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Putting Worms to Work

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Overuse of pesticides is now acknowledged as one of the gravest mistakes of the  Green Revolution, launched in the 1970s to dramatically increase food production in the developing world. Pesticides have polluted the environment, poisoned fertile soil, contaminated ground water and damaged human health.

According to Tata Energy Research, 57 per cent of India’s land is degraded. But the country, it is estimated, will need more than 45 million tons of grains to meet the country’s basic food requirements by 2030. There is little arable land left to cultivate, so it is crucial to develop plants that are more resistant to pests and other diseases.

Two innovations developed at  Patnagar University in Patnagar, India – the home of the first Green Revolution back in the 1970s – are now set to spark a second Green Revolution, eschewing harmful chemicals and instead turning to nature to help.

Drawing on the field of below-ground biodiversity (the study of all the nutrients and life forms in soil), scientists at the university are harnessing the elements within the soil, rather than placing chemicals on the soil.

Naturally occurring bacteria microbes have been isolated in the soil. It has been found that they are effective killers of pathogenic fungi diseases that affect plants. They do this by coiling around the fungi and destroying the cell walls of the pathogen. These naturally occurring bacteria effectively disinfect the soil of diseases, allowing the plant to flourish without the use of chemicals.

Patnagar University has patented this technique and sells the bacteria suspended in 200 gram packets of talcum powder to farmers. These so-called bioinoculants can be sown with the seeds or put in manure that is being spread as fertilizer.

Another natural innovation in this second Green Revolution uses common earthworms to tackle animal manure. There are about 1.3 billion cattle in the world, a billon sheep, a billion pigs, 800 million goats and 17 billion chickens (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO]). This huge mass of animals produces vast quantities of manure – an estimated 3 billion tons.

In 2006, an FAO report called animal manure “one of the top two of three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale.” Too much of it, and groundwater is contaminated and wetlands destroyed.

India produces millions of tons of livestock manure. Dr. R.J. Sharma, dean of veterinary and animal sciences at the Patnagar university, has found a handy way to rid farms of manure and produce highly useful fertiliser (and extra income!) for agriculture by using epigeic earthworms, or vermicomposting.

Dr Sharma explains that his herd of 750 cows and buffalo on his dairy farm were becoming a big problem: “Previously we had a problem disposing this excreta, and we are dumping freshly in the fields and that fresh dung takes a lot of time to decompose and a lot of problems with insects and foul smelling,” he told the BBC.

The worms degrade the manure while increasing the manure’s fertiliser qualities, creating more nitrogen and phosphorus: two essential ingredients necessary for growing crops. They were found to be excellent in breaking down manure from cows, horses, sheep and goats.

And Sharma discovered an added benefit to getting rid of this foul-smelling manure: he can make 30,000 rupees a day selling the fertilizer, while he is only making 20,000 rupees a day from selling his milk. And it only takes the earthworms between 40 and 50 days to turn this manure to money.

Published: January 2008

Resources

  • Digital soil maps: The Food and Agriculture Organization has a CD-ROM soil map available  here, and the GlobalSoilMap initiative is building a real-time soil map here.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Bio-ethanol From Sturdy and Once-Unwanted Indian Plant

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With awareness of global warming at an all-time high – and governments seeking real-world solutions to solve this enormous problem – bioethanol fuel has risen up the agenda as a replacement for conventional fuel sources. At present, most bioethanol fuel is produced from either corn or sugar but a less known plant jatropha could be the real solution. Brazil has been a pioneer in producing bioethanol fuel from sugar, while the United States has focused on its substantial corn crop as a source, and both contribute more than half the world’s supply. Brazil alone made US $5.4 billion from biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel combined) in 2005, while global production is estimated at 48 billion litres (Biofuel Market Worldwide (2007-2010) www.canbiotech.com).

Global prices for crude oil, under pressure from a number of sources, are volatile and far above 1990s levels. This hurts the poorest countries most (Human Development Report 2005). Expensive fuel means the world’s poor are denied affordable access to machinery and appliances that can make life more comfortable. Poorer nations are often more dependent on oil imports than richer countries. As well, most of their industries are energy intensive, and their cars and homes are less energy efficient. This means low-income countries spend twice as much of their national income on imported oil than do developed countries (World Bank). A US $10 per barrel increase in the cost of crude oil shaves half a percentage point from economic growth in the West; in the poorest countries, it is nearly three times higher.

