The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC, http://soilandfood.org) project in Ekwendeni, northern Malawi, began in 2000 with thirty farmers, and is now working with over 4000 farmers. It is a participatory project, in which farmers try to improve soil fertility, food security and nutrition through the use of grain or perennial legumes (e.g. peanut or soyabean). Subsequently it is hoped that this will lead to an increased food productivity which will in turn enhance food availability within households of resource-poor farmers. The end goal is to improve food security, soil fertility, and child nutritional status.The research done by SFHC project has taken an ‘Ecohealth’ approach. An ecosystem approach takes a holistic approach to understanding how humans interact with their environment, and the implications for human health. The SFHC research project attempts to improve child nutritional status, household food security and soil fertility through use of different legume options which can improve the quality and quantity of food available within the household as well as provide organic inputs to improve soil fertility. The project’s approach sits on the three following concepts of : Transdisciplinarity (involve people from multiple disciplines in carrying out research and in analysis and dialogue about research findings and development activities); Participation (use a participatory approach, rely on input from the Farmer Research Team and villages committees, assuming resource-poor farmers have valuable knowledge to contribute to the assessment of organic matter technologies for improving food security and health); Equity and gender (integrating equity concerns into programming and research activities). A recent paper has been published using data from the project, seeRachel Bezner Kerr, Peter R Berti and Lizzie Shumba. Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public Health Nutrition, 09 Nov 2010, pp. 1-7. Available on http://goo.gl/h18fk.
Researchers at Kenya University Botanic Garden are trying to re-establish jute mallow and similar vegetables as staples in the African diet. Jute mallow is a nutritious leafy vegetable with a long history and a variety of names (originating from Egypt, it is also called ‘Egyptian spinach’). The leaves are very nutritious, rich in iron, protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and dietary fiber. When cooked, the leaves exude a slimy jelly which many liken to the texture of okra, prompting the name ‘Bush okra’. The vegetable has almost as many varieties as it does names (more than 15 in total). The most widely cultivated species is Corchorus olitorius, but all of the varieties are all edible and widely cultivated. The jute mallow is harvestable three to four weeks after planting, can be re-harvested three or four times a season, and doesn’t require artificial fertilizer. Farmers can harvest six to ten tons per hectare and jute mallow can be planted in rotation with other crops, resulting in healthier plants that are more resistant to damage by pests. Unfortunately, despite these benefits, jute mallow has largely gone ignored by researchers, leading to a lack of quality seed, as well as indigenous knowledge about cultivation practices.(Source: Worldwatch Institute blog, 12 Mar. 2011)
Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop and ‘Dista’ rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra (in the northern central plateau of Madagascar), is named after the farmer who discovered it.The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.Dista yields are also high for another reason: farmers are using the “Système de Riziculture Intensive” to cultivate it (see http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/index.html for “System of Rice Intensification”, SRI). SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavour. (Source: Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet, 28 March 2011)
Efforts to limit the devastation usually following the arrival of swarms of locusts in the West African Sahel will be strengthened by coordination across the region thanks to the 'Africa Project to Combat Locust Invasions'. The project is known by its French acronym, PALUCP (for 'Projet Africain de Lutte d'Urgence contre le Criquet Pèlerin'), and includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. This regional project depends on the sharing of information and experiences in the fight against the locust threat; identifying strategies for managing the fight and establishing the basis for better collaboration between the various role-players and small-holder farmers. Eradication strategies differ in each country and techniques to identify and decimate locusts' population cradles, sharing of knowledge and cross border strategies are therefore crucial for the action's success. 'It's about predicting, anticipating and knowing where they [the locusts] are to prevent them from multiplying exponentially and then decimating them where they reproduce,' said the agricultural minister from Senegal at the PALUCP workshop that took place in Dakar in March 2011. The 'Centre National de Lutte Contre le Criquet Pèlerin' (CNLCP, Mali, www.cnlcp.net/palucp.php) coordinates the project. (IPS, 28/4/2011)
The recent 'Crop Intensification Program' represents a great opportunity for Rwanda to guarantee food security and strengthen the country's agricultural productivity. However overwhelming evidence is arising that a sustained growth path will be preserved over time only if the production process incorporates sustainability issues. Through qualitative interviews, a quantitative analysis and findings from the literature this report assesses the sustainability of the current Rwanda 'Crop Intensification Program' formulation and analyzes the interventions that are needed to reconcile immediate food security needs and long run environment proof methods of crops production. (Nicola Cantore, Overseas Development Institute, Background paper, April 2011)
