Representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) participated in a ceremony to officially open Havaskor-1 Water User Association in the Qubodiyon district of Tajikistan. The group was formed through an open and participatory process involving small-scale and commercial farmers, community leaders, and government officials. The association is now in the process of rehabilitating on-farm canals, drains, and water control gates.
USAID Central Asian Republics Regional Mission Director Anne Aarnes, USAID Tajikistan Country Director Katie McDonald, local government officials, and local citizens attended the ceremony. "Associations like this are essential for Tajikistan," Aarnes noted. "They are one of the keys to improving incomes and well-being for millions of Tajik citizens, as well as increasing overall economic growth in the country. We are honored to partner with you and to celebrate your hard work today."
Many famers in Qubodiyon do not have regular access to irrigation water, and many canals and drainage channels have fallen into disrepair. The U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative promotes improved nutrition and agricultural sector growth, including improved irrigation water management practices in southwestern Khatlon.
Since October 2010, USAID has established 12 water users associations in Kulob, Vose, Qubodiyon, Shahritus, Nosiri Khusrav, J.Rumi, Jilikul and Vakhsh districts that will benefit about 28,000 hectares of land and more than 209,000 people.
This press release originally appeared on the USAID Mission Central Asian Republics website.
In Kenya's Tana River District, both pastoralists and farmers suffer when there is drought. Many of the indigenous communities grow maize, beans, mangoes, and various traditional vegetables. Lacking an irrigation scheme, the farmers often find their crops succumbing to the harsh climate.
USAID’s Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program (KDLDP), in conjunction with other strategic partners, has introduced local farmers to the idea of growing fodder during the rainy season and storing it for sale during the dry season. Since the program’s inception in 2011, more than 5,000 bales of fodder (valued at $30,000) have been produced by farms in the region that received fodder training from the program. As a result, household and food security for families have markedly improved.
Jane Ayub is a local farmer and mother of three who belongs to the Jabesa Biskidera Association. The members of this association aggregated their individual plots of land to form Makindani farm. They started by growing traditonal vegetable crops, but after Ayub saw a demonstration of fodder production on the nearby Kono farm, members of the Jabesa Biskidera Association integrated fodder production into their business.
Ayub immediately understood that fodder was profitable for farmers such as herself and was also a lifeline for local pastoralists during periods of drought. With training from USAID’s Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program, Ayub increased her household income from $2 a day to $60.
In October 2012, KDLDP hosted World Food Day celebrations at Kono farm. Ayub proudly displayed what she and her group had achieved. "Now I tell other members of the community how growing fodder can change their lives, especially the lives of women," Ayub exclaims.
The "It's All About M&E" blog series gives you a peek into Feed the Future M&E. This post was written by Charlee Doom, Agricultural Development Officer in USAID's Bureau for Food Security.
Through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government is committed to enabling and empowering individuals to rise out of poverty. However, we also recognize that it is not enough to provide the tools for development; we must translate field successes into both quantitative and qualitative validation of U.S. investment in developing nations. The USAID Bureau for Food Security’s (BFS) Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team endeavors to draft a clear picture of the complex impact of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative.
A particularly important element of tracking our progress is measuring the reduction of the prevalence of poverty, one of two top-level goals of Feed the Future in the areas where Feed the Future programs are working. Through a recent webinar, Feed the Future Missions were provided guidance on establishing aspirational targets for reducing poverty in their zones of influence (ZOI). Feed the Future M&E will track how well we work toward those targets in the coming years.
Setting Targets for Poverty Reduction
In the webinar, members of the M&E team talked through the purpose and methodology behind poverty reduction target setting and worked through an example of how to use an internally developed Microsoft Excel tool to estimate 5-year country targets (with a 2012 baseline, 2015 mid-term, and 2017 5-year conclusion timeline).
For the initiative as a whole, an aspirational target of reducing poverty by an average of 20 percent across all Feed the Future focus countries was established based on recent data and analysis. This is an aggressive, yet achievable, target. To inform country-specific targets (which may be higher or lower than 20 percent), two factors—a poverty reduction trend and a GDP growth trend—were evaluated. Based on the confidence level indicated by these country-specific factors, recommendations were made for each Feed the Future country’s level of poverty reduction (i.e. higher targets were recommended for countries with recent reductions in poverty and expected GDP growth in the coming years).
The BFS team recognizes these aspirational targets are outside the direct manageable interest of the Feed the Future programs alone and represent an ambitious goal to be achieved through the collective efforts of partner countries, development partners, and other key stakeholders.
