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Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Commission announced a new €5.3 million project Jan. 16 aimed at helping Malawi, Vietnam and Zambia transition to a "climate-smart" approach to agriculture.

Agriculture—and the communities who depend on it for their livelihoods and food security—are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. At the same time agriculture, as a significant producer of greenhouse gases, contributes to global warming.

"Climate-smart agriculture" is an approach that seeks to position the agricultural sector as a solution to these major challenges.

It involves making changes in farming systems that achieve multiple goals—improving their contribution to the fight against hunger and poverty, rendering them more resilient to climate change, reducing emissions, and increasing agriculture's potential to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon.

"We need to start putting climate-smart agriculture into practice, working closely with farmers and their communities," said FAO Assistant Director-General for the Economic and Social Development Department, Hafez Ghanem. "But there are no one-size-fits-all solutions—better climate-smart farming practices need to respond to different local conditions, to geography, weather and the natural resource base," he added.

"This project will look closely at three countries and identify challenges and opportunities for climate-smart agriculture and produce strategic plans tailored to each country's own reality," Ghanem said. "While not all solutions identified will be universally applicable, we can learn a lot about how countries could take similar steps and begin shifting to this approach to agriculture."

Tailor-made solutions

The European Union is providing €3.3 million to support the effort. FAO's contribution is €2 million.

Working closely with agriculture and other ministries in each of the partner countries, and collaborating with local and international organizations, the three-year project will:

  • Identify country-specific opportunities for expansion of existing climate-smart practices or implementation of new ones
  • Study the constraints that need to be overcome to promote wider adoption of climate-smart agriculture, including investment costs
  • Promote integration of national climate change and agricultural strategies to support the implementation of climate-smart agriculture
  • Identify innovative mechanisms for linking climate finance with climate-smart agriculture investments
  • Build capacity for planning and implementing climate-smart projects capable of attracting international investments

FAO will take the overall lead on the project, working in partnership with national policy and research institutions, as well as global organizations such as the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

By tackling the urgent need to incorporate climate change concerns into agricultural development planning, this new project represents a concrete step forward, said Ghanem. "The problems of climate change are increasingly being felt on the ground, and thus early actions to address the problem are needed, even as international negotiations continue in the search for a global climate agreement," he said.

For more information, click here.

Nourishing the Planet

By Dana Drugmand

At a time when world resources are dwindling and global population is growing rapidly, finding sustainable solutions to nourish people and the planet is more important then ever. Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.

Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.

Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system. According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:

1. Vertical Farming—Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, more than 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land. Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO (non-governmental organization) Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to 4.33 U.S. dollars).

Vertical Farming in Action—This innovation has already proven successful in providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food crisis that hit Kenya in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the Nairobi slums. People in Kibera who grew their own food with the vertical farming technique were self-sufficient and did not go hungry.

2. FANRPAN’s Theatre—Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit and technology and have the access to policymakers that women lack. The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers. FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the programme manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”

FANRPAN’s Theater in Action—After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.

3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)—In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance. SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets. “We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.

SEWA in Action—SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.

4. Women’s Collective—Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims. Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.

Women’s Collective in Action—Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions. Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.

5. GREEN Foundation—Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Saver’s Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants for their families. Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food and better livelihoods.

GREEN Foundation in Action—The Foundation’s kitchen gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women. Mahadevamma is one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and any excess vegetables and seeds she sells to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2000 rupees (44.61 U.S. dollars) just from her kitchen garden.

For more information, click here.

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Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

In 2011, volatile food prices and the tragedy of another famine in East Africa forced world attention to focus on issues of food and agriculture.

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) moved to support farmers and pastoralists in the Horn of Africa and rally international support for long-term measures for reducing vulnerability in the region, it also continued to work on a number of other fronts as well.

One spot of good news—and a bright one at that—was the final eradication of rinderpest, a livestock disease that had plagued farmers for millennia.

