Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Consolidating Colombia’s Peace through Sustainable and Inclusive Crop Substitution

Image result for Santos Whitaker Sustitución de cultivos
Source: RCN

This week in the Department of Meta, one of a dozen conflict hotspots across Colombia, President Juan Manual Santos inaugurated a revamped effort by the national government to curb the growing of coca leafs—the main ingredient in cocaine production. Historically, previous government-led initiatives have focused primarily in the eradication of coca yields through the spraying of glyphosate, an herbicide proven to cause various forms of cancer and ecological degradation. While these spraying initiatives have barely decreased the total production of coca leaf, they have caused significant harm to farmers, the licit crops they grow for food and sustenance, as well as the surrounding environment in which these rural households live and work. Faced with this impending economic, health and environmental situation, many farmers have had to leave their lands altogether or have even returned to growing coca, a crop that is oftentimes more profitable than cultivating legal crops.

The initiative launched this week by President Santos in company of U.S Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, emphasizes the need to substitute 50,000 hectares of coca with licit, income-generating crops. In order to achieve this ambitious objective, the government has established a partnership in which 83,790 farming families voluntarily agree to halt coca production and manually eradicate coca plants without the need of herbicides. In return, the farmers will receive a monthly income of COP 1,000,000 pesos (a rate higher than the monthly minimum wage in Colombia) during the first year of the program. In addition, participating farmers will also be granted a sum of COP$1,800,000 to start and implement food security projects for their households and communities. By instituting an economic incentive, farmers no longer need to turn to illicit coca production in order to secure their livelihoods.

Interestingly, this government-led initiative in some ways parallels and complements USAID’s own crop substitution programs in Colombia. One of these programs is Chocolate Colombia, a locally run, USAID-supported chocolate collective that draws on the potential for cocoa production in many of Colombia’s war-torn municipalities. The collective constitutes a holistic support system by which rural dwellers—that once grew coca and other illicit crops—can viably transition to cultivating legitimate, income-generating cocoa. The program achieves this through an integrated approach of technical expertise and small business development. On the technical side, local farmers are collectively instructed on agro-forestry demonstration plots, where they receive training on low-impact planting techniques, plant care, and fertilizer application. The cocoa plants grown in this plot are then moved to a mid-size (15 hectares) nursery—located on communally-owned land—where farmers receive further training. On the business side, campesinos take part in entrepreneurial seminars where they learn about the economic potential of the cocoa plant as well as grasp skills necessary to run a small, cocoa bean production unit from their own private plots.

F2F Volunteer, Dean Wheeler, training cacao producers in Campoalegre, Huila

Similar to the Chocolate Colombia collective, the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has also made important strides to helping Colombian farmers transition into licit crop production. Managed by Partners of the Americas’ Agriculture & Food Security team, the Farmer-to-Farmer program has send numerous volunteers to help advance rural value chains in some of Colombia’s former conflict areas. In 2015, Margaret Morse—a biologist from the University of Minnesota—traveled to Boyacá where she trained dozens of smallholder strawberry and blueberry producers on various aspects of pest management and produce diversification. Later that year, Dean Wheeler—an agribusiness expert from UC-Davis—visited the community of Campoalegre, in the Huila Department, where led numerous trainings on value-added products derived from coffee and cacao. Most recently, Farmer-to-Farmer program has provided technical assistance to Zen Naturals, a small Cali-based cosmetics and skincare company which sources its ingredients (e.g. quinoa) directly from the indigenous community of Jambalo, Cauca—one of the areas most inflicted by Colombia’s armed conflict. During the last two years, a series of F2F volunteers have assisted this small enterprise with 1) branding and marketing, 2) graphic design and digital media, 3) public affairs, and even with research and development of new quinoa-based cosmetic and skincare products. In turn, Zen Naturals has been able to buy bulks of quinoa directly from producers in Jambalo, providing with an economic alternative to growing coca leaf.  In addition to purchasing quinoa, ZenNaturals has also been active in training producer communities on multiple techniques related to sustainable quinoa production and extraction. Thanks to this assistance, Zen Naturals has been able to successful market and sale their new fair-trade cosmetics and skincare product line, Zue, to international markets. Zue products are now being sold across dozens of Whole Foods supermarkets in the eastern United States.

F2F Volunteer, John Talbott, assist Zen Naturals at the 2016 Health & Beauty Business Expo in Bogota, Colombia

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chayote (Tayota) Production in the Dominican Republic

From January 24 to February 5, Dr. William Terry Kelley was in the Dominican Republic as part of a Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) assignment. During his trip, Dr. Kelly  traveled to La Vega Province where he assisted smallholder chayote (tayota) producers in adapting sustainable soil management and fertilization techniques. 

