This member participated in the following discussions
Information and communication technologies and people making choices
Everyone wants to share in that development dream and, according to recent UNDP reporting, the majority of people worldwide are well on their way of achieving it. In the race to develop, however, previous lifestyles and the systems upon which they were once based are being abandoned. Urbanization of human society across the globe is leading change concerning everything and not simply choice of foods and traditional methods of food production.
On micro-scale, there may be value with the resilience of these earlier systems – for those who fail to develop, fail to investment, remain ill-informed and/or fall outside modern trends of socio-economic development. The next generation – living in that town or city, providing services or manufacturing, earning a salary and exploring those personal responsibilities with freedom from archaic systems – is far too busy looking forward to be concerned about the past.
Technologies in the service of people
To the layman, it must seem as if the society around them has divided into two distinct groups of people; those who have embraced the extent of new IC technologies that have become increasingly available (and affordable) during the past 30 years – as the personal computer has taken centre stage in many lives – and those who largely ignore developments of this kind and continue to remain with out-dated (i.e. non-electronic) systems – for all manner of reasons. You can’t explore all the variations around this kind of statement in a brief introduction but, by default, those of you reading my contribution will probably be part of the former group; and constantly challenged by the routine updating required of modern systems (and the money needed to do so).
Look around you at the agricultural industries that you represent and, perhaps, note the growing division between those who embrace the changes that developments in IC technology provide and those who continue to ignore them. If you service industries/people in the low-income countries you will know of the need to ‘move mountains’ to enable the majority people to participate.
Modern worlds have also become increasingly divided between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’; with Gini coefficients that continue to show the dynamics of the changes involved with minorities becoming richer at the expense of the masses. (Check out South Africa, the Seychelles, Haiti and others, for example).
All of which leads to the use of technologies with which to bridge gaps, improve lives, boost efficiency and more – an approach which is accepted by most people notwithstanding the difficulties with taking part. Not for nothing are we living through a period of technical evolution that will change our working and living patterns; the opportunities eventually provided by ‘artificial intelligence’ will shape the world around us.
Automated technologies will put people alongside software agents, robots and other services that were previously unimaginable; people and machines in partnership will boost productivity and enable people to work more efficiently – a step up from the machine as simply an alternative to muscle power.
The socio-economic changes that these developments will bring with employment, new industries, and new ways of thinking/investing are already visible in the changes around you – but more obvious in the industrial countries. Previously viable economic sectors have declined leaving behind, for example, the infamous ‘rust-belt cities/suburbs’ as one indication of the importance of long-term planning on the part of the national authorities.
So what’s changed during the past 50 years; and more so during the past 20 years? In a couple of words: the ‘Middle classes’ have been discovered everywhere. Once a feature of the industrial countries, this particular group of people can now be found in all kinds of places where they were once least expected; meaning wherever stability has provided people with opportunities for investing their time, intellect and lives. Middle class people invest in their society; and this comes from the opportunities provided by a reasonably capable government and a buoyant economy.
Check out the report from UNDP of March 2013, and their projections of around half the world’s people expected to join the ‘middle classes’ by 2020, and ponder the ramifications of more than one million households worldwide with an income of >US$20,000 annually (60% of which will be in Asia). Sure, this report is now more than three years old, but the trends shown remain valid.
The report lists Laos, Mongolia and Bangladesh in addition to India and China. Elsewhere Turkey, Rwanda, Ghana, Mexico and others are shown – in total >30 countries currently considered within that rather out-dated descriptor ‘developing countries’ will have shifted appreciably up the socio-economic scale.
And then project forward a few more years to 2030 when estimated 80% of the world’s population of middle class people will be expected to be living in those same transition countries. And it doesn’t stop there – for the report suggests these same national governments will, collectively, hold more than twice the financial reserves of the industrial countries; in total close on US$7 trillion. Consider the impact that this will have on social development – healthcare, education, empowerment of women and more; and the juxtaposition that this will bring to global investment, decision-making and more.
Passion fruit production in Burundi
Abstract text is one thing, however, reality quite different. Take the example of passion fruit production in Burundi. Two years back we explored value chains in a handful of crops/enterprises including passion fruit that showed investment promise. What constraints existed, what could be done to overcome them, how to boost production and so on.
Constraints and solutions were tabulated within seven complementary sectors one of which was ‘Technological/product development’. In summary, this described the paucity of technical capabilities on the part of growers, producer organizations and those who advised them; people everywhere within the industry remained ill-informed. Change was needed with investment in hardware, training and management; and the adoption of GAPs & GMPs. People needed access to a portal with which to do so. Burundi passion fruit people were recommended to follow selected field practices in Uganda & Kenya with use of mobile phones.
That is easy to say, but hard to do quickly - given the extent of mobile phone use in Burundi. The country has been slow to embrace the use of mobile phones as a means of boosting infrastructure/facilities/information/services available to people outside the main urban areas. Unlike others in the East African Community (EAC) where there are estimated 50 million phones available representing 40 percent penetration of local markets, uptake in Burundi covers <10 percent of the national population (i.e. around 1 million people). The issues are many – high costs, inadequate power supplies, poverty, few private sector investors, etc. Recent membership of the EAC should eventually ensure that the revolution in e-services (including banking, cash-free purchasing, information exchange and more) enjoyed by people elsewhere will eventually become available to people in Burundi.
And, whilst Burundi is not yet a member of the 21 Pacific Rim countries that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries, it is worth pointing out that the current five-year investment plan underway (and due for completion 2017) for passion fruit production in Australia was noted - with emphasis upon public and private sector investment, competition from cheaper fruit producers and the importance of dietary demand and climate change underway.
Timely and high quality information provides the basis for choice; then you need to communicate with people.
 Gini Coefficients. At: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html.
 UNDP report. There is a useful summary at: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/03/un-predicts-huge-expansion-of.html.
 Burundi mobile phones. Information available at: http://www.gesci.org/the-innovative-use-of-mobile-applications-in-east-africa1.html.
Youth – Feeding the Future. Challenges facing rural youth – preparing for the job market
Parallel debates in support of young people
The current debate is similar to one held two years back ‘West Africa – Finding Work for Young People’ – crucial issues in most countries given population growth, limited commercial investment in agricultural production/industrialization and, importantly, the large numbers of young people leaving school and/or college and seeking employment each year. Wherever you are in the job market there will be competition – all sectors, ages and skills/knowledge capabilities.
Contribution from Charlotte Goemans
One of the more relevant contributions has come from your ILO correspondent in Tanzania Charlotte Goemans with her well-reasoned references to issues of age definition (and the reality of ‘youth’ that may span 15-24 years), rural versus urban (migration and the modernization of agricultural production) and, equally important, the strategic planning required of governments to encourage young people to consider agriculture as a potential career and, then, to provide them with the resources, facilities and opportunities with which to do so. It may not be sufficient to establish that pipeline if, crucially, the majority are unable to gain access to it and, when they do, then find few resources available after training/education to enable them to enter the industry with a reasonable chance of success.
Take the example of Egypt
You can find this paradox everywhere. Working out of an office in Cairo a short time back the easiest means crossing town was to take a taxi; this is where you meet those graduates – sure, people in their mid-20s or older and not your typical 15-17 year olds. Graduates are driving taxis. The young can be seen labouring, running messages, selling on the street and more – donkey carts clutter up the roads with huge quantities or recyclable materials with half-dozen young men managing the load. Each year the output from local universities is of the order 750,000 graduates seeking that personal space in the local economy.
