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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
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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

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SOS Shops Keep Food Affordable for Poor, Unemployed

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

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.

In Balkan nation Serbia, trade unions have come up with a solution: they are called SOS Shops and they feature food and other products priced at as much as 70 percent less than regular shops. By cutting back on the profit margin for the products, the store can make drastic cuts in prices.

In the capital, Belgrade, the shops are run by trade unions in partnership with a local retail chain, Jabuka. The Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions uses Jabuka to run the stores. Anyone with an income below 20,000 dinars (US $280) a month can receive a special card to shop at the SOS stores.

In Jabuka’s other stores, the profit margin is 20 percent, and in rival stores it can be over 30 percent. Jabuka also makes savings by sourcing locally and suppliers offering discounts of between 15 percent and 25 percent.

“The prices there are 30 to 50 percent lower than in major supermarkets,” Jabuka manager Milorad Miskovic told IPS. “It’s a hard time for many people, so we decided to lower our margin of profit to only five percent at the SOS shops.

“SOS shops are intended for the socially handicapped. SOS shops offer goods at lower prices to Serbian citizens earning minimum wages or pensions lower than RSD 20,000, to the unemployed, to the displaced from Kosovo and the citizens on the dole (welfare).”

Hard hit by the global downturn, Serbia has seen its recent boom times disappear quickly. The country had enjoyed average yearly growth since 2000 of 6.7 percent.

The country is currently negotiating bridging loans with the IMF (www.imf.org). The conditions for the loan mean severe cuts to public sector wages and tax rises.

According to the Serbian Statistical Office, Serbia has lost 10,000 jobs a month since the beginning of 2009. The official unemployment rate is 14 percent, and the government believes half a million people now live below the official poverty line, out of a population of 10 million.

“Many people have lost their jobs and the main problem is that the middle class is now poor. That is the real problem,” Nebojsa Rajkovic of the Association of Independent Trade Unions told the BBC. “The government prepared a social programme to deal with the economic crisis in Serbia, but it was not enough and that is the reason the union devised this project.”

This month, the Jabuka trade company opened its third SOS shop in Belgrade. The shop, the largest SOS shop so far, will be opened in the Mirijevo neighbourhood of Belgrade, and it will offer a wider range of products.

The unions plan to open 100 social supermarkets this year. Basic staples like bread, milk and potatoes are the cheapest goods. Unlike other supermarkets, the stores feature local brands and products made in Serbia: a boost to local producers in the economic downturn.

In order to stop hoarding of the cheap food or people buying a lot and then selling it for a profit, the amount that can be bought on one shopping trip is limited. For example, just three bottles of cooking oil are allowed each time.

“Most people in Serbia are finding things difficult financially. We only have maybe five or 10 percent of the population who don’t have financial problems,” continued Rajkovic.

One customer, 26-year-old Milica Marjanovic , found the shops provided much-needed support to her unemployed family. “My mother, my sister and I are unemployed. We don’t get any social benefits,” she said to the BBC.

“There are a lot of unemployed people in Serbia, life is hard for a lot of people and they can hardly manage.

“Many families don’t even have what is basic for living. So, these shops are welcome.”

Published: May 2010

Resources

The Co-operative Food: This pioneering network of supermarkets offers both affordable food prices for customers and good prices and terms for suppliers. They are a founding member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). This is an alliance of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working together to improving working conditions in supply chains.
Website: http://www.co-operative.coop/food/

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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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