World Bank’s ‘Rwanda Economic Update’ April 2011: Focus on agricultureThe Rwanda Economic Update reports and synthesizes key economic developments in the past six months in Rwanda’s economy. It places them in a medium-term and regional context, and will increasingly assess the implications of these developments and policies for the outlook of Rwanda’s economy. The current edition of the Rwanda Economic Update is titled Seeds for Higher Growth and specially features the agriculture sector. The agriculture feature of this Update edition outlines key channels through which agriculture contributes to the economy. The second part of the Update provides the regular overview of recent macroeconomic developments. While the special feature on agriculture will analyze the evolving role of the sector over the past five years, the second part on recent economic developments will focus on events during 2010. Afrique en ligne relays The New Times (Rwanda’s national newspaper) article (dated 3 May 2011) on the report. http://www.afriquejet.com/news/africa-news/horticulture-can-ease-dependence-on-coffee,-tea--world-bank-report-rwanda-2011050310569.html In the report, the World Bank advises Rwanda to diversify commercial agriculture to reduce her heavy reliance on tea and coffee. According the authors of the report, Rwanda needs to actively invest in non-traditional export crops, such as fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, essential oils and silk.Below is the report.http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTRWANDA/Resources/Rwanda_Economic_Rwanda_Update_Spring_Edition_April_2011.pdf (Afrique-en-ligne, 3/5/2011)
Global honey bee colony disorder and other threats to insect pollinatorsBy UNEP Division of Early Warning Assessment, 2010.This bulletin published by UNEP considers the latest scientific findings and analyses possible answers to the threats faced by insect pollinators. It asks the question: Has a ‘pollinator crisis’ really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline? As the bee group is the most important pollinator worldwide, this bulletin focuses on the instability of wild and managed bee populations, the driving forces, potential mitigating measures and recommendations. Currently available global data and knowledge on the decline of pollinators are not sufficiently conclusive to demonstrate that there is a worldwide pollinator and related crop production crisis. Data indicate that global agriculture has become increasingly pollinator dependant over the last 50 years and pollination is not just a free service but one that requires investment and stewardship to protect and sustain it.
Fodder shrubs are a kind of animal feeds, rich in protein with high contents of butter that increase milk quality and quantity. Farmers around the country are being encouraged to plant the shrubs to save on the costs of buying animal feeds to increase milk production, among other benefits. Once mature, fodder shrubs can be harvested throughout the year, providing fodder even during dry seasons. These can be planted along the farm boundaries to leave more space for the crops, along soil conservation terrace to stabilize the soil on the terraces or even around homesteads to act as a fence. The shrubs can be harvested after every 8 to 12 weeks in a year. Once harvested, each cow is fed on 6kgs fresh fodder per day for maximum production of at least 24 litres a day compared to animals fed on dairy meal which produce 15 litres a day. Fodder shrubs of both local and exotic species like calliandra, trichandra, mulberry and tree lucern are known to increase milk yields significantly.(News from Africa via New Agriculturalist, May 2011)
The overall objective of PURE is to provide practical IPM solutions to reduce dependence on pesticides in selected major farming systems in Europe, thereby contributing to a reduction of the risks to human health and the environment and facilitating the implementation of the pesticides package legislation while ensuring continued food production of sufficient quality. PURE will provide integrated pest management (IPM) solutions and a practical toolbox for their implementation in key European farming systems (annual arable and vegetable, perennial, and protected crops) in which reduction of pesticide use and better control of pests will have major effects.
Practical Action's experience in Food Production is that traditional crop and animal combinations can be adapted to increase productivity - when the biological, land and labour resources are efficiently used. This has enhanced not only yields and the food security of farmers, but also the agricultural diversity and environmental integrity of the production system. These low-input, sustainable agriculture approaches are a win-win strategy - more stable levels of total production per unit area than high-input systems, economically favourable rates of return, a livelihood acceptable to small farmers and their families, and sustainable use of the natural resource base. Practical Action's work with small scale farmers and pastoralists aims to help them increase their food production capacity, to achieve sustainable livelihoods in the context of a rapidly changing global food system. With farmers in East Africa, Latin America, Southern Africa and elsewhere, Practical Action assists communities to develop and improve low-input sustainable agriculture.