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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Archive for April 2010

1,000 Words About Rwanda

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

We’ve taken some long bus rides in Africa. We spent eight bumpy hours on a bus from Nairobi to Arusha and another eight from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam.

The longest so far, though, has been between Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda. As usual, we were looking out the window, admiring the crops growing by the side of the road, desperately trying not to think about how we had to pee, and trying not to panic about how fast our bus driver was maneuvering between other buses, cattle, and street vendors hawking roasted corn, bananas, and pineapples on the side of the road.


Turning the School Yard into a Classroom

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

In Rwanda, more than 85 percent of the population’s livelihood depends on small-scale agriculture. And the majority of primary school students-roughly 60 percent- will return to rural areas to make their living in ways, instead of going on to secondary or vocational schooling or university.

With that in mind, in 2007, the organization CARE designed the  Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI) , a three year project that integrates modern and environmentally sustainable agriculture training into primary school curriculum in Rwanda-making traditional schooling more relevant to the average Rwandan student.

The project started with 27 pilot schools in nine districts: Nyamagabe and Nyaruguru Districts in the Southern Province, Gatsibo and Nyagatare Districts in the Eastern Province, and Karongi, Rutsiro, Rubavu, Nyabihu and Ngororero Districts in the Western Province.  Each pilot school received funding from CARE to invest in a school garden or farm.  After one year, profits from the garden went back into the school’s agriculture program while the other half was used to help another school, called a satellite school, start its own garden.  By the end of the project there were 28 satellite schools, each with its own garden started with the help of another school.

While maintaining the school gardens, students experimented and were trained in farming techniques that emphasize the preservation of natural resources as much as they do crop production, such as agroforestry, intercropping, mulching and compost, and non-chemical methods of pest and disease control.

According to Josephine Tuyishimire, a FOFI project coordinator, the school gardens also benefit students’ parents and their local community. As parents learn new farming techniques from their children, their neighbors also learned from them. “The population surrounding FOFI schools copied [the farming techniques] and replicated them at home.”

One boy, an orphan from Cyanika primary school in Nyamagabe District, who is living on his own, used irrigation and intercropping techniques he learned at school to start his own small garden. With the help of a teacher at the school he gained access to a local market to sell his vegetables and eventually earned enough money to purchase his own land. With the additional security that comes with land ownership, he continues to generate more income by selling his produce.

Helping students to be self-sufficient is especially beneficial for young women who are often kept out of school, but who can be “empowered in this project,” said Tuyishimire. “In the future they become self-reliant and less dependent on their male counterparts as breadwinners.” And women share their knowledge with their children, “passing these skills to future generations” to create future farmers who are educated in a way that allows them to self-sufficient and well-fed.

To read more about integrating agriculture into primary school education see:  School Feeding Programs Improve Livelihoods, Diets, and Local Economies, and How to Keep Kids Down on the Farm.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

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FANRPAN: Working to connect farmers, researchers, and policy makers in Africa

This is the first in a three-part series about the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

The Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) lives up to its name by linking farmers,  businesses, academia, researchers, donors, and national and regional governments. “One thing that we {Africa} fail to do is form coalitions for a common cause,” says Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, the CEO of FANRPAN. But by connecting rural farmers directly to the private sector, to policy-makers, and to the agricultural research community, they’re trying to build a food secure Africa.

FANRPAN’s has national nodes in thirteen countries that help bring its members together, with a national secretariat hosted by an existing national institution in each country that has a mandate for increasing agricultural research and advocacy.

Another problem that plagues Africa, according to Dr. Sibanda, is that “we don’t know how to learn from the local.”  But she says “farmers know what to do” when it comes to dealing with climate change and other issues that impact agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, FANRPAN works to create dialogue and allow exchange of ideas directly between farmers in the field, researchers in laboratories, and policy makers in conference rooms and parliaments throughout Africa.

FANRPAN’s projects include everything from helping improve access to markets for women farmers through its Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project to helping develop and strengthen the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Regional Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact (See In Eastern and Southern Africa, Improving Trade and Identifying Investment Opportunities and Creating Game Plans for Investment and Policy to Improve Food Security.) They also recently completed the Africa-Wide Civil Society Climate Change Initiative for Policy Dialogues that brought together African NGOs and farmers groups at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change last December. And the Strategies for Adapting to Climate Change in Rural sub-Saharan Africa, to help the most vulnerable populations deal with climate change.

And while Dr. Sibanda says investment in research is important, “it’s not the panacea. For me, it’s about people driving investments.”

Stay tuned for more about FANRPAN’s projects later this week.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.

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What’s in a Name? A Curiously Open Thread

It depends what it is, of course.  

If it is Sanchez, you are a legal Resident Alien in Arizona and you get swept up in an event involving the police you had better have Your Papers with you.  

If it is Blask, not so much.

Whatsamatter, You Can’t Take a Joke?