Farmers in the Jarabacoa region of the province are currently producing Tayota (primarily Sechium edule) on slopes approaching 40% with a raised trellis system. While this crop is profitable for these growers and is therefore economically viable, the production system that they employ is not sustainable for the soil nor the surrounding environment.  Since the growers do not use any type of ground cover under the canopy of the crop, most chayote field suffered from high levels of soil erosion. 

While most growers have adequate chemical options for traditional insect and disease control, many of them utilize highly toxic compounds that they apply with hand sprayers and little to no personal protective equipment This situation presents an avoidable danger to the producers, since many of those insects and pest could be controlled with milder compounds that would not pose such a danger to the growers. In general, the growers’ fertilization practices are sound, although they could possibly reduce nitrogen applications, particularly during dry parts of the season. 

Dr. Kelley's Recommendations

In light of these issues, Dr. Kelley provided a series of recommendation that local chayota farmers can use to prevent soil erosion and improve soil fertility. To generate the following recommendations, Dr. Kelley first had to carry numerous visits to chayota fields and identify the soil and fertilization practices being employed. Next, he had to assess the problems they were facing and determine the best way to employ changes in their practices. Also, having found out that there was some resistance from growers to using cover crops because of their concern over the cover crop competing with the Tayota crop, Dr. Kelley felt it best to make a plan to prioritize three key areas: 
  • Reducing Soil Erosion: Growers are faced with a dramatic soil erosion problem where Tayota is produced on steep slopes. The most feasible way for the growers to alleviate this problem is to use a cover crop in conjunction with the Tayota crop. Not being totally familiar with the flora that will thrive in the tropical climate, Dr. Kelley made recommendations that several different types of covers be trialed in order to determine the best cover to use. This cover has to provide sufficient coverage to virtually eliminate soil erosion, must not compete economically with the crop and must be capable of thriving under the crop canopy and in the tropical climate. Growers would like to use a cover that provides some nitrogen to the soil which means a legume would be preferable or a legume mixture. Some of the possible species to try would be:
    • White Clover
    • Lespedeza
    • Hairy Vetch
    • Ladino Clover
    • Perennial Peanut
    • Annual Ryegrass (or a non-competitive native grass species that can be mixed with the above legume species).
  • Ideally, these covers should be planted as the crop is initiated so that they can get established before the crop canopy is complete. Covers that are too aggressive could be killed down with paraquat and still leave enough residue to hold the soil in place. However, ideally a cover mixture that is low profile would be non-competitive to the crop and the legume would supply the needed nitrogen for the grass species and thus not compete with the crop for nutrients. The crop should not compete in sum with the crop for moisture as the cover will conserve much of the moisture present.

  • Using Appropriate Pesticides:The growers do have some weed, insect and disease problems. For weed problems the growers are using paraquat in general. This is an appropriate use and can be continued. Most of the diseases are controlled by Mancozeb which they currently use, however, this should be rotated with another class of fungicide such as a stobylurin class fungicide, if available. This will reduce the possibility of resistance by the fungi to a single class of fungicide. There are several strobylurins available, although its difficult to assess which are available in the DR. Growers have limited insect problems and do have the insecticides necessary to control the pests that they do encounter. It seems stem borers, worms and mites are their main problems. They use some materials referred to in the table above that are useful for control of these species. However, one of these materials should be discontinued if at all possible. Agromate is a very toxic insecticide. Although it provides excellent control, it is very dangerous to be applied with the handheld application devices used in the DR and should never be used without personal protective equipment. There are numerous insecticides which would provide control of the pest species that they have and would be much safer for the grower and the environment.
  • Fertilization:The growers use a number of different fertilizer materials. It was difficult to ascertain what total amounts of fertilizer are being applied to the crop. This was due to the various materials used and not being able to determine the exact amounts and timing of each material. Based on some of the information that I obtained, it appears that the fertilization is within the requirements of the crop for nitrogen. However, growers may be using more potassium than they require and could be using more phosphorous than needed as well. More information is required to fully determine a recommendation on this issue.

Friday, May 12, 2017

In Guatemala, It’s All About the Volcanic Soil!

Written By: Leah Tewksbury, F2F Volunteer

In Guatemala, it is volcanic soil we’re talking about, and basically nothing beats volcanic soil. Period. Volcanic materials break down and weather to form some of the most fertile soils on Earth. Volcanic soils produce, arguably, the finest coffee, tea, grapes for wine, fruit, and vegetables in the world. Lucky for Guatemala, it has countless volcanoes that have provided amazing soils for its people, in addition to showcasing some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Central America. I was fortunate to be assigned to work with vegetable growers near Antigua, Guatemala and got a firsthand look at how productive and fertile volcanic soils can be. Since my vegetable farm in Pennsylvania is situated on a mountain of shale, and fertility has always been an ongoing endeavor, it was impressive to see such high quality soils producing vast amounts of vegetables (primarily conventionally-grown carrots, snow peas, green beans, and zucchinis for an export market to the U.S. and Europe).

However, even the most productive soils can become exhausted if managed improperly, and one of the purposes of my assignment was to provide training on improving soil health. We (for this F2F assignment, I collaborated with Michael J. Snow, an organic vegetable grower from Virginia) also taught IPM practices, basic organic certification requirements, and recordkeeping practices to a large vegetable cooperative. This cooperative is composed of several hundred members, predominantly Mayan men and women farmers, who intensively manage small plots averaging 100 m by 100 m. Their farms have been managed conventionally for decades, with frequent tillage and intensive crop turnover (averaging four crops/year). All of the plots that we visited were hand-cultivated, using temporary raised beds for most crops. As a result of these intensive chemical and tillage practices, the farmers have seen increasing pressure from pests and diseases in their crops, and find they must use larger and more frequent amounts of chemical sprays and fertilizers. They have also seen the loss of much biodiversity, especially in the form of natural predators and beneficial soil-dwelling organisms (e.g., earthworms, predatory nematodes).

Much of our time was spent discussing the value of the soil as their number one resource. We held workshops on soil structure, biodiversity, erosion control, and the importance of feeding the soil. High on the list of recommendations was reducing or eliminating tillage, which destroys soil structure and soil-dwelling organisms, burns up valuable nutrients, loses moisture, and contributes to erosion problems. Soil needs to stay in place and be covered as much as possible, either through the use of dead or living mulches.

We shared ideas on different types of cover crops (e.g., forage peas, oats, clover, etc.) that could be used to nourish their soils, as well as their crops. We also explained that dead mulches, such as straw or corn chop, could be used to cover bare soil and provide nourishment as the material decayed. Many of the problems these farmers face are a direct result of poor soil management, so incorporating any organic or sustainable management practices would help to rebuild their soils and strengthen crop resiliency. Planting permanent insectaries also was discussed, highlighting the value that many beneficial insects and birds contribute to controlling agricultural pest and disease issues.

Guatemala is truly a “Garden of Eden” – virtually anything can grow in this temperate, fertile region. However, knowing how to preserve and maintain this gift of rich volcanic soil is vital to ensuring that Guatemalans can enjoy a future filled with abundant food, flora and fauna. Almost all terrestrial life on Earth exists on the top 10 inches of its surface. Recognizing the incredible importance of this universal wealth and actively working towards conserving and enriching the Earth’s soils is likely the most valuable job that any farmer can do. Sharing my knowledge of permaculture and organic food systems with this hardworking Mayan community was a win-win for all parties. My hope is for them to adopt sustainable farming practices, thereby improving their livelihoods and securing an agricultural future that will produce for centuries to come.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

10 weeks in Puyo, Ecuador: Part II

One of the many agricultural lecture/workshops at Chuya Yaku. 
This was the farm of Abel Canelos and Yolanda Vargas
Written by: Rip Winkel, F2F Volunteer

This is the second report on my Partners of the Americas' USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer assignment to Puyo Ecuador. In the first report, I outlined my schedule, and explained a bit of what the purpose of the project was about. In this second article, I would like to detail a little more on the work done, the communities and some of the folks that I was fortunate enough to get to know. And as stated before, I feel privileged to have been able to work this project for Farmer-to-Farmer program.

Each week that I was in Ecuador, it seemed that there was less and less time to get things done.  In Chuya Yaku, where the majority of the work was conducted, 8 out of 10 farms in this Kichwa territory participated in the trainings and workshops. The size of the groups attending these sessions ranged anywhere from 5 to 28 people. There were 9 to 12 people that attended regularly, and then others from the community would attend for reasons of curiosity, or for wanting to know more about the subject that was being lectured and/or practiced that day. Each session had a topic that was discussed or reviewed before the group went out to the cacao field to prune.  These topics ranged from proper pruning methods, grafting techniques, making homemade (organic) pesticides, and ways to increase yield, to soil characteristics including erosion prevention, soil structure, soil pH and nutrient availability, to organic material, etc.).

Cristian Kaisar of Chuya Yaku trying out the new pole 
pruner on cacao at the farm of Doña Clara Santí.
One of the highlights for me was when I brought a pole pruner apparatus with me to one of the workshops. The point of bringing this tool (from the States) was to demonstrate an easier way to prune the height of cacao trees. Traditionally it has been done with machetes. Using the pole pruner allowed for better control of tree height, it makes it less strenuous physically to prune and lessens the damage to the trees. When I presented it, their eyes all lit up in wonder, as they gathered around pulling on the rope and spring, touching all the pulleys and levers, and asking me how much I wanted for it as if it were an auction.  One person in particular, Benito Vargas, wanted to take it apart so his son could see the different parts and build one just like it.  
By the end of the 10 weeks, the majority of the cacao trees on each one of these 8 farms were correctly pruned, and a schedule for spaying was set up to combat the ever-advancing Monilia disease.

Another community I was conducting lecture/workshops in was Esfuerzo II. This community is in a different situation altogether.  A few years back they started a project where they took the organic trash from the markets in Puyo twice a month. With this organic trash, they would clean it, chop up large pieces and mix in biol, rice hulls, etc. and let it compost. After 6 weeks, they had rich compost which they would put in bags and sell them at $6.00 each. It sold well. Over time, they were able to take their earnings and construct a greenhouse adjacent to their warehouse. The main point of the workshops here were growing crops in this green-house, as well as learning to graft, especially citrus trees.

The community of Esfurezo II turning the organic 
material and working the compost business.
This group of 9 people on the average, (5 women and 4 men) was well organized, and had no qualms about getting the work done. They were taking steps that afforded them bigger projects, with more financial potential. They were on the verge of marketing the produce from their greenhouse and  building onto their existing composting warehouse - doubling it in size. What I appreciated was that they took time to enjoy the work they did. Toward the end of the compost turning, and just before the workshop began in the greenhouse, or on practicing grafting techniques, one of the older gentleman would pull out a bottle of homemade, fermented sugar cane juice and serve everyone a little glass full just as an enjoyment. The beverage was sweet with a real kick to it.I am hoping that this community diversifies their compost product - customizing it for individual crops so as to increase the value of the compost.

Success in the greenhouse of Esfuerzo II.
Another community I was involved with, especially the elementary school, was a community called “10 de Agosto.” There was a class of 18 eight to ten year-old students who were learning to make biol in 3 liter coke bottles, plant vegetable seeds in seed trays, and work a covered garden (in the Puyo area, the rain comes so often, so hard, and in such large amounts, that it is advisable to cover your garden area to protect your plants). These kids were great, and incredibly receptive to new methods of planting vegetables and fruits as well as learning to weed, irrigate properly, and even endure my lectures on soil fertility! What I found to be the funniest thing was in one workshop, and out in the garden, the kids would all want to plant from the seed tray all at the same time, completely oblivious to the fact that they were stepping over and on top of the plants that had just been planted. They just wanted to have that opportunity to plant something themselves. Two varieties of seeds that were presented to them and that they were excited to see grow were patty pan squash and okra, neither of which they had ever seen before.

Students at 10 de Agosto watering in the seeds they had
just planted in their covered garden area.
The fourth and last community I worked with was Kilometer 6, also known as La Libertad. As I stated in the last report, this is where the current headquarters for Arajuno Road Project (ARP) is located. This community is closest to the city of Puyo, and tends to be the busiest of the four. Having just moved out to Km 6 within the last year, ARP is working towards constructing a learning center, which would be an advantage to all the communities up and down the Arajuno road. They have constructed a covered growing area on the back side of the property, irrigated by a rainwater drip system. They have added a composting area, biol processing area, and have been planting various cultivars for demonstration plots, e.g. coffee, cacao, pineapple, yucca, banana, etc. They also provide the region with a library, computer access and teach English. The community, in conjunction with ARP, sponsors soccer game on the weekend - making it a very popular place from Puyo to Arajuno. Staying here in this community as I did kept me either busy or entertained. It was great. Laura Hepting and Rodrigo Engracia of ARP have done an incredible job over the last year, and their goals have not yet been reached.

Part of the community of Kilometer 6 at a workshop.
This meeting included planting up vegetables in seed trays

Once again, I am grateful to Farmer to Farmer, Partners of the Americas, and USAID for the opportunity they have given me in this ‘adventure’ of a life time. I can only hope that the progress in agricultural development continues for these four communities.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Drones & Agricultura del Futuro

¿Cuál será el impacto de los drones y la agricultura de precisión para los productores de América Latina? Un equipo de ingenieros de Honduras quizás tenga la respuesta a esta pregunta.

Escrito por Mitchell Opatowsky

Como parte de nuestra serie de entrevistas con líderes innovadores en el sector agropecuario,  esta semana, Mitchell tuvo la oportunidad de conversar con representantes de la firma hondureña Green Technology. Esta empresa trabaja en la intersección de la agricultura con la tecnología de información y comunicación. La compañía está compuesta por un diverso grupo de ingenieros de informática y agrónomos. Gracias a su diverso capital humano, la empresa se ha fortalecido de una amplia gama de conocimiento sobre las deficiencias en las cadenas de valor agrícola y como, en particular, los drones y otras tecnologías pueden abordar esos desafíos.


