About Molly Theobald

Molly Theobald

Molly Theobald is a Research Fellow with the Worldwatch Institute working with the Food & Agriculture team on State of the World 2011: Nourishing the Planet. Molly brings her skills as former Labor 2008 Pennsylvania State Communications Director for the National AFL-CIO, and her experience working on women's issues, to her research and writing for Worldwatch where she focuses on sustainable agriculture as a means to alleviate hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. She has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College where she concentrated in Women's Studies and Social Justice.


Latest Posts by Molly Theobald

An Abundance of Talent In The Midst of Poverty and Hunger

May 13, 2011 by  

Share:

When Rye Barcott, author of the recently released, It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace, founded the organization Carolina for Kibera (CFK) he was still an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Receiving his Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) training at the time, Barcott did not have the resume of your average development worker. But that is what CFK is all about—seeing the potential for leadership where most do not.

Rye-Barcott-It-Happened-On-the-Way-to-WarThe key to the success of the now 10 year old organization, says Barcott, is that it is completely driven by community members. Participatory development is the cornerstone of the organization’s foundation, and every program is developed with the goal of it being completely locally owned for long term sustainability.

CFK is based in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya—one of the largest slums in sub-Saharan Africa. Working to prevent violence and conflict, the organization empowers young slum dwellers to become community leaders. Kibera has anywhere from 700,000 to one million people and is home to ethnic and religious violence as well as poverty, pollution and overcrowding. Over 50 percent of its population is under the age of 15, and almost no one has access to education or health services.Less than half of the youth living in the slum ever begin secondary school.

Barcott first visited Kibera to research ethnic violence for a paper he was writing for his undergraduate degree. He hoped that in depth and first-hand knowledge of conflict would prepare him for the kinds of situations he would be faced with on the ground during his career in the marines. But once he was living in Kibera, he found it difficult to remain a passive observer.

“What I saw when I first went to Kibera as a student, was that there was an abundance of talent, but a total lack of opportunities,” says Barcott. “And I met people who were already trying to make a difference but who just needed a little support.”

One of these people was Salim Mohamed, a young man about the same age as Barcott who was running a youth sports program in Methare, a neighboring slum. Salim had grown up alone on the streets of Nairobi after his parents died. When Barcott met him, Salim was using soccer as a leadership development program for young kids growing up in the streets of the slum. “Salim basically said, ‘you get a thesis out of being here but what are you going to actually do about the violence and poverty?’” says Barcott.

The two men decided to start a similar program in Kibera. And CFK was born in 2001. “The important part was that the work was already happening,” says Barcott. “Salim didn’t need me to come in and tell him what Kibera needed, but we were able to work together to develop this program to help address some of the ethnic tension that was building in the area.”

Soon after that Barcott also teamed up with Tabitha Atieno Festo, a registered nurse and resident of Kibera to establish a small medical clinic with a small grant from CFK and the money Festo had earned selling vegetables the previous year. The clinic now provides primary healthcare and youth-friendly services in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to roughly 400,000 Kibera residents per year.

In addition to the Sports Association and the Tabitha Clinic, CFK also supports the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United) Center, a reproductive health and women’s rights center for 11 to 18 year-old girls, and Taka ni Pato (TNP), a collaboration with three other NGOs in Nairobi that creates jobs for several youth groups that collect trash from homes in the community for recycling, compost and making crafts for commercial sale.

Talking About Women Farmers

March 20, 2011 by  

Share:

This is part of a series of posts about the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program (IFP) and its alumni. Royce Gloria Androa received an IFP fellowship to attend the University of California at Davis, where she earned a master’s degree in International Agricultural Development. Androa is also an author in State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

“In Uganda, when you talk about agriculture you are really talking about women,” says Royce Gloria Androa, a 2007 fellow with the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program (IFP). IFP is an international fellowship program that gives underserved leaders and activists from all areas of focus a chance to gain higher education at some of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Growing up in Arua, a town in the northwestern region of Uganda near the border of Sudan and the Congo, Gloria was struck by the significant role the women played in feeding the community. She was especially impressed with her mother’s agricultural skills. “My mother used to work so hard and she never went to school,” says Gloria. “There was a district farm institute six miles away from the farm and she would go there for trainings and then she would come back and teach us how to grow soya beans and how to cook cakes and nutritious meals.”

