To Create Food Security in Africa, Focus on the Value Chain

Over the past few months, there was a lot of discussion around the problem of food insecurity in the horn of Africa and why nothing was done to prevent the current food insecurity through appropriate agriculture development projects.

Questions That Arise
How can we create long-term food security in Sub-Saharan Africa? What important aspects in agriculture projects were missing in the previous decades to really give long-term dividends and impact the life of small farmers?

There are many facets to this issue, and many solutions. None are easy.

Meanwhile in Africa
In a recent article, C.M Dlamini the Swaziland’s Minister for Agriculture takes his country and the agriculture sector as an example of what can be done to create long-term change:

Swaziland, a country about the size of New Jersey located in Southern Africa, has not been immune to food insecurity. It is an economy with a large agricultural sector, and thus highly dependent upon both natural forces and human innovation to sustain and increase their income and wealth.

With the assistance of US and other investors, and well-developed trade links with South Africa and other neighboring countries, Swaziland has embarked on a systematic effort to add more value to their agricultural output through the development of additional manufacturing and service sectors.

The ministry believes this “value chain” approach holds much promise for the entire African continent, as well as agriculturally based economies in other areas of the world.

An example of a successful project is a commercial community garden initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by International Relief & Development (IRD – http://www.ird.org/), a private global development organization. Working with Swaziland’s Ministry of Agriculture, National Agricultural Marketing Board, farming associations and other stakeholders, IRD has helped establish 39 commercial community gardens.   The produce grown and harvested in these gardens—in the US, they would be called small farms—is sold in local and foreign markets.  The key to the gardens’ success is data gathering and analysis that enables farmers to tailor output to specific markets.

It’s not enough to simply “grow enough food.”  The goal is to grow enough food and sell it in a way that increases the incomes of farmers and their communities.   This means understanding the varying levels of demand in local and foreign markets, learning about alternative methods to control pests and unwanted plants, establishing relationships with distributors, marketing firms, processors and other market participants.

To read more about this interesting point of view, go to:  http://www.newstimeafrica.com /archives/23849

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Kenya: Orange-fleshed sweet potato

The Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru are finalizing a US$1 million five-year renewable grant to support, maintain, conserve, and make available sweet potato varieties.

WHY?
Sweet potatoes grow in marginal conditions, requiring little labor and chemical fertilizers. It is a cheap, nutritious solution for developing countries needing to grow more food on less area for rapidly multiplying populations.

“Conserving available farmers’ varieties is urgent for exploitation for traits such as drought tolerance in the face of climate change,” Dr. Robert Mwanga a sweet potato breeder for sub-Saharan Africa at CIP.

A SUPER FOOD
The orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are a particularly important source of beta-carotene, carbohydrates, fiber, and an inexpensive source of vitamin A. Research shows that just 250 grams of the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes can provide the recommended daily requirement for vitamin A. This is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness and premature death among pregnant women and children under five. With its cocktail of benefits – especially for women and children, who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, disease and hunger – it is important to initiate projects to enhance farmers’ uptake and adoption of orange fleshed sweet potato technologies.

DIFFERENT COLOURS=DIFFERENT HEALTH BENEFITS
Varieties exist with a wide range of skin and flesh color, from white to yellow-orange to deep purple-fleshed roots. The various colours are a rich source of Anthocyanins, which are compounds that have medicinal value as Anti-oxidants and Cancer Preventing Agents.

INCOME DIVERSIFICATION
Patrick Makoha, the Secretary for Siwongo Drainage and Irrigation Self-help Group, Busia, Kenya started multiplying orange fleshed sweet potato vines from less than a quarter acre, which have expanded to seven acres in three years. He earns US$ 293.5 a month from the sale of the potatoes and US$ 195.7 monthly from the sale of vines. Multiplication and distribution of clean planting materials or vines has many levels. It involves individual farmers, farmer groups that manage secondary multiplication sites, national agricultural research institutes, and supply-side partners such as extension and non-governmental organization staff that do the monitoring. So far, about 10,000 farmers across the five countries- Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda- have been reached by the project with planting materials and training on the technologies.

 A DELICIOUS SNACK
In Rwanda, the nutritional value of the orange-fleshed sweet potato has gotten non-governmental organizations working with people living with HIV/AIDS to urge their clients to grow and consume this vegetable.

To read more about this interesting story, go to: http://www.freshplaza.com/news_detail.asp?id=91228

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Nigerian Agric Researchers Develop Vitamin-A Cassava

Cassava(pictured left)–also known as yuca, mogo, or manioc–is a staple food for many African families. It is their equivalent of rice in Asia or bread in Europe. Cassava originated in South America and was brought over to Africa in the 16th century, where it quickly adapted to the soil climate and was incorporated into diet patterns. More than 200 million people in sub-saharen Africa rely on this carbohydrate for over half of their daily energy intake .

This is terrific crop for the region because it requires very little water, can grown in poor soil, and can be harvested year round. Though maize has often overshadowed cassava, the latter is increasingly making its way into the African diet. Cassava produces the largest amount of food calories per hectare among all food crops, other than sugarcane.