Por medio de drones con cámaras, el equipo de Green Technology  identifica problemas en diferentes fases de la producción agrícola.  Por ejemplo, a muchos agricultores les brinda la oportunidad de tener, en tiempo real, un índice de vegetación de diferencia normalizada (NDVI). NDVI les permite medir la densidad de vegetación, el tipo de cultivos que están creciendo, como también detectar problemas como la aplicación excesiva de herbicidas y hasta síntomas de enfermedades en los cultivos. De acuerdo a Green Technology:

 “El principio básico del  índice de vegetación de diferencia normalizada se basa en el hecho de que las hojas reflejan mucha luz en el infrarrojo cercano, en marcado contraste con la mayoría de los objetos no vegetales. Cuando la planta se deshidrata o enferma las hojas reflejan menos luz imágenes infrarrojo (NIR), pero la misma cantidad en el rango visible. Así la combinación matemática de estas dos señales ayuda a diferenciar la planta de la no-planta y la planta sana de la planta enfermiza."

Además de NDVI, Green Technology tambien le brinda a los productores otra medidas de agricultura de precisión como son las imágenes RGB y los índices avanzados de vegetación (NRDE):



En cuento estos indicadores son medidos y la información es analizada, el equipo genera recomendaciones personalizadas a cada respectivo productor y cultivo.



Para Green Technology uno de los aspectos más importantes en la adopción de tecnologías como los drones y la agricultura de precisión está relacionado a los usuarios de estas herramientas. Muchos agricultores, especialmente en economías emergentes como Honduras, les preocupan que este tipo de tecnologías modernas reemplace el trabajo que ellos ejercen en el campo. Dados estos obstáculos, la empresa tienen que viajar constantemente a comunidades agrícolas para  llevar a cabo campañas de socialización y compartir los beneficios de estas tecnologías. 

Sin embargo, para Green Technology no hay nada de qué preocuparse, ya que estas plataformas tecnológicas están programadas para que servir como herramientas que—complementadas con conocimiento agrícola tradicional—hagan más eficiente la producción para los agricultores. Con la adaptación de estas herramientas, por ejemplo, los productores pueden saber cuándo, dónde y que cantidades de agua o fertilizante requieren sus cultivos—reduciendo los costos de insumos para el productor. De esta forma, estos servicios tecnológicos son accesibles para el agricultor común, ya que en el largo plazo los ahorros generados pueden pagar por el costo de contratar estos servicios.


Además de drones, también tuvimos la oportunidad de conversar sobre los desafíos que emprendedores hondureños—como los de Green Technology—tienen que superar para hacer negocios en su país. En particular, los representantes de la empresa hablaron sobre los altos costos y largos plazos que ellos tienen que incurrir para poder abrir un negocio tecnológico en Honduras. Para que se fomente la innovación en la agricultura como en otros sectores, ellos esperan que se reduzcan estos obstáculos.

Si quieres aprender más sobre los drones en la agricultura, visita los seguientes enlaces:


Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcC8KL062PEUHCJrvkwx-Og.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Food Challenges for the Americas - A Review of IFPRI's 2017 Global Policy Report

Highlights from IFRPI’s 2017 Food Policy report: Part 2

The effects of Climate Change, Violence, and Inequality and how Agricultural R&D expenditures and better trade policies can help

Nicaragua's Dry Corridor was especially hit by El Niño last year 
Some parts below are paraphrased from the report. Here's the original link to the report: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/food-security-and-nutrition-growing-cities-new-challenges

Read the first part of our reflections on the IFRPI’s report here:

In our recent reflection of  IFPRI’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report, we discussed major themes of the urban-rural divide and the changing diets that are evolving in urban centers. We connected these issues with poverty in countries where this divide is most prominent and focused in on Latin America in particular. In the second part of this reflection, we will discuss the challenges affecting the LAC region, which include issues such as climate change impacts, research and development expenditures, and total food productivity.

For many Latin Americans, there has been a great deal of socioeconomic progress made in the last few decades. Between 2002 and 2013, 60 million people in the region escaped poverty. Despite these improvements, the LAC region remains the most unequal region in the world. For the past three years, the poverty rate has stayed stubbornly at around 28% of the population, according to household surveys collated by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Furthermore, inequality is pervasive. A measurement for inequality is known as the GINI coefficient. This measurement detects where the most pronounced differences occur between the wealthy and the poor. The average Gini coefficient for Latin American countries sat around 0.51. This high score was even higher than Sub-Saharan Africa with a Gini score of 0.47. This means that LAC countries are experiencing growth in very concentrated sectors of their economies, whereas in Africa the significance of the growth that has occurred is slightly more nuanced.