Few young people venture into Upper Egypt to exploit the land and the economic and financial support provided for local agriculture. During the five years since the impact of the ‘Arab Spring’ an initial reduction in FDI has bounced back – but at the expense of another military government. With the impact of climate change on the horizon – and the delta of the Nile at serious risk of salination, inundation and loss of production, the development of agricultural lands in Upper Egypt becomes essential. With estimated 60% of Egyptians under the age of 29 years, mobilizing them into agricultural production/industries becomes a logical choice for self-survival into the next period. Migration – the #1 choice of the well-qualified – is no answer.
So far then, an interesting debate, but little that is not already well-known.
. The contribution made earlier is attached; and is based upon a presentation made at a graduation service at Ambo College of Agriculture – part of the University of Jimma, Ethiopia – during a period in which FAO was providing technical support and project funding for ‘People with Disabilities in Agriculture’. The presentation highlighted the continuity of competition that existed in limited job markets wherein large numbers of people were chasing the few public and private sector positions available, and where there was little or no experience (and resources available) to provide for young people and enable them to establish themselves in their own appropriate-scale agricultural enterprise. Little has changed for the majority in the interim period to better prepare young people for a working life as an agricultural entrepreneur. This is as much a mind-set limitation for the young people themselves as it is for the society in which they live, wherein traditions and maturity typically take priority over ability and gender – meaning that the young, women/girls and those without connections usually lose out. It follows that the majority people in rural communities remain unsupported – and agricultural production/industries have little or no attraction to young people irrespective of age.
Self-Sustaining livelihoods from forests
People helping themselves
The first point raised by Nyasha Tiriraya in her summary of last week’s debate/discussion says it all. People everywhere need to ‘help themselves’ and the best way of doing this is to develop one or more livelihoods based upon the resources that they have available. This may include access to forests, woodlands or agricultural resources but it also, and crucially, includes the resources of the people themselves.
Herein are issues of approach, but it is too simplistic to refer, as Nyasha Tiriraya does, to ‘livelihoods based upon either commercial or subsistence means’. The latter is neither sustainable nor practical long-term and typically reflects upon the endemic poverty of many rural communities, but also marginalization and isolation which means, in reality, lack of access to information, technologies, finance and markets. Further, in high density rural areas there are, typically, insufficient resources available for traditional subsistence production systems to continue to deliver.
No one wants to be a subsistence grower
You only have to work with subsistence producers to appreciate the challenges that they face with feeding themselves, paying school fees, managing illness in the family and more. High on those priority wish-lists is the determination not to have their children (at least the boys in the family) become subsistence growers. Urban centres offer social attractions and financial advantages that employment provides. In short this is all about ‘education’; educating people to enable them to escape their poverty.
Search the five year rolling development plans for just about every low-income country and you’ll find objectives that target: ‘shifting every subsistent grower into commercial production’. The rhetoric is always there - it’s just that typically there are insufficient resources of funds and experienced people in the public sector to make a significant difference.
Competition from timber companies
Forest people can be double or triple disadvantaged given the competition for access to the resources of national forests with commercial timber companies, working closely with government people, that are provided with priority access to those same resources. All timber companies are not the same, but the speed with which forests are sometimes clear-felled with scant regard to the sustainability of habitats, stands and/or single species and the non-wood forest fauna/flora that depend upon them suggests the high value of the formal tax returns that government receives and, equally, the unofficial payments that are sometimes given to key decision-makers.
There is sometimes official smugness as new plantations of industrial trees replace the sometimes ancient indigenous forests that once dominated - copying the practices that were followed in earlier times by today’s high income countries. Whether harvesting fruits, leaves, timber or gums the plantation becomes the domain of the manager and workers, and it no longer provides either the social insurance or the biological wealth of old.
Making livelihoods more attractive
Livelihoods followed by indigenous forest people may ultimately help retain the sustainability of that forest, but this will depend to a large extent upon the goodwill of the public administration. There are no (or at least few potential) tax returns from the honey hunter, for example, exploiting wild bees in a patch of forestland. Therein is a sense of public financial support required of indigenous people – foregoing commercial earnings in exchange for the stability of forest cover and the longevity of traditional practices. Start with safety nets – shift to community-led commercial practices as markets can be developed.
Those traditional social practices are changing everywhere, however, as rural people become more aware of social development elsewhere in their country and, equally, within practical reach in foreign lands. The mobile phone, like the radio before it, has provided access to the information that has changed people and their expectations forever.
What to do about it? Good question – but much too hard to provide an easy answer that will assist with this debate. In reality, there are no easy answers. You need educated electorates in countries with levels of corruption that can be managed - to provide security for the natural environment including forests.
Resources of information
You can summarise this kind of approach within the ‘3Rs’ concept as promoted by the Centre for International Forest Research; these are ‘Rights’, ‘Returns’ & ‘Restoration’ and they refer to the sustainability of rural landscapes in all the complexity of people making a living from the natural resources available to them. The ‘3Rs’ are self-explanatory, but you can find out more at: http://blog.cifor.org/28860/rights-returns-and-restoration-3rs-for-landscapes.
In the meantime, focus upon the development of those livelihoods that will, perhaps, boost the circulation of money and wealth in the community. For many years I have made use of some popular publications produced by the FAO Forestry Department. Check out the information available at: http://www.fao.org/forestry/publications/en/. Check under ‘Forestry papers’ and ‘Working papers’. Key words are: ‘Livelihoods’, ‘Enterprises’ and ‘Small-scale’. That all important sector ‘Non-wood forest products’ is best covered in the NWFP series at: http://www.fao.org/forestry/nwfp/85525/en/. Key texts are: #5. ‘Edible nuts’, #6. ‘Gums’, #7. ’Rural incomes’, #9. ‘Domestication’, #11 ‘Medicinal plants’, #17. ‘Fungi’, #19 ‘Bees’ and #171 ‘Edible insects’.
Most of the modern publications can be down-loaded. Earlier publications are available in hard copy only, but note that people in the low-income countries can request copies free-of-charge from the local FAO Representative in the capital city.
Thoughts for the next FSN forest debate
Estimated four billion hectares of forest occupy around 31% of global land areas. World populations are expected to stabilize at 9-10 billion by 2050, the great majority of whom will be living in urban centres. The challenge will be one of producing the additional 70% food required from much the same agricultural lands that are currently available today; and, simultaneously and for best, expanding forest lands for their environmental, economic and social values.
Getting the right messages across to everyone
I can remember my Regional Agricultural Officer once rounding on me at a monthly staff meeting with the comment: ‘It’s better to have contaminated food than none at all’, when I had drawn attention to the iniquities of our current recommendations at that time for use of DDT in vegetable gardens. Nutrition and climate change has similar contradictions – concern for the former becomes lost in the urgency to take account of the latter. Simply producing sufficient food irrespective of quality may come to dominate – and our descendents may be eating foods from a mix of traditional, non-traditional and synthetic biological systems.
This has been an excellent debate with participants criss-crossing the spectrum of issues that for me, at least, has emphasized the overwhelming complexity of the many challenges involved when linking nutrition and climate change. It makes the debate difficult to focus. Where to start? How to make a contribution that has not already been covered? How to encourage the FSN network of enthusiastic people to continue to develop and share information, send messages and highlight the dramatic risks involved by downgrading – side-lining even – the projected impacts of climate change (and this long after the debate has concluded).
Not so much ‘nutrition’ then – and here you can sympathize with Team Leader Florence Egal the lack of focus of which she complains – but lower quality foods, lack of food, reduced agricultural production, insufficient natural resources and more that could arise as ambient global temperatures shift above 2degC during the latter part of the 21st century. Issues of this kind have been gaining momentum and have been described by the IPPC (2013) and others for the risks involved with our current ‘business as usual’ approach to socio-economic development just about everywhere.