The methodology for poverty reduction target setting is based on recent, quantitative data or projections of future trends using information from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It was designed to provide a standardized, evidence-based way of informing target setting using the best available data. However, in the Q&A session of the webinar, the nuances of this method were explored. It is worth noting that the method does not adjust targets for Feed the Future funding levels or country-specific political and social factors.
Additionally, participants in the webinar commented on the fact that the method uses the World Bank’s global standard for poverty measurement (living on less than $1.25 per day) instead of a national poverty line, which varies from country to country. The method applies total GDP data instead of agriculture sector GDP, whereas Feed the Future investments predominately target agriculturally-based populations. Notably, the agriculture sector is a strong driver of overall GDP growth and poverty reductions in all Feed the Future countries and therefore the overall GDP is a good indicator of growth trends in each country.
The M&E team talked through the challenges of developing a standardized method that would measure the Feed the Future top-level goal of sustainably reducing poverty and hunger (the full response to participant questions can be found in the webinar). While a desire to create a method sensitive to all factors existed, the constraints of rolling out a standardized method limited the dexterity of the guidance. In order to help address the various circumstances in each country, Missions were given the flexibility to adjust their recommended target by 5 percentage points in either direction.
Questions regarding the Target Setting for Reducing the Prevalence of Poverty can be sent to Amit Mistry, Anne Swindale, Charlee Doom, or Don Sillers.
Forthcoming Guidance – Stunting Indicator
The M&E team will conduct another webinar on Target Setting for Nutrition Indicators in February (TBC).
This blog post originally appeared on the Agrilinks website. Visit for more information and resources.
DAVOS, Switzerland—The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today with Ethiopia and DuPont to boost maize harvests through increased use of hybrid maize seed, improved seed distribution, and post-harvest storage.
Maize is a significant contributor to Ethiopia’s economic and social development, providing jobs, income and food. This collaboration will help more than 30,000 smallholder maize farmers increase their productivity by up to 50 percent and help reduce post-harvest loss of maize by as much as 20 percent.
This collaboration advances agricultural development and food security goals set by the Government of Ethiopia and supported by USAID through the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, which is part of the U.S. contribution to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
“Investing in smallholder farmers remains the key to unlocking agricultural growth and transforming economies,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.
DuPont signed a Letter of Intent to work with Ethiopia as part of the G-8 New Alliance. Since pledging to work with Ethiopia in May 2012, DuPont has increased the number of smallholder farmers it will help from 16,000 to 32,000. This private sector investment in agriculture development will help advance sustainable food security.
“Ensuring people everywhere have enough food to eat will require sustainable, local solutions and collaboration at new levels,” said James C. Borel, Executive Vice President of DuPont. “The USAID and DuPont collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia marks a significant step forward toward improved productivity of Ethiopian maize farmers through enhanced agronomic practices and inputs.”
The signing of this MOU marks an important step for each of the partners in implementation of commitments they made as part of the G-8 New Alliance to work toward the goals of expanding agriculture production, raising the incomes of poor farmers, and helping lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty over the next 10 years. It also highlights their strong commitment to improve food security in Ethiopia under the leadership of the Ethiopian government.
Announced by President Obama at the 2012 G-8 Summit, the New Alliance is a unique association between African governments, G-8 members, and the private sector to work together to accelerate investments in agriculture to improve productivity, livelihoods and food security for smallholder farmers. DuPont will invest more than $3 million over the next three years to help improve productivity of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, which will lead to their enhanced ability to produce nutritious food for their families and communities.
Feed the Future is the United States’ contribution to this global effort. Feed the Future supports countries in developing their own agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for economic growth and trade, particularly for smallholder farmers, many of whom are women.
Feed the Future has already helped 1.8 million food producers adopt improved technologies or management practices that can lead to more resilient crops, higher yields, and increased incomes. The initiative, led by USAID, has also reached nearly 9 million children through nutrition programs, which can prevent and treat under nutrition and improve child survival.
This press release originally appeared on the USAID website.
The Rift Valley region of Kenya has favorable climatic conditions for production of horticultural crops. However, this opportunity was not fully exploited for decades namely due to drought, lack of education on horticultural produce, and low private sector investment.