A wall in the conference room of the Adams County Courthouse in Hastings, Nebraska sported a Photoshopped picture of President Obama looking like a street tough with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth… at least until the photo attracted media attention.

Meetings of the Adams County Board of Supervisors were held in this room with the photo hanging on the wall. It was placed there by an elected official…. Adams County Supervisor Eldon Orthmann.

Supervisor Orthmann said that hanging the picture was not a political statement, but was just a joke.

It was more just fun. It is not anything against him. I am a Republican, but that was not the issue at all.

The Hastings Tribune picked up the story, and from there, the word spread. Television station KHAS then ran a feature.  The Associated Press also picked up on it….

Zambia Leads Way in Empowering Farmers with Markets

Check out Danielle Nierenberg’s Op-Ed, based on research for the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, featured on the front page of the Zambia Daily Mail. Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

In the United States, it seems like we only hear about what’s going wrong in Africa. We see and read stories about famine, HIV/AIDS, disease, or conflict.

In fact, few Americans will ever step foot in countries like Malawi or Zambia, largely because our media often scares people away.

As I travel across Africa, working as a senior researcher for the Worldwatch Institute as co-project director of Nourishing the Planet, I am hoping to show a different side of the continent.

Instead of stories of despair, we are looking at and sharing stories of success and hope, highlighting African-led innovations that are helping to alleviate hunger and poverty in an environmentally sustainable way.

After spending time in Lusaka meeting with non-governmental organisations, non-profits and projects on the ground, I discovered that this country is filled with incredible individuals and organisations – making my job very easy, and in many ways serving as a model for the rest of the continent.

Here are some examples:

COMACO, an organisation founded over 30 years ago to conserve local wildlife, helps farmers improve their agricultural practices in ways that can protect the environment – such as through conservation farming – while also creating a reliable market for farm products.

It organises the farmers into producer groups, encouraging them to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management and other practices so that they don’t have to resort to poaching elephants or other wildlife.

The United Nations World Food Programme’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the Belgian government, is working with the private sector, governments and NGOs to provide an incentive for farmers to improve their crop management skills and produce high-quality food, create a market for surplus crops from small and low-income farmers and promote local processing and packaging of products.

Mobile Transactions, a financial services company for the ‘unbanked’ in Zambia, allows customers to use their phones like an ATM card. Over the last decade, cell-phone use in Africa has increased fivefold and farmers are using their phones to gain information about everything from markets to weather.

By using Mobile Transactions, farmers are not only able to make purchases and receive payment electronically; they are also building a credit history which can make getting loans easier.

And Mobile Transactions also works with USAID’s PROFIT programme to help agribusiness agents make orders for inputs, manage stock flows and communicate more easily with agribusiness companies and farmers.

Perhaps most importantly, the partnership helps agents better understand the farmers they are working with so that they can provide the tools, inputs and education each farmer and community needs.

Care International’s work in Zambia has two main goals: increase the production of staple crops and improve farmers’ access to agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers. But instead of giving away bags of seed and fertilisers to farmers, Care is “creating input access through a business approach”, not a subsidy approach, according to Steve Power, assistant country director for Zambia.

One way they’re doing this is by creating a network of agro-dealers who can sell inputs to their neighbours as well as educate them about how to use hybrid seeds, fertilisers and other inputs. At the same time, “we are mindful” of the benefits of local varieties of seeds.

Jan Nijhoff of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Michigan State University, who is also an advisor on Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project, says COMESA’s mission is to promote regional economic integration through increased co-operation and integration of trade, customs, transport, communication, technology, energy, and gender, as well as agriculture, environment and natural resources.

Throughout most of my meetings, a theme I hadn’t heard as much in other African countries continued to surface – linking farmers to markets.

While at times I was sceptical about this focus on the private sector, the more I talked to farmers, NGOs, development workers and policy-makers, the more convinced I became that farmers need not just inputs to grow their crops, but a profitable – and sustainable – market to sell those crops.

In developing this model, it’s clear that Zambia is leading the way and creating examples that could work and be scaled up in other countries across the continent. –

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Giving Farm Workers a Voice

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Gertrude Hambira doesn’t look like someone who gets arrested regularly. Nor do the other women and men in suits who work with her at the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), formed in the mid-1980s to protect farm laborers. But arrest, harassment and even torture have been regular occupational hazards for Gertrude-the General Secretary of GAPWUZ-and her staff for many years.

Unfortunately, things have not gotten much better since the 2008 elections when President Mugabe refused to cede power to the democratically elected Morgan Tsvangirai, a former union leader himself. The resulting power-sharing agreement has left the two sides battling for control as the nation plummets deeper into unemployment and poverty. At least 90 percent of the populati0n is not part of formal workforce.

