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Milk Co-operatives Help Hungry Haiti

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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.

Haiti imports some 52 percent of its food, including over 80 percent of its rice. Local food production only covers 43 percent of the country’s demand and food aid supplies only 5 percent of its needs. Of the estimated 9.8 million Haitians, 5.1 million live on less than US $1 a day and 7.6 million on less than US $2 a day. At current prices, one dollar buys only half a meal per day (Source: United Nations Country Team in Haiti).

Haiti’s problems are made worse by a global food crisis. So-called agflation (agricultural inflation) has seen spiralling food prices around the world, which in turn are causing food shortages, hunger and malnutrition. On international commodity markets, food prices have gone up 54 percent over the last year, with cereal prices soaring 92 percent (FAO – World Food Situation). 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).

In Haiti, most agriculture is done on a small scale by about 700,000 family farmers. Few belong to any production association or mechanism to market and distribute their products, and local produce has been pushed out of the market by imports.

Subsidized U.S. rice began flooding in 30 years ago, becoming so cheap that Haitians began eating it instead of the corn, sweet potatoes, cassava and domestic rice they grew. The U.S. imports drove rice farmers out of business and incited a rural exodus that swelled the slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince. That dependence on imports has caused dangerous food insecurity. Today, the U.S. rice that is the staple of many Haitians’ diet has doubled in price in little more than a year.

“The problem is that Haiti doesn’t have the land to give every peasant family enough to allow them to make a living,” said Bernard Etheart, head of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform. Etheart estimates that if all arable land was planted, each farmer would have no more than half a hectare, or 1.25 acres.

A cooperative of dairy farmers is doing its bit to revive domestic production of milk products and reduce the crippling costs of importing milk for Haiti. Importing 85,000 tonnes of milk from Europe and the United States costs Haiti US $40 million a year. A walk through the capital, Port-au-Prince, will reveal how much milk is imported in one form or another: tiny cans of evaporated milk are sold in the street markets, while the wealthy can buy powdered and long-life milk in the air conditioned supermarkets of the upscale neighbourhood of Petionville.

Dairy production in Haiti was in decline for 20 years until, in 2002, the country ceased to produce any milk at all. The urgent need for milk in Haiti is shown in the average consumption: per child, only 110 ml is consumed per day. In Uruguay, for example, it is 520 ml a day (190 litres per head of population per year).

Lèt Agogo (Creole for Unlimited Milk) is a cooperative using small-scale farmers to bring milk to the hungry. Founded by the NGO Veterimed six years ago, it now has a network of 13 dairies across the island.

Lèt Agogo is hoping to get Haiti’s milk production up to 145,000 tons a year from the current 45,000 tons. So far, the product’s single biggest client is the Haitian government. It buys bottles of sterilized milk below cost and distributes them to 130,000 school children in 44 government-funded schools. Dr. Michel Chancy told the Miami Herald that the government would like to expand the distribution to 800 schools.

“Haiti is a country where we consume a lot of milk,” said Chancy, a veterinarian and one of the visionaries behind Lèt Agogo. “After rice, milk is the second-largest import.”

At present, Haiti has 500,000 dairy cows out of more than a million head of cattle. The problem came down to marketing and distributing the dairy products. With no structure in place, few farmers bothered milking their animals. But by the end of 2007, 600 farmers had joined the network and 400 producers in dairy product making and grass pasture management. In 2007, they turned 540,000 litres into yoghurt and sterilised milk that can stay on the shelf for six to nine months without refrigeration. Made from sterilized milk, the yogurt comes in 280 ml bottles and sells in stores throughout the country and has a shelf life of nine months.

The farmers have seen their income almost double, from 4 (US 10 cents) to 8 (US 20 cents) gourdes per litre, from 10 (US 25 cents) to 12 (US 30 cents) gourdes per litre.

Farmers walk to processing centres with their litres of milk and receive US $2.20 for each US gallon (4.55 litres).

“The milk is here,” Chancy said, but the lack of roads and electricity in the country pose huge challenges. “The problem is transporting it.”

