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.
“Talent is universal but opportunity is not,” said U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when she presented the First Annual 2010 Fairness Award to Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) earlier this week in Washington DC. Hosted by the Global Fairness Initiative (FGI), the Prince of Wales Foundation, and NBC Universal, the Fairness Award honors those working to “advance fair wages, equal access to markets and balanced public policy” in order to alleviate global poverty.
SEWA is a member-based Indian trade union that provides support for women farmers and entrepreneurs. A country-wide network of cooperatives, self-help groups (SHGs), banks and training centers that help address the multiple constraints that women face, SEWA acts as a support system to end exclusion, and foster social, economic and political empowerment.
“Billions of people worldwide are trapped in poverty,” said Clinton. These are people—often women— who have the skills to provide for their families and communities, but are limited by unfair wages and lack of access to markets and other resources. Bhatt’s work with SEWA, explained Clinton, was being honored because it empowers women in India by helping them find the support and access to markets that they need to become financially independent. When we ignore women and their contributions, continued Clinton, families and entire communities lose. Bhatt understands, says Clinton, “that women are the key to reducing global poverty.”
Upon accepting her award, Bhatt declared that SEWA’s “fight is for fairness through self reliance.” She explained that SEWA’s vision is “for a fairer and more equitable world” that will provide opportunities for everyone to be able to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves. And she informed the audience that they can be a part of helping this vision come to fruition, too. “When we buy local goods and food, we make a statement with our money,” she continued, a statement that can help to lift over 1 billion women and their families out of poverty.
In addition to the presentation of the award, the evening’s event also included the world premiere of the Prince of Wale’s Foundation’s new documentary, Harmony—released in conjunction with a book by the same title. Harmony introduces a range of experts who emphasize organic food production in order to protect the environment and ensure future food security. SEWA was featured in the film as an example of a project that not only improves the lives of some of the world’s poorest people, but that also does so in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
Speakers at the event also included NBC former President and Chief Executive Officers, Jeff Zucker, NBC’s Nightly News Anchor, Brian Williams, NBC News Anchor Andrea Mitchell, and FGI Chair and Former President of Costa Rica, José María Figueres.
In Kenya, for the over 5,000 people living in rural communities on or near its shore, Lake Victoria—the largest body of freshwater in Africa—is a life line. It is the main source of water for bathing, drinking, and cooking in the area and its fis
Last week the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its new report, “State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,” warning that the failure to conserve wild plant varieties related to crops grown for human consumption are a threat to world food security.
The genetic information held in wild crop varieties, according to the report, is critical for developing new crop varieties that are high yielding, fast-growing, and resistant to heat, drought, pests, and disease. In the face of climate change, says the report, loss of biodiversity drastically impacts the world’s ability to feed itself.
“There are thousands of crop wild relatives that still need to be collected, studied and documented because they hold genetic secrets that enable them to resist heat, droughts, salinity, floods and pests,” said Jacques Diouf, the FAO Director-General in conjuncture with the release of the report.
Fifty percent of the increase in crop yields in recent years has been a result of new seed varieties, made possible by the availability of diverse genetic resources contained in wild varieties. The report calls for renewed interest and capacity to conserve and utilize existing biodiversity in order to ensure future farm adaptability is possible and future food security is protected.
“The idea was to bring a lot of expertise from the corporate world to help young social start ups,” says Fred Rose when asked about his motivation for founding the Acara Institute two years ago. As part of the Minnesota University’s Institute on the Environment, Acara has developed a classroom curriculum for universities in the U.S. and in India that challenges students to think creatively about how to use private businesses to solve pressing global issues such as hunger and poverty. But instead of the semester culminating in an exam or a paper, Acara provides students the necessary tools to turn their best class work into reality.
“There is a lot of energy in the business world and in young people,” says Fred, “that is being directed towards providing services or materials that help to make the world a better place. I wanted to help provide young business students with better tools to help them make a profit through solving some of these global challenges we face today.”
As part of their studies, students enrolled in Acara’s program compete in the Acara Challenge. Participating universities in the U.S. are partnered with universities in India, creating teams of 15 students who will work together to come up with a business plan to address a specific problem chosen by Acara. “Last year’s competition theme was clean water for cooking and this year is on food and water security,” explained Fred. “This year, basically, we are asking the question,’ how are we going to feed 9 billion people without destroying everything?’”
Winning teams are given the opportunity to attend the Acara Summer Institute and to see if their model can become reality. Working with experts in the field and on the ground, students can refine their business plan and prepare for an actual launch. “There are always assumptions about what will or won’t work,” says Fred. “Even the best models may be based on incorrect assumptions and it’s incredibly valuable for students to view that first hand. They also get to meet their international teammates in person and discuss their project’s future potential.”