The two common sources of bioethanol fuel – corn and cane sugar – have a major drawback: they are diverting food sources into fuel for vehicles. Already, the massive US diversion of corn into the bioethanol fuel market has sent the price of corn skyrocketing, making this hardy food staple in countries like Mexico more expensive for the poor. Some estimates claim ethanol plants will burn up to half of the United States’ domestic corn supplies within a few years (Foreign Affairs). To fill the fuel tank of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) with pure ethanol requires 450 pounds of corn – enough calories to feed one person for a year.

And this is why many are now advocating a non-edible Indian fruit bush called jatropha as a better solution. It is like a grapefruit, with each fruit containing three plum-sized seeds. Each seed contains 35 percent oil which can be converted into biodiesel. A shrub from the family euphorbiaceae, jatropha’s lifespan is 50 years. It bears fruit several times a year, and each bunch is five to eight fruits. Being unedible, the oil is mostly used for soap and varnishes.

Cultivation of the jatropha was prioritised a year ago by the Indian Railway Minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav. Disused railways lands were to be put aside for growing the crop. Brazil’s biodiesel company, Biomasa, plans to plant two million hectares with jatropha this year, and it is believed jatropha will surpass sugar cane as the principal source for bioethanol in Brazil.

The advantages of jatropha include its hardy nature: it does not require pesticide, manure, or irrigation to grow and it is drought resistant. A single jatropha plant will yield one litre of biodiesel per year for 40 years, and it yields 1,300 kg of seeds per hectare per year. Its advocates hope to see jatropha bushes planted alongside existing crops, with an acre producing 100 litres of fuel per year.

The downsides of cultivating jatropha as a fuel source would need to be overcome. At present, jatropha’s high acidity means its seeds degrade quickly in humid environments (much of the global South) when exposed to air. Steel tanks used for storage require a nitrogen blanket to prevent water absorption. During the processing stage (something called transesterification), the large quantities of glycerine are produced as a byproduct. Demand is low for this byproduct and disposal is a problem. A cake is also produced that has no real value or use. To make it economically worthwhile to grow in India for example, farmers would need to receive four rupees per kg of seed. This would produce a biofuel costing 50 rupees per litre – considered too expensive at present. Jatropha advocates are urging government subsidies to kick-start production and make the price competitive.

In Ghana, smallholder farmers have already rebelled against growing jatropha. They say that since the oil is inedible, and growing the crop leaves them at the mercy of price-setting by the refineries, they do not want to run the risk.

“What may encourage farmers to venture into jatropha,” said Wisdom Yao Adjah-Cudjoe, a cereal farmers’ representative, “would be a guaranteed price arrangement, as is the case with cocoa.”

In Africa, research by the South African Biodiversity Institute has estimated that 50 percent of the landmass of the continent is suitable for jatropha cultivation (a total of 1,080 million hectares). It could be a huge opportunity for African farmers and a big cost saving for poor countries, but if farmers are to be encouraged to grow jatropha, they will need the right price incentives and guarantees.

Published: June 2007

Resources

  • Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd: An Indian company specialising in helping farmers to begin growing jatropha plants.
  • Centre for Jatropha Promotion: Based in Charu, Rajasthan, India, it researches all aspects of jatropha cultivation and acts as a seed bank.
  • Kick Start Oil Press: Developed in 1993, the Kick Start Oil Press was designed for use in Africa by farmers. It is manufactured in Kenya and sold as a complete kit for entrepreneurs to get started pressing seed for oil. The Kick Start NGO designs technologies for private entrepreneurs of small-scale enterprises, and has offices in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali.
  • Haiti Innovation: Established by former Peace Corps volunteers, and links Haitian NGOs with aid donors. It encourages projects to post on the web and contributors to donate directly to them. It is currently promoting the growing of jatropha in Haiti.
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA): This is an excellent source for real-time news and information sources on the biofuel market in Africa.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Agribusiness + Food Security

A small sample by theme of stories previously published in the UNOSSC (United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions. It was published from 2006 to 2014. 