Greenhouse gas emissions
These include recognition that current levels of atmospheric CO2, CH4 & N2O are the highest they have been for almost a million years. Think about that. We occupy a planet that is 4.5 billion years old, the modern version of our species has been around for just 200,000 years (but with ancestry dating back another six million years) and we seem to have blown it in little more than 250 years as our species has multiplied, occupied the entire planet and then, as a society, ‘industrialized’ in unsustainable manner.
We need to hold cumulative atmospheric CO2 emissions to around 1,000 Gt with which to manage that 2decC rise. It seems increasingly unlikely that this will be achieved, and that temperature rises may be twice this target, with the movement of regional climates, the instability of weather patterns including extreme events that will follow and, for best, rises in average sea-levels that have been estimated at 600 mm. Seas cover two-thirds of the surface of the planet and they are a natural sink for surplus GHGs but, the downside, this increases levels of marine acidity. Further, estimated 40% of the world’s people live within 100 km of the coast.
The main culprit is geological carbon released from the fossil fuels that once lay deep beneath the surface of the planet – originally separate from atmospheric carbon cycles, but currently widely exploited for the ease with which energy can be extracted and used, thereby releasing stored carbon as a by-product of combustion. Of the order 6 Bt of carbon continue to be released each year and this is changing our climate. On human scale, this kind of change will be irreversible.
What to do about it?
The solution is a relatively easy one to suggest – leave the remaining unexploited fossil fuels in the ground and shift to alternative energy resources. However this is, as everyone knows, easier-said-than-done. It will simply not take place fast enough given the entrenched position of these fuels in international energy models, and given the power of those who own and exploit them within world commerce.
Lower quality foods
Projections for the quality of foods that will be grown as CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise are typically based upon a scale of parts per million (ppm); from 250 ppm before the industrialization of human society to around 400 ppm today (a staggering 60% increase in a little over 250 years) and projected levels of around 570 ppm by 2050 (and this with serious effort to curb emissions by governments, starting now). R&D with popular staples such as rice, wheat, maize, etc. shows diminished levels of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc and others, and reduced protein content – the quality of foods suffer.
Boosting food intake to compensate for is an obvious approach, but with food production required to double to meet increased populations estimated at 9-10 billion before stabilization, and greater demands for higher value foods – dairy foods, meats, fish and similar – as a function of higher economic growth, the reality of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is likely to become more, not less, pronounced. As-of-now there is already around one billion food insecure people worldwide.
Having set the scene, as-it-were, my contribution to the debate is concerned with ‘Messages for people who are not aware of the implications of climate change - what can you do?’
You only have to explore the language of ‘climate change’, to look around you at the lack of concern by the man and woman in the street (as-it-were) and the limited cooperation that is underway between the various countries and blocs that are talking about change mitigation. Leave aside the iniquities of blame, economic growth linked to levels of emissions (and those responsible today and historically) and, importantly, the ‘catch-up’ requirements of the industrializing countries. Consider instead the messages that should be promoted, shared and taken up by everyone.
I have recently been exploring ‘value chains’ in the countries of NW East Africa – resource poor communities, rural densities >450/km2, income levels Project planning has been reasonable, a budget estimated at US$8M was well-spent during an investment period of more than five years and the development and intermediate objectives were largely met. At no time, however, was there reference to climate change and the practices required for security of production into the future; markets dominated thinking – not climate. What resources did the central governments of the recipient countries have available to boost their awareness of climate issues – who knows? These were not included within the public services described and/or available. The point being that no effort was made to include ‘climate change/mitigation’ where issues of agronomy, economic performance, crop/livestock care, transport and more took priority. And why not? National planning rarely has a 50 year cycle; a rolling five year plan is more typical where poverty, employment, livelihoods and similar remain the main focus of national development objectives. And not just the low income countries. In my country things are much the same. Like most other people, I continue to drive my petrol/diesel powered car, eat preferred foods irrespective of conversion ratios, live in a house that leaks heat energy, and give little thought to my personal carbon footprint. I am aware that this is probably around 15 tCO2e annually of which 60% comes down to personal choice – housing, travel, food, non-food products and services. I am also aware that I pay little more than lip-service to reducing my footprint. (And, in fact, this year I have already blown things by flying from Melbourne to Rome). That smallholder in East Africa to whom I referred earlier – living with few modern resources – will probably already have a footprint of 1 tCO2e or less – the level required for everyone on Planet Earth to provide the basis for atmospheric GHGs to stabilize. The bottom line, however, is a requirement for government imposed guidelines that eventually become taken up such that they become the norm for everyone. This means, in reality, those of us in the industrial and industrializing countries – the rich people; it means changes to current lifestyles, foods, services and more. And not just governments either for that is a ‘pass-the-buck factor’; we all have personal responsibilities to make a difference. Failure to make it happen will bring changes that are hard to envisage; your children’s children will eventually reap the ineptitude, indecision and challenges of the current day in their unpredictable world of 2100. Peter Steele ‘Impact of climate change ... adaptation’. Explore the Power Point information provided by FAO/Kanamaru to appreciate the complexity of these messages. First interpret the pictures and words, put them into plain language, and provide them to every man/woman everywhere. Better still promote messages in classrooms worldwide. Collectively, our generation may already be too entrenched to make a difference.
16 April 2015
Project planning has been reasonable, a budget estimated at US$8M was well-spent during an investment period of more than five years and the development and intermediate objectives were largely met. At no time, however, was there reference to climate change and the practices required for security of production into the future; markets dominated thinking – not climate. What resources did the central governments of the recipient countries have available to boost their awareness of climate issues – who knows? These were not included within the public services described and/or available.
The point being that no effort was made to include ‘climate change/mitigation’ where issues of agronomy, economic performance, crop/livestock care, transport and more took priority. And why not? National planning rarely has a 50 year cycle; a rolling five year plan is more typical where poverty, employment, livelihoods and similar remain the main focus of national development objectives.
And not just the low income countries. In my country things are much the same. Like most other people, I continue to drive my petrol/diesel powered car, eat preferred foods irrespective of conversion ratios, live in a house that leaks heat energy, and give little thought to my personal carbon footprint. I am aware that this is probably around 15 tCO2e annually of which 60% comes down to personal choice – housing, travel, food, non-food products and services. I am also aware that I pay little more than lip-service to reducing my footprint. (And, in fact, this year I have already blown things by flying from Melbourne to Rome). That smallholder in East Africa to whom I referred earlier – living with few modern resources – will probably already have a footprint of 1 tCO2e or less – the level required for everyone on Planet Earth to provide the basis for atmospheric GHGs to stabilize.
The bottom line, however, is a requirement for government imposed guidelines that eventually become taken up such that they become the norm for everyone. This means, in reality, those of us in the industrial and industrializing countries – the rich people; it means changes to current lifestyles, foods, services and more. And not just governments either for that is a ‘pass-the-buck factor’; we all have personal responsibilities to make a difference.
Failure to make it happen will bring changes that are hard to envisage; your children’s children will eventually reap the ineptitude, indecision and challenges of the current day in their unpredictable world of 2100.
‘Impact of climate change ... adaptation’. Explore the Power Point information provided by FAO/Kanamaru to appreciate the complexity of these messages. First interpret the pictures and words, put them into plain language, and provide them to every man/woman everywhere. Better still promote messages in classrooms worldwide. Collectively, our generation may already be too entrenched to make a difference.