Soon Gloria’s mother started raising chickens and she let Gloria collect the eggs to sell at the market. Seeing that agriculture could be a source of income and nutrition for entire families—and noticing that often it was uneducated women who were able to care for their families with the help of government extension training—Gloria knew that when she grew up she would go into agriculture training herself.

“I thought if I had training in agriculture and food then I could help the women in my community,” says Gloria. “It all started with my mother.”
Gloria went to school and studied agriculture and soon was working for the government’s National Agricultural Advisory Services as a district coordinator. She helped manage extensions services that introduced new technologies such as improved groundnut or soya seeds, as well as improved breeds of goats. The services also provide materials and education services. But Gloria wanted to do more, so she applied to IFP.

One of 16 applicants to be selected from a total of 1,200 in Uganda, Gloria received a scholarship from IFP to study at the University of California at Davis. She got her masters in International Agricultural Development and returned to Uganda to take on more responsibilities with the government agricultural extension services.
“Right when I got back I was hired as a consultant to help give technical support to a district in the northern part of the country where program funds had been misappropriated,” says Gloria. “I helped to recover the over 1 billion Ugandan shillings that had been stolen and put it back into the district account.” With those funds the program was able to procure sorghum and pea seeds, planting materials, livestock, and plows, for area farmers. A total of 10,000 mostly women farmers benefited from the money she helped to recover.

IFP has also helped Gloria to develop relationships with other researchers and academics. She is a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, co-authoring the Chapter 11, “Harnessing the Knowledge and Skills of Women Farmers.” And she hopes to continue to raise awareness about women’s contributions to agriculture in the agricultural development community.

“I want more people to pay attention to women in rural areas,” says Gloria. “I am very grateful to have the opportunity to get people to turn their heads towards the question of how we can improve technologies to reduce labor and help the women who are producing all of the food. I have experience and knowledge, but now I also have the education to help back it up, as well.”

To read more in our series about IFP see: Blazing the Trail to Transform Education and Local Communities: An Interview with Joan Dassin, Part I , Blazing the Trail to Transform Education and Local Communities: An Interview with Joan Dassin, Part II and For the Birds.

On International Women’s Day, Think About the Majority of Small-Scale Farmers

March 8, 2011 by  

Share:

Although women farmers produce more than half of the food grown in the world—and roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods—they are often not able to benefit from general agriculture funding because of the institutional and cultural barriers they face—including lack of access to land, lack of access to credit, and lack of access to education.  Worldwide, women receive only about 5 percent of agriculture extension services.

But research has shown that when women’s incomes are improved, and when they have better access to resources like education, infrastructure, credit, and health care, they tend to invest more in the nutrition, education, and health of their family, causing a ripple effect of benefits that can extend to the entire community.

In Zambia, for example, Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, just 50 miles north of the city of Livingstone,  was able to improve her entire family’s  quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the “Mosi-o-Tunya” (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased fromInternational Development Enterprises (IDE). In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the task of gathering water—in the driest parts of the continent this can require up to eight hours of labor per day —falls to women.  The mosi-o-tunya pump not only reduced the amount of time and effort Sianchenga had to spend irrigating her garden, it also increased the amount of crops she was able to care for during a season, increasing her harvest.

Now Sianchenga has plenty of fresh produce to share with her family and is able to sell the surplus for a profit. Explaining that her children are eating healthier, with more vegetables in their diet, Sianchenga adds that she is also enjoying increased independence. “Now we are not relying only on our husbands, because we are now able to do our own projects and to assist our husbands, to make our families look better, eat better, clothe better—even to have a house.”

The benefits that Sianchenga’s family are enjoying based on her agricultural success are not unusual. And they are increasingly being recognized by funders and policy makers. Last summer, the Honorable Rajiv Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), introduced USAID’s new global hunger and food security initiative’s Feed the Future Guide by calling women farmers an “untapped solution” to global hunger. He went on to explain that women farmers will play an important role in future agriculture development.

As Evelyn Drawec explains in the Nourishing the Planet T.V. episode below, women farmers around the world are already playing a huge role in helping to nourish both people and the planet.

Food Riots Return as Global Food Prices Reach Record High

January 8, 2011 by  

Share:

This week the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced that global food prices had reached record highs last month, surpassing  those of 2007 and 2008. Yesterday, The Financial Times reported that in Algeria increasing demonstrations about the lack of jobs, housing shortages, and the cost of food over the past few weeks have exploded into riots. Local news outlets have reported hundreds of rioters in the capital and beyond.  In the north-western city of Oran, rioters broke into a food warehouse and stole sacks of flour.