Agribusiness + Food Security

Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security: How agribusiness and food security can help in the push to meet the MDGs

Carbon Credits Can Benefit African Farmers Thanks to New System Development Challenges: The global carbon credit trading schemes emanating from the Kyoto Protocol are now creating a multi-billion dollar market – the European carbon market was worth €14.6 billion in 2006 – and represents one of the fastest growing business opportunities in the world. Being green has finally come of age. Yet all the benefits of this are largely bypassing Africa despite more than 70 percent of the continent’s inhabitants earning a living off the land.

Securing Land Rights for the Poor Now Reaping Rewards Development Challenges: The hotly debated issue of land rights for the poor has never been more relevant. There is mounting evidence that access to land rights can catapult the poor out of poverty and spur growth for the economy. Experience in India and China is now showing the economic power unleashed when the poor gain full legal rights over their land.

Trade to Benefit the Poor Up in 2006 and to Grow in 2007 Development Challenges:The global fair trade market – in which goods and services are traded under the Fairtrade logo, guaranteeing a minimum fair price to producers experienced unprecedented growth in 2006. In the UK alone, 2006 sales totalled £290 million – a jump of 46 percent from 2005. The Fairtrade Foundation predicts sales will reach UK £300 million in 2007.

Bio-ethanol From Sturdy and Once-Unwanted Indian Plant Development Challenges:With awareness of global warming at an all-time high – and governments seeking real-world solutions to solve this enormous problem – bioethanol fuel has risen up the agenda as a replacement for conventional fuel sources. At present, most bioethanol fuel is produced from either corn or sugar but a less known plant jatropha could be the real solution. Brazil has been a pioneer in producing bioethanol fuel from sugar, while the United States has focused on its substantial corn crop as a source, and both contribute more than half the world’s supply.

Afrocoffee: Blending Good Design and Coffee Development Challenges: The importance of good design and a strong brand in the success of a business cannot be emphasised enough. That extra effort and thought can take a business from local success to regional and even global success. As consultants KPMG make clear, “For many businesses, the strength of their brands is a key driver of profitability and cash flow “. Yet the majority of small businesses fail to think about their brand values or how design will improve their product or service.

Cooking up a Recipe to End Poverty Development Challenges: Like music, food has a powerful ability to jump across cultural and regional barriers and unite people in the sheer pleasure of the meal. Tapping the rich vein of regional culinary heritages is also a great way to make money. Promoting local recipes and foods has other benefits: as the global obesity (or globesity as WHO calls it) epidemic reaches into the urban areas of cities in the developing world, anything that pulls people away from fast food and high-fat foods is a good thing. Doctors have found home cooking keeps people thin and is better for them.

Dabbawallahs Use Web and Text to Make Lunch on Time Development Challenges:The developing world’s rapidly growing cities are bringing with them whole new ways of living and working. One rapidly expanding category of citizen is the office worker. A symbol of growing prosperity, the office worker also tends to be a time-poor person who often must commute large distances between home and workplace.

Putting Worms to Work Development Challenges: Overuse of pesticides is now acknowledged as one of the gravest mistakes of the Green Revolution, launched in the 1970s to dramatically increase food production in the developing world. Pesticides have polluted the environment, poisoned fertile soil, contaminated ground water and damaged human health.

Innovative Stoves to Help the Poor Development Challenges: Half of the world’s population cook with a fuel-burning stove, and this figure rises to 80 per cent of households in rural areas in developing countries. Typical fuels burned include wood, coal, crop leftovers and animal dung. The indoor pollution from smoke and carbon monoxide is a top health hazard in the developing world, ranking just behind dirty water, poor sanitation and malnutrition. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.6 million people die each year as a result of toxic indoor air.

Insects Can Help in a Food Crisis Development Challenges: For many years it was a given that the world’s problem was not a lack of food, but that it was unfairly shared. But as the switch to biofuels gathers pace, farmland is being diverted away from growing food for people, to food for fuel. On top of this, growing prosperity in many countries in the South has boosted demand for better quality food, including grain-devouring meat diets – it takes 10 kilograms of grain to get one kilogram of meat from a cow. The crisis has deeply alarmed the UN’s World Food Programme and the World Bank. In the economic battle for food, the poor are the most vulnerable.

