Monday, September 26, 2011

Bringing Nutrition to the Forefront of Agriculture

From the folks at the Infant & Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) Project and the Alliance to End Hunger, here is a great list of resources on  Bringing nutrition to the forefront of agriculture: A forum for agriculture project designers. Please click on the links below to view presentations and download resources from the event.  

Resources for agriculture project designers:

Grains and Leaves: Weekly Ag-Related News, Events, and Others

Agricultural and rural development news and other relevant information: week of September 26th

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gordon Conway on the Legacy of Chambers and a must have Practicioner Guide

One of my many class assignments of my masters program, is a paper on a rural development theme. I decided to take a closer look to the issue of integrated development and its many semantic variations one comes across when reviewing the literature. I'm particularly interested in researching how the integrated approach to development has evolved since the post-war era.

Some questions I want to answer are:  why was big push for integrated development of the 70s, promoted by the World Bank and others, put aside for a more sectoral approach? What has changed in terms of technology, knowledge, governance, and other micro and macro factors that merit a closer reexamination to this approach as perhaps the most viable when implementing development interventions today? Has the debate followed a similar path in the humanitarian field? I'll be blogging about these questions and others, as I try to link my academic assignments to this blog. 

In any case, I wanted to share with you two things that I came accross today while doing research for the paper:

1) The first one is a wonderful guide put together by the Women's Refugee Commission, on Building Livelihood. This guide is one of the best toolkits practicioners working on both humanitarian and development context can use to access applicable information on steps to follow when implementing livelihoods strategies. One of the chapters is on supporting agricultural interventions. It describes the different assessments and analysis one must carry out to ensure a successful implementation of the program.

2) The second link I wanted to share is a lecture professor Gordon Conway, an expert on agricultural ecology and professor at the Imperial College of London, gave on the work of Robert Chambers. Chambers, one of the most renowned development scholars and author of the seminal "Rural Development: Putting the First Last" was one of the leading voices on the importance of engaging farmers in a significant way - one in which their voice shapes the nature of the intervention. In the video below,  Conway discusses the legacy to Chamber's work and presents the current challenges the world faces in issues of food security.

"We have to keep remembering that there is a huge private sector in Africa and Asia; is called farmers...and they deal in the private sector, and they need incomes. It's not just sustainable existence, it's sustainable development we are after" Gordon Conway 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Somalia and the Need for Agricultural Investments

The crisis continues to unravel in the Horn of Africa. A recent  NY Times piece, argues that 750,000 people could perish in the famine, and there seems to little resources, commitment, and coordination in the international community to prevent the crisis from reaching catastrophic proportions. In an excellent commentary from Project Syndicate, Sam Dryden, the Director of the Agricultural Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, argues that investments in small holders farmers can prevent future famines from happening again (the caveat being situations of extreme weather fluctuations and violence). 

Meanwhile, at an African Ministerial conference on climate-smart agriculture, in Johannesburg, Andrew Steer, World Bank's special envoy for climate change, articulated the importance of increasing investments in agricultural and food security research.  According to Mr. Steer, the WB is increasing its support for agriculture, from $4-billion invested in 2010 and previous years, to $6-billion earmarked for 2011, and plans to increase Ag investments to $8-billion in 2012.  See a clip of his speech below:

This comes at a time when the members of the G20 recently incorporated agricultural research as a center piece of their agenda to ensure global food security. The meeting took place in Montpellier, France from September 12 to 14. 

Three years have passed since the World Bank published its World Development Report on "Agriculture for Development." Now, funds are starting to trickle down to projects in the field. If there is anything positive from the horrendous tragedy unfolding in Somalia, it is the opportunity for governments and policy makers around the world to accelerate agricultural projects, and put on center stage the vital role of food security interventions in preventing future crisis. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rice, That's What's for Dinner: Columbia University Hosts Bob Zeigler to Discuss Global Food trends and the Importance of Rice and Agricultural Research in Addressing World Hunger

On Friday September 9th 2011, SIPA and the Earth Institute kicked off the beginning of the semester with an enlightening presentation by Dr. Bob Zeigler, Director of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s leading center for the study of rice. The presentation marked this fall’s first of a series of weekly Development Practitioner Seminars organized by SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice program. Speakers from around the world come to Columbia University to share their work with the campus community.

The timing for Dr. Zeigler’s presentation couldn’t be better. Recent figures from the FAO estimate that 925 million people in the world are undernourished. With 50% of the world’s population eating rice as their main staple, ensuring that there are enough cereal stocks for everyone is a global priority. The images of the food riots of 2008 and the long lines of people waiting for food aid remind us that the world needs more food and better and more comprehensive development strategies.