These riots follow the similar riots in Tunisia last month. One young man set himself on fire after he was prevented by police from selling fruits and vegetables.  The Middle East and North Africa are the two largest importers of cereal and countries in the area have been hit especially hard by the harvest shortages in Russia and the Ukraine this year.

In India, The Financial Times also reported yesterday, food prices have hit their highest point in more than a year. Food prices are by at least 18 percent from last year in a country where millions are spending more than 50 percent of their total income on food.

Surging global food prices are just one of the many challenges that people face throughout the Middle East, Africa, and around the world. Climate change, growing population, and water sources are also affecting the overall food production and availability. And as many countries grow increasingly dependent on food imports, they grow more vulnerable to natural disasters and market fluctuations taking place half-way around the world from them.

Innovations in sustainable agriculture—such as the cultivation of indigenous crops, affordable irrigation techniques that conserve water resources, and improved storage to reduce food waste—can go a long way to improve local food security worldwide. The forthcoming State of the World 2011 features innovations like these that are already working on the ground throughout sub-Saharan Africa, in order to help the global food community direct resources to solutions that reflect the complexity and interconnectedness of the current agricultural system.

 

To read more about food prices and producing food in the face of conflict, see: Beyond the Price of Food: Putting Food Security Into Farmers’ Hands, Where Cultivation Meets Conflict: Farming in Sudan’s War-Torn Darfur Region,Where Cultivation Meets Conflict: Farming in the Niger Delta, and Where Cultivation Meets Conflict: Rebuilding Liberian Farms in the Aftermath of War.

Urban Farming for Bangalore’s Future

December 9, 2010 by  

Share:

According to the United Nations, urbanization is unstoppable. Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, 70 percent of humanity will live in cities. As farmland gives way to urban expansion and farmers abandon their posts for urban livelihoods, feeding the cities in an overpopulated world is a growing challenge. One way to bring food security into cities, and at the same time minimize costs and resource consumption, is to bring farming to the concrete jungle.

An international network known as Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) is trying to do just that. The central aim of RUAF is to reduce urban poverty and improve food security and environmental management through urban farming. RUAF cooperates with local governments, NGOs, universities, farmers’ organizations, and private enterprises. It emphasizes capacity building among these groups through the formulation of supportive policy, networking and information sharing, and training to promote thriving agriculture markets in and around cities.  RUAF is active in 20 cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

One of RUAF’s pilot initiatives in South Asia and Southeast Asia is in the urban and peri-urban areas of Bangalore, India. In the metropolis of Bangalore itself, the initiative encourages and trains urban residents to grow pesticide-free vegetables in the limited spaces they have—such as yards, terraces, and schools—and to recycle kitchen waste as compost and collect rainwater for their gardens. It is also helping the urban poor find employment that supports the maintenance of green spaces.

Far more food production potential lies in the peri-urban areas surrounding Bangalore, where agricultural areas are rapidly being lost, causing farmers to migrate to the inner city. RUAF is helping to establish economically viable agricultural nodes in the peri-urban zone surrounding Bangalore, believing it is strategically important in addressing urban food security. It is also creating livelihood opportunities in these peri-urban areas, alleviating the push to move into the city.

Magadi is a rapidly growing peri-urban town of 28,000 residents not far from the Bangalore metropolis with great potential for peri-urban agriculture. Forty-six percent of the town’s land area is already under cultivation, though land pressures from nearby Bangalore are evident. RUAF’s vision in the “Magadi City Strategy Agenda for urban/ peri-urban Agriculture” is to transform Magadi into an ecologically sustainable center for urban/ peri-urban agriculture. As the city encroaches, RUAF is hoping that the sustainable and equitable farming that they are helping to strengthen will remain and incorporate into the urban landscape.

By connecting and supporting stakeholders with common interests, RUAF is creating synergies that are strengthening urban farming systems. By promoting self-sustaining ecological agriculture zones around the outskirts of cities, they are further strengthening markets and infrastructure for locally produced food in the world’s growing metropolises. A strong urban/ peri-urban farming system makes affordable, nutritionally rich fresh foods more available to the least food secure urban residents. It also sustains livelihoods in cities and surrounding areas, improving quality of life and easing urban migration pressures.