Agricultural Waste Generating Electricity Development Challenges: Agriculture around the world produces a great deal of waste as a by-product. It can be animal faeces, or the discarded plant husks thrown away when rice, grains or maize are harvested. When this waste meets the urgent need for electricity, something special can happen.

Connoisseur Chocolate from the South Gets a Higher Price Development Challenges: Like coffee beans, cocoa beans are grown around the world and are a major commodity, highly prized in wealthy countries. West Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world’s output, with the rest grown either in Indonesia and Brazil (20 percent), or on a smaller scale in countries across the South, from Belize to Madagascar.

Urban Farming to Tackle Global Food Crisis Development Challenges: The world’s population is becoming more urban by the day. By 2030, some five billion people around the world will live in cities. This year is the tipping point: urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report).

Small-scale Farmers Can Fight Malaria Battle Development Challenges: Malaria is one of Africa’s biggest killers. Each year globally 300 to 500 million people are infected, and around 1 million die from the disease (theglobalfund). Ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa – mostly to children under the age of five. The disease costs African countries US$12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.

Milk Co-operatives Help Hungry Haiti Development Challenges: The global food crisis has hit the impoverished Caribbean country of Haiti especially hard. Already suffering from decades of food crises brought on by the collapse of domestic farming, the country has become notorious for its people being reduced to eating cakes made of mud to stave off hunger pains. It is the poorest country of Latin America and the Caribbean and one of the poorest in the world.

Urban Farmers Gain from Waste Water Development Challenges: The global food crisis continues to fuel food price inflation and send many into hunger and despair. Around the world, solutions are being sought to the urgent need for more food and cheaper food. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people undernourished (FAO).

Farmers Weather Fertilizer Crisis by Going Organic Development Challenges: Around the world, large-scale agriculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers. But increasing expense and decreasing supply of fertilizer is driving up the cost of food, and in turn contributing to the overall food crisis.

Picking Money from the Baobab Tree Development Challenges: The fruit of the highly revered African baobab tree is being seen as a great new opportunity for the poor, after a recent decision by the European Commission to allow its importation. According to one study, gathering the fruit has the potential to earn an extra US $1 billion a year for Africa, and bring work and income to 2.5 million households, most of them African bush dwellers (Britain’s Natural Resources Institute).

Rats a Solution in Food Crisis Development Challenges: The global food crisis continues to fuel food price inflation and send many into hunger and despair. Around the world, solutions are being sought to the urgent need for more and cheaper food. Right now there are 862 million undernourished people around the world (FAO), and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand.

Model Indian Villages to Keep Rural Relevant Development Challenges:The world’s rush to urban centres is the great challenge of the 21st century. In 2007, the world became a majority urban place. The consequences of this shift can be seen in the blight of urban poverty, with its slums and squalor, environmental degradation, and rising social tensions. But there are people working on keeping rural areas relevant and pleasant places to live. These rural advocates see a vibrant countryside as part of the solution to the world’s plethora of crises.

Brazil Preserves Family Farms and Keeps Food Local and Healthy Development Challenges: Today’s global food crisis sparked by a toxic mix of events – high oil and commodity prices, food scarcity, growing populations, and environmental catastrophes – has woken many up to the urgent need to secure food supplies and help those who grow the world’s food. More and more countries are turning to local and small farms – or family farms – to offer food security when times get rough.

Afghanistan’s Juicy Solution to Drug Trade Development Challenges:Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of the illegal drugs opium and heroin (International Narcotics Control Board), both of which are derived from the bright-red flower, the poppy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppy).The country produced 8,200 tons of heroin in 2007, up 34 percent from the previous year.The negative consequences of the flourishing drug trade are numerous: it is destabilizing Afghanistan’s neighbours and undermining political and legal institutions, addiction rates are soaring, and addicts are spreading HIV/AIDS.

Camel Ice Cream Delivering Desert Dessert Development Challenges: The global food crisis is forcing people around the world to think differently about how food is produced and what new products can boost the incomes of farmers. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people worldwide who are undernourished (FAO). The world’s over 19.4 million camels (FAO, 2003) are now being tapped for their highly nutritious, healing and tasty milk.

