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African Farm News in Review

Malawi: National Agriculture Fair links small-scale farmers to markets (by Mark Ndipita, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

Elizabeth Malemi has been growing rice for the past decade. Marketing has been her greatest challenge. She says, “I have been growing rice as an individual and had been making little profit due to lack of markets.”

Mrs. Malemi hails from Tsirizani village in southeastern Nsanje District, Malawi. She harvests around 36 50-kilogram bags of rice per year. In 2009, Mrs. Malemi and other rice farmers in her community formed the Muona Rice Producers Co-operative. The farmers hoped that the co-operative would help them find markets.

But marketing problems still haunt Mrs. Malemi and other small-scale farmers. She explains: “There is little progress we have made as a co-operative in terms of finding markets for our rice. This has been so due to [the] lack of … forums for us to meet and discuss with potential buyers.” Usually, the farmers only meet buyers who come to their community. According to Mrs. Malemi, most buy at low prices.

Many small-scale farmers and many other co-operatives face similar challenges. In response, this year’s National Agriculture Fair aimed to expose farmers to new technological developments, markets, and financial arrangements.

Mrs. Erica Maganga is the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. She says this year’s Fair is promoting partnerships between different actors in the agricultural sector. It also seeks to raise awareness that farming should be regarded as a business.

The Muona Rice Producers Co-operative participated in this year’s fair. Mrs. Malemi describes it as an eye-opener. She says, “As a farmer and as a member of the co-operative, I learned a lot from fellow farmers from other districts. We have made a lot of contacts that are now our potential markets.”

Anne Khamila also participated in the fair. She is a small-scale farmer from Wowo village in central west Phalombe District. She was also seeking markets for her rice. She says, “My family depends on rice farming for its livelihood. Low prices from vendors who come to my area are killing us.” She was glad to report that all the rice she brought to the fair had been sold. She adds, “I have also found people who are ready to buy my remaining produce at home.”

Anne Khamila says she has learned a lot: “I have learned how to add value to my rice. Packaging and proper processing of rice and grading will assist me a lot in my farming business.”

It wasn’t only rice farmers who attended the fair. Emily Mandiwa is a small-scale fruit farmer from Masimo village in Nsanje District. She brought juice made from fruits such as pawpaw, lemons, mango, pineapples and oranges. She says, “I have come under Chididi Fruit Juice and Marketing Co-operative. We have … come [to] find markets as well as to learn the prices for similar juices to check if we are overcharging or not.”

Mrs. Mandiwa said she has benefited and learned a lot from the agricultural fair, especially on adding value. She says, “ … we always complain that there are no markets, yet we do not add more value to our juices. We have seen how other farmers from different areas process, package and preserve their juices to attract more buyers.”

Whether the farmers were selling rice or fruit juice, they all left the fair with new ideas and new contacts.

The 8th National Agriculture Fair’ theme was “Value Addition for Increased Economic Returns.” It was held August 25-27, 2011 at the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre, Malawi. The purpose of the fair this year was to bring together various players in the value chain to promote partnerships and share ideas to foster economic development.

For further news from Malawi about the National Agricultural Fair covered in this story, you can visit: http://www.nationmw.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=24683:exhibitors-upbeat-as-fair-opens-wed&catid=11:business-news&Itemid=4

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Mozambique: Small-scale farmers endure cold weather (IPS)

Long after the wintