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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Archive for June 2010

Locally Produced Crops for Locally Consumed Products

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

sorghumIn Zambia, sorghum-a drought resistant cereal that thrives in the country- was considered a “poor man’s crop” in the past, often shunned by small-scale farmers for the more commercially viable maize. But an article in the June issue of Farming Matters explains how a Zambian brewery with a new brand of beer is changing the way small-scale farmers think about sorghum.

While most clear beers such as lagers and pilsners are made with expensive, imported malts, the Zambian Breweries‘ Eagle Lager is made from sorghum. A subsidiary of the South African-based SABMiller, Zambian Breweries purchases sorghum  from local farmers, increasing farmers’ income and providing local grocery stores with an affordable lager.

To help farmers partner with the brewery, the Cooperative League of the United States of America (CLUSA), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), provides loans for farmers’ start-up expenses, as well as agricultural training to make sure their crops meet the brewery’s quality standards. With CLUSA’s support, the brewery gets a consistent supply of sorghum to produce its beer and farmers gain access to a secure market, a fixed price for their crop, and a consistent income.

To produce larger crop yields of higher quality sorghum, CLUSA and the brewery, encourage farmers to implement conservation agriculture-a combination of simple techniques such as minimal or zero-tillage, ground cover, crop rotation and inter-planting.  Conservation agriculture can reduce the need for inputs, including artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. And it benefits the other crops farmers are growing by helping improve soil fertility, controlling pests and weeds, and improving water management. In Zambia, maize yields have been increased by 75 percent and cotton yields by 60 percent thanks to conservation agriculture. (See also: Using the Market to Create Resilient Agriculture Practices, To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector, and a Sustainable Calling Plan.)

While Zambia Breweries’ collaboration with local farmers is working, not all partnerships between companies and farmers go so well. Without appropriate regulation, companies may take advantage of a monopoly; farmers can become indebted to the company and lose control of their farms and crops;  and A BIG financial incentive to grow a specific crop can threaten overall crop diversity.

But  in Zambia, more than 4,500 small-scale farmers in 14 districts are currently seeing an increase in their incomes due to their contract with Zambia Breweries. Recognizing the significance of this benefit, the Zambian government recently lowered taxes on Eagle Lager in order to encourage Zambian Breweries to continue working with local small-scale farmers.  And SABMiller is trying to form similar partnerships with sorghum farmers in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

To read more about how partnerships between local companies and small-scale farmers can improve livelihoods and provide other benefits to the environment and community see: Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs, and Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets.

Photo Credit: FAO

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you

Russ Feingold- Wall St. Lobbyists’ Unlikely Ally

The financial reform bill, with it’s Vockler rule, it’s consumer protection agency, and it’s audit the Fed amendment, is heading in for a landing.

That’s before Sen. Byrd passed and the Massachusetts Centerfold decided he doesn’t exactly like taxing banks.

And now with opposition from the left via Russ Feingold, Congressional leaders may have no choice but to give in to GOP demands to drop the bank tax, which may not even help.

Learning to Listen to Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

At the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Cape Coast University in Southern Ghana, learning takes place not only in classrooms, but also literally in fields  and farms all over the country. As part of a program to improve agricultural extension services, extension officers are working with professors to find ways to improve food production in their communities. The extensionists, who are already working with farmers, are selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and the University from all over the country to train at the University to help them better  share their skills and knowledge with farmers.

The program was started in the early 1990s after the Ministry of Agriculture found that its’ extension workers were not communicating well with farmers, says Dr. Okorley, a  Cape Coast professor. The goal of the program, according to Okorley, is “to improve the knowledge of front line extension staff.” Because the educational background of many extension workers is “limited” (many don’t have the means to attend college) says Okorley, they “couldn’t look at agriculture holistically.”

But the university is helping change that problem. Students learn how to engage with farmers and communities by learning better communication skills. And they are trained to properly diagnose problems, as well as come up with solutions.

After attending a year of classes on campus, the students go back to their communities to implement what they’ve learned in Supervised Enterprise Projects (SEPs). The SEPs give the student-professionals the opportunity to learn that particular technologies, no matter how innovative they might seem in the classroom, don’t always “fit” the needs of communities, says Dr. Okorley. The SEPs also help them implement some of the communication skills they’ve learned in their classes, allowing them to engage more effectively in the communities where they work. Instead of simply telling farmers to use a particular type of seed or a certain brand of pesticide or fertilizer, the extension workers are now learning how to listen to farmers and help them find innovations that best serve their particular needs. “One beauty of the program,” according to Dr. Okorley, “is the on-the-ground research and experimentation.” He says “it allows the environment to teach what should be done.”

They have plans to scale up and improve the program by developing a “technology village” that will allow students to try out different technologies or practices before taking them back to their villages. And they hope to engage women in the program-currently, there are no female professors or students in the program. In addition, they’re hoping to incorporate a value chain approach in the curriculum, helping extension workers and farmers alike find innovative ways to add value to and improve the quality of crops.

Listen below to Professor Festus Annor-Frempong discuss how the University is helping improve agriculture in Ghana and to Peter Omega, a former student, talk about his work with farmers in his community.

Anarchy Hits Toronto.

g20 l

Protesters marching through downtown Toronto set police cars ablaze and smashed store windows in a show of opposition to the G20 leadership summit, as police in riot gear scrambled to contain the violence.

