. have been found to set standards that rural families or the poor in urban centers will strive to achieve.
7. Encourage rural and urban families to facilitate ‘family-meal-times’ – one way for young people to acquire skills on the cultivation and preparation of particular foods, and less reliance on the purchase of prepared foods, whose nutritional content they lack knowledge.
Nutrition education through family farming is a process; it is complicated, but achievable: Expose young people to food seeds, to food cultivation processes (can be achieved growing two seeds in a tin), to food harvesting and cooking techniques. Such knowledge will be everlasting, and will be the beginning of better diets and better nutrition.
The most revealing fact about rural women is that they are repositories of knowledge on farming. Land being one of the most important and sometimes the only asset of many rural families, many women have spent `entire lives’ on land. Just like recognized scientists in modern laboratories, rural women are always carrying out experiments on the farm and publishing their findings in the next planting season or at the family kitchen. The difference is that the experiments of women family farm workers implemented in real life conditions. What more could society ask for?
Rural women have not only perfected the art of cultivating a variety of food crops to meet the food and nutritional needs of their families, but also to buffer the various crops from pests and vulnerabilities from changes in weather conditions. Majority of those women will provide details on reasons for inter-planting onions with other vegetables, reasons why once in a while she feeds her chicken on onion leaves, what type of beans do well when inter-cropped with maize, etc. Rural women as farmers and providers of food for families are best placed to tell relations between crops on the farm and the nutritional well-being of family members, the reason they grow a variety of vegetables, a variety of fruit trees on the farm, keep poultry and livestock on the limited land sizes.
One way to support rural women in their farming and nutritional endeavours is to engage them in policy formulation discussions. One other lesson I learned from working and learning with rural land users is how fast it is to generate policy documents based on the reality in the farms. That policy makers save time and other resources when they start with rural level meetings where the `real players’ will provide first-hand information on how current policies, for example on land tenure support or create problems in their farming tasks. For example, policy makers and scholars struggling with the finer details of a land tenure policy that provides access and control to women farmers could be surprised to hear from the women that the traditional land tenure systems were in their own sense private tenure and provided the required tenure security, compared to the current one of title registration which centralizes power over land with few individuals.
Achieving food and nutritional security goes back to the basics: when did `good food’ change from being what families grow on family farms, to what is sold in stores? As I have always asked, what type of information makes a loving mother to sell her harvest of eggs and bananas at the local market to purchase bread and soda for her children? In other words, sustainable food and nutrition asks that `we’ engage not only with policy makers, but with the private sector and their marketing arm.
My key message “ask members of the Open Working Group who have spent one year of their adult life in a rural area to stand up, tall”