Rainforest Gum Gets Global Market Development Challenges: Mexico is home to the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon jungle. But the country’s forests face serious threats from logging, cattle ranching and agriculture. As much as 80 percent of Mexico’s original forests have already been lost. A group of Mexican farmers is now using sophisticated product marketing to preserve their income, and the 1.3 million hectares of rainforest as well.

Cleaner Stoves To Reduce Global Warming Development Challenges: The use of polluting fuel-burning stoves by half the world’s population – including 80 percent of rural households – is a documented contributor to a host of health problems. Poor households not only have to contend with the ill health effects of dirty water and poor sanitation, the fumes from burning dung, wood, coal or crop leftovers lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people a year from breathing toxic indoor air (WHO).

SOS Shops Keep Food Affordable for Poor, Unemployed Development Challenges: As the global downturn bears down on country after country, governments around the world are introducing austerity measures to try to keep their economies going. Many countries are now facing financial crisis and the need for loans and support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Formerly comfortable people are going from regular employment to unemployment or erratic employment, and growing numbers of people are finding it hard even to afford basics such as food.

Successful Fuel-Efficient Cookers Show the Way Development Challenges: Kenyan entrepreneur has cooked up a fuel-efficient stove and oven that uses less of a precious national resource: wood from trees. Most African households using fuel-burning stoves either cannot afford clean-burning fuels like natural gas or electric stoves, or do not have access to them. They are stuck having to burn wood or other materials like animal dung – collectively called biomass – on open fires.

Southern Drink Challenges Corporate Dominance Development Challenges: Across the global South, its thirsty people have long been a target market for Northern drinks companies. The ubiquity of the American soft drink Coca Cola, or even its rival Pepsi Cola, is testimony to that. Even the most remote village on the impoverished island of Haiti can offer an ice-cold Coke.

Protecting Threatened Fruits and Nuts in Central Asia Development Challenges:Between 94,000 and 144,000 plant species — a quarter to a half of the world’s total — could die out in the coming years, according to an estimate by Scientific American (2002). Among them are vital food crops, threatened by a world in which climate change is causing more weather turbulence and diseases and viruses can spread rapidly and destroy crops.

Avoiding Wasting Food and Human Potential with ICTs Development Challenges: Creative use of information technology in the South is helping to address two very different kinds of waste – of food and of human and community potential.

Growing a Southern Brand to Global Success: The Olam Story Development Challenges: Most people haven’t heard of Olam International, but they know the brands they work for and they more than likely eat their produce. The story of Olam (www.olamonline.com) – a global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria – shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade.

New Appetite for Nutritious Traditional Vegetables Development Challenges:Throughout the history of farming, around 7,000 species of plants have been domesticated. Yet everyday diets only draw on 30 percent of these plants and even this number has been going down as more people consume mass-market foods (FAO).

Brewing Prosperity Creates Good Jobs Development Challenges: In the Democratic Republic of Congo – home to the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping mission and decades of bloody civil war – a brewery has not only survived, it has thrived to become a popular brand throughout central Africa. By being a success, the Brasimba brewery has brought prosperity and high-quality jobs to Congo’s second largest city, Lubumbashi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubumbashi), and proven that a modern business can do well there despite the obstacles.

Cool Food for the Poor Development Challenges: A whole wave of high-tech, innovative products are now being developed and marketed for the world’s poor. These products are designed to raise the quality of life of poor people and treat them as a market with real needs, rather than a mass of people to be ignored.

A Local Drink Beats Global Competition Development Challenges: For many decades, strong American and multinational food brands have penetrated markets in the South. This is a global business success story for those companies, but the downside has been the marginalizing of local alternatives. This not only reduces wealth-creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, but also leads to products like sugary soda pops (http://tinyurl.com/yzwal98) pushing aside healthier, local alternatives like tea.

The Battle for India’s Coffee Drinkers in Buzzing Economy Development Challenges: A showdown in India over coffee is creating new opportunities. It is also demonstrating how the country is changing, with rising incomes in some places and great disparities in others.