By partnering with Canken International Ltd., a cargo handling export company at the Eldoret International Airport, USAID’s Kenya Horticultural Competitiveness Program (USAID-KHCP) has enabled the horticultural industry in the Rift to build its reputation and commercial success by exporting a variety of fruits and vegetables to the European and Middle East countries. Through the improved competitiveness of the horticulture industry, the region now exports more than 750 tons of fresh produce compared to 226 tons when the company was first established in 2007. There has also been an increase in the number of smallholder farmers from 600 to nearly 4,000.
With support from USAID-KHCP, Canken International trained farmers on land preparation, crop maintenance, harvesting, and post harvesting technology. Farmers were also linked with banks and other micro and credit finance institutions whose loans enable them to purchase seeds and manure and afford crop maintenance among other farming activities.
To enable an all-year production of fresh produce despite the dry spells, farmers are receiving training on irrigation and water harvesting techniques from the 75 demonstration plots which have been installed with irrigation kits and 30 water harvesting demonstration tanks which have been set up. In addition, nine collection points with grading shades charcoal coolers have been constructed where farmers deliver their produce for collection by Canken International, who also sorts, grades, packs and exports twice a week.
“These interventions have enabled the horticultural industry to realize an increase in sales and profits of more than 200 percent. Previously, a farmer earned $48 per month but, to date, they earn more than $240," said Dominic Biwot, general manager at Canken International. "Increased income from horticultural exports from the smallholder farmers has provided a lasting foundation for progress against malnutrition and food security. The farmers are now able to purchase foods and other nutritional products which they couldn’t afford before. They are also able to diversity into producing other commercial crops, increasing food security in the region—thanks to USAID for supporting the interventions.”
This USAID project is part of the U.S. Government's Feed the Future global hunger and food security initiative, which addresses the root causes of hunger and poverty. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports countries in developing their agriculture sectors as a catalyst to generate broad-based economic growth and to reduce hunger.
This story originally appeared on the USAID Mission Kenya website.
Mary Rono used to fit the mold of the archetypal Kenyan dairy farmer. The 56-year-old retired government social worker living in the village of Kibomet in Kenya’s Rift Valley would milk her family’s herd of eight cows once a day. If an informal trader happened to pass by, she would sell the milk for a mere 18 shillings (or 22 cents) per liter. This, and the sale of vegetables from her garden, generated her only cash income.
In 2004, a sequence of events transformed her profession and her life. Rono visited a dairy cooperative in Nyala town that was receiving assistance from the now completed USAID/Kenya Dairy Development Program. She was introduced to simple, yet affordable techniques to increase her milk yield, such as milking her cows several times a day and growing her own fodder to feed the cows instead of letting them graze.
Thrilled by the improvements, Rono set out to find a better market for her fresh milk. She continued to receive advice from the subsequent USAID/Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program, and she helped form a cooperative so she could bulk her milk with other farmers. She was able to purchase two more heifers. In 2009, she started a self-help group with 15 members: Today, she is the chairperson of the 365-member Koitogos Dynamic Cooperative Society.
“We are now bulking more than 1,000 liters of milk per day, and receiving double the price per liter. We have been able to do a lot with the proﬁts we get from the dairy. We are able to contribute to the school fees of our children. We are able to pay our loans with ease,” says Rono.
In Kenya, keeping cows has always been a way of life, but not a business. Now an emerging class of entrepreneurs like Rono is transforming the status quo with USAID support, fueling the drought-prone country’s dairy sector as an engine of economic growth and food security.
Since it began in mid-2008, the dairy program—implemented with agribusiness cooperative giant Land O’Lakes—has assisted more than 319,000 smallholder milk producers, as well as hundreds of processors, retailers and exporters up and down Kenya’s dairy value chain.
The result has been startling: an average income boost of $675 per rural farming family—more than $167 million overall. In a country where the average yearly income is $509, the extra cash goes far.
According to Mary Munene, a business development services specialist with the ongoing USAID/Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program, as Kenya’s dairy farmers become more entrepreneurial, they create a demand for new and better services. “Thousands of private-sector service providers have emerged as the Kenya dairy sector grows,” said Munene.
After running his petrol station on the main road in Kangema, in Muranga County, for 30 years, 52-year-old Joseph Githahu understands the limitations of the informal milk traders—Rono’s former milk merchants. Known locally as hawkers, many of them operate on motorbikes, stringing the plastic liter jugs of the milk they buy across the saddle and handlebars. The largest amount of milk some hawkers can collect, transport and sell in a day is around 20 liters. After that point, spoilage diminishes returns, and creates unhappy customers. With a profit margin of 10 shillings (12 cents) per liter, many hawkers found it difficult to pay expenses and feed their families, and, too often, Githahu reported, would fail to pay the farmers for the milk.