[traduction française ci-dessous]
The whole world is focused upon 20 million people in the three countries that make up the West African sub-region currently afflicted with the Ebola epidemic. If words could solve these issues, then we would already be half-way home - unfortunately they don’t. Words, however, help us to explore, exchange and develop ideas. Here’s my ten cents worth.
Parallel Challenges: Healthcare and Food Insecurity
With tragic events of this kind there are always the ‘Should do’s’, the ‘Should have done’s’ and, importantly, the ‘planners’ that already have food and economic security, national well-being, reconstruction and more in their sight; and if the latter does not always focus upon the immediate devastation and outcome that Ebola has brought to the three countries, then it will provide the basis for tackling the next outbreak. Like much of military planning – this is fighting the next war on the basis of the experience of the last one, and this brings risk, but this is usually what happens.
It’s just that Ebola has never struck with such devastation before; earlier isolated cases in Central and East Africa largely died out with relatively small numbers of people involved (and lost). Issues of economic collapse and hunger on national scale typically belong to the realm of civil war and/or natural disaster – but not always.
Coincidently, the current Ebola epidemic has come exactly 30 years after the infamous famine of the mid-1980s in northern Ethiopia (and what is now Eritrea), which affected around eight million people of which an estimated one million died. In that case it was caused largely by national mismanagement on a grotesque scale.
Watching events unfold from a distance is little help to the people affected (and infected) in the front-line of the war on Ebola. Issues of health and feeding people are immediate; they are also of medium- and long-term importance that communities and countries will eventually be able to rebuild their economies, industries and markets. Herein is the resilience of people coming to terms with adversity and, with help, meeting the challenges involved. There is no alternative; the virus and the epidemic that has resulted have to be fought and beaten in the three countries.
Outside looking in there are people – in the industrial countries and the international agencies and NGOs mainly – who have the resources, expertise and, importantly, the logistical capabilities to tackle the many complex issues involved, to bring immediate relief and to berate others to follow with the human and financial investments required – to help contain the disease.
Planning and delivering food supplies to those worst affected is described well, for example, at:
Winning the battle; losing the war
Separating the serious health issues from the potentially more dangerous food insecurity, famine, social unrest and mass movements of peoples that may follow is a challenge that remains to be determined; and this in one of the poorest parts of the planet – with inadequate public services, insufficient resources, poor infrastructure and national management that is unable to cope. You only have to explore the insecurity of food supplies prior to the Ebola outbreak to appreciate the risks involved - >30% populations under-nourished, estimated 40% children stunted – statistics that have changed little during recent years of rapid population growth, civil wars, lack of agricultural investment and more.
Impossibility of priority questions
The six questions raised by the convenors are beyond the capacity of simple solutions – these are countries that have long been dependent upon imported foods notwithstanding the wealth of natural resources available. Subsistence farming based upon smallholders with limited education, traditional practices, small blocks of land and little or no external support cannot match the productivity required to feed urban populations; in many cases producers can barely feed themselves.
For want of a better approach my contribution then is focused upon question #3 and those production chains that link producers to markets. Where security of food supplies is concerned the question dominates the others – period. As markets become less effective – lack of supplies, lack of buying power, lack of traders and more - people will go hungry.
Mix of social and agribusiness investment
In the short-term then the requirements will be for external food supplies to be channelled into strategic food banks, reserves and similar that people can be fed; this will require management with all that this implies for donor provision, location, distribution and security. WFP already undertakes work of this kind.
Post crisis planning and investment will be required to stimulate agro-production; planning and then investing in the education, technologies, industries and markets that will encourage smallholders and large-scale producers alike to raise agricultural productivity. There is scope for sub-regional production – the three countries working in partnership to produce the crops, livestock and services that can be marketed.
Sea freight to the industrial markets of Europe can generally be shifted in less than a month. Air freight is over night. This is the realm of the agro-industrial companies working in partnership with governments, but also productive smallholders linked to strategic markets. You only have to explore the Liberian Government/Firestone/Bridgestone model to identify the opportunities and constraints involved with the former.
Investment by the private sector overwhelms the national exchequer in Liberia, for example and, exemplifying minerals, forestry and plantation developments, has always done so. It is difficult to generalize private sector investment with limited information available, and to place this in context for current ramifications when government is desperate to channel resources and reconstruct, but a useful introduction is provided courtesy of the ‘Liberia Agriculture Sector Investment Programme (LASIP).
In parallel there will be need for investment in social networks that will provide public sector support to people at risk - with all that this implies for access to food, cash, work and similar; all of which will depend upon government and its development partners. The majority people may have to be carried for a period whilst the three countries reconstruct, rebuild and move economically; with all that this implies for socio-economic infrastructure – housing, schools, roads, power utilities, health centres and more.
The effects of Ebola in the three countries brings new challenges; and speculation over the course of the epidemic is frightening – numbers, places, costs, investment required and more. Without significant boost in international intervention, however, health issues will become more intractable; there are, however, indications that political decision-makers are on track to handle these challenges. Equal effort is required of the agro-industrial/economic decision-makers that the parallel food crisis can also be beaten – and quickly – with planning and investment.
 Industrial modelling. Firestone – latterly Bridgestone – operates the largest rubber plantation in the world in Liberia (>50,000 ha) that has dominated the Liberian economy since the early 20th century. Reports suggest US$28B invested in the country (which is of the order 35 times the value of annual national GDP). The relationship between country and company has been widely reported as one of exploitation with mixed management at plantation and national levels, and collusion on the part of government.
 LASIP. Published in 2010 the LASIP provides a quick over-view of the complexity of opportunities and challenges provided by encouraging concessionary owners to return and re-invest and, importantly, inviting newcomers to share in economic recovery; to exploit the extensive range of natural resources available within highly-friendly (and sometimes ‘one-stop’) investment routes.
Bonjour à toutes et à tous,
Le monde entier a les yeux rivés sur les 20 millions de personnes qui vivent dans les trois pays de la sous-région d’Afrique occidentale actuellement frappés par l’épidémie d’ebola. Si les mots pouvaient résoudre le problème, celui-ci serait déjà à moitié résolu. Ce n’est malheureusement pas le cas. Les mots peuvent toutefois nous aider à analyser, à échanger et à trouver des idées. Voici mon humble opinion.
Défis parallèles: Les soins et l’insécurité alimentaire
Les guerres des virus
Dans le cadre d’événements aussi tragiques, il est toujours question de choses à faire et à ne pas faire, en particulier de la part des « planificateurs » soucieux de la sécurité alimentaire et économique, du bien-être national, de la reconstruction, etc.; si cette préoccupation n’est pas toujours centrée sur la dévastation et les effets immédiats provoqués par l'épidémie d’ebola dans les trois pays, elle permettra de jeter les bases de la lutte contre la prochaine épidémie. Un parallèle peut être établi avec la planification militaire: il s'agit de mener la prochaine guerre sur la base de l'expérience de l'antérieure, avec tous les risques que cela implique, mais qui n'empêchent pas cette guerre de se produire.
Le fait est que l'épidémie d'Ebola n'avait jamais été si dévastatrice; des foyers isolés observés dans le passé en Afrique centrale et de l'Est avaient pratiquement disparu sans trop de pertes humaines. Les problèmes liés à l'effondrement économique et la famine à l'échelle nationale sont généralement associés aux guerres civiles et/ou aux catastrophes naturelles, mais pas toujours.
Par ailleurs, l'épidémie actuelle d'Ebola se produit exactement trente ans après la cruelle famine qui a touché le nord de l'Éthiopie (et la région qui est aujourd'hui l'Érythrée) et a frappé quelque 8 millions de personnes dont 1 million environ est décédé. En l'occurrence, la tragédie a été essentiellement le résultat d'une mauvaise gestion flagrante à l'échelle nationale.