A ramification for this degree of wealth inequality is the urban poverty that affects many of region's cities. Urban centers in Latin America and the Caribbean are among those most affected by violence and crime, apart from countries at war. Measured by homicides per 100,000 individuals, the 8 most dangerous cities in the world and 42 of the top 50 are in Latin America. Until urban poverty can be helped through more job opportunities, cities will be impaired in their ability to serve their citizens.

IFPRI: Data on this map shows the inequality present throughout Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Conflicts in some countries are prolonging agricultural economic growth as well. For example, even while in Colombia there’s been steady growth of the agriculture sector at a steady pace of about 2–3% annually, there have been constraints by the presence of armed groups. As the government’s peace agreement with the FARC is implemented, Colombia’s agricultural area could expand, with the prospect of rural development and private investment in areas controlled by these armed factions.

In addition, intense weather patterns from El Niño continued the drought from Central America in 2015 through early 2016. A region particularly impacted by the climatic changes is known as the Dry Corridor, a semi-arid region covering nearly one-third of Central America, primarily in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The productivity of nearly 3.5 million agriculturalists was affected. In particular, the weather patterns affected the growers who export crops like coffee and staple crops like maize and pulses. Subsistence farmers in the Dry Corridor were also affected, and a country like Honduras could have nearly lost 80% of its maize. Currently, El Niño is tapering off as it transitions to La Niña, a climate pattern that brings excessive rains, which lead to land erosion, floods, and powerful tropical storms. Due to the international prices of key staple foods being reduced, from the increased worldwide flow of agricultural goods, the hunger that El Niño could have caused was reduced, through affordable food imports for the countries’ most affected populations. 
See the info-graphic below:

Infographic on El Niño weather pattern
Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, also experienced extreme drought conditions as a result of El Niño. Half a million people of its 10 million were estimated to be suffering from a lack of food due to decreased production, and inability to pay for imported food. Then last October, Haiti was directly hit by the massive Hurricane Matthew, creating Haiti’s worst humanitarian crisis since the 2010 earthquake. As of late 2016, the population in the southern part of the country was in dire need of medicine, clean water, and food to avoid an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.

El Niño had an impact throughout other countries as well, particularly Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, northern Brazil, and the southern regions of Argentina and Chile, while generating excess rain in parts of Brazil, Peru, and eastern areas of Argentina, with negative impacts on a variety of crops and livestock production.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events will require substantial investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) and in infrastructure to cope with this changing environment. However, agricultural research investment levels in most low- and middle-income countries still fall well below the minimum target of 1 percent of agricultural gross domestic product recommended by the United Nations. Higher levels of funding are needed to establish and maintain viable agricultural research programs that achieve tangible results.

1) Agricultural R&D Spending + Number of Researchers

Working with a large network of country-level collaborators, Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted surveys to collect primary data and analysis on agricultural R&D investments. After analyzing the data, ASTI publishes information and identifies trends in funding sources, spending levels and allocations. Indicators derived from this information allow the performance, inputs, and outcomes of national agricultural R&D systems to be measured, monitored, and bench-marked, with the ultimate goal of informing and improving decision making. This table shows a breakdown of Latin American investment into agricultural researchers.

Among the countries that Partners of the Americas works with, Nicaragua had 132 researchers, Guatemala had 142, the Dominican Republic had 200, and Colombia had over 1,100. Haiti was not included.  At the global level, per capita agricultural expenditure increased at a rate of 1.9 percent per year between 1980 and 2014.3 Much of the observed growth took place in the last two decades (1995–2014), reversing the decline observed between 1980 and 1994.

IFPRI: This table shows the investment in agricultural research spending and how many researchers each country has recruited. 

2) Agricultural Expenditure by Region

Moreover, tracking public expenditure by national governments allows policy makers and analysts to examine: (1) national policy priorities, as reflected in the allocation of funds, and (2) the cost-effectiveness of public spending both within and across countries. Public expenditure is expenditure incurred by public authorities—including central, state, and local governments, public corporations, and state enterprises—to provide public goods and services or to achieve national development goals. The Statistics of Public Expenditure for Economic Development (SPEED) database, a resource of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), provides data that policy makers, researchers, and other stakeholders can use to examine both historical trends and the allocation of government resources across sectors.