A number of projects from past years have even moved beyond that final assessment stage, earning attention from funders. “We have some prototype businesses that have gotten started and received some funding,” says Fred. “Currently there is a program on the ground that is developing drip irrigation systems to sell and improve farm water management, and a program that is using bio digesters to create fuel from dairy cow waste.”
But the success of these projects would not be possible, says Fred, without the partnerships between the students in the U.S. and in India. “The idea is that the students in India have to do the field work because they are already on the ground. They go out and conduct interviews and observe so that they can create a business model with the people in the U.S. that will actually work on the ground.”
The partnership also helps to ensure that the business models are sustainable. “The long term sustainability of any of these projects has to be with the students in India,” says Fred. “It’s pretty arrogant to think you can sit here in a classroom in Minneapolis and fix these hugely complicated problems half way around the world.”
Farmers in the Uluguru Mountains in Tanzania are fighting a losing battle against increasingly degraded land. Repeated plantings are quickly depleting the nutrients in the soil, leaving it nearly barren and vulnerable to erosion. Meanwhile, downstream, the water is dark with sediment, unfit for drinking and expensive to treat.
“Downstream, people are complaining about the quality of water,” says Lopa Dosteus, program manager for CARE International’s Equitable Payment for Watershed Management (EPWM) program. “And upstream, the farmers are struggling to grow enough food while their soil washes away.”
In response to the growing concerns voiced by those living both up and downstream, CARE International, an organization fighting poverty and hunger around the world, is partnering with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED), to improve farming practices and create financial incentives to take better care of the soil.
“The objective,” says Lopa, “is to see if we can help farmers manage natural resources while, at the same time, increase their income.”
EPWM encourages, and works closely with, smallholder farmers to use various farming techniques that help to restore—and hold in place—the soil. “We encourage these farmers—who are all farming on small pieces of land—to build terraces to limit soil runoff and erosion,” says Lopa.
“We also encourage them to plant trees as crops and to plant trees in the areas of their land that are otherwise going unused—this helps sequester carbon in the soil and restores much needed nutrients.” EPWM also provides supplies and support, such as seeds and crop maintenance training, and encourages farmers to leave sections of their land alone to long year-long, or even two-year long, periods in order to give the soil a chance to regenerate on its own.
Once the harvest is improved, EPWM works to make sure that farmers have a place to sell the surplus. Most farmers in the region do not have relationships with sellers at local markets. Instead, farmers take their produce to market dealers who purchase the rice, maize, beans, groundnuts, tomatoes, cabbages, and bananas at the lowest rate possible in order to turn around and sell them to local businesses at marked up prices.
“We support farmers throughout the process to go out and identify the market for themselves,” says Lopa. “They collect information and meet with interested businesses. Then they don’t need the dealers anymore.”
While transportation of crops to the market is a problem, especially during the rainy season when mountain roads almost entirely inaccessible even by foot, Lopa says that the farmers participating in the project, motivated by their improved harvest and increased incomes, are working together to fight for government assistance and improved infrastructure.
“Farmers are seeing that this is increasing their production and their incomes and its motivating them,” says Lopa. “They are happy that the area is being well conserved and they are feeling like they have access to more things. We are helping them shout together and be heard by the government so that their already improved access to the market can be improved even more.”
“Farmers are seeing that they can do this on the small level,” continues Lopa. “And it’s making them think and act bigger. Now they are improving things all on their own.”
Last month marked the eighth time since 1997 that farm owners in Florida stood accused by the Department of Justice for using forced-labor to harvest produce. The case involves dozens of Haitians who were recruited as laborers—to work legally in the country on “guestworker” visas—who were then, with their passports confiscated, forced to work long hours and under harsh conditions for little to no pay.
Threatened with deportation and, in some cases, physically and sexually assaulted, the workers picked tomatoes, oranges and other fruits and vegetables for sale around the country.
As a recent piece on Huffington Post points out, some of these fruits and vegetables possibly found their way onto the menu at Chipotle, a quickly growing and popular fast-food restaurant whose mission, according to its website, is “Food With Integrity.”
Unfortunately, Chipotle is not in a position to claim ignorance of the inhumane working conditions under which the produce it serves might have been harvested. For the past four years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—a Florida-based organization fighting for better conditions for farm laborers—has been building partnerships with major fast food establishments and grocery stores, such as McDonalds and Whole Foods.
CIW asks these large corporations to use their purchasing power to incentivize fair treatment of farm laborers by only purchasing produce from suppliers that can prove they treat their laborers fairly. Chipotle has been approached by CIW numerous times with invitations to join the growing list of large corporations taking a stand against unfair treatment of farm workers. And Chipotle has turned down every one.