Suivre le déroulement des événements à la distance n'est guère utile pour les personnes touchées (et infectées) en première ligne de la guerre contre l'Ebola. La santé et l'alimentation des populations constituent des problèmes immédiats qui présentent également une importance à moyen et à long terme afin que les communautés et les pays puissent reconstruire leurs économies, leurs industries et leurs marchés. C'est ici qu'intervient la résilience des personnes pour lutter contre l'adversité et, avec une certaine assistance, pour relever les défis en question. Nous n'avons pas le choix; il faut combattre et dérouter le virus et l'épidémie qui en résulte dans les trois pays.
La situation est suivie, à l'extérieur, par des acteurs, en particulier dans les pays industrialisés et les ONG et les institutions internationales, qui possèdent les ressources, les compétences spécialisées et, surtout, les capacités logistiques pour aborder les nombreux aspects complexes du problème, apporter des secours immédiats et exiger à d'autres de fournir les investissements humains et financiers requis pour freiner l'épidémie.
Des exemples de planification et de fourniture d’approvisionnements alimentaires aux victimes les plus touchées sont décrits sur les sites suivants:
Gagner la bataille; perdre la guerre
Faire la part entre les graves problèmes de santé et des phénomènes potentiellement plus dangereux comme l'insécurité alimentaire, la famine, le malaise social et les déplacements massifs de population qui peuvent en dériver est un défi majeur à relever, et ce, dans l'une des régions les plus pauvres au monde, caractérisée par des services publics inadéquats, des ressources insuffisantes, une infrastructure lacunaire et une gestion à l'échelle nationale qui est incapable de faire face aux problèmes. Il suffit d'analyser la situation de la sécurité des approvisionnements alimentaires avant que n'apparaisse l'épidémie d'Ebola pour se rendre compte des risques préexistants: 30 % de la population souffraient de malnutrition, quelque 40 % des enfants présentaient un retard de croissance; les statistiques ont peu changé au cours des dernières années marquées par l'explosion démographique, la guerre civile, le manque d'investissement agricole et bien d'autres facteurs.
L’impossibilité des questions prioritaires
Il est impossible de trouver des solutions simples aux six questions posées par les organisateurs: il s’agit de pays qui dépendent depuis très longtemps des aliments importés, malgré la richesse en ressources naturelles dont ils disposent. L'agriculture de subsistance basée sur des petits exploitants peu scolarisés, sur des pratiques traditionnelles, des petites parcelles de terrain et un soutien extérieur rare voir nul est incapable de parvenir à la productivité requise pour alimenter les populations urbaines puisque les producteurs eux-mêmes ont à peine de quoi se nourrir.
Pour favoriser une meilleure approche, j'ai limité ma contribution à la question nº 3, sur les chaînes de production qui relient les producteurs au marché. La où il est question de sécurité des approvisionnements alimentaires, cette question est prédominante. Lorsque les marchés perdent de leur effectivité, par manque d'approvisionnement, perte du pouvoir d'achat, absence de commerçants et autres facteurs, les populations souffrent de la faim.
Dosage d’investissements dans le social et l’agro-industrie
À court terme, il faudra donc acheminer des approvisionnements alimentaires externes dans des banques alimentaires stratégiques, des réserves ou des dispositifs similaires de façon à assurer l'alimentation de la population, ce qui implique une gestion en termes de fourniture des donateurs, de localisation, de distribution et de sécurité. Le PAM entreprend déjà ce type d'action.
Une planification et des investissements seront également nécessaires après la crise pour promouvoir la production agricole; la planification puis l'investissement dans l'éducation, la technologie, les industries et les marchés qui encourageront les petits exploitants ainsi que les producteurs à grande échelle à accroître la productivité agricole. Il existe une marge pour la production sous régionale: les trois pays peuvent travailler en partenariat pour produire des denrées agricoles, du bétail et des services qui peuvent ensuite être commercialisés.
Le transport maritime vers les marchés industriels européens peut généralement se faire en moins d'un mois. Le transport aérien se fait d'un jour à l'autre. Ceci est le domaine d'activité des sociétés agro-industrielles qui travaillaient en partenariat avec les gouvernements, mais les petits producteurs liés au marché stratégique peuvent également y participer. Le modèle associant le gouvernement libérien et Firestone//Bridgestone illustre les les opportunités et les contraintes impliquées.
L'investissement du secteur privé dépasse les capacités du trésor public au Libéria, notamment dans le secteur des minéraux, de la foresterie et des plantations, où cela a toujours été le cas. Il est difficile de généraliser la situation de l'investissement du secteur privé en raison du manque d'information et de situer celui-ci dans le contexte des ramifications actuelles à un moment où le gouvernement cherche désespérément à acheminer des ressources pour la reconstruction; une introduction à ce sujet est toutefois disponible dans le ‘Liberia Agriculture Sector Investment Programme (LASIP).
Parallèlement, il faudra consentir des investissements dans les réseaux sociaux de façon à fournir un soutien du secteur public aux personnes menacées, avec tout ce que cela implique pour l'accès à l'alimentation, aux liquidités, etc. toutes ces mesures dépendront du gouvernement et de ses partenaires du développement. Une majorité de personnes devront être prises en charge pendant tout le processus de reconstruction, réhabilitation et développement économique des trois pays, avec une série de conséquences en termes d'infrastructures socio-économiques telles que les logements, les écoles, les routes, les centrales énergétiques, les centres de santé et autres.
Les séquelles de l'Ebola dans les trois pays posent de nouveaux défis et toute spéculation sur l'évolution de l'épidémie donne des résultats inquiétants en termes de nombre, d'endroits, de coûts, d'investissement requis etc. Faute d'une intervention majeure de la communauté internationale, les questions de santé risquent toutefois de devenir insolubles; il semble néanmoins que les décideurs politiques soient sur la bonne voie pour affronter ces problèmes. Un effort d'une même ampleur est requis de la part des décideurs dans les secteurs agro-industriels/économiques afin de venir à bout le plus rapidement possible de la crise alimentaire concomitante par le biais de la planification et des investissements.
 Modèle industriel. Firestone – depuis peu Bridgestone – gère la plus grande plantation de caoutchouc du monde au Libéria (>50 000 ha), activité qui a dominé l’économie libérienne depuis le début du 20e siècle. Des rapports indiquent un investissement de US$28B dans le pays (de l’ordre de 35 fois la valeur du PIB national annuel. Le rapport existant entre le pays et la société en question a été décrit par beaucoup comme une situation d’exploitation et de gestion mixte à l’échelle nationale et de la plantation, et de collusion de la part du gouvernement.
 LASIP. Publié en 2010, le LASIP donne un aperçu de la complexité des opportunités et des défis qui se présentent lorsque les concessionnaires sont invités à réinvestir et, en particulier lorsque de nouveaux acteurs sont sont invités à participer à la reprise économique afin d’exploiter la vaste gamme de ressources naturelles disponibles dans le cadre de dispositifs d’investissements extrêmement respectueux (et parfois à guichet unique).
Family farming on the edge
I’ve recently been looking at value chains for selected crops/livestock in East Africa. Me and may hundreds of others, of course, for ‘value chains’ are the current flavour of the month that – if nothing else – helps to better understand the interdependency of all the people involved between farm and consumer: traders, transporters processors, service agents, public services and more, in addition to that original smallholder producer. Getting people in the value chain to appreciate the value of the modeling involved, however, is challenging.