Meanwhile, land reform policies have left many farm workers (about 1.5 million) without a source of income as farms are divided up-with many tracts given to Mugabe supporters.  While Zimbabwe’s land reform was initially intended to decrease the number of white-owned farms in the country and provide land to the landless, it’s done little to help the poor in rural areas. “Land was taken from the rich and given to the rich,” says General Secretary Hambira. The rich farmers are, however, not utilizing the land, she notes, leading to lower agricultural productivity, higher prices for food, and widespread hunger.

Hambira says that as rural areas become a target for government reforms, “farm workers have become voiceless.” But giving them back their voice is what GAPWUZ is trying to do by helping reduce child labor, by educating members about their rights in the fields and on the farm, by educating workers about HIV/AIDS , and by helping women workers gain a voice in decision-making. And, unfortunately, that’s why General Secretary and her staff often get arrested.  Shortly after I met with her, the GAPWUZ office was raided by government police and she was forced to go in hiding to South Africa for several weeks.

But GAPWUZ isn’t just working to protect the rights of farm workers in Zimbabwe, says Hambira.  By “looking at the plight of farm workers,” the union is helping to build productivity on the farm and to build a strong agricultural sector-one that will be needed more than ever as Zimbabwe struggles to rebuild and restore democracy.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.

2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our “Nourishing the Planet” weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.

Assessing the National Mood: A Special Election in Florida and its Implications

By: Inoljt,

Believe it or not, Tuesday was election night. Several million Americans voted (or more accurately, did not vote) in mostly local races.

These results provide a helpful snapshot of the national mood. Polls may be inaccurate, or – more commonly – different pollsters may have different pictures of the public mood. Unlike polls, elections have that useful tendency of never being wrong.

Special elections for congressional districts are especially convenient, because there is already a wealth of accumulated data about them. Moreover, because name recognition of both candidates is generally very low, they come as close as one can get to “generic Democrat versus generic Republican.”

Quite happily, a special election occurred on Tuesday in one such congressional district. Specifically, voters in Florida’s 19th congressional district went about replacing retired House Representative Robert Wexler. Here are the results:


More below.

Weekend Open Thread

Hey you Moose — WAKE up and SAY something!!!

Sricki is sick and slightly miserable, but this pic still made her laugh.

So what’s on your minds, Moose? My plans for the weekend mostly involve my sofa, hot tea, and ginger ale. How ’bout the rest of ya?

Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute: High Time We Follow Talk With Action

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

In this regular series, we profile advisors to the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature Hans Herren, President of the Millennium Institute.

Name: Hans Herren

Affiliation: The Millennium Institute

Location:  Arlington, VA, United States

Bio: Hans Herren is President of the Millennium Institute (MI). Prior to joining MI, he was Director-General of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya. He also served as director of the Africa Biological Control Center of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in Benin. At ICIPE, Hans developed and implemented programs in the area of human, animal, plant, and environmental health (the 4-H paradigm) as they relate to insect issues. At IITA, he conceived and implemented the highly successful biological control program that saved the African cassava crop, and averted Africa’s worst-ever food crisis. Hans also was a chair of the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a four-year long assessment of world agriculture. Over the years, Hans has moved his interests toward the policy aspects of integrated sustainable development, in particular, linking environmental, plant, animal, and human health issues.

On Nourishing the Planet: There has been much talk about local empowerment in making development policy decisions from the international donor community. It is now high time to follow the talk with action, to strongly support capacity and institutional development in integrated and systemic planning in developing countries.

What do you see as the relationship between agriculture and the environment? Sustainable agriculture depends fully on its environment, into which it has to be “organically and harmoniously” integrated. In the medium and long term, agriculture will be more dependent on the biodiversity it has been destroying, the water it has been overusing, and the people it should have trained to nourish a growing and more demanding population. A change in paradigm, as recommended by the IAASTD report, is no longer an option; it’s a prerequisite to the future of humanity.

What role can agriculture can play in alleviating poverty and hunger worldwide? Agriculture is multifunctional; it services the many different needs of humanity, including the provision of jobs, which will help on both counts, hunger and poverty. Agriculture is at the basis of any development agenda and needs to be given the appropriate importance by investments in the many facets of this key economic sector.

What sort of policies and projects would you like to see implemented immediately to address issues of global hunger and poverty? Major investments must be made in sustainable agricultural research and development, in particular agronomy and soil sciences. No matter what crop varieties with high-yield potential exist, the number one issue is soil fertility. Soil restoration and permanent rebuilding are essential to produce food where it is demanded, and by the people who need both the food and job opportunity.

What could be done to encourage greater agricultural investment to help alleviate poverty and hunger? Make it clear to policymakers at the international and national levels that hunger and poverty will only be overcome by a sustainable agriculture, supported by knowledge, science, and innovations.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? The consumption pattern in the U.S. is not sustainable in the short and long term. The Earth is one, and what happens in one part of it inevitably affects others. From many different angles, from climate change to world peace, there is a need to assure food security and sovereignty in developing countries, while also assuring sustainable agriculture in industrialized nations.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you.

2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our “Nourishing the Planet” weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.