Guest blog by Julie Potyraj; read her previous post on community health here
For most of us, the point of choosing sustainably grown foods is to protect our own health and to minimize environmental damage. While these are important reasons for making better choices at the grocery store, what about the human side and the health of those who labor in the fields of the world? Can selecting foods that are grown more sustainably with methods such as integrated crop management also be more ethical?
To answer that question, we must start with the number 1.3 billion. That’s how many agricultural laborers there are in the world. Of that number, up to 41 million are affected every year as a result of pesticide poisoning. That means 32% of this group are harmed by the use of pesticides ever year. Continue reading →
On Tuesday, June 3rd, Land O’Lakes held another in a series of Farmer Field Day training events at one of their signature Answer Plot® sites, known locally as Yankho Plot™ sites in Malawi. This farmer training event was held in Salima district, Malawi, on a plot planted with several varieties of rice. On this day, farmers got to see Kilombero and Funwe rice plants right before harvest and to hear from Lead Farmers (who had been trained by Land O’Lakes staff) and Ministry of Agriculture field extension agents, all about the characteristics of these two new strains of these two rice varieties. In addition, farmers were taken through rice trials done on site in collaboration with the GOM Ministry of Agriculture, the CCARDESA (Center for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for South Africa) and the World Bank. Under this USDA-funded Food for progress project, Land O’Lakes uses the Yankho Plot™ sites as learning platforms where complementary information is given out about goat production, animal welfare, best animal feed practices and animal health. In addition, Land O’Lakes nutrition staff work hand-in-hand with MOA Nutritionists and staff from the GOM Ministry of Health to share nutritional information and to conduct cooking demonstrations for all farmer field day participants. At this special field day event, more than 150 USDA-funded Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) handbooks were distributed by Land O’Lakes to the female heads of community-based Nutrition Groups in order to assist with their community education efforts. Land O’Lakes also invited many agricultural suppliers and service organizations in order to facilitate farmers networking with other sources of information, services and products. For example, Demeter Agriculture Limited and CABI Plantwise had tables on which they displayed their helpful information and where staff were ready to talk about their services for helping farmers be better producers. More than 350 male and female farmers from Salima District participated in the Farmer Field Day training event.
In the past twenty years, the Ivory Coast has produced over 25 million tonnes of cocoa beans; far more than any other country. However, this video suggests that some cocoa farmers might never have seen the end product of the crop they spend their time cultivating. This has implications for the cocoa supply chain: if farmers don’t know what end product they are aiming for, how can they know how, or even why, they should improve quality of their produce? If there is no ‘top-down’ flow of information on the end uses of a crop, can we be sure of a ‘bottom-up’ flow of information on working conditions and pay? Working towards establishing closer relationships between the beginning and the end of the supply chain, could lead to a greater opportunity for smallholder farmers to get a fair deal.
Take a close look at the photo below. Can you guess where in the world this plant clinic is located? It is one of hundreds of clinics, operated by national partners in local markets and meeting places, where farmers can find the plant health advice they need. Click ‘Read more’ for the location answer….
Caribbean banana farmers are abandoning fields where crops have been badly affected by Black Sigatoka disease. Black Sigatoka has badly affected several countries in the region, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana. Black Sigatoka is considered the most destructive disease of bananas and plantains and is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis. It first arrived in the Caribbean in 1991, and has since established and spread throughout the region. Severely infected leaves die, significantly reducing fruit yield and causing mixed and premature ripening of banana bunches. As part of the response to Black Sigatoka outbreaks in the Caribbean the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provided an intensive training programme in management of the disease in Dominica back in June this year. The workshop trained technicians from Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean’s tropical climate with high rainfall and high humidity is conducive to the spread of Black Sigatoka, hence the training program focused on the management of the disease, including the strategic and careful use of fungicides in order to manage the disease while aiming to prevent fungicide resistance developing. Last year, FAO provided an expert from Cuba to assess the management efforts of each country in the Caribbean affected by the disease, and identify areas for improvement. For each country, a management and action plan was created in conjunction with the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS Secretariat, the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), CIRAD, the Ministry of Food Production in Trinidad & Tobago and the Banana Board of Jamaica.
Plantwise plant clinics are currently operating in 31 countries in Asia, Africa and Central & Latin America. Thousands of farmers come to these clinics for advice on managing their crops, particularly crops that are being affected by pests or disease. The video below gives the story of a farmer in Puducherry, India, who got advice on how to manage the rice in her paddy field that had turned yellow during a cyclone.
This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) define agroecology as “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. In practice, this means simulating natural ecosystems and using low inputs to increase productivity.
In 2011 the UN reported that by using agroecological methods, projects carried out in 20 different African countries were able to double crop yields in 3-10 years. The projects also recorded a reduction in the use of pesticides, leading to savings for the farmers. The agroecological approach has multiple benefits, beyond these economic gains. It also takes into account social and environmental issues, including soil fertility, water availability and climate change. Continue reading →