What can be said that’s not already been said? Sure there’s a role for the family – irrespective of scale – but for the majority of contributors this is likely to mean ‘small-scale’ and, in context, small-scale usually means limited resources, inadequate education, inability to take risk and more. This is peasant farming in all but name and the challenge then becomes shifting him (but more importantly shifting ‘her and her family’) out of that cycle of inadequacy, poverty and more. That’s why the youngsters are leaving the land - they see no future there.
So, my contribution to the debate is to explore the over-view; the reality of national planning that is belatedly focusing upon ‘agriculture’ as a source of wealth and, equally, trying to encourage people to remain where they are and to work with what they have available. City life, of course, beckons the young, mobile and, for best, educated. Here it is that issues of markets and time become relevant.
Meeting market demand
First this thing about markets. With a 4 000 m2 garden, the typical East African family growing food crops to feed the family barely survives. Where is the space to grow commercial crops? How to shift from one to the other? Where is that measure of financial/food insurance that will enable the family to take risk? As a single grower the family has few options. Join a mutually-supportive producers group, however, and opportunities may arise - this means a joining a commercial producer group. The reality is one where the many hundreds of thousands of smallholder producers can be linked into a large-scale processor who has the capabilities to exploit markets (for the products and standards required).
East Africa, for example, imports >4,000 tonnes frozen ‘French fries’ (‘chips’ in Anglo-English) annually at a cost of around half million US dollars. They cost almost eight times per kilo the equivalent of the local product, but issues of traceability and demand enable them to find ready markets – with costs, of course, passed on to the consumer. The quantities are insignificant when compared to market demand - >220,000 tonnes (and growing) - but not the costs.
And not just processed foods, but staples too. The most popular staple in East Africa is maize with annual production around 12 million tonnes augmented with imports of >500 000 tonnes to make up for deficiencies of supply. Imports cost >USD 183 million. South Africa provides the bulk of maize imports (as it does throughout much of SSA). This country produces maize at half the cost of that produced in the East African countries – it a more efficient producer.
Further, small-scale production and lack of infrastructure results in post-harvest crop losses of the order 40% for maize in East Africa. And it doesn’t stop there for neither is the productivity of domestic producers improving – yields remain largely static across the region from year to year.
That small-scale agricultural wealth equation simply doesn’t add up. But then it can do. Check out the success story of the Ugandan farmer growing passionfruit on a small block of land near Fort Portal. Nothing succeeds like success; and these are people to be watched and followed. More at: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/652399-kaduru-earns-millions-from-passion-fruits.html.
Also check out the opportunities that arise from shared investment by development partners, government and the private sector. More than 50 000 smallholder growers on either side of the Kenya/Uganda border are producing exotic horticultural fruits for processing within networks that are supported by leading agro-processing companies. More at: http://www.technoserve.org/files/downloads/project-nurture-partnering-for-business-opportunity-and-development-impact.pdf
A couple of examples doesn’t set the arguments in concrete, but the messages are clear – you need scale and investment to compete with the best of the imports; and this is not the case with the majority smallholders. They need collectivization, organization, producer groups and access to investment funds at reasonable cost if they to remain in business; to prosper means reaching another level.
Secondly there is this issue of time
The number of people in Africa continues to increase and, with current 2-3 percent growth rates, the continental population will be estimated two billion by 2050 of which >700 million will be East Africans. Even by 2020 the population of East Africa will be estimated 240 million (50% more than today). The East African regional population will dominate the continent and represent the third largest worldwide (after South Asia and East Asia) according to UNICEF*.
The changing dynamics of climate on food production in Africa are also likely to have an increasing impact on the security of food supplies into the middle- and long-term, and particularly for people who are already food insecure**. It is a paradox of unmitigated proportion that in a continent that has ample fertile lands, large resources of surface and subterranean water and a relatively benign climate in which all kinds of crops can be grown, that insufficient food is available for estimated 40 percent of the people.
Much the same applies to the countries of East Africa, notwithstanding significant socio-economic advantages of education, language, infrastructure, agricultural potential, abundant national resources and relative political stability. And when sufficient food is produced, large numbers of people – usually the most vulnerable: women and rural poor - cannot afford to purchase it.
The unpredictability of climate change and the erratic nature of weather patterns that result will impact upon crops that depend upon seasonal rains. Desertification already affects the extent of grazing lands in the north of the region, but all croplands everywhere are expected to receive less rainfall further increasing the incident of droughts. Rising temperatures will impact upon key staple food crops, with decline in yields projected 5-20 percent.
So time is short with the challenge of feeding ever greater numbers of people from much the same resources. And we’ve not even made mention of changing dietary demands.
What to do about it
First the socio-economic options include:
- Focus upon the resilience of smallholder family producers – boosting land productivity.
- Focus upon marginalized people: provide access to economic assets, rights and decision-making.
- Educate people – about what to produce and what to eat.
- Provide safety nets: crop insurance, food-for-work-programmes (for environmental care, etc.).
Then provide the public-private partnerships that will shift national rhetoric and planning into action by:
- Introducing fair and transparent government in which everyone can make a contribution.
- Getting serious about climate change and those essential mitigation programmes.
- Mobilize populations.
- Industrialize agriculture.
- Provide access to funds and appropriate financing mechanisms.
Mvua mzuri, mazao mzuri na chakula mzuri sana.
06 October 2014
*http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_74751.html (Generation 2030 Africa)
** http://hdr.undp.org/en/2013-report (Human Development Report 2013)
Agriculture and Different People
Everyone is different and, notwithstanding those differences, it is the mix of resources that they bring to their community which provides the basis for success or failure. And, even then, failure is not ‘failure’ as such, but simply just another step on the route to success – helping people to participate and leading to all those productive activities that feature in the summary paragraphs that have been assembled to encourage the wider debate in ‘care farming’.
People with disabilities
My contribution centres upon the most vulnerable of community people – those with disabilities; and, remember, in many countries this may comprise more than 10% local people, and many more if you bring in age, gender and poverty. Typically people look towards the public sector for the resources that they need – reflecting, as it does, an historical approach wherein government traditionally took responsibility for every aspect of social care and/or economic development.
You only have to look at the transition that takes place between the different groups of countries – developing/low-income, industrializing/middle-income and industrialized/rich to see how investment by the private sector begins to take priority – how education, access to information/technologies and a commercial approach to wealth creation quickly changes that original perception. This is when governments have to run to keep up with the private sector and, importantly, learn to manage that divergence in incomes between the majority poor and the minority rich; this is where the Gini Index, the Human Development Index and similar crop up in national planning.
Without some kind of focus people with disabilities will always be part of that majority poor and, in the low-income countries, this typically means part of the rural poor – with all that this implies for living at a distance from decision-makers in the capital/provincial cities. They become the forgotten. This is unfortunate
Empowering people with disabilities
Wherever you look there is general agreement that people with disabilities are entitled to the same life opportunities as everyone else, but no clear ideas on how to actually achieve objectives of this kind. Countries implement laws in support of people with disabilities, and the national agencies promote within the context of those laws to help marshal the resources with which these people are better able to integrate themselves into their local communities. Support, however, has traditionally focused upon health, social and welfare development but, notwithstanding the efforts made by many well-meaning laws, policies and programmes, most people with disabilities continue to be marginalized within their home communities. Issues are those of access to work and employment.
As people become better informed, they typically demand more and better services. The industrial countries struggle to provide social services to disabled citizens, and achieve limited success; the low-income countries are generally too poor to provide the additional resources with which to make a difference. There is fashion and urgency with providing employment, but this rarely focuses upon people with disabilities. Employment and opportunities for earning an income provide a logical route out of poverty and a step towards empowerment. This raises confidence.