Several regions showed a strong recovery in the most recent period (1995–2014), while others experienced further declines in agricultural spending. This disparity reflects differences in levels of resources, economic performance, demographic shifts, and development priorities.
IFPRI: Latin America and the Carribean lags behind East Asia and the Middle East in the relative percentage of agricultural R&D to agricultural GDP

3) Global Hunger Index 

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) provides a comprehensive measure of hunger at the global level and by country. It allows for tracking progress and setbacks in addressing hunger and malnutrition over time and for assessing the drivers of these changes. The GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in the struggle against hunger and to trigger action to reduce hunger around the world.
Source: World Economic Forum
The GHI scores for East and Southeast Asia, Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States range between 7.8 and 12.8, and represent low or moderate levels of hunger. Yet disparities within each region are important to recognize. For example, Haiti has a 2016 GHI score of 36.9, which places it in the alarming category, although Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole is the developing region with the lowest GHI score.

A good first step to fighting hunger is to add more value to domestic producers. This step was taken by nations present at the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference in Nairobi that took place in December 2015, where member countries agreed to ban export subsidies. This benefits agricultural exporting countries from Latin America and Africa. It also benefits those countries which imported food, where some countries experienced a flood of foreign subsidized goods into their domestic markets. It benefits domestic producers most notably. Furthermore, negotiations between MERCOSUR, composed of South American countries, and the European Union are discussing trade issues related to market access, particularly trading off European manufacturing for MERCOSUR agriculture.

MERCOSUR's trade initiative is a good step to benefit LAC farmers

In this article, we've looked at various food and agricultural challenges, and how international NGOs are leveraging their resources to measure the effect of these conflicts on hunger around the world. With a focus on Latin America, more needs to be done when looking to create urban-rural connections. Additionally, resources need to be directed towards R&D and education for agricultural technicians in these countries as climate change impacts the growing patterns of these countries.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Connecting Farmers to City Dwellers - A Review of IFPRI's Global Food Policy Report 2017

Highlights from IFPRI's 2017 Food Policy Report: Part 1

Original link to the report is here: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/food-security-and-nutrition-growing-cities-new-challenges

How hungry is the world today? Are more people suffering from hunger today than 50 years ago? What can be done about the hunger that remains so visible in our world today? Where is work being done, and who can we look to for the best practices in solving this grand problem?

These are questions that the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) recently published Global Food Policy Report 2017 seeks to answer. Its meticulous efforts of gathering data now point to a positive trend! Global Hunger affects now 11 percent, down from 19 percent in 1990. While this is certainly progress, this 770+ million-strong collection of individuals still presents a major challenge to the international humanitarian landscape.

We spent some time reading through the IFPRI's report and wanted to highlight developments relevant to the shared mission of Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) team and USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer’s to ensure that no one goes hungry. In particular, we focused on food and agriculture developments in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. The IFPRI seriously recommends more government investment into agricultural research and development across developing countries. More government support comes in the form of providing better equipment, upgrading food distribution policies, opening markets up to export, and subsidizing small-scale farmers to produce necessary crops and create a self-sufficient micro-businesses

“Climate change is part of the problem and the solution” – Alex De Pinto, IFPRI researcher

Some of the key highlights included progress against child stunting. For example, Peru rapidly reduced its child stunting from 28 percent to 18 percent in the span of four years (2008 to 2012). Another key highlight were the global effects falling prices, driven by new levels of maize and wheat agricultural productivity.

A major objective of the report was to identify urbanization as a major trend in shaping agricultural policy, especially in response to hunger and poverty. 167 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda and a further 132 mayors signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. A further 60 countries committed $75 million towards the International Development Association, part of the World Bank. These alliances were created to address the 90% of the projected urban population growth that is concentrated in Africa and Asia. Latin American countries will only experience a fraction of this, as it is one of the most urbanized regions in the world. However, major challenges remain in the LAC region.

Urbanizing lifestyles have affected the distribution networks for food in Latin America. The report states that:

 “By the mid-2000s, super­markets controlled 30 to 50 percent of the food market in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Supermarkets can offer a wide range of fresh produce, dairy prod­ucts, animal-source foods, and a host of processed foods.
Agricultural food networks have broadened within the countries that Partners of the Americas works. For example, recently, a volunteer to the Dominican Republic took inventory of prices of coffee in local markets and in superstores. A supermarket chain now exists in the country, and more effort needs to taken by both the Jarabacoa Cluster of Greenhouses and the government to market the small-scale agriculture community within the domestic markets before considering exportation to the United States.

