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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.

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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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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Mountain People: Innovative Ways to Help the World’s Most Vulnerable

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Physically isolated and socially and politically marginalized, mountain dwellers are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A disproportionate number of the world’s 840 million chronically undernourished people live in highland areas — about 270 million mountain people lack food security, with 135 million suffering chronic hunger. Large numbers of additional people in lowland areas also depend on mountains.

In October in Rome, more than 60 representatives from mountain countries around the world called for a coherent approach to sustainable agriculture and rural development in the world’s highland areas to address this crisis. First identified as a problem back at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the degradation of mountain eco-systems and the poverty of those living there, has only worsened with increasing conflict and war. Mountain forests are rapidly vanishing across the globe.

Mountains occupy 24 per cent of the earth’s landscape, and are home to 12 per cent of the world’s people; a further 14 per cent live beside mountains. Most are in the Andes, the Hengduan-Himalaya-Hindu Kush system, and a number of African mountains. Many mountain people are from ethnic minorities, and are often frozen out of political or commercial power. Poverty is common: more than 60 per cent of the rural Andean population lives in extreme poverty, and most of the 98 million Chinese considered to be among the world’s “absolute poor”, are ethnic minorities who live in mountains.

Mountains make up a quarter of the world’s landscapes, and mountain watersheds are critical to water supply – up to 80 per cent of the planet’s fresh surface water comes from mountains. Over half of the world’s population depend on mountains for water, food, hydro-electricity, timber and mineral resources (UN University Mountain Programme).

By their way of life, mountain peoples have expertise in small-hold farming, medicinal uses for native plants, and sustainable harvesting of food, fodder and fuel from forests.

In China, the MinYiYuan company has developed a model to help the millions of impoverished Chinese in the countryside who are being left out of the country’s current economic boom. While many are migrating to the cities to work as labourers, mostly women and children are left behind in villages, with few options to support themselves.

Cai Tingfen saw an opportunity to help the ethnic minority population of Liupanshui City in Guizhou Province. Founded in 2005, MinYiYuan bridges the handcraft culture of the region with the bigger national economy. Its model is unique: rather than buying ready-made handicrafts from craftspeople, MinYiYuan sets the design standards for the quality of the raw materials and sources them itself. This avoids problems with inconsistencies and guarantees customers get a reliably high-quality product. The craftspeople use these raw materials to make handcrafts in their homes, and the finished goods are bought back by the company.

The company buys cotton, hemp and Chinese herbs from local farmers, luring them away from livelihoods that cause deforestation. In 2006, the MinYiYuan Folk Art Centre sold 60,000 (batik) wax prints, 8,000 embroideries, and 20,000 ethnic handicrafts. It made 1.13 million yuan (US $149.319). The company is ambitious, and is already looking to building a research and development base to integrate design, manufacturing, packaging and sales.

Another model that is working is in the Philippines. After the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruptions in the early 1990s, the Aetas people of Luzon found their community was buried under ash and stone. Unable to work the land anymore and live off of the fish and wildlife, the Aetas were close to starvation. Many migrated to the cities to look for work: And without many relevant urban skills, most ended up living in squalor.

One by-product of the volcanic explosion was vast quantities of pumice stone, used in the garment industry to produce ‘stone-washed’ denim. Entrepreneurs were soon turning up to gather the stones.

The Asian Institute for Technology helped the Aeta people organize themselves in marketing social enterprises to gather, market and sell the stones to the many garment makers in the Philippines. By forming cooperatives, the Aeta are able to change the power dynamics with the garment companies: where they had to sell very cheaply to middlemen, the cooperatives enable them to charge more and make a liveable income, allowing them to stay in the community and avoid environmentally more harmful ways to make a living.

In Peru, coffee growers in the mountains have banded together as a social enterprise and use market solutions to increase living standards. The Cepicafe brand in the Piura Mountains, promotes its Fair Trade practices to secure higher prices for the growers. It does this by countering the increasing competition in the coffee market and lower world prices for the beans, with better quality coffee grains and bypassing middlemen to access markets directly.

Cepicafe raises the skills of the growers by providing education to increase productivity and quality, while reducing the farms ecological impact. The premium that fair trade is able to get is then used to improve the farmers’ lives with better housing, new clothes, shoes, better diets, and access to medicine.

They have 51 grassroots member organizations, totaling to 4,800 small-scale coffee producers. Over 18 per cent are women. By introducing a business culture and using radio programmes to further spread knowledge, productivity and quality have increased.

Cepicafe’s access to markets in the US and Europe means it can pay between 60 and 80 per cent more than local buyers.

Published: November 2007

Resources

  • Mountain Forum: created in 1995, it is a great resource for sustainable mountain development and conservation.
  • The Mountain Institute: A non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, community development and cultural preservation in the Andean, Appalachian and Himalayan mountain ranges.
  • Adelboden Group: Established in 2002, it exists as a forum to discuss mountain policies, exchange experience and coordinate planning.

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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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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Cooking up a Recipe to End Poverty

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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.

The trend across the developing world towards eating away from home is another factor in the growing obesity crisis. While cooking at home allows for control of ingredients and portion sizes, eating out usually means more high energy and fatty foods. The global obesity crisis is threatening to reverse many essential health gains brought about by development. As communities prosper, diets become more reliant on junk food and fast food.

The International Obesity Task Force found 1.7 billion people in the world need to lose weight. There are now more overweight people in the world than hungry people. Neville Rigby, the policy director of the task force, told The Associated Press, “What’s clear is that the developing world in particular is going to bear the enormous brunt of this weight gain. It’s rapidly accelerating. We’re even seeing obesity in adolescents in India now. It’s universal. It has become a fully global epidemic – indeed, pandemic.”

According to Dr Susan Jebb, Medical Research Council Director of Studies, Human Nutrition Centre, University of Cambridge, “getting back to a bit of home cooking could be a good start” to tackling the obesity crisis.

Increasing awareness of traditional and local recipes can generate income in many ways. From publishing cookbooks to inspiring restaurant and food vendor menus to sparking up supermarket product lines, whole industries can be built up from the humble recipe. Supermarkets in Africa are a growing sector. Executives from South Africa’s Shoprite supermarket chain recently announced a doubling of their supermarkets in Uganda, and called supermarkets one of the fastest growing businesses in East Africa. UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has already started to dispatch Fairtrade Ambassadors to Africa to trawl the continent for new products to stock their shelves.

So, the time is right for entrepreneurs to target the African food market and raise its profile. Seizing this opportunity is an ambitious project to digitally archive the vast and often hard-to-find treasure trove of African cookbooks. Announced at a conference in Tanzania this summer, the African Cookbook Project is seeking to gather together in one place all the past and present African cookbooks, effectively creating the most comprehensive resource of African recipes.

Published: August 2007

Resources

  • Africooks: Culinary Literature by Jessica B. Harris: This established African cookbook writer offers an excellent role model for budding cookbook authors: www.africooks.com
  • A success story about a Senagalese restaurant in the US: NYTimes article
  • BetumiBlog and Betumi.com (www.betumi.com): Betumi is the African Culinary Network and “connects anyone who delights in African cuisine, foodways and food history.” View photos.
  • An extensive list of African cookbooks available for sale: here
  • Africa’s Big Seven: held every year, it is the main event that brings together food retailers and producers and is a perfect place to bring a new product looking to be launched.

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