But the challenges to feed a famished world are multiple and complex. According to Dr. Zeigler, the shrinking number of workers for the labor-intensive cultivation of rice, combined with declining water levels for a crop that needs swampy conditions to thrive, is making it difficult to keep production of this precious staple above global demand. Moreover, as Asian cities and industries continue to expand, land availability for rice fields is becoming scarcer.

As we enjoy our sushi and arroz con leche, it’s important to reflect on the progress made over the past 4 decades. IRRI is credited for saving the lives of millions of people in the 60s and 70s during the Asian Green Revolution. Due to the development of improved rice varieties and advances in fertilizers, irrigation, and pest control methods, Asian countries were able to nearly triple rice yields from 1.5 tons per hectare to 4 tons. The abundance of rice lowered consumer prices significantly, laying one of the foundations for robust economic growth in what later became known as the Asian Miracle. The impact was also felt in Latin America but to a lesser extent in Africa.

Today’s challenges are different from those in the 60’s. However, Dr. Zeigler stated that technology and innovation continue to play an important role. Under his leadership, the center is developing vanguard research with promising results. One example is golden rice, a variety of the staple that contains beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. With millions of children suffering from micro-nutrient deficiencies, golden rice holds enormous potential to bring Vitamin A into their diets. The center is also working hard to develop other creative solutions.  Such innovations include the cultivation of rice varieties that can be grown in Africa, the utilization of mobile technology to support poor farmers, and a reduction in the amount of water required for rice cultivation, among many other projects. One of the most exciting projects is the development of rice varieties that can withstand extended submergence, an increasing hazard in the river deltas of Asia, made worse by global warming.

After decades of neglect, funding for agricultural research is starting to come back to the donors’ agenda. Today, there is a strong scientific consensus about the central role that agricultural research must play in addressing issues of global food insecurity. But that scientific consensus must advance to a public policy debate. This seminar was an excellent platform to inspire the next generation of policy makers and development practitioners, and ensure that the legacy of Dr. Zeigler, the IRRI, and the many other organizations working on reducing poverty and hunger throughout the world, endures until every child gets a plate of rice and vegetables for every meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food Prices and What to do About it

Indigenous Corn: Guatemala 2006. R. Merchan
The World Bank's Food Price Watch continues to show that global food prices remain significantly higher than last year -about 25% for all commodities and 36% for grains-. There are many factors that can explain these increases, some are fundamental changes in global demand and others are the result of panic-motivated international markets and short-term domestic trade policies that make everyone else worse off.

However, there are two underlying factors that help us explain the higher demand for food commodities: a) societies are getting richer -and likely to consume more protein-based diets which demand more grains for fed- and b) grains and other commodities are being transformed into fuels, decreasing the amount of food available in the world market.

So what to do as the number of hungry people continues to grow to more than a billion? Essentially there are two ways of addressing the issue and both boiled down to increasing the availability of grains, cereals, and roots. The first one is by intensifying the use of land already in agriculture. This means means incorporating irrigation, fertilizers, hybrid and GMOs seeds, mechanization, and other modern practices that essentially result in increased yields.

The second way to tackle the increasing price of foods is to extend the area of agricultural land. A recent World Bank publication concluded that there are close to half a million hectares of land suitable for agricultural expansion all over the world. Most of these lands, about 200,000 ha, are located in Sub-Saharan Africa where large swaps of depleted lands have been abandoned, but could easily be brought back to production with the right mixture of fertilizer use and irrigation. Another area to take into account in its potential for agricultural increase is the Matto Grosso in Brazil. Although these soils are poor and mainly use for cattle, they have tremendous potential for large soy-bean crops. Environmentally, however, this could threaten the amazon by pushing further into the forest clearings for cattle.

The road, however, to increasing agricultural productivity is filled with blocks. In a recent  article, NY Times, commentator Ninia V. Fedoroff, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, argues that the Obama administration and the EPA's 'regulatory burden [is] slowing down the development of genetically modified crops.'

Another interesting point made recently by at The Guardian in light of the G20 meeting in Montpellier, France, on agricultural research and development is the lack of consensus among donor countries regarding the best way to increase agricultural production:
With an alphabet soup of organisations involved in agricultural research at national and international level, developing a coherent approach, setting out priorities and fulfilling objectives is problematic.
Regardless of which strategy is followed, it's clear that both donor and host countries must truly commit to devoting the needed funds to the agriculture sector. Yet, given that the commitments made at L'Aquila by the G20 continue to be largely unfulfilled, the prospects of food prices coming down due to increase in food availability are very dim.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Farming for Women Victims of Rape in DR Congo

Check this short documentary produced by Al Jazeera Engligh about women victims of rape in DR Congo and how through agriculture they can get back in their feet.
Field of Hope - Witness - Al Jazeera English