Black-clad “anarchists” separated from what began as a peaceful procession, fanning out through the core of a city generally known for its civility, and forcing police to rush to keep up.

Police cars were set ablaze in at least two areas, including the city’s Bay Street financial district, while protesters on trendy Queen Street smashed storefronts and damaged media trucks.

Late in the afternoon, with a light rain falling, hundreds of protesters faced off with police at the corner of Bay and King streets, an area ringed by the head offices of four of the country’s top banks.

Toronto Mayor David Miller condemned the violence, but said it was caused by a small group within the larger protest.

“A relatively small group of people … came clearly with the intent of damaging property and perpetrating violence,” Miller said at a news conference. “They’re criminals that came to Toronto deliberately to break the law.”

Anarchist groups, which led the violence, had specifically mentioned banks as targets in the run-up to the G20, and a Royal Bank of Canada branch in Ottawa was firebombed last month by a group saying they would protest at the summit.

Why we should be more like animals…

I think the oil spill is getting us to think more about about what humankind has done to the other living creatures that make up the Gulf’s biosphere. As I was searching for something completely different (the source of the joke “Death or Moobli” which I laughed heartily over as a read a book on conversation that I picked up at the Shepherdstown Library… I’ll repeat it further down the post), I discovered this small video entitled “Tortoise helps tortoise”:

Pensacola Gets Hit: Another Openly Contemptuous Thread

BP has achieved a new goal: delivering oil to customers after drilling without the intervening hassle of processing and shipping.  The new “Direct to Consumer” approach is being tested on the residents of Pensacola, Florida, who can now scoop oil directly off the beach.

I’m fed up with the whole thing, how about you?

Earthquakes, Tornadoes & the G20!

Around 1:30pm today a  5.0-magnitude earthquake started near the Ontario-Quebec border and reportedly shook parts of upstate New York and Ohio as well as Chicago, Cleveland and Indiana. The earthquake’s epicentre was about 55 kilometers north of Ottawa, where buildings were evacuated, and people poured onto the streets by the thousands.


Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

At the Rural Development Foundation’s (RDF) primary school in Kalleda, a small village in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, India, students carry gardening tools, along with their notebooks and pencils.

All of the students work in the school’s garden, cultivating and harvesting rice, lentils, corn, and cotton that is used to make the daily meals or sold to the village and to other schools. Students also take turns tending a field of marigolds and selling them in Kalleda. All of the profit goes back to the school.

And the students carry another important tool-a camera.

Cameras were provided by Bridges to Understanding (Bridges), a Seattle-based non-profit that uses digital technology to empower and connect children around the world. Students participating in the Bridges curriculum are taught to use cameras and editing software to develop stories about their community and culture. These videos, comprised of a photo slide show with a running narration, are then shared with the Bridges online community which is made up of schools in seven countries: Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Peru, South Africa, and the U.S.

For many students, it’s the first time they have ever even held a camera. “When I first asked my students if they thought they could ever design, shoot and edit their own film they just shook their heads and said, ‘there’s no way,” said Elizabeth Sewell, Bridges program coordinator at the RDF school in Kalleda.

But not only did her students successfully develop a concept for, shoot and edit a video about local water pollution, they are also participating in an online discussion about their school garden with another group of students at the Aki Kurose school in Seattle. Students at Aki Kurose are learning to grow corn, squash, and beans using traditional Native American practices. And they volunteer at a local food bank, a completely new concept to the students at Kalleda. “Thank you for your post about your school garden and information about your food bank,” wrote Sewell’s students. “We had never heard of a food bank before your post. We like the idea of a place where people can get free food.”

Sewell explains that having a conversation about farming with students in Seattle helps students at Kelleda “realize what makes their community unique but also that there are other kids out there dealing with similar issues, providing a model or inspiration for alternatives and creating a global sense of solidarity in facing these problems.”

And, according to Sewell, the Bridges video project gives students a concrete and achievable goal to strive towards as they grapple with larger questions about their role as “agents of change” in their community and the world.

“At first, the prospect of designing, shooting and editing a movie seems insurmountable but then they produce these beautiful films,” says Sewell. “And then you knock down that barrier, you show them what they are capable of doing. And then they can start to approach other, larger and more institutional, problems the same way. Suddenly, in their own eyes, there are no limits to what they can achieve.”

To read more about the use of storytelling and digital technology to connect and educate farmers, see: Acting it out for Advocacy and Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another.

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Happy Birthday, Karl Lutze!

I am very happily in Valparaiso, Indiana for my step father’s 90th birthday party.

Karl Lutze was born in 1920 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  As a boy he watched his father and his uncle pull up in the Automobile his father had ordered, picked up at the train station, read the operators manual and driven home.  During WWII Karl studied to be a wartime pastor, but by the time he finished seminary school the war was over.  Instead of going overseas, Karl was assigned to a poor black parish in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  The rest of Karl’s life was cast at that moment.

Happy Birthday, Karl.  And thank you.

And in Other News (Updated)

Ok Keith is back, like he was ever really gone and Dkos is in full swoon.

Obama gave his speech it got panned. He got 20 billion out of BP the next day it got praised and panned and apologized for.

But what else is going on.

Well we woke this morning to find the General Stanley McChrystal has stepped in it. It seems he and his aides may have spoken just a little to freely to a freelance Rolling Stone reporter.