West African Chocolate Success Story Development Challenges: A Ghanaian chocolate company has become a big success in the United Kingdom and shown how it is possible to develop and market a high-quality product grown in West Africa. While the chocolate bars are manufactured in the Netherlands, the cooperative that owns the company initiated the push into producing a mass-market chocolate brand – and shares in the profits.

Kenyan Farmer Uses Internet to Boost Potato Farm Development Challenges: The rise of social networking websites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites) during the past few years has swept across the internet. The popular Facebook (www.facebook.com) site alone has over 350 million users worldwide. In Africa, there are more than 67 million people with access to the internet – just over 6 percent of the population (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm).

Açaí Berry Brazil’s Boon Development Challenges: A formerly obscure berry from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has become a global marketing success. The açaí berry – a dark, small fruit similar in appearance to blueberries – has surged in popularity around the world and brought newfound prosperity to poor communities.

Woman Wants African Farming to be Cool Development Challenges: Can farming be cool? Especially on a continent where it has long been associated with hardship and poverty, can agriculture be attractive to a young generation looking for big opportunities? A young woman in Nigeria thinks so and is on a mission to show farming is a great way to get ahead in modern Africa. And she hopes more people attracted to farming will boost the continent’s food security and reduce costly imports.

Kenyan Products a Global Success Story Development Challenges: The East African nation of Kenya has become synonymous with high-quality agricultural products, and offers lessons for other countries across the South. The country has been able to combine innovation in new technologies (it is a pioneer in mobile phone applications like m-banking), with quality control for its products like the Coffee Kenya Brand logo (http://www.coffeeboardkenya.org) and ease of access to information on Kenyan products and resources via the internet – crucial to drumming up international business – like the SME Toolkit Kenya (http://kenya.smetoolkit.org/kenya/en).

Rwandan Coffee Brand Boost Development Challenges: A successful Rwandan company is using coffee shops to promote the nation’s high-quality coffee brands at home and abroad. Started by two Rwandan entrepreneurs three years ago, Bourbon Coffee (http://www.bourboncoffeeusa.com/) now has three shops in the country’s capital, Kigali, and a savvily positioned shop in Washington DC.

Brazil’s Agriculture Success Teaches South How to Grow Development Challenges: Inflation, environmental stresses and population and economic growth are testing the world’s food supply systems. There is a strong need to boost yields and improve the quality of food. Between now and 2050 the world’s population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. Urban populations will probably double and incomes will rise. City dwellers tend to eat more meat and this will boost demand.

Palestinian Olive Oil’s Peaceful Prosperity Development Challenges: The economic devastation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine) has brought much hardship to the Palestinian people. The United Nations under the UNRWA mission has been working to lesson the hardship for over 60 years (http://www.unrwa.org). But there is only so much it can do.

South African Wine Industry Uncorks Opportunities Development Challenges: Wine-making is one of South Africa’s oldest industries and plays a key part in the country’s economy. And now both wine making and production are being transformed and creating new economic opportunities. Once seen only as the preserve of the country’s white minority population, wine is slowly becoming a black thing too.

Mongolian Enterprises Target Healthy Urban Lifestyles Development Challenges: In the Northeast Asian nation of Mongolia – landlocked between Russia and China – the traditional diet is based on the nomadic ways of its herders. Rich in meat and milk products, it is a diet that has evolved from the need to survive in a harsh climate doing hard physical labour – winter temperatures can drop below minus 50 degrees Celsius.

Food Diplomacy Next Front for South’s Nations Development Challenges: The meal is a universal bonding ritual, a time for families or friends to socialize and catch up on the day’s activities. Food has the ability to transcend cultures and societies when humour, the arts, and diplomacy cannot. A person may know nothing about a particular country or culture, but they know what their appetite and palate likes.

Food Inflation: Ways to Fight It Development Challenges: Food inflation has taken off at the beginning of 2011. As the global economic crisis enters its next phase, both developed and developing countries are experiencing inflation. There are many factors fuelling the rise in prices – inefficient distribution and storage systems, lack of investment in agriculture, devaluing currencies, high demand, natural and man-made disasters, use of food products like corn to make biofuels – but there are also ways to counter the effects of food inflation that have been tried and tested across the South.

