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Farmers Weather Fertilizer Crisis by Going Organic

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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.

According to a soon-to-be-released UN report, prices have shot up and will stay high for at least three years. Prices have almost doubled and in some cases risen by 500 percent over 15 months.

The fertilizer crisis is caused by several factors. Anhydrous ammonia, which is the source of nearly all nitrogen fertilizer, needs natural gas, and the price of gas has risen sharply. Other fertilizer ingredients like phosphorous, potassium and potash are also increasingly expensive. Fertilizer needs to be transported long distances to get to farmers, so costs have risen with the soaring price of oil. And finally, the rise in demand for food has put the price of fertilizer up, as countries hoard supplies for themselves.

The 1960s ‘Green Revolution’ in agriculture made developing-world farmers dependent on supplies of fertilizers, pesticides and artificial irrigation. Monoculture cash crops became the norm. Yields were doubled, but at the expense of using three times as much water by accessing groundwater using electric pumps. This and fertilizer pollution has caused widespread damage to soil and water. In India, for example, 57 per cent of the land is degraded, according to Tata Energy Research.

In Cambodia, farmers are reaching back to past practices for answers to the fertilizer crisis. One is to go organic. Taking this approach has many health and environmental advantages – and, best of all for farmers, it keeps costs down.

Khim Siphay, a Cambodian farmer, has found he gets bigger crops of rice and vegetables while paying a lot less for fertilizers.

“Using pesticide or fertilizers kills important insects, and causes the soil to become polluted,” he told Reuters. “I use compost and it helps keep the soil good from one year to another. All of my family members help make the compost.”

The push to organic methods for Cambodia’s 13 million people relying on agriculture for a living comes from a non-governmental organization, the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC). It has successfully moved to organic methods, starting from just a handful of 28 farmers in 2000, to the current 60,000 – and received an endorsement from the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture.

CEDAC says farms using the organic methods have been able to increase rice yields per hectare, while the seeds needed have fallen by 70 to 80 percent. By using a “System of Rice Intensification”, the mostly small-scale farmers are able to get more out of the land, with less labour. Add to that the fact that organic rice gets a premium price on world markets, and the result for the farmers has been a rise in income from US $58 to US $172 per hectare.

“The important point of organic farming is that farmers don’t need to spend money on fertilizers and pesticide so they spend less money on farming,” said CEDAC official Yang Saing Koma.

“They can sell the produce for a higher price. Also they can avoid being infected by pesticides and they will be healthier. It is also good for the environment,” he said.

Rice and other produce can be used to feed chickens to produce organic poultry and eggs – another bonus for farmers looking to raise the value of their produce.

“I started doing organic farming outside my rice paddy, but then I noticed production was double, so in the next season, I decided to grow organically on all of my land,” said farmer Ros Meo. “I spend less money now and I can grow more and I am not sick as I was before, my health is now good.”

Going organic in Cambodia is something that is becoming more attractive to the country’s growing middle class, and the government hopes the country will gain a reputation as an organic producer.

Another approach to cheap fertilizer comes from Caracas, Venezuala. Marjetica Potrc, an artist and architect who works closely with impoverished communities, has come up with a “dry toilet” which collects human waste and converts it to fertilizer.

Developed after spending six months in the barrios of Caracas, the dry, ecologically safe toilet was built on the upper part of La Vega barrio, a district in the city without access to the municipal water grid. It is a place where about half the population receives water from municipal authorities no more than two days a week.

Published: March 2014

Resources

  • South African company Eat Your Garden: It provides urban dwellers and food businesses with their own food gardens bursting with juicy and tasty foods whilst at the same time reducing carbon footprints, and creating employment and provide training, helping poverty alleviation.
    Website: http://www.eatyourgarden.co.za/
  • Soil Association: The organization that establishes the standards necessary for food to be called organically grown.
    Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/
  • Patrick Kamzitu, a farmer in Malawi, on the impact of fertilizer prices:
    Website: www.guardian.co.uk/environment

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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Building an Interactive Radio Network for Farmers in Nigeria

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

As solar power technology has improved, new pioneers have emerged to exploit this innovation. Several decades ago, solar power was seen as too expensive for wide-scale roll out in poor countries and communities. But today, an army of solar technology pioneers has fanned out across the world to show the new wave of innovations and how they make solar power affordable.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without access to domestic electricity, these people need to fall back on expensive, battery-powered devices or use gas generators and lamps: a cost that eats into their income.  