In Nigeria where the average consumption of cassava is 600 grams per capita per day, about 30% of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. In Ghana where cassava represents 30% of daily caloric intake, and cassava and yam combined represent 46% of GNP, about 26% of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Resultant health implications include low immunity and impaired vision, which often lead to blindness and even death.[1]

An international research team, guided by  the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has developed three new strands of Vitamin A enriched cassava. The hope is that this will help alleviate Vitamin A deficiency malnutrition experienced by millions in Africa.

The yellow cassava is already being multiplied through stem cuttings. In 2013, when sufficient certified stems will be available, HarvestPlus and its partners will then distribute these to about 25,000 farming households initially. Farmers will be able to grow these new vitamin A varieties and feed them to their families. They can also multiply and share cuttings with others in their community, amplifying the nutritional benefits. After the mid-2014 harvest, more than 150,000 household members are expected to be eating vitamin A-rich cassava.

To read more about this, go to: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/11166687-nigerian-agric-researchers-develop-vitamina-cassava

HarvestPlus is the global leader in developing biofortified crops and now works with more than 200 agricultural and nutrition scientists around the world. It is co-convened by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). HarvestPlus focuses on three critical micronutrients that are recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as most limiting in diets: iron, zinc, and vitamin A. HarvestPlus envisions that in fifteen years, millions of people suffering from micronutrient malnutrition will be eating new biofortified crop varieties.

To learn more about Harvestplus, go to: http://www.harvestplus.org/


[1] http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/

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Sowing the Seeds of Food Security

Another great initiative in South Africa, similar to what Cki is trying to achieve through its new project in the Chorkor community, Accra, Ghana:

Schools Environmental Education and Development (SEED) is a non-profit organization based in Cape Town that creates learning gardens as part of their Organic Classroom Program, in partnerships with schools in South Africa’s poorest communities.

Founded in 2002, SEED trains teachers to design, plant, and nurture a garden according to permaculture principles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture), which encourage a sustainable approach to agriculture modelled after an ecosystem. Teachers are using organic vegetable gardens to help children learn about science, geography, health, and economics—and to unlearn hunger. Produce from the gardens is used in the school’s cafeteria or sent home in parcels with the students for their families.

SEED website: http://www.seed.org.za/   
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SEED/152379438141624

 is not alone…

Greenpop is working in an environment similar to the Chorkor community, where homes are crammed next to one another, the earth is more sand than soil, and strong winds often blow. This organization is a tree-planting social enterprise that is beautifying these areas, starting with the schools. They start with hardier indigenous trees and if they survive, they come back with fruit trees that can produce 20-100 kg of fruits each in a season, helping to increase food diversity. Children are assigned a tree to look after and must each bring in 2L (1 gal) of gray water—recycled from the bath or sink—to water their tree every 2 days. It is gaining attention from media and corporate sponsors for its gung-ho attitude toward mobilizing volunteers for tree-planting days—largely from among Cape Town’s privileged youth. They also partner with larger companies that can tick their corporate social responsibility box when their employees get involved in tree-planting initiatives.

Greenpop website: http://www.greenpop.org/
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GreenpopTreevolution

To learn more about these great initiatives, read this article published in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/business/global/28iht-RBOG-CAPE28.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1

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A Sweet and Orange Solution for Vitamin Deficiency – Developing Countries Take Action Against Lifestyle Diseases

As announced this year by the UN, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension are largely “forgotten” issue in developing countries. These countries show a higher prevalence of such ailments when compared to developed countries (80% of cases are in the developing world). Experts say that this will be the epidemic facing developing nations in the 21st century, greater than HIV in the 20th century, if trends are not combated in the near future.

In their feature, the BBC World Service program talks about the Botswana initiative to show the reality of NCDs in the developing world and the proactive action plan being put in place by schools to reverse the current trends. The aim is to increase awareness in children and youth about the importance of healthy eating, active lifestyle, and health benefit of specific foods. Scientists have discovered that upon introducing African families to the orange sweet potatoes, as an alternative to the white or pale yellow sweet potato typically grown in Africa, Vitamin A intake in women and children doubled. Vitamin A is essential in preventing blindness and supporting the immune system. A deficiency of this essential nutrient is very prevalent in Africa, causing many children to go blind prior to starting school, as well as increasing their susceptibility to diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. These are just some of the key points highlighted in this short presentation.

To learn more about this terrific proactive initiative, go to:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00lrkcb/Health_Check_30_11_2011/

Our organization, Cki is taking part in the youth awareness movement with its project in Ghana where we have set up a school garden club. The children are already growing a large variety of vegetable and we will soon start an education program on the importance of food diversity, good nutrition, and healthy lifestyle.

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The orange sweet potato is common in North America and is much higher in Vitamin D than it's white or pale yellow cousin that is normally grown in Africa. However, families in Africa who were given this orange sweet potato to grow were able to significantly increase their Vitamin D intake, protecting themselves from blindness and strengthening their immune system