China’s Booming Wine Market Can Boost South Development Challenges: A great South-South opportunity has emerged with the recent boom in wine drinking in China and the pursuit of quality tastes. Matching high-quality wine producers from the global South – including South Africa, Chile, Morocco, and Lebanon – with China’s thirsty wine drinkers could deliver a major income boost.

Indonesian Food Company Helps Itself by Making Farmers More Efficient Development Challenges: The current global economic crisis is taking place at the same time as a global food crisis. Food inflation took off at the beginning of 2011. This is having a devastating affect on countries dependent on food imports and experiencing decreasing domestic production capabilities. The least developed countries (LDCs) saw food imports rise from US $9 billion in 2002, to US $23 billion by 2008 (UNCTAD), prompting Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, to say “the import dependence has become quite devastating.”

Civet Cat Coffee Brews Filipino Opportunity Development Challenges: In the Philippines, one animal’s call of nature has become a business opportunity.The civet cat, a member of the mongoose family, ingests the fruit of coffee plants, and expels the beans. This has created an unexpected by-product – a prized beverage for the world’s savvy coffee drinkers seeking the next taste sensation. The partially digested coffee beans are gathered from the faeces of the cat and used to make a much-coveted, smooth-flavoured cup of coffee.

Brazilian Restaurant Serves Amazonian Treats Development Challenges: The vast Amazon rainforest has inspired a cuisine pioneer in Brazil. Combining the sensual pleasures of fine dining and the joy of tasting new flavours with a pursuit of sustainable and profitable local farming, a chef is inventing a new Brazilian cuisine and showing the way to create sustainable incomes.

Pulque: Aztec Drink Ferments New Economy Development Challenges:Reviving traditional foods and drinks can be an income-boosting source of new economic activity. Many cultures can benefit from looking again at their rich traditions to find new ways to increase enterprise. This can be difficult at first. Big global brands have many initial advantages: they are backed by wealthy and experienced international companies and can deploy aggressive marketing and distribution power to get products into the hands of consumers. The power of Coca Cola to reach all corners of the earth is legendary.

Cheap Farming Kit Hopes to Help More Become Farmers Development Challenges:Food security is key to economic growth and human development. A secure and affordable food supply means people can meet their nutrition needs and direct their resources to improving other aspects of their lives, such as housing, clothing, health services or education.

“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic Development Challenges:Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.

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Brazil’s Agricultural Success Teaches South How to Grow

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Inflation, environmental stresses and population and economic growth are testing the world’s food supply systems. There is a strong need to boost yields and improve the quality of food.

Between now and 2050 the world’s population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. Urban populations will probably double and incomes will rise. City dwellers tend to eat more meat and this will boost demand.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reckons grain output will have to rise by around half but meat output will have to double by 2050 to meet demand.

Two pioneering approaches to growing food in Brazil offer valuable lessons to countries looking to increase their food production.

One is taking place in Bahia state in north-eastern Brazil. On Brazil’s cerrado (savannah) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerrado), enormous farms grow cotton, soybeans and maize. One of them, Jatoba farm, has 24,000 hectares of land: vastly larger than comparable farms in the United States.

On the Cremaq farm in the north of the country in Piaui state, a transformation has taken place. Once a failed cashew farm, it is now a highly modern operation. Owned by BrasilAgro, it is benefiting from clever agricultural innovation that gets results.

BrasilAgro’s approach is to buy derelict or neglected farms and give them a high-tech makeover. The ‘makeover’ includes radio transmitters tracking the weather, SAP software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAP_AG), a well-organized work force under a gaucho (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaucho), new roads criss-crossing the fields, and a transport network of trucks to quickly get the food to ports for export. Piaui is an isolated place with few services: it can take half a day to get to a health clinic. Dependence on state welfare payments for survival is the norm for many residents.

Brazil, over 30 years, transformed itself from a food importer to one of the world’s major food exporters. It is now considered alongside the ‘Big Five’ top grain exporters of America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union. Importantly, it is the first tropical nation to do this.

The value of Brazil’s crops rose from US $23 billion in 1996, to US $62 bn in 2006. It is the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol, and there has been a tenfold increase in beef exports in a decade.