Pro-disability investment programmes are essential and, importantly, link into the marketplace for activities, enterprises and social development that can be shown to be profitable. In this way there is long-term value. An approach of this kind highlights the majority people with disabilities in the low-income countries as typically dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood. The survival of self, family and/or community in which people with disabilities live ultimately depends on the successful exploitation of local industries as an income-provider (and the collective wealth of the people concerned).
Agriculture and care farming
Most supportive initiatives are piecemeal and short-term; representing small investments made on behalf of a handful of recipients over a limited period of time. Given the seasonality of agriculture, even a five year programme of investment may only encompass five growing/production seasons. This is unsatisfactory and restricts options.
Development of a strategy – particularly a national strategy – has long-term advantages for both recipients and providers; there is transparency, people know where they stand, priorities can be taken with confidence and investments made with longer-term opportunities in mind. Strategic guidelines provide opportunities for people with disabilities to take ownership of their future; and to re-appraise, change direction and to select alternative options as the framework of the original strategy becomes dated and new opportunities are recognized. Planning is essential - that people take control and ownership.
Want to explore this further?
The route to making a difference is relatively easy to navigate, and can be summarized within 10 key activity groups that apply to everyone working in support of the people with disabilities. Check out the ‘Guidelines for People with Disabilities in Agriculture’ contained in the draft report ‘Enhancing Opportunities in Agriculture for People with Disabilities: Guidelines for Getting People Involved’ attached to this contribution.
Equality in Gender
This has been an interesting debate; unique even given the extent of the many issues involved that impact - you'll know this - upon more than 50% of the world's people. I'm referring to 'women in society' and considering my contribution as focus upon the continuing debate - difficult as it is - for equality between the genders. This is more than 'rural women', 'food security' and 'proper nutrition' notwithstanding the importance of these sectors for the wellbeing of the half of humanity who depend upon the work, tenacity and dedication of those tens of millions of small-scale farmers - the majority women - who produce sufficient to feed them.
Many of the contributions have already focused directly or built their messages upon the foundations that women agriculturalists have in traditional and, increasingly, commercial society. And this is not simply a function of biology - important as this is - given the nurturing role that comes from caring, feeding and growing the families that form around them, but because of the track record of women in agriculture. They typically out-perform their menfolk and achieve this on the basis of fewer resources, less education, discrimination based upon out-moded traditions, violence and limited political voice (or none at all).
Girls and women escape the traditions that limit their capabilities by gaining an education and/or shifting to the towns; preferably both, but then they are typically lost to agriculture. And neither are captivity and traditions simple a feature of the developing and/or industrializing countries for there is bigotry, bias and discrimination of this kind everywhere. You only have to look at political leadership in Italy and/or recently in Australia to follow the challenges of being a top female decision-maker.
Suffice to note then - and this sounds a cliche reading back over it - that partnerships represent the best options into the next period; as we have within families, communities and society-at-large. But, the reality is one, however, that will see little change in many rural communities whilst out-moded, labour-intensive, poverty-based food production systems continue to dominate. And, importantly, that does not mean bringing in the larger-scale food production systems that are beginning to dominate everywhere at the expense of small-scale. Large-scale, typically, leads to landless people.
1. If you had made an intervention at the side event on rural women at the 8th session of the Open Working Group in New York, what would have been its key message?
Everything that can be said has already been said earlier; there are few new messages that can be promoted. Pictures tell the same messages differently, however, and catch the eye. Try the attached images from roadside posters in Zambia. Then show women training as blacksmiths, driving tractors and running food processing plants (which I have available, but cannot find quickly).
2. Rural women are often described as critical agents of change in discussions on sustainable development goals. To what extent would the achievement of food and nutrition security for rural women help accelerate sustainable development?
Pessimistically - no difference. Optmistically - minor incremental changes (but nothing like the changes that would come from educating girls, providing them with resilient livelihoods and making them financially independent of their menfolk).
3. Of the many facts or stats recorded on rural women, which one do you consider to be the most revealing?
Recorded for women everwhere, but more typical of those with the misfortune to be born into societies in selected African and/or middle eastern countries - Somalia (98%), Egypt (91%), Mali (89%), Ethiopia (74%), Guinea (96%), Eritrea (89%) and others. And the percentages shown? Girls and women subject to female genital mutilation. The ultimate in power subjugation - disfigure half your population or more on the basis of deep-rooted and inhuman fears of equality.
If you don't already know about it - here's the world's best source of gender/agricultural information in a single text: 'Gender in Agriculture: Sourcebook'. It covers all the contributions already made in the debate - and some. You can access an e-copy at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/aj288e/aj288e00.HTM. Check out module #1 'Gender and Food Security'. See if you can't get a hard copy from your local FAO, World Bank or IFAD office; much easier to read and share.
26 February 2014
Value of educating school kids
Partnerships with schools
‘Nutrition-enhancing agriculture & food systems’ is a powerful and demanding topic – coming mid-year with the holiday period upon us it’s little wonder perhaps that there have been so few correspondents. Those of us in the northern hemisphere would rather be outside enjoying the sun in the mountains or away for a day at the beach. For all that, there is a deal to be shared and much to be gained from dipping into the portfolio of excellent material already available.
My contribution then pitches in favour of ‘partnerships’ and, apart from that of parent to sibling, just about the most profound platform of all human learning is that of teacher to student. This thing about ‘Give me the child and I’ll give you the man’ (which, according to my brief search on Google, is generally attributed to the Catholic Jesuits Order which, in turn, took it from the teachings of St Francis Xavier).
The point being then is that those strong linkages between food and agriculture and all that this means for encouraging the development of community well-being, strong social responsibilities, understanding of how to eat good foods, lead healthy lives, etc. comes from teaching people when they are at their most responsive phase of development; young, receptive, outward looking and keen to learn and to position themselves in the world around them.
Value of education
Sure, children learn from the moment they are born – and depend upon a handful of people in the family (and the wider community) who have the time, interest and, importantly, the education to make a difference. Teachers are typically at the forefront of change. To some extent this is already covered – both directly and obliquely in the Core Background papers provided for the debate. This assumes that people have sufficient time to explore this bibliography of information and contacts. Mine was a quick over-view but I draw the attention of the debate to the paper by Judiann McNulty ‘Challenges & Issues of Nutrition Education’ published by FAO in 2013. It extends an earlier FAO concept note on nutrition with additional information provided by a review of recently published information.
Read the summary and collect the bibliography for further reference but, in essence, the author highlights the advantages of investing in the education of school kids, the value of school gardens as a practical means of making change and, equally important, the messages that the kids take home to the parents for choice of foods, understanding of nutrition, and the way in which changes can be encouraged from generation to generation.
Reflect back on a life-time spent in the ‘development industries’ and you’ll see the logic of this kind of investment; it’s commonsense really, but how often is the local school struggling for ideas and resources with over-worked staff and an under-funded institutional structure. There is only so much that you can do. An easy starting-point, however, is access to material published by others.
Working in support of a food security project in Ethiopia a short-time back we provided technical inputs, ideas and small funds to estimated 90,000 rural people living around Mekelle Town and in the Northern Shoa, respectively, in the north and centre of the country. Where possible school gardens featured as a means of encouraging change to local diets that are based largely upon livestock products, wild and cultivated green plants and bread made from the Ethiopian staple teff (which looks like what it is – grass seed). Whole grain teff is a particularly valuable food - high in protein, carbohydrates and fibre. It also has a good amino acid profile including all eight essential amino acids, which means protein content is high quality. Teff is rich in calcium and iron. There is no sugar content. But what you don’t get locally are interesting foods – you imagine eating the local fermented bread – injera two or three times a day (if you’re fortunate). Teff production and preparation as food is also demanding of land, people and fuel (with all those down-stream ramifications for access to resources, smoke-filled kitchens, etc.).