To learn more about urban farming and food security see: Urban Women Grow Food in Sacks, Re-Directing Ag Funding to Small-Scale Farmers for Improved Food Security, and AFSA Calls on African Leaders to Remember Farmers in Climate Change Negotiations.

By Matt Styslinger

Joan Dassin on the Trail to Transform Education & Local Communities

November 30, 2010 by  

Share:

In the first piece in our series of posts about the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program (IFP) and its alumni, we talk with Joan Dassin, Executive Director of the International Fellowship Fund (IFF), established in 2001 to implement and oversee IFP, about the program and how access to higher education has the power to not only transform students but entire communities.

The program began—after initial planning in 1999 and 2000—in 2001, with the largest single grant ever awarded by the Ford Foundation. So it began with a very high level of support with the idea of taking a traditional type of activity, namely an international fellowship program, and directing it toward social change. That really was the idea. Over the years we’ve tried to reach that objective by seeking people who are community leaders in their own right, who work in a whole array of development related fields, and who also could benefit from a formal course in a post graduate setting.

Right from the beginning we realized that it was important to have an on the ground view of who these beneficiaries could be. And if we attempted to extend this opportunity to other people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to international higher education in part because of the cost but also because they wouldn’t necessarily have the network, they wouldn’t have prior admission to graduate programs, they wouldn’t be familiar with the whole international apparatus, then we were going to have to rely on a set of in-country organizations that could reach way beyond the capital cities and the usual elites who have access to these types of programs general.

As a result we worked closely with Ford Foundation colleagues and offices around the world to structure an extremely decentralized program.  In fact, what we did was at the Ford Foundation, we spun out a new organization of which I am the executive director called the International Fellowship Fund and then we in turn re-grant a portion of the Ford Fund to various partner organizations around the world. In effect, we became a small operating foundation. This has allowed us to reach enormous diversity in the kinds of people that we’ve been able to recruit—women, people from remote areas, ethnic and religious minorities, and, in some cases, indigenous people. And so throughout the decade we have been working on this idea: how do you expand access to education on the one hand and then use that access in order to have the most direct impact as possible on community level development issues?

A number of programs funded by Ford emphasize the importance of supporting local leaders in under-served communities and giving them the tools they need to work for social justice in their home communities. Can you describe why providing opportunities in higher education and supporting local leaders is such a fundamental part, in Ford’s eyes, for achieving social justice?

For a long time the orthodoxy promoted by the World Bank and other multi-lateral and bi-lateral funders, was that the biggest payoff in terms of economic returns to societies would come from investment in basic education. While that question is very complex, it’s clearer and clearer that higher education has enormous social returns to society, some of which are not easily quantifiable. The consequence of essentially strong disinvestment in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, in Universities and in higher education, which has only recently been reversed has been just as the population pressures have been increasing has been less and less capacity on the part of local universities to absorb demand. And so, on one hand, from just a strictly development point of view, the idea of what is called human capacity building or the need to have educated people continues to be very important and is perhaps more important as societies try to join the globalized world and as knowledge products become even more important than raw materials.

We also thought that we could have a more direct impact on development if we focused on higher education opportunities for people who themselves are from marginalized communities.  Whether they are women, in some cases, or people who live in rural areas, there are many people who have the talent and the capacity to contribute to their society but have not had the opportunities or the training. That is what our program is about.

We feel we have been able to contribute to social justice in two big ways. One has to do with providing more educational opportunities to people who wouldn’t have them and secondly by providing a support system for existing leaders.  Because the beneficiaries of our program are people who are themselves development leaders of one sort or another, with our program, they can then return to their communities or work as international organizations or in public sector, private sector, civil society sector or a whole array of areas and continue to make a difference but this time knowing that they have access to the international community.

People who are themselves living and working in poor communities that tend to bear the brunt of underdevelopment-whatever it is—natural disasters, food security or health issues or whatever it is—people who are raised and who live in those communities have a strong sense of commitment to improving conditions in their local communities. So the idea is to try to intervene in the most direct way possible. An example will make this easier to understand. We are planning a trip to Brazil and we are going to visit with our indigenous fellows—these are people who live in quite remote regions of the country and are among the very first indigenous people to ever get graduate degrees.  They live in their communities and they work on topics like agriculture, language, preserving culture and they now have a fairly unique transit between their communities and universities in the area and the bigger cities in the country and so on.