In 2009, Githahu decided to invest in professionalizing the milk-collection process that so many families in his rural community depend on for cash. He turned to the competitiveness program for information on the proper handling of fresh milk.
He took out a bank loan to buy his first truck. “In three years, I’ve worked up to having seven pick-up trucks, two 3-ton trucks and a 5-ton truck. My staff is trained on how to test the milk for bacteria and to ensure that no water has been added by farmers desperate for a few extra shillings,” says Githahu.
Githahu’s Kirere Dairy Services buys 8,000 liters of milk per day from smallholder farmers and sells it to large processors such as Brookside Dairy or New KCC. Every morning at 6 a.m., the Kirere fleet fans out to collect the milk along the routes that radiate from the dairy. Farmers wait at designated points with one, two or more liters of milk to sell. By 8:30 a.m., fresh milk arrives at the dairy to be transferred, can by can, to the cooler. Githahu began by investing in one, and then two, agitation coolers, at a cost of $20,000 each. But he has upgraded to a more high-tech—and, at $62,000, considerably more expensive—cooling system that cools the milk to the required 4 degrees Celsius rapidly.
Through the USAID dairy program, Githahu had access to advice on borrowing and supported the development of his business plan. Now, he is paying that knowledge forward. As he travels the different collection routes, he educates local farmers in the proper handling of the fresh milk and encourages them to buy nutritious feed to supplement the farm fodder they feed the cows.
“I keep investing my profits into the dairy,” Githahu explains. “This is a long-term investment in my community.”
Now, in addition to his milk collection, Githahu also offers the farmers feeds and artificial insemination services. “Purchasing and maintaining a high-quality bull is beyond the means of these farmers. But artificial insemination offers an affordable alternative,” he says.
Artificial insemination had previously been the sole domain of the Kenyan Government. “Today, 951 entrepreneurs are registered with the government as private providers of artificial insemination services,” says Julius Kiptarus, director of livestock production at Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development. “This is in line with our policy to foster a … modern agriculture sector that has the potential to pump an additional $1 billion into the economy.”
Along with these new dairy value-chain entrepreneurs, private capital is also warming to the dairy sector. Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) is the largest of several private banks and microfinance institutions to invest in its growth. Over the past two years, USAID’s Financial Inclusion for Rural Microenterprises project helped KCB develop an agriculture strategy and create a dairy lending business line, backed by $5 million in USAID loan guarantees and technical assistance to show them how lending to smallholders can be profitable.
In Kenya’s northern Rift Valley, KCB’s Eldoret West branch is offering dairy herd improvement loans, which Elseba Ndiema, a loan officer there, says is exactly what clients want. “We call it the ng’ombe loan, or dairy herd loan,” she says.
According to Ndiema, dairy farming only becomes profitable once a farmer is able to maintain a herd of six or more cows. The ng’ombe loan allows smallholder farmers to achieve that scale. Ndiema manages a portfolio of 30 dairy loans valued at $290,000. Approximately $9 million in dairy-related loans have been issued since January 2012 across the 32 KCB branches.
“For us at KCB—a large and conservative bank—lending into agriculture at the smallholder level and to others in the value chain that are not corporations was a major shift in thinking for us. Doing so would not have been possible without USAID’s research, product development and training,” says Wilfred Musau, director of retail banking.
KCB determines a dairy farmer’s creditworthiness based not on the traditional assessment of collateral, but rather by examining the purchase records of milk collection centers and processors. Milk purchasers are more than willing to share the information knowing that it will result in larger herds and more milk to buy.
Moving Toward Exports
According to the Kenya Dairy Board, the volume of milk going to the processing plants has increased nearly three-fold, from 144 million liters in 2002 to 549 million liters in 2011. Although there are 35 commercial processors, the three largest—New KCC, Brookside Dairy and Githunguri Dairy—control about 75 percent of the market.
“About 92 percent of Kenya’s dairy production is consumed locally and 8 percent is exported in the form of powdered milk and other long-lasting products,” says Machira Gichohi, managing director of the Kenya Dairy Board. “To continue to achieve the 7-percent growth rate envisioned in the government’s agricultural strategy, the dairy sub-sector is going to need to move towards exporting fresh dairy products and that’s going to require a greater investment in quality controls and cold storage facilities.”