More than 90 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 155 million people (US Census Bureau) live on just US $2 a day. Many of them are small farmers in remote areas. Access to information is very poor, especially critical information that can improve farming methods and boost incomes.

One of the most effective ways to communicate to a large number of people over a large territory is through radio.

A clever use of solar-powered battery radios has enabled the building of a low-cost, two-way communications network for rural farmers. The Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio (http://smallholdersfoundation.org) network broadcasts to 250,000 listeners with 10 hours of daily programming. The communications network reaches 3.5 million farmers in around 5,000 villages in Imo State (www.imostate.gov.ng), southeast Nigeria. The programming tackles issues from sustainable farming practices to HIV/AIDS and how to open a bank account . The clever part is the two-way dialogue between the listeners and the radio station. This is done through mobile radios known as AIR devices. They are small, solar-powered radios that let listeners send voice messages to the radio station. The message is stored on the radio station’s computers and later broadcast during a programme, allowing farmers to share their experiences, ask questions and receive answers in their own language.

The slim, hand-held silver-coloured radios have a small antenna and dials.

The network was created by Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, who won a 2010 Rolex Laureate award (http://young.rolexawards.com/laureates/nnaemeka_ikegwuonu). The awards seek to foster innovation in the next generation. Launched in 2009, it looks for “visionary young men and women at a critical juncture in their careers, enabling them to implement inventive ideas that tackle the world’s most pressing issues in five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation.”  

Ikegwuonu hopes to bring the service to other parts of Nigeria.

His radio studio is the height of simplicity and sophistication: a laptop computer, a microphone, a headset and a small control board to manage the sound levels. The radio signal is broadcast through a 30-metre-high antenna.

Solar power is being creatively used in many countries to tackle energy poverty. This ranges from lamps and lights to cookers to small power packs for electronic devices, all the way to large hardware to power homes and communities.

In India, whole villages are already using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances – from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators – across the country.

A report by the International Finance Corporation called the sub-Saharan solar market the largest in the world – a market of 65 million potential customers, who could access off-grid lighting over the next five years (IFC). The report anticipated high growth rates of 40 to 50 percent for anyone entering the market, with less than one percent of the market currently being served.

With a billion Africans using just four percent of the world’s electricity (The Economist), energy poverty is already harming further economic growth and development gains. As Africa’s population is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, the gap between people’s needs and the power available will be stark: in Nigeria, out of 79 power stations, only 17 are working (The Economist). It will take innovators like Ikegwuonu to bring hope to this situation and transform lives despite the obstacles.

Published: December 2011

Resources

1) ToughStuff has developed a modular range of affordable solar powered energy solutions to the three main power needs of poor consumers in the developing world – lighting, mobile phones and radios. Website:www.toughstuffonline.com

2) Solar Power Answers is a one-stop-shop for everything to do with solar power. It has a design manual and guides to the complex world of solar power equipment. Website:www.solar-power-answers.co.uk/index.php

3) How We Made It Africa: A website detailing success stories on businesses investing in Africa and how people are making the most of opportunities on the continent. Website:www.howwemadeitinafrica.com

4) Solar Sister: A clever way to sell solar lamps and torches using a network of women. Website: www.solarsister.org

5) D.light Design: Their lights use LEDs (light emitting diodes) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED_lamp) and are four times brighter than a kerosene lantern according to D.Light Design. Website: www.dlightdesign.com

6) Lighting Africa: Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, is helping develop commercial off-grid lighting markets in Sub-Saharan Africa as part of the World Bank Group’s wider efforts to improve access to energy. Lighting Africa is mobilizing the private sector to build sustainable markets to provide safe, affordable, and modern off-grid lighting to 2.5 million people in Africaby 2012 and to 250 million people by 2030. Website: www.lightingafrica.org

7) A list of Nigerian companies selling solar-powered equipment and devices. Website: http://posharp.com/solar-energy-service-companies-in-nigeria-in-alphabetic-order_renewable.aspx?ptype=solar&btype=service&gtype=country_NG&xtype=ntype

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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Indonesian Food Company Helps Itself by Making Farmers More Efficient

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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.”

