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“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

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.

One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.

BioDeposit (http://biodeposit.lv/index.php?page=elixir-3) sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapropel). This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.

It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.

In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.

Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo (southsouthexpo.org) at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (http://ke.linkedin.com/pub/nelly-makokha/29/a08/634), explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.

At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha) in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.

“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.

“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’  – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.

“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”

The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.

Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.

Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.

BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.

Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.

“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”

And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.

“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”

The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.

BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”

BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.

The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.

Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/?id=257).

“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”

Resources

1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8929-soilhealth-crisis-threatens-africas-food-supply.html

2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website: http://www.fao.org/wsfs/forum2050/wsfs-background-documents/issues-briefs/en

3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website: http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11

5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48

6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website: http://www.soilassociation.org/marketreport

7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture.  Website: http://www.fibl.org/en/fibl.html

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website: http://www.ifoam.org/

9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website: https://www.facebook.com/BioDepositAfrica

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

© David South Consulting 2021


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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US $450 Million Pledged for Green Economy Investments at Kenyan GSSD Expo

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Innovators working in the global green economy could benefit from over US $450 million in investment recently pledged at the UN’s Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in Nairobi, Kenya.

A combination of green investors, businesses, governments and others came together at the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) headquarters in the Kenyan capital from 28 October to 1 November 2013 to share solutions and strike deals and partnerships.

The event represented a significant turning point in awareness of the role played by the global South’s innovators in global development and growing economies. The quantity of pledges and investment deals struck at the Expo bodes well for the future of south-south solution sharing.

Organized by the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (UNOSSC) (southsouthexpo.org) and hosted by UNEP (unep.org) under the theme “Building inclusive green economies”, the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the world’s biggest event for development solutions created in the South for the South.

“The theme of this year’s Expo is fitting in that Southern countries have both the opportunity and the obligation to pursue a ‘smarter’ development course than their predecessors,” said General Assembly President John Ashe.

Examples of the investment deals struck include helping to build organic fertilizer factories and constructing solar power plants in Kenya, and growing green business ventures for women in Egypt.

South-South cooperation is the exchange of resources, technology and knowledge between developing countries. Today, over US $5 trillion in currency reserves are held by countries of the global South. They also make up 47 per cent of global trade.

Tapping this rich resource is an unparalleled economic development opportunity and could be one of the main engines of growth in the years ahead, the Expo organizers believe.

“As so many stories that we have heard this week demonstrate, South-South Cooperation is playing a vital role in facilitating this global transition,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Not only are these local, national and regional efforts producing positive results, but they are overcoming barriers, building new partnerships, creating new finance mechanisms, generating knowledge, sharing information, providing training and capacity building in areas and sectors that are critical for a global transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive economy,” he added.

As an example of how solutions are shared and deals are struck, more than 40 companies were successfully matched and held business negotiations using the Expo’s South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange (SS-GATE). An online match-making service bringing together innovative companies with the knowledge and funding they need to grow, the SS-GATE was able to get 148 companies to list their projects on the SS-GATE web-platform during an Expo event.

For the first time in its history, the Expo garnered a strong online presence with the help of volunteers who collaborated remotely around the world on social media. The event was so popular that it trended on Twitter in Kenya, meaning that the message of the value and growing scope of South-South cooperation reached the next generation of development practitioners, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, thinkers and leaders.

Also at the Expo, the fourth issue of Southern Innovator magazine (southerninnovator.org) had its official launch. Southern Innovator Issue 4 visits the new cities being built to tackle the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing 21st-century world. The magazine also highlights some of the solutions being devised to the challenges people face as the world becomes a majority urban place.

Some innovators are building new cities from scratch, applying the latest thinking and hard-wiring in cutting-edge information technologies and innovative environmental measures to create “smart” cities and eco-cities. Architects are designing and refining homes that are beautiful and functional, easy to build, affordable and conserve energy. Social entrepreneurs are innovating ways to create liveable and socially inclusive urban areas, often in places where planning has been scant and where incomes are very low. All the stories featured in the magazine were chosen for their focus on improving human development and for their ingenuity and fresh thinking.

Southern Innovator champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. It is being distributed through the United Nations’ network and partners and reaches some of the world’s poorest and remotest places, as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics.

Resources

1) Global South-South Development Expo: The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the FIRST EVER Expo solely from the South and for the South. It showcases successful Southern-grown development solutions (SDSs) to address the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Website: http://www.southsouthexpo.org/

2) Southern Innovator online story archive: Organized by theme, the story archive is a treasure trove of innovation stories and resources from the global South stretching back to 2006. Website: southerninnovator.org

3) Southern Innovator on Scribd: Archived copies of the full-color, 60-page magazine can be downloaded here. Website: http://www.scribd.com/SouthernInnovator.