Since 1990, the number of smallholder farmers producing milk has increased by 260 percent. Today, dairy is responsible for 14 percent of Kenya’s agricultural GDP and 4 percent of the country’s total wealth, and supports 1.5 million smallholder farmers. Over 12 years, the sector has spawned more than 1.25 million private-sector jobs in milk transportation, processing, distribution and other industry support services.
“The dairy subsector has potential to improve the livelihoods of the majority smallholder family farmers and realize transformation from subsistence farming to a competitive, commercial and sustainable dairy industry for economic growth and wealth creation,” says Mohamed Abdi Kuti, minister for livestock development.
“I expect to see these transformational approaches to smallholder dairy farming continue to expand, even after the USAID-funded program is completed, to all 1.5 million rural Kenyan families that keep cows,” said Munene.
The dairy sector is a key part of the United States’ global hunger and food security initiative, also known as Feed the Future, in the East African country.
“The dairy sector is crucial in order to increase the incomes of rural farming families and contribute to the nutritional diversity of the nation’s diet. By producing more than they can eat and selling it on the market, rural farming families attain the resiliency to withstand crises such as drought, flooding or price spikes in staple foods,” says Mark Meassick, director of the agriculture office at USAID/Kenya.
Mary Rono says the cooperative model helped stave off hunger in Kibomet. During 2010 and 2011, some of the worst droughts in decades hit the Horn of Africa, resulting in famine in parts of Kibomet. However, Rono’s cooperative society was able to weather the dry period without losing income. “During that drought, most of the farmers did not have enough feed for their cows, so the cows could not produce enough milk to be sold and the farmers’ incomes dropped tremendously. A few families starved,” Rono remembers.
Said Rosaline Niega, a cooperative member: “Being in a cooperative, our milk had a higher price, and that helped us to earn money to feed our families.”
Feed the Future strategies for food security are designed not only to accelerate agriculture-led growth and reduce undernutrition, but also to encourage sustainable and equitable management of land, water, fisheries, and other resources. Feed the Future Intern Christopher Chapman asked guest expert Irvin Widders to provide his insights on how improved varieties can help smallholder farmers overcome major challenges.
1. How are improved crop varieties created and how do they help farmers?
Widders: First of all, we need to understand that improved varieties don’t always possess high yield potential. Traits of improved varieties in addition to increased productivity can include:
The Feed the Future Dry Grain Pulses Innovation Lab* takes sustainability into account; thus “improved” is relative to the needs of the farmer, consumers, and the environment.
Improved varieties start with plant breeders and farmers selecting a number of plants with the desired traits and making crosses between these plants. Among the offspring, plants with the desired combination of traits are selected and then further crossed. It typically takes eight to ten generations of crosses before an elite genetic line (variety) is obtained that possesses all the agronomic and culinary traits that the breeder is seeking. Additionally, it is possible to not only develop a variety with a new adventitious trait (i.e. a disease-resistance gene), but to increase the expression of a particular trait, for example, increasing the size or color intensity of the grain.
2. What are the difficulties in this process?
Widders: The process itself works quite well; it is the application of the improved varieties that creates challenges. The field performance of a plant can be thought of as the interaction of its genetics with the environment. When improved varieties are developed, their genetics are changed in a way that enables them to perform in a superior manner under a particular set of environmental conditions. But there are so many different environmental factors—weather during growing season, day length, soil conditions, length of growing season, and disease and insect pressure—that can make an improved variety perform differently in alternative environments.
Choosing when and under what conditions to plant certain improved varieties can also be challenging because local weather patterns are unpredictable. During a particular season, farmers may face drought conditions, while excess rainfall the following season can cause major crop losses. If a farmer plants an improved drought-tolerant variety during a year when rainfall is not limiting, that variety may not be the highest-yielding as compared to other varieties.
The matter becomes even more complicated when one realizes that there are different types of drought (e.g. terminal and intermittent). A breeder selects for varieties that are adapted to the most prevalent agronomic conditions and stresses in a particular area. Farmers select varieties to plant which they like for multiple reasons; not just yield, but also traits such as early maturity (if there is a hunger period), cooking time, and flavor (culinary traits).
3. What do you think the future direction of research will be?
Widders: With the advent of genetic sequencing and the use of molecular markers, breeders can identify and select for specific genes controlling both observable and non-observable traits of interest, like physiological traits conferring improved drought tolerance or enhanced capacity to biologically fix nitrogen. This provides breeders with tools to more effectively and efficiently make crosses to obtain a desired phenotype that has the potential to be a highly successful variety for farmers.