Haiti’s president, Rene Preval, has cited Lèt Agogo as an excellent example of how Haiti can recover its domestic food production capability. The scheme won a US $10,000 first prize in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Experiences in Social Innovation Award.

Lèt Agogo believes it will take 100 dairies throughout Haiti’s rugged terrain to truly take over the import market, and would cost US $10 million to set up. ”Normally in five to ten years, a dairy would pay for itself. But you need the investments,” Chancy said.

“It’s not the production of milk that is important here… It’s accomplishing it together,” said Philippe Mathieu, from Oxfam International in Quebec, Canada, who is working on helping the brand produce cheese, noting that Haiti is at a difficult crossroads with today’s global price hikes. “The goal is to show Haitians there is a way to do things — a way to construct something collectively.

“Haitian peasants have always taken care of their cattle; tying them, feeding them and giving them water to drink,” Mathieu said. ”The cow has always been their bank book, something they could sell for money during hard times. Now it has become a revenue source for them.”

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By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: August 2008

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.  

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An Innovator’s ‘Big Chicken Agenda’ for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Increasing the quantity and quality of food in Africa will be critical to improving the continent’s human development. And a key element in giving Africa a more secure food supply will be boosting science and knowledge on the continent and making sure it is focused on Africa’s needs and situation.

One pioneering scientist is looking to the humble chicken to tackle two big problems in Africa: food security and household incomes. By pumping up the weight and productivity of African chickens, she hopes to eradicate hunger and boost household incomes.

Kenyan scientist Sheila Ommeh (http://www.awardfellowships.org/participants/success-stories/108-sheilaommeh.html ) is showing how local knowledge can give farmers the edge when it comes to improving Africa’s animal stock. An animal geneticist, she is trying to create a disease-resistant African chicken that can also produce plenty of eggs.

Her pioneering work is about trailblazing “a big chicken agenda in Africa,” she explained to TrustLaw, a global hub for free legal assistance and information on good governance and women’s rights.  She grew up in an area – Mount Elgon in western Kenya – where raising chickens was the primary source of both income and food. Her family raised chickens and the income from this helped to pay for her schooling.

Raising chickens is common in rural Kenya, and many of the people doing it are women.

Based on her experience, she saw how virulent diseases kill chicken flocks and destroy family incomes and disrupt lives – diseases like Newcastle (http://www.avianbiotech.com/diseases/newcastle.htm) and Gumboro (gumboro.com).

She works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ilri.org) based in Nairobi, Kenya. The ILRI “works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development” and conducts research in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and China.

“I’m really passionate about giving back to the community an improved chicken that will really help their lives,” she explains.

Another project she is working on is the development of a drought-tolerant chicken. This chicken could prove very helpful in parts of Africa suffering from drought and hunger, like in the Horn of Africa.

Women are considered to be the majority producers of food in Africa yet just one in four people working in agricultural research in Africa is a woman, according to TrustLaw.

Ommeh has a PhD in chicken genetics and is a staunch believer in seeking out solutions to Africa’s problems within Africa: “In my view = it’s about time Africa looked for solutions in Africa for Africa,” she told a group of British Members of Parliament.

She will continue her research by looking at native African chickens. She is worried indigenous African chickens are being wiped out by cross-breeding and the introduction into the continent of exotic breeds, which are making African chickens more susceptible to viruses.

Her goal is to produce a disease-resistant breed of chicken weighing four kilograms and laying 250 eggs a year. This would be a big increase on current average weights, and a trebling of the yield.

“Definitely the incomes of these households will increase and that will (create) a rippling effect that will trickle up … And we hope that in 10 to 15 years the poverty issue in Africa will not be so serious,” Ommeh said.

“Chicken is a small livestock but I believe it has the capacity to have a big impact.”

For female scientists working in agriculture, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) (http://awardfellowships.org/) is seeking researchers looking to boost their technical and leadership skills. It is hoped that supporting more women researchers will have the effect of turning research priorities towards the needs of smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of  farmers in Africa.