Brazil made these impressive achievements with few government subsidies. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), state support accounted for just 5.7 percent of total farm income in Brazil from 2005-07. In the US it was 12 percent, while the OECD average is 26 percent and the level in the European Union is 29 percent.

And despite frequent alarming reports, much of the farming expansion has not happened at the expense of the Amazon forests.

The agricultural success is down to Embrapa (http://www.embrapa.br/english) – short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. A public company set up in 1973, it has turned itself into the world’s leading tropical research institution. It breeds new seeds and cattle and has developed innovations from ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that turns colour when the food goes off to a nano-tech lab creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings.

Its biggest achievement has been turning the vast expanses of the cerrado green for agriculture. Norman Borlaug, an American plant scientist often called the father of the Green Revolution, told the New York Times that “nobody thought these soils were ever going to be productive.” They seemed too acidic and too poor in nutrients.

Embrapa uses what its scientists call a “system approach”: all the interventions work together. Improving the soil and developing new tropical soybeans were both needed for farming the cerrado. The two together also made possible the changes in farm techniques which have boosted yields further.

Many believe this approach can be applied to Africa as well. There are several reasons to think it can. Brazilian land is like Africa’s: tropical and nutrient-poor. The big difference is that the cerrado gets a decent amount of rain and most of Africa’s savannah does not (the exception is the swathe of southern Africa between Angola and Mozambique).

Another approach that Brazil has been pioneering is making small, family farms sustainable and productive for the 21st century.

There has long been a tension between those who believe in very large farms, agribusiness and mono-crops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono-cropping), and those who believe in having a large number of smaller farms with a wide variety of crops and animals.

But small farms have endured. The livelihoods of more than 2 billion people depend on the 450 million smallholder farms across the world. With their families, they account for a third of the world’s population.

Family farms are critical to weathering economic crises and ensuring a steady and secure food supply. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (www.ifad.org)called in 2008 for small family farms to be put at the heart of the global response to high food prices and uncertain food security.

In Brazil, this call is being answered by a bold initiative to create what is termed a “social technology”, combining a house building programme with diverse family farms.

The Brazilian farmers’ cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares (http://www.cooperhaf.org.br) – a World Habitat Awards winner – combines housing and farm diversification to support family farmers.

“Family farming is very important for the country – 70 percent of food for Brazilians comes from family farming,” said Adriana Paola Paredes Penafiel, a projects adviser with the Cooperhaf. “The government wants to keep people in rural areas.”

“We see the house as the core issue,” she continued.  “The farmers can improve their productivity but the starting point is the house.”

Started in 2001 by a federation of farmers unions, the Cooperhaf works in 14 Brazilian states with family farmers. In Brazil farmers have a right to a house in the law and the cooperative was formed to make sure this happened.

“We promote diversification to make farmers less vulnerable: if they lose a crop in macro farming, they lose everything. We encourage diversification and self-consumption to guarantee the family has food everyday. We help to set up a garden.”

The concept is simple: a good quality home acts as an anchor to the family farm, making them more productive as farmers. The farmers receive up to 6,000 reais (US $2,290) for a house, and can choose designs from a portfolio of options from the Cooperhaf.

As in other countries, the Cooperhaf and other co-ops encourage markets and certification programmes to promote family farmed food and raise awareness. Penafiel says promoting the fact that the food is family farmed is critical: to the consumer it is healthier, fresher and contains fewer chemicals than imported produce.

“Most agri business is for export,” said Penafiel. “If we don’t have food in the country, food for poor communities would not be available. This enables farmers to be more autonomous, not having to buy fertilizers and equipment and take on too much debt. That approach is not sustainable as we saw with the so-called Green Revolution.”

Published: September 2010

Resources

  • Africa Project Access: A South African company specializing in projects in sub-Saharan Africa and getting them finance. Website:http://www.africaprojectaccess.co.za/
  • Silk Invest: A specialist investment fund targeting the fast-growing markets of Africa and the Middle East. Website:http://www.silkinvest.com/
  • Olam: A global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria  and shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade. Website: www.olamonline.com

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022