Additionally, genomics is enabling breeders to exploit genetic diversity that exists in all crop species, through characterization of core germplasm collections and identification of new, previously unidentified traits that can be valuable in crop improvement. I am convinced that the genomics revolution will afford unimaginable opportunities to make future gains in increasing productivity and resilience of crop species to climate change.
There also needs to be more localized adaptive research and testing. This can ensure that new improved varieties really work in the areas they will be planted. Smallholder farmers also need to be educated about the advantages and weaknesses of improved varieties so that they can effectively manage the crop to achieve optimum varietal performance and to profitably use production inputs.
Irvin Widders is the Director of the Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab: Collaborative Research on Dry Grain Pulses* based at Michigan State University. The Innovation Lab contributes to economic growth and food and nutrition security through knowledge and technology generation that strengthens pulse (e.g., bean, cowpea, pigeon pea, etc.) value chains and enhances the capacity and sustainability of agriculture research institutions which serve pulse sectors in developing countries of Africa and Latin America.
*Formerly called the Dry Grain Pulse Collaborative Research Support Program.
Research Blog Series
Feed the Future strategies for food security are designed not only to accelerate agriculture-led growth and reduce undernutrition, but also to encourage sustainable and equitable management of land, water, fisheries, and other resources.
Feed the Future Intern Christopher Chapman asked conservation agriculture expert Bruno Gerard (pictured left) how climate change relates to agricultural development.
1. How are climate change and agriculture related?
Gerard: All plants depend on water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis; the degree to which each species needs each of these things is variable. Climate change is induced by higher levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which alone is good for crops because it makes it easier for plants to pull the carbon dioxide from the air.
Unfortunately, increased greenhouse gas in the atmosphere also changes the radiative and energy balance of the Earth, leading to warmer temperatures. The increasing temperatures in turn influence global weather patterns, altering the amount, frequency and distribution of rainfall. There are and will be some places in which these effects are positive, while in other places they’re expected to be devastating.
One thing farmers throughout the world have had to deal with is variability in climate. There are always good years and bad years, but climate change is likely to exacerbate extremes in climatic conditions in most regions of the world. Agriculture itself is contributing significantly to global warming by emitting greenhouse gases. Crop production uses fossil fuels for mechanized operations, irrigation, and fertilizer production.
2. What do you see as the most promising approach to tackle these problems?
Gerard: There are no silver bullets to tackle climate change issues in agriculture, but there is a broad set of actions and measures to develop and implement in an integrated manner. This means working at different scales and integrating policy, technical, socio-economic, and ethical matters, and going beyond the agriculture domain. This process should include famers—the primary stakeholders—to maximize diversity and ensure appropriate and adaptable solutions. Under this framework, science and research have a clear role to play by following these steps:
1. Develop predictive capabilities to better understand what the situation could be in 5, 10 or 50 years. Again, this includes climate change issues but also other drivers of changes such as demographic growth, spread of technology, land use changes, market changes, policy changes, and local and global food security.
2. Use predictions to develop sustainable technical and socio-economic solutions. Solutions should:
3. Act now in adapting and implementing resource-efficient, risk-reducing practices.
3. What is meant by being “resilient” to climate change, and how can we get there?
Gerard: Resilience is a physics term meaning the property to go back to an original state after a “deformation” resulting from stress. The broader use of resilience can mean many things in different situations, especially agriculture. But resilience by itself does not mean the situation is desirable or not. Other criteria like profitability, stability, social acceptability, and environmental issues need to be considered.
For example, take an area that is shocked by a drought. In ecological terms that area is resilient if the natural vegetation can recover to normal levels in a few years. For an ecosystem inhabited by humans who need to eat, that would not be acceptable; so other forms of resilience would be needed. Improving the resilience of agro-ecosystems is multi-faceted and is usually targeted at mitigating the effects of the drought.
The effects of a drought can be avoided by:
Social components of resilience (e.g., safety nets and solidarity) can also be important in helping the farmers survive and recover from drought. Economic resilience allows farmers who lost money after a drought to continue farming with new inputs the next season. Farming systems become more resilient when banks and credit unions allow farmers to save money when times are good and use that money to plant again after a bad season. Many small farms in the developing world are mixed crop-livestock enterprises and livestock is playing a critical role in helping farmers to survive and recover from shocks.
There are many potential innovations to build resilience, all helping in their own way. We need to take the lessons learned in one area of the world and share them with farmers in others to implement them in an integrated manner with a focus on improving livelihoods.