Establish a vegetable garden and grow a range of temperate and semi-temperate food crops – leafy (cabbages, lettuces, Swiss chard, etc.), roots (potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc.), fleshy (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) and legumes (beans, peas, etc.) and you can transform the dietary landscape. Much of what can be grown does not need to be eaten cooked. Walking the hills of a late evening and making our way back to the Land Cruiser after a 10 km circuit, people would thrust handfuls of burnt grain and bunches of carrots at you and, with a smile, say ‘ to sustain you on the road’. The pleasure was mutual – givers giving from relatively limited resources and takers enjoying the rewards of snack foods, but also seeing those new ideas that had become reality over a few years.
Value of information
This is the school kids transferring their ideas home. However, modifying the curriculum in the school to provide for this change can be more demanding. Judiann McNulty’s bibliography lists texts that show you how to approach this challenge; of which a couple of references are worth highlighting. In Ethiopia we used:
FAO. (2005). Setting up and running a school garden: manual for teachers, parents & communities. ISBN 978-92s-5-105408-6. FAO, Rome, Italy. (Check out part 6 ‘What shall we grow to eat – improving nutrition’; information like this is gold dust.)
FAO. (2005). Nutrition education in primary schools: planning guide for curriculum development. Vol. 1 ‘Reader’ & vol. 2. ‘Activities’. FAO, Rome. Italy. (Comes with five rather complicated wall charts and language is challenging, but that’s where teachers come in handy.)
We also used:
FAO, (2001). Improved nutrition through home gardening: training package for preparing field workers in Africa’. FAO, Rome, Italy (And there is a similar version targeting ‘… field workers in SE Asia’.)
You can source and download these documents free-of-charge at http://www.fao.org/publications. Type the title into the search engine provided.
Today’s school kids represent the next generation in your community; it makes sense to invest in their education by providing an understanding of good eating practices based upon choice of crops and livestock. There is a deal of readily available information with which to help you make the changes required.
Value of trees to nutrition
The point made by your Indian correspondent Subhash Mehta is relevant where, as he says focus upon investment in women and young people in the community helps provide for sustainability with all the implications therein for livelihoods, employment, etc. leading to improved security for both food nutrition and food security. The Ethiopian communities with whom we supported vegetable gardening were living in high desolate hill country – bleak and cold in the winter rains – and devoid of tree cover. Remnants of the indigenous forests that once covered the north-central country remain around the rural churches and similar orthodox institutions (and form the basis for seed harvesting, nurseries, etc.) but elsewhere rural communities fall back on livestock manure as fuel – further impoverishing already poor soils – whilst waiting for their homestead eucalyptus plantations to start producing.
The messages are simply and easy to understand (but far more difficult to implement) that trees are essential for human life.
Value of humour
And a brief aside highlighting the downside of the debate, but one that can only bring a dubious smile to readers; the contribution made by Robert Best of Trinidad & Tobago. Whether this 30 year old record for consumption of fried chicken, fries and Coke in Port of Spain is really true or not – it is the image that this projects in the mind’s eye.
Perhaps this a nutritional phase that all countries have to explore (and endure) as they develop? Mexico has recently over-taken the US as the ‘world’s fattest country’ (again, according to my Google search) with those international fast food companies and their national ‘look-a-likes’ targeting the enthusiastic Hispanic consumer across the American continent.
Happy eating everyone.
Encouraging the private sector
It was encouraging to read the contribution of Christine Namukasa of Hunger Fighters Uganda (HF-UG) with her reference to the role of the private sector within national efforts to promote nutrition and to provide some measure of social protection to local people. Unfortunately, Ms Namukasa does not describe the extent of this role apart from reference to ‘pipeline’, ‘synergies’ and ‘partnerships with CSOs and government’. The logical place to find this information would be on the HF-UG web pages, but I couldn’t encourage their search engine to shift into gear. The site listed the usual selection of UN agencies, international NGOs and others as partners; no reference to private sector partners.
This is, of course, no critique of HF-UG – it is sufficient to have raised the issue (for the role of the private sector) – but it would have been interesting and perhaps of value to learn of what the private sector in Uganda may be doing to promote social protection, and particularly of small-scale, grass-roots, community-based, etc. interventions, that have proven of value in Uganda that could then be tried elsewhere. A successful private sector provides that measure of economic security long-term that comes from making a profit.
Others may have a similar contribution to make and this leads neatly into my contribution; the risks of relying upon the public sector, the donor community, international/national NGOs and others with non-profit objectives that depend ultimately upon the goodwill of external funds, effort, intellect and interest.
The model for community self-interest with the most fundamental of community functions – child care, nurturing and security – was described earlier in the first contribution by George Kent of Hawaii; check out the model, it contains the child at centre within seven nested circles of security. After ‘family’ and ‘community’ the assumption is one wherein the public sector should take responsibility; there is neither reference to the private sector nor to the risks of dependency that comes from reliance upon others. If either the family or the community is sufficiently capable of becoming financially/economically self-sufficient, then clearly that those children will be more secure as they grow and, importantly, they become more capable – more self reliant citizens - as they, in turn, shift into adulthood.
There is only so much that can be covered in a few words, but the thesis here is one of focus upon the self-reliance of family and/or community; teaching/encouraging people to rely upon their own resources/effort/intellect/etc. and to shift away from dependency upon others and, particularly, from the dubious/irregular decision-making of sometimes distant central governments. For all the best will in the world – public sector people are not always the most appropriate source of social development/investment expertise.
(You only have to look at a handful of key countries across the MENA region and selected national food/energy social support programmes that have routinely provided subsidized prices of staples across the country in an effort to placate their mainly urban populations – to the detriment of real farm prices, rural poverty, import dependency and more; to appreciate the risks of inadequate planning. Many governments in the region continue to pay off their citizens in state-supported interventions to ensure civil stability – and more so since the impact of the Arab Spring on the region.)
On much the same tack, the private sector is not some benign benefactor comfortably allocating a proportion of company funds for social responsibility spending – leastways not on small-scale, and rarely in the low-income countries. Too many of the SMEs involved are working close to margins that simply cover cost plus – but, crucially, keeping workers and family intact and in-food. Workers and family are, typically, one-and-the-same; it’s this thing about starting up a business and people being required to ‘work twice as hard for half the income’.
Private enterprise and markets are no panacea for future well-being, but provide opportunities for shifting away from traditions of ‘government provides all’; government used to try to provide all, but has rapidly stepped back within the complexity required of modern national management. We are no longer in a post-colonial world of newly independent states with all that this implied for ‘old models’ of donor/development assistance from others. Middle income people are a feature of all new countries, responsible for the wealth that is being created on the basis of intellectual creativity, sensible investments and market risks. You sometimes have to look hard to find those old models – sure they exist – but they are rapidly disappearing within the modern images of urban development, shifts in agro-technologies and determined people that you meet everywhere.
The key is one of education, confidence, self-appreciation and the development of a ‘can-do’ society. Check out and invest in the young in your community.
 More information. Access your favourite search engine with ‘private sector’, ‘social responsibilities’ and similar key words. USAID, for example, at: http://www.usaid.gov/news-information/fact-sheets/more-3-billion-private-sector-investment-new-alliance-food-security-and describes global, regional and national partnerships with >US$3B investment funds in the pipeline. And, if any of those companies are local to where you are, check them out for the opportunities that may arise for partnerships, provision of services, contracts and more.