Published: May 2012

Resources

1) Artificial chicken: The contest to create artificial chicken meat offers a US $1 million prize. Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/21/artificial-chicken-food-prize

2) Poultry Hub: “Poultry Hub can help you learn more about the amazing world of poultry and your place in it. Poultry is one of the world’s most technically advanced agricultural industries, offering rewarding career paths to talented young people in hundreds of countries.” The Hub includes the excellent “anatomy of the chicken” learning resource. Website: http://www.poultryhub.org/organisations/rural-industries-research-anddevelopment-corporation-rirdc-chicken-meat-program/

3) Poultry Research Centre: From the University of Alberta, the website offers resources and contacts on poultry sciences. Website: http://www.poultryresearchcentre.com/

4) Chickens: Basic information on chickens and their origins. Website: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Chicken.aspx

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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Camel Ice Cream Delivering Desert Dessert

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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. Camel milk is three times as rich in Vitamin C as cow’s milk. And it has several unique properties that differ from other milks, like cow and buffalo. It contains enzymes with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to fight diseases. The milk also contains insulin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin), a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, something that is critical to the survival of diabetics.

With more and more areas of the world suffering from severe drought or desertification, camels’ renowned ability to go without a drink of water for up to three weeks makes them ideal animals. Camels continue to lactate milk even in a dehydrated state.

The current 5.4 million tonnes of camel milk produced every year isn’t enough to meet demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is confident, that with the right investment and innovation, camel milk has a potential market of a minimum 200 million people in the Arab world, and many millions more in Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Fresh camel milk fetches roughly US $1 dollar a litre on African markets. A world market worth US $10 billion is entirely within the realm of possibility, the FAO says.

“The potential is massive,” said FAO dairy and meat expert Anthony Bennett. “Milk is money.”

“No one is suggesting intensive camel dairy farming,” said Bennett. “But just with improved feed, husbandry and veterinary care, daily yields could rise to 20 litres (per camel).”

An Indian NGO – the Lokhit Pashu-Pala Sansthan (LPPS), which supports landless livestock owners and means “welfare organization for livestock keepers” in Hindi – is re-inventing the business model for camel herding in India (http://www.lpps.org/). The LPPS is a canny user of publicity and has created products that are eye-catching and instant conversation starters: camel ice cream and camel-dung paper.

Produced in the Indian state of Rajasthan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajasthan), the camel milk ice cream is being sold in shops and hotels. It comes in two flavours: kesar (saffron) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron) and strawberry vanilla.

The camel is integral to the traditional way of life in Rajasthan and is the state’s signature animal. India once boasted the third-largest population of camels in the world: over 1 million.

But that number has fallen to just 400,000. Grazing areas once just for camels are now being used by agriculture and wildlife sanctuaries. The camel breeders, the Raika people, have experienced a serious decline in income from camel herding, and many have sold their camels for slaughter.

If there was to be a future for camel herding in Rajasthan, new products had to be developed and the whole business of camel herding re-branded.

The ice cream is part of a two-year project to help camel breeders develop new products using camel milk. Camels are seen as ideal animals to raise in the drought-afflicted climate of Rajasthan, and can produce four to six litres of milk a day.

‘With groundwater levels dropping rapidly, it spells the end of water-intensive agriculture. In this scenario, camel husbandry represents a perfect solution to the chronic water woes of the state,’ said Bagdi Ram Raika, president of the Rajasthan Pastoralist Development Association.

‘We would like to see the camel breeders of Rajasthan make use of their traditional assets and avail themselves of the new marketing opportunities. Our role is to support them in this,’ said Hanwant Singh, director of LPPS.

The highly inventive people at LPPS have also come up with paper made from camel dung. Handmade, the notebooks, diaries and greeting cards are all made from the dung paper. The camel’s dung contains undigested fibre, which makes an excellent material for making paper.

Published: April 2009

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

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Launched in May 2011, the new global magazine Southern Innovator (ISSN 2222-9280) is about the people across the global South shaping our new world, eradicating poverty and working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

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