Garuda Food (www.garudafood.com), one of Indonesia’s leading snack food and drink manufacturers, has been boosting its own productivity by investing in improving the productivity of domestic small-scale farmers. This led to a doubling of crop purchases from peanut farmers between 2007 and 2009. By stabilising the market for peanuts and better guaranteeing income, it has attracted more people into becoming peanut farmers in the region.

This is crucial for the future of feeding the planet: we need more farmers.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, with a population of over 238 million, spread out over a network of islands. Peanut farmers in West Nusa Tenggara (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Nusa_Tenggara) (one of Indonesia’s poorest places) are a key part of the region’s wealth. Peanuts are the area’s third largest crop after rice, maize and soybeans, and the region supplies six percent of the country’s peanut production and 10 percent of Garuda Food’s needs.

Garuda Food says investing in farmers has raised its own productivity by a third. Turning past practices on its head, this large agri-food company is supporting small-scale farmers and helping them to boost their productivity and incomes. Conventional wisdom had been to view small-scale farmers as an inefficient hold-over from the past – the quicker they were driven out of business, the better.

The Indonesian peanut farmers were using traditional farming methods and local seeds. Knowledge of more sustainable farming methods and land management techniques was poor. The farmers were also beholden to the whims of local buyers and fluctuating market prices.

Then Garuda Food stepped in. The company’s field staff offer the farmers training, and through its subsidiary PT Bumi Mekar Tani, it spreads knowledge about new agricultural practices and provides the farmers with quality seeds and farming equipment.

The company buys crops directly from the farmers, rather than from middlemen, increasing the amount the farmer makes. A premium is also paid if the farmer achieves better quality for their crop.

“We receive substantial supply from peanut farmers in NTB (West Nusa Tenggara) and we hope the arrangement will continue,” Garuda Food’s managing director Hartono Atmadja told the Enchanting Lombok website.

Garuda Food’s initiative, with support from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and AusAID, through the Australia Indonesia Partnership, has raised the productivity for 8,000 small-scale farmers by 30 percent: an income boost for the farmers of 3.9 million Indonesian rupiah (US $456) per hectare annually.

Peanut farmer H. Sajidin told the IFC (International Finance Corporation): “My farm’s productivity doubled, my income improved significantly, and I can sleep peacefully at night knowing that Garuda Food will buy my crops at agreed prices.”

Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System (http://stuffedandstarved.org/drupal/frontpage), has grappled with the conundrum of how to feed a rapidly growing planet. He finds the world is not lacking in food, but distributes its bounty very poorly and wastefully, leaving a planet where some people are literally ‘stuffed’ with too much food (the well-documented global obesity crisis) and others left to starve.

He finds the solution is often local.

“It turns out that if you’re keen to make the world’s poorest people better off, it’s smarter to invest in their farms and workplaces than to send them packing to the cities,” Patel wrote recently in Foreign Policy. “In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank found that, indeed, investment in peasants was among the most efficient and effective ways of raising people out of poverty and hunger.”

Patel uses the example of the southern African nation of Malawi, where “according to one estimate, the marginal cost of importing a ton of food-aid maize is $400, versus $200 a ton to import it commercially, and only $50 to source it domestically using fertilizers.”

Published: May 2011

Resources

1) Emprapa: The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s mission is to provide feasible solutions for the sustainable development of Brazilian agribusiness through knowledge and technology generation and transfer. Website: http://www.embrapa.br/english

2) Divine Chocolate: The highly successful global chocolate brand from the Kuapa Kokoo farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, West Africa. Website: http://www.divinechocolateshop.com

3) Olam: The highly successful global food product supplier brand which got its start in Nigeria, West Africa. Website: http://www.olamonline.com

4) Insects as food: Tapping the world’s vast insect population offers many ways to supplement world food sources. Website: http://ssc.undp.org/other/e-news/newsletters/april-2008/

5) Cooperhaf: The Brazilian farmers’ cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares, has put together what it calls a “social technology”, combining housing and farm diversification to support family farmers. Website: http://www.cooperhaf.org.br

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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Rainforest Gum Gets Global Market

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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. They are called chicleros and they harvest the gum needed to make natural chewing gum, a once-booming industry laid waste by the arrival of synthetic chewing gum in the 1950s. Their story is an excellent example of how a declining industry can turn things around with a smart plan and sophisticated marketing.