4) Southern Innovator on Twitter: Catch Southern Innovator’s Tweets and keep on top of a growing global network of innovators. Follow @SouthSouth1


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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African Farming Wisdom Now Scientifically Proven

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Increasing the agricultural productivity of Africa is critical for the continent’s future development, and the world’s. Two-thirds of Africans derive their main income from agriculture, but the continent has the largest quantity of unproductive – or unused – potential agricultural land in the world.

This means the continent has the potential to become the world’s new breadbasket – but there is a problem. A report by the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agriculture (IFDC) found the continent had a “soil health crisis” and that three-quarters of its farmlands were severely degraded (New Scientist). The causes of this crisis include overuse of the same plot of land due to population growth, which prevents farmers moving around, and high fertilizer costs, leading to African farmers using just 10 per cent of the world average on their farms.

But a new study shows that an existing practice by some African farmers could help solve this dilemma if it was adopted by the majority.

At the University of Sydney in Australia, a study has confirmed the effectiveness of ants and termites as a tool to increase farm yields in dry areas. It found ants and termites in drier climates of the global South improved soil conditions just as earthworms do in northern, wetter and colder climates. Both termites and ants, by burrowing their way through the soil, carve out tunnels that make it easier for plants to shoot their roots outwards in search of water.

In field experiments, ants and termites helped raise wheat yields by 36 per cent by increasing water and nitrogen absorption. This is critical for agriculture in arid climates.

While termites wreak havoc on crops such as maize (corn) and sugarcane, they are very useful for other African crops.

The Australian research found termites infuse nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen is usually dumped on fields with expensive fertilizers that are subject to market fluctuations. The termites have nitrogen-heavy bacteria in their stomachs, which they excrete into the soil through their faeces or saliva.

The research also found termites helped with reducing water wastage.

This research reinforces what has long been known to some African farmers. Long-held farmer tradition in parts of West Africa uses termites to enhance soil by placing wood on the earth to attract them. By burying manure in holes near newly planted grains, farmers in Burkina Faso attract termites to the soil.

In Malawi, bananas are planted near termite mounds to encourage the creatures. In southern Zambia, soil from termite nests is harvested and used as top soil on agricultural land.

If more farmers adopted this practice, Africa could simultaneously address its chronic malnutrition and hunger problem and contribute to the world’s food needs. As the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found, “With 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and low crop yields, Africa is ripe for a ‘green revolution’ like those that transformed agriculture in Asia and Brazil.”

McKinsey estimated that Africa’s agricultural output could increase from US $280 billion a year now to US $500 billion by 2020 and as much as US $880 billion by 2030.

The UN recently declared that the world’s population has reached 7 billion. That is many mouths to feed and presents Africa with a dilemma and an opportunity.

And as urban growth accelerates across the global South – the world is now a majority urban place – there is a huge profit to be made from providing food to growing urban populations.

The time to act is now, as there have been reports from African farmers that they are seeing harvests declining by 15 to 25 per cent. And the picture gets gloomier: many farmers think their harvests will drop by half over the next five years.

Given that there are 2,600 different species of termites now recognised in the world (UNEP) and with over 660 species, found in Africa, it is by far the richest continent in termite diversity (Eggleton 2000) and they are proof that an affordable solution is close at hand to the current crisis.

Resources

1) World Vegetable Center: The World Vegetable Center is the world’s leading international non-profit research and development institute committed to alleviating poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through vegetable research and development. Website:http://www.avrdc.org

2) Songhai Centre: a Benin-based NGO that is a training, production, research, and development centre in sustainable agriculture. Website:http://www.songhai.org/english

3) Marketing African Leafy Vegetables: Challenges and Opportunities in the Kenyan Context by Kennedy M. Shiundu and Ruth. K. Oniang. Website:http://www.ajfand.net/Issue15/PDFs/8%20Shiundu-IPGR2_8.pdf

4) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website:http://www.fao.org/wsfs/forum2050/wsfs-background-documents/issues-briefs/en

5) African Alliance for Capital Expansion: A management consultancy focused on private sector development and agribusiness in West Africa. Website:http://www.africanace.com/v3

6) Ants and termites increase crop yield in a dry climate by Theodore A. Evans, Tracy Z. Dawes, Philip R. Ward and Nathan Lo, Nature Communications 2, Article number: 262

7) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website:http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48

8) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website: http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11

9) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website:http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8929-soilhealth-crisis-threatens-africas-food-supply.html

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