Ford Foundation President Luis Ubinas is quoted on the site as saying that “IFP’s impact has reached far beyond the Fellows…It is reshaping how governments, universities and other scholarship programs are thinking about building diverse and talented leaders committed to our most pressing global issues.” Can you expand on this quote and describe how your grantees are helping to transform traditional assumptions about what it means to be a leader?

Or what traditional assumptions about what it means to be a student. Most fellowship programs to this day –and there have been fellowship programs for at least one hundred years if not more—select their beneficiaries on the basis of their academic performance. The assumption being that the people who are the best and the brightest, the people who have had access to the best educational institutions in their society, should be rewarded with an international study opportunity. And while we at IFP think that intellectual performance is very important, we also know that people who have not had access to the highest quality institutions in their society will have a very hard time being competitive in these kinds of programs. And therefore, by focusing on students who otherwise would be excluded from these sorts of scholarship opportunities, we’ve been able to have a big impact on the receiving institutions, especially in universities where we’ve had several dozen and, in some cases, over one hundred students. Our students tend to be older than the average student-we have no age limit on the program, and 50 percent are women, including from very remote areas. They are people who typically don’t show up at elite universities around the world.

So this does have an impact on the institutions. They have sometimes made their requirements more flexible at the beginning although equally rigorous when it comes to granting the degree.  For example, in the U.S., to get into graduate school you need to have a GRE score but most testing for the GRE is now computer based. But if you are living in rural Ghana, for example, or another remote area of the world where you don’t have easy access to computer based tests and you don’t have much experience with them, it’s quite possible that you won’t do very well on such a test. So we’ve been able to work with universities to expand the period of training prior to enrollment, give people essentially a change to get up to the starting line.

Now, this can represent a risk for the university. It’s much easier for them to take the straight A student from the top public or private university in the country—there is much less risk there.  But our own selection process is highly selective. We’ve had over 100,000 applications in ten years for about 4,000 places. That means that about 95 percent of the candidates are not selected. Those five percent that are selected are people who have great talent and who have been able to overcome enormous obstacles. So for universities to be working with these kinds of students has enabled them to adjust their curricula, to adjust their requirements but without lowering quality. So that’s just one example of changes we’ve seen in private universities in the united states and in public flagship universities in other parts of the world. That’s an important lesson for universities to learn: there are many ways that they can attract new students.

Taking the Classroom to the Field

November 22, 2010 by  

Share:

Over the last fifty years or so, “the world has changed a lot,” says Paul Clark, project manager for Knowledge Network®.  “In rural areas there is a growing demand for resources that are… increasingly depleted. Meanwhile, knowing how to use computers and exposure to the internet is increasingly important. So we are combing these skills to improve the local environment and livelihoods.”

To help children—and adults— deal with their changing world, Knowledge Network® provides training in basic computer skills, graphic and web design, spreadsheet creation and use, and business skills. But Knowledge Network® also integrates issues like climate change, wildlife conservation and natural resource restoration into their lesson plans. And by partnering with schools, such as the Bedford Country School, Knowledge Network® is helping to bring these lessons to the young people who need them the most.

“A lot of the kids in South Africa come from very poor families,” explains Paul. “They are mostly worried about what is going to be on the table for lunch or dinner and many don’t have electricity or flowing water. Bedford Country School is in a farming community and the ability to grow what they need to survive and not destroy the environment while they do that is important.”

Part of what exacerbates poverty in the area, explains Paul, is that “the demand for local resources is growing but the resources are decreasing with pollution and urbanization.” Often farmers clear forests to make room for more farmland, and the water is contaminated from farm runoff and lack of infrastructure. “Soon the water in the area won’t even be potable or safe to use for irrigation,” says Paul.

As a result, the Bedford Country School, in partnership with Knowledge Network® is providing its students with the skills to take care of the water and land they need in order to feed their families, as well as preparing them for the technological demands of a world increasingly dependent on computers.  “We supply the integrated lessons,” says Paul, “and the school then works these lessons into their learning program, often basing it on their own natural environment.” Bedford maintains a year-round garden on its grounds where the students learn basic farming skills. In addition to farming, the students take field trips out into the surrounding wildlife and farm land to learn about the importance of preserving the local natural resources—both for the health of the environment and for the wellbeing of their future livelihoods.

Back in the classroom, students learn to use the computer as a tool in order to do research, for example on improved methods of irrigation and other farming practices online, as well as how to put together PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, large posters, and other materials that they then use to present their new knowledge to the rest of the class and community. “The great part about this program,” says Paul, “is that kids can go out in the garden and actually plant the tomatoes. Then they can learn about the best way to keep the tomatoes healthy while also minimizing any damage to the surrounding environment. Then they can come inside and share everything they’ve learned with each other, gaining further skills in computer use that they’ll need in the business world.”

Paul says the program is improving more than just computer skills.  “The students are really getting into the research and applying their new knowledge and it’s filtering down to every area. Their English and communication skills are improving, their math is improving and they understand that they can find answers and information online all on their own.”

As this project is successful at the Bedford Country School, the program is hoping to gain funding to grow and move into other communities that can benefit from it as well. Meanwhile, the students at Bedford Country School are sharing the resources they have and learning and developing their skill rapidly. “They are very young with so much in front of them,” says Paul.  “It is amazing to see what they are achieving now and exciting to imagine what is ahead of them.”

To learn more about how schools are providing students with the information they need to improve the environment and their livelihoods through agriculture, see: Reigniting an Interest in Local Food, In the Classroom, “Trickle Up Education” to Improve Diets and Livelihoods for the Whole Community, How to Keep Kids Down on the Farm, and Cultivating a Passion for Agriculture.

A Chat With Sweet Potato Specialist from Peru

November 16, 2010 by  

Share:

Finding the right taste is very important,” said Dr. Maria Isabel Andrade, Sweet Potato Specialist at the International Potato Center’s office—a Peruvian-based organization working to improve global food security through improved root and tuber varieties and cultivation techniques— in Maputo, Mozambique.  “In Ghana, for example, they don’t like their sweet potatoes to be too sweet because they use them to bake. Farmers won’t grow what they don’t like to eat. So the taste of the potato is very important.”

Dr. Andrade works closely with farmers in Mozambique to breed different varieties of sweet potatoes that not only taste good, but that are also able to withstand some of the harsh growing conditions presented by various regions throughout Mozambique and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Sweet potatoes must be drought tolerant, as well as pest and disease resistant and while many indigenous varieties have one or two of these characteristics, Dr. Andrade is breeding to develop varieties that consistently contain them all.

Dr. Andrade focuses on sweet potatoes because they can be an important source of beta carotene, an organic compound that helps to prevent vitamin A deficiency. In Mozambique, 69 percent of women and children under five are vitamin A deficient and this year, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Potato Center has launched the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project in eight sub-Saharan African countries, specifically to ensure that farmers are growing sweet potatoes—especially women farmers.

“When women farmers, who are caring for and feeding the children, are growing the orange sweet potatoes—the ones that contain beta carotene—then we know the right vitamins are making it onto the plates of women and children,” says Dr. Andrade.

In Mozambique, for example, the Potato Center tested 64 clones in four different provinces in the country, and with the help of farmers in each region, 15 of these clones were selected for release this year. Each province was selected for the extremity with which it experiences one of the four following challenges: drought, cold, pests and disease. “We have to make sure that the breeding material goes to where the challenges are the greatest,” says Dr. Andrade, “to make sure that they will work in the most extreme situations.”

The five-year project is in its earliest stages and two provinces have only begun the first variety crossing. “We are establishing crossing blocks—that is when you let the sweet potato grow and flower and then cross it with another one,” says Dr. Andrade.  “We are working with the farmers with the goal of teaching them to breed the hardiest varieties. Ultimately we want a population  of sweet potato that can serve throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as well as on the local level.”

To distribute beta carotene-rich and farmer-approved varieties to as many farmers as possible, the Potato Center works with local NGO’s throughout Africa. “Last time we distributed sweet potato varieties we worked with 94 different local and international NGOs in Mozambique and they helped multiply the materials and distribute them. We kept the records.” The center also provides training to teach farmers how to prepare and process the sweet potatoes. “We teach women how to process the sweet potato into cake or bread,” says Dr. Andrade. “Women are in the home and they are the ones preparing the food for their children so we have to make sure they can turn the potato with all its nutrients into a meal.”

The goal for the next five years is to improve the food security, nutrition, and livelihoods of 150,000 families, says Dr. Andrade. “We are working towards having a batch of very hardy and very tasty sweet potatoes,” she continues. “And working closely with the farmers to make sure they are eaten, enjoyed, and improving nutrition because, ultimately, we are not breeding for us, we are breeding for the farmers.”

The International PotatoCenter is a Peruvian-based organization working to improve global food security through improved root and tuber varieties and cultivation techniques. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Next Page »