Bruno Gerard is the director of the Global Conservation Agriculture Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, a not-for-profit agriculture research and training organization. The center works to reduce poverty and hunger by sustainably increasing the productivity of maize and wheat in the developing world. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR Consortium and receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks, and other public and private agencies.
Research Blog Series
Feed the Future strategies for food security are designed not only to accelerate agriculture-led growth and reduce undernutrition, but also to encourage sustainable and equitable management of land, water, fisheries, and other resources.
Feed the Future Intern Christopher Chapman asked soil fertility and conservation agriculture expert Michael Mulvaney to tell us more about the importance of sustainable agriculture.
1. How many people can the world feed?
Mulvaney: The answer is unknown. It comes down to an idea first presented by British scholar Thomas Malthus in the early 19th century. Malthus realized that the Earth has a finite amount of resources, and therefore only a finite amount of people can survive on it at a time. Since Malthus first proposed this idea there have been varying opinions on how many people can survive and thrive based on how well we utilize the finite resources we have.
We can produce a lot of food unsustainably, if we choose. But it is a false dichotomy to say that we can produce less food sustainably. Conservation agriculture (CA), for example, can produce the same amount of food, but in a sustainable way that conserves and improves resources. The environment filters our water, cleans our air, prevents erosion, produces food, and provides other resources and services we need. The challenge is to produce food in a way that enhances our natural resources in order to produce food well into the future.
2. What are the long-term impacts of agriculture/animal husbandry on land, water, and other natural resources?
Mulvaney: The direct effects of traditional plow-based agriculture include increased erosion, depleted soil fertility, increased greenhouse gas emissions, decreased biodiversity, and decreased farm resilience to climate change. The soil that we farm is not a renewable resource on a human timescale; it takes 500 years to build one inch of soil and, on a poorly managed agricultural system, that inch of soil can be washed away in a single rainstorm, so protecting it is critical.
Agriculture has cascading effects at the watershed, national, and international levels. For example, plow-based agriculture increases erosion, which can silt up dams, depleting the fishing resources of downstream communities, and decreasing national power generation. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture have global implications, but also mean lower soil fertility at the farm level, through carbon mineralization and denitrification (nitrate reduction). We can improve nutrient and water use efficiency using sustainable intensification, while simultaneously improving soil resources.
3. The Feed the Future research strategy focuses around “sustainable intensification,” which you just mentioned. What does that mean?
Mulvaney: We need to increase yields to feed the growing population, but we need to do it in a sustainable way. “Sustainable intensification” means working to increase yields on the same area of land. Some tools for sustainable intensification include the use of CA, increased inputs, improved varieties, and education.
Nature does things best. We need to learn from nature when we design agricultural systems. There is nothing more unnatural than a plowed field. You will rarely see bare soil in nature. You will never see a tilled field or a field with a single species as you do in conventional agriculture. CA is closer to what Mother Nature does, enabling the farming system to replenish its fertility, protect the soil, limit erosion, and produce a sustainable system. A lot of the work we do is not just about yields, but how to become more resilient and resistant to things like climate change and droughts.
For example, farmers we work with in Cambodia didn’t have to replant after a recent drought because they had sufficient soil moisture by eliminating tillage and using cover crops, which increased organic carbon in the soil and protected it from excessive evaporation, allowing the soil to hold more moisture. The farmers who practiced CA didn’t have to replant, while all of their neighbors did, which meant additional cost and late crops for their non-CA neighbors. Farmers see this, and they see it’s working, and that’s how we get adoption.
We act like CA is a new thing, but it’s not—it’s been around for most of human history. Native Americans used to plant with a stick (now called ‘no-till’), put a fish in the hole as fertilizer (‘precision agriculture’), and plant the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash; ‘intercropping’). There are lessons to be learned from the way we used to do things, and then include the newer tools we have today, in order to build a sustainable food system that helps the environment and the farmer alike.
4. Where is the most research and work needed to improve agriculture in developing countries?
Mulvaney: I think we need to focus on appropriate tillage and crop management practices. Research, extension, and education work with farmers will be essential to make this happen. Extension work is the transmission of the knowledge we gain through research into practice around the world. You can’t just hand a smallholder farmer a no-till planter and say, “have at it.”
Switching from conventional agriculture to CA is a game-changing event for the farmer. We need to make sure the system works before we can extend it to the farmer because if it fails, the farmers and their families starve. There needs to be education and support to ensure the new methods are beneficial for the farmer and are actually adopted.