A collection of 56 cooperatives comprising 2,000 chicleros – called Consorcio Chiclero – is now making, marketing and selling its own brand of chewing gum: Chicza (http://www.chicza.com/index.php). The chicleros are supporting a community of 10,000 people across the three states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo.

Gum has been chewed in Mexico to clean teeth as far back as the ancient Mayan people in the second century AD.

The gum harvesting business was dying out and young people, put off by the low pay, were leaving for jobs elsewhere. The adminstrators of the chiclero co-operative created Chicza Rainforest Gum brand to save the industry. They made a deal with Britain’s Waitrose supermarket chain, which specializes in fair trade products, and the gum is being launched in 100 stores.

The brightly coloured packages of chewing gum are now being sold as organic and a way to preserve the forest. Frustrated by the decades of decline and attendant poverty and community decay, the chicleros decided to take matters into their own hands. Five years ago they decided to avoid the middlemen who would buy their raw gum products, and instead manufacture and market the chewing gum themselves. And it is paying off: by adding value to the raw product, each farmer’s income has grown six times higher than he would earn as a mere provider of raw material.

The gum comes in three flavours: wild mint, heirloom lime and spearmint. Future flavours will blend tropical fruits, herbs and spices.

The Consorcio Chiclero coordinates the production, the logistics, the trade and the finances for the manufacture of gum from the chicozapote tree (Manilkara zapota).

Certified organic, the Chicza gum is completely natural and free of synthetic ingredients and also biodegrades when it is discarded – a boon to city governments who hate the mess and cost of traditional gum left on sidewalks.

The farmers work in the rainforest at the southern end of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucat%C3%A1n_Peninsula), bordering Guatemala and Belize. It is a place with one of the most bio diverse ecosystems in the world, and an environment the farmers are in harmony with. The chicle gum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicle) is harvested from chicozapote trees – some living for more than 300 years – by hacking z-shaped cuts into the bark of the 100 foot trees. The harmless cuts zig zag down the tree and a bucket is placed at the bottom to collect the dripping sap.

Once collected, the sap is boiled, dried and made into a sticky paste, which is then kneaded and shaped into bricks called marquetas. Each marqueta is carefully marked by its maker. Since the sustainable management of their rainforests is certified by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) (http://www.fsc.org/), these marks contain relevant information that tells the name of the chiclero who harvested it, and the exact location of the harvested tree in the rainforest. Few products offer such perfect traceability.

“I started following my dad around the rainforest when I was 10 and working when I was 12,” farmer Porfirio Banos told The Guardian newspaper. “I am a chiclero to my core.”

Working in a remote area of rainforest jungle with just spider monkeys for company, the chicleros are paid by the amount of chicle harvested

“We don’t kill the trees like farmers do when they clear land to grow corn or graze cattle,” says Roberto Aguilar, 60. “We leave a wound, it’s true, but eight years after it is healed and producing chicle again.”

The chicleros face two main risks while doing the job: falling from the trees if their rope gives out; and being bitten by poisonous snakes.

Chicle was once the basis of all commercial chewing gum. Beginning in New York 141 years ago, it was the only source for chewing gum until the 1950s, when synthetic substitutes destroyed the industry.

It was the economic desperation of a Mexican general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, living in exile in the United States in 1869, that gave birth to gum-chewing as a global practice. Working with a local inventor, Thomas Adams, he tried to use the chicle to make a rubber substitute. But when this failed, Adams added sugar and flavouring, making chewing gum.

Apart from being a great chew, the natural gum’s unique selling point is saving money: local governments tight for cash are looking for other ways to deal with the menace of chewing gum on pavements. A small fortune is spent every year trying to keep streets clean of gum. The British alone spend over UK £150 million every year trying to clean their streets of chewing gum.

And despite the global recession, the chicleros are optimistic they can do well: during the Great Depression of the 1930s, chewing gum was an affordable treat and sold well.

Published: April 2009

Resources

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