Distribution networks are essential for both the urban consumer and the rural producer. F2F works with several rural enterprises to help develop their marketing techniques. Read last week’s article about Guatemalan coffee producer FECCEG’s marketing scheme:
Agriculture remains a vital source of employment for many LAC countries:

 “A recent analysis of 15 developing and transitional countries shows enormous variation in the share of urban households that participate in agriculture, ranging from 11 percent in Indonesia to 70 percent in Nicaragua and Vietnam. Still, urban agriculture accounts for only 5 to 15 percent of total agricultural production in the studied countries, and most households consume the food they produce rather than sell it. “
With ever more people living in cities, there is an ever increasing need to improve the connections to the countryside. This includes improved electrification, communication, and infrastructure. Organizations like the Global BrightLight foundation are among the organizations improving electrification. Read about them here:
The FAO estimates the significance that farmers have to the rest of the population. In the 1950s, one farmer was responsible for feeding up to 16 people. Today, due to changing job specializations and urbanization, farmers in some countries are responsible for feeding up to 200 people. Enhancing the linkages between the rural producers and the urban consumers aligns closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the mission that the AFS team has. The IFPRI shows this trend in the graphic below.

Key components to these linkages are improved infrastructure. Rural infrastructure is only slowly being improved among the countries that Partners of the Americas works with including  Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; however, multiple studies show that investment into these projects have demonstrable results on poverty alleviation and supply value chain flows.

Rural infrastructure is improving and rural poverty is declining. Despite these improvements over time, these trends are not reflected in cities. In 2014, 881 million people lived in slums in the developing world, an increase from 689 million in 1990. Urban growth in Latin America will not be fast as in Africa and Asia, as 73 – 82% of the population already is urbanized in most countries; however, urban poverty continues to grow. It remains unchanged at 13%. The emphasis on poverty alleviation in cities is vital. By 2020, 85% or more of Latin American people living in poverty will live in towns and cities, more than the 45% of the poor in Africa and Asia. Even more worrisome, by 2030, the number of slum residents in low- and middle-income countries is projected to reach 2 billion, with most living in Africa and Asia and in smaller cities.

Plans need to be set, and actions must be taken, and tailored policies are needed to target the urban poor.  For instance, already in Peru, 34% of the urban population lives in slums. This correlates with the higher incidence of hunger in these environments. Providing these linkages to poor urban dwellers is imperative for Latin American countries, especially since supermarkets now control 30-50% of the food market, but prices are still a serious burdensome for impoverished city dwellers

“Extremely poor urban house­holds in low income countries were found, on average, to spend more than 50 percent of their budget on food. Even in Guatemala, 48% of the budgets of urban poor were spent on food.”
So what actions can be taken? These are nine key recommendations according to the IFPRI:

IFPRI Recommendations for Urban Food Security
Tip #

Increase access of the urban poor to healthy, nutritious, and safe foods and stimulate demand for high-quality diets through targeted interventions and policies to create a more enabling environment for healthy choices


Promote and support urban agriculture to increase food access and allow urban dwellers to cope with price and income shocks, where space and conditions allow


Regulate the production of safe, affordable, and nutritious street foods; and provide regular food-safety trainings for informal food retailers and street food vendors


Support and manage the informal sector economy and harness its potential to protect the livelihoods of the poor and help them move out of poverty


Ease the trade-offs for working mothers by providing safe, affordable, and accessible childcare options


Design cost-effective, well-targeted social protection instruments to help the urban poor cope with income or price shocks and build assets


Address the severe inequalities in access of poor urban (and especially slum) dwellers to healthcare, water, sanitation, waste removal, and electricity services, and lift the access and utilization barriers faced by urban dwellers where services are available


Review policy options and adopt context-specific policies to regularize tenure in squatter settlements & slums


Provide opportunities for physical activity (to prevent overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases) through smart urban development that eases access, affordability, and safety constraints related to recreational facilities and public transport

The IFPRI's recommendations bring up an important concept, healthful lifestyles. Among the challenges of providing low priced food options for impoverished urban dwellers is providing those citizens with healthful food options. According to the report, food diets have been significantly impacted by rising incomes and urbanization, where people are consuming more animal-sourced foods, including more red meats, and getting more access to sugars, processed foods, fats and oils, refined grains. The “nutrition transition,” as the report defined this problem, is a leading cause of obesity that is inextricably connected with rising diet-related diseases like diabetes and heart diseases.

Amidst the challenges of feeding the world, problems that those who have escaped hunger require more complexity. The numbers are staggering:

“The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9 billion people are now overweight or obese, and 1 in 12 people throughout the world have diabetes. These diseases are proving very costly: non-communicable diseases are expected to cost the global economy as much as $47 trillion in lost earnings and health bills over the coming two decades”
A commitment to promoting Healthful lifestyles will continue to be a part of Partners’ programs with in country partners in the future! Read more next time, as the IFPRI discusses climate, food productivity, and research and development.