Germplasm improvements should play an important role as well. At the low-tech end we have educators who teach farmers how to select the best seeds from their harvest to use again next season. At the high-tech level, researchers can produce specialized plants that have increased yield, drought tolerance, or can withstand higher or lower temperatures, by selecting and breeding for the natural variations that exist in the plant species.
It's important to realize that none of this research can take place in a vacuum. In many ways, the agronomic solutions are easy. But without integrating economics, sociology, and gender issues, the agronomic solutions may not work. We need real interdisciplinary collaboration to solve these problems.
Michael Mulvaney is a soil fertility and conservation agriculture expert and the assistant director for the Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab: Collaborative Research on Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management* located at Virginia Tech University. The lab supports farmers in developing countries become more sustainable while improving yields with education, tools, training, and research. Follow him on Twitter @TheDirtDude.
*Formerly called the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM) Collaborative Research Support Program.
Research Blog Series
The following is a guest blog post by Irine Zippy Kalamai, founder of the Chepterit Horticultural Growers Organization in Nandi County, Kenya.
I’ll always remember the first case of AIDS that I saw. It was almost twenty years ago. I had been working as a nurse in rural Kenya for a very long time.
There are many myths and superstitions surrounding HIV/AIDS. Some people even believe that the disease is a hex cast by a neighbor through witchcraft. This misinformation can make it difficult for us to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, combat the effects of stigma facing people living with HIV/AIDS, or even advise people on the proper diet to boost their immune systems.
When I was transferred to work as a nurse in Nandi County in 1998, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in that area was about seven percent. Women who had lost their husbands to AIDS sometimes resorted to prostitution, further spreading the disease. As a result, we saw a lot of orphaned children.
At that time, antiretroviral drugs that are used to boost immunity against HIV had just been introduced to Kenya. Most people living with HIV were reluctant to take the drugs. They had seen or experienced the side effects of the antiretroviral drugs that are similar to those of drugs used to treat cancer – they made people feel worse. Without a proper balanced diet, the effects of the antiretroviral drugs had little impact in boosting people’s immune systems.
As a nurse, I recognized a dire need to improve how and what people in my community were eating. I was constantly trying to educate people on how important it is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. But it is difficult to eat a balanced diet without a regular income.
At the same time that I was working as a nurse, passion fruit farming had just begun here in Nandi County, and I was interested in growing it myself. It was always my routine to spend the first hour of the day on my farm before going to work at the clinic. Eventually, I visited a farm that taught people how to grow and nurture passion fruit seedlings, and it suddenly occurred to me that I could hit two birds with one stone: I could help others generate income while educating them on how to use better nutrition to combat HIV/AIDS.
I started to train people how to grow passion fruits, dedicating a third of my small piece of land specifically to my newfound project. I used the training to encourage people to get tested for HIV and to take the antiretroviral drugs. By teaching them to grow passion fruit, I was helping them generate income so they had some money to improve their diet.
I founded the Chepterit Horticultural Growers Organization to empower women living with HIV/AIDS through passion fruit and vegetable farming. Our group focuses on passion fruit because it yields so much on such small pieces of land. Passion fruit can also be intercropped, which means you can grow it at the same time and on the same land as a second crop. And passion fruit provides necessary vitamins that help supplement the diet with nutrients necessary to fight off diseases.
As a nurse, I knew about the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its work in the clinics to provide antiretroviral drugs, get people tested for HIV/AIDS, and help us raise awareness about the disease in our community. So when I started the Chepterit Horticultural Growers Organization, I was not surprised to learn about a Feed the Future project supported by USAID that was providing information on agricultural innovations, like soil testing and drip irrigation technologies.
Through the U.S. Government’s support, our group received nets to keep out the insects that always invade the farms during the rainy season, and we were able to connect with Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture. By selling high-quality passion fruit seedlings, we have been able to expand beyond the local market and sell our crops to buyers in other parts of the country. Some of our buyers are from as far as Kakamega in Western Kenya!
Now we have members living with HIV who can afford school uniforms for their children. We have widows who can afford to support their children to continue beyond primary to secondary school. In addition to learning about better nutrition, some members are even using their income to supplement their diet with fish, even though it is not a traditional staple food in Nandi County. The knowledge we’ve gained about both health and agriculture means we won’t lose another generation to AIDS in Kenya.
In 2006 Irine Zippy Kalamai was awarded the Head of State Commendation by the President of Kenya, His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, for championing the introduction of antiretroviral drugs in rural Kenya.