At first glance, the popular fast-food chain would seem like an obvious partner for CIW. It had a tie-in with the 2009 release of the film, Food INC, sponsoring free screenings of the film and distributing promotional material at all of its restaurant locations. Chipotle’s CEO, Steve Ells will be starring in the upcoming NBC reality series America’s Next Great Restaurant and has received significant press surrounding his supposed goal to provide good fast food to American consumers with “integrity of ingredients.”
The restaurant’s website prominently features descriptions of the “naturally raised animals” that provide the meat for its menu. The meat Chipotle serves is from animals that are “raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones and allowed to display their natural tendencies.”
But Chipotle refuses to work with CIW and other organizations that promote the rights of farmworkers. For four years, the company has declined invitations to join the other large corporations working with CIW to promote fair labor practices on America’s farms.
While Chipotle refuses to throw its financial weight towards the improvement of working conditions for farm laborers, CIW is providing plenty of opportunities for consumers take action. Check out their website to find out how to send a postcard to the corporate headquarters of Chipotle and other corporations that refuse to take a stand and to learn more about the organizations that deserve your patronage—as well as the ones that don’t.
Whether or not you eat bacon, odds are that before breakfast you will have already encountered some part of a pig during your morning routine. At least 185 non-pork products contain pig, including soap, toothpaste, anti-wrinkle cream and shampoo and conditioner. Christien Meindertsma, a Dutch artist, describes these products and more in a recent TED Talk about her new book, Pig 05049.
Meindertsma’s book is a catalog of the afterlife of a single pig—number 05049—and all the products that its skin, bones, meat, internal organs, blood, fat, and other parts. went into creating. What she found was that pig parts end up in some surprising places and that most people “don’t actually have a clue of what all the products that surround us are made of.”
Meindertsma maps out how pigs end up in various and often surprising daily products. Pig hair, for example, is used an “an improver of dough” in some bread products. Cellular concrete, used to build roads and buildings, contains proteins from pig bone. Pig can be found in some kinds of paint and, calling it the “strangest thing she found,” Meindertsma explains that pig parts are used to make some types of bullets.
Pork is, of course, a common food product but, says Meindertsma, pig can be found in meat products not generally associate with pig. Portion controlled steaks, for example, available in the frozen food section, are sold as cow but actually contain, in addition to cow meat, fibrin from pigs blood.
In general, says Meindertsma, consumers know very little about the ingredients and labor that go into the many products used on a daily basis—not just the ones containing pig. “In order to take better care of what is behind our products,” she says, “the livestock, the agriculture, the people,” we need to first be aware that they even exist.
When forests are cleared in West Africa for firewood or for farmland, the Dika trees are, more often than not, left untouched. Farmers have too much to gain from harvesting the tree’s fruits and seeds to burn or discard a Dika found in the wild.
Indigenous to West Africa, a Dika tree can grow to be as tall as 40 meters and produces a small green and yellow fruit that looks, at first glance, like a small mango. (Photo credit: Lost Crops of Africa)
Indigenous to West Africa, a Dika tree can grow to be as tall as 40 meters and produces a small green and yellow fruit that looks, at first glance, like a small mango.
Its fruit ranges in taste from sweet to bitter and can be enjoyed—especially the sweeter varieties—fresh off the tree, or made into jelly, jam or “African-mango juice.”
But while the fruit is a delicious treat, the seeds are where the real value can be found. Resembling smooth walnuts, Dika seeds are cracked open by harvesters to collect the edible kernel contained inside.
These kernals can be eaten raw or roasted, but most are processed and pounded into Dika butter or compacted into bars or pressed to produce a cooking oil.
The seeds also produce a unique flavor when crushed and are combined with the other spices to make “ogbono soup,” a common dish. The wide popularity of ogbono soup has created a large market for Dika seeds and harvesters can trade Dika kernals at both the local and regional scale.
Out of season, Dika seeds bring in an especially high price—it has been estimated that a farmer can make up to $USD300.00 off of the seeds produced by just one tree.
Each year, thousands of tons of “Dika nuts” are harvested throughout Western Africa and the popularity of this wild tree has lead to many attempts at commercial cultivation.
The Dika is a slow maturing plant—it takes 10 to 15 years for a tree to begin bearing fruit. Breeders, motivated by the value of its fruit, are working on developing faster growing varieties as well as varieties with shells that are easier to crack open.
But whether or not the Dika is successfully tamed by breeders and made more commercially viable as a domestic crop, the tree in the wild is already providing a critical income to millions of farmers and harvesters throughout West Africa.
Renee Blodgett is the founder and editor of We Blog the World, which was created in 2008. Renee has lived in ten countries and traveled to nearly 80, giving her a unique understanding and appreciation of international cultures. She is ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes and referenced in two renowned books on how social media is changing how we live our lives.
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