2011 also saw the unveiling of FAO's new Save and Grow paradigm for sustainably, increasing food production by the world's millions of smallholder farmers. And a new edition of The State of World Agriculture highlighted how the gender gap in agriculture handicaps millions of women farmers and undermines the fight against hunger. FAO research shed light on the vast scale of food waste around the world, and a groundbreaking new study provided a unique look at the status of the land and water resources on which global food production depends. In 2011, FAO also provided updates on the status of key global fish stocks and improved information on world deforestation rates.

Read about these developments and more in this year-end wrap up.

FAO highlights from 2011

November

Satellite technology yields new forest loss estimates
A new, satellite-based survey by FAO provided new, and more accurate, information on changes in the world's forest cover, showing that forest land use declined between 1990 and 2005.

Scarcity and degradation of land and water represent growing threat to food security, reports major new FAO study
In November, FAO released the first edition of a new flagship publication, The State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture. According to the report, widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

October

World Food Day focuses on swinging food prices
World leaders and international celebrities gathered in Rome to mark World Food Day 2011 with a call for greater investment in agriculture, more support for women farmers, and improved transparency in international agricultural commodity markets.

World hunger report 2011 warns that high, volatile prices set to continue
Food price volatility featuring high prices is likely to continue and possibly increase, making poor farmers, consumers and countries more vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity, according to the 2011 edition of The State of Food Security in the World report. The heads of the three Rome-based U.N. food agencies called for concerted international action to address the problem.

September

Global Soil Partnership for Food Security launched at FAO
FAO spearheads a new effort to safeguard soil resources critical to farmers and food producers.

August

Horn of Africa—Funding for agricultural recovery lagging, FAO warns
As world governments met in Ethiopia for an international pledging conference aimed at winning more aid for the Horn of Africa, FAO issued a warning that efforts to keep farmers and pastoralists on their feet, prevent the crisis from worsening, and speed progress toward recovery had not yet received adequate support.

July

Meeting on Horn of Africa calls for tackling root causes of famine
In July and August, FAO convened emergency meetings of governments, U.N. agencies and international organizations to rally support for life saving operations in the Horn of Africa and also stress the need to support farmers and herders in the region to prevent the situation from getting worse.

New fund for livestock biodiversity management launched
A new support fund designed to help developing countries conserve and sustainably use their livestock breeds under the auspices of the internationally-agreed Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources was launched by FAO in July.

June

Rinderpest eradicated
In a historic victory of veterinary science, FAO and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announced that thanks to a decades-long international cooperative effort, the cattle disease known as rinderpest had successfully been eradicated in the wild. The disease had been the bane of farmers for thousands of years, wiping out the farm animals on which their livelihoods depended.

FAO's next director-general selected
FAO Member countries elected José Graziano da Silva of Brazil as the next FAO director-general, starting in January 2012. Current FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf set to step down after 17 years of service.

Drought in Horn of Africa threatens millions
As the situation in East Africa continued to deteriorate, FAO again warned that the number of people facing severe food shortages was set to increase as the impact of drought, along with high food and fuel prices, continued to grip the region.

Putting nature back into agriculture—FAO launches its new Save and Grow initiative
In June, FAO announced a new initiative intended to produce more food for a growing world population in an environmentally sustainable way. The new approach calls for targeting mainly smallholder farmers in developing countries. Helping low-income farm families in developing countries—some 2.5 billion people—economize on cost of production and build healthy agro-ecosystems will enable them to maximize yields and invest the savings in their health and education.

May

Stemming post-harvest waste crucial to African food security
Grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa could total $4 billion, FAO and the World Bank report.

Cutting food waste to feed the world

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted, an FAO-commissioned study reveals.

March

Closing the gender gap in agriculture
In the 2011 edition of its annual State of Food and Agriculture report, FAO focused on the "gender gap" in agriculture. The report's key finding—if women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million.

World food prices hit historic peak
January saw food prices spiking to a historic high, as FAO continued to track trends through its monthly Food Price Index updates.

January

Fish consumption reaches all-time high
A new edition of FAO's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report found that while fisheries production reached a new-time high—thanks mainly to the growth of fish farming—the status of important fish stocks in the wild remained a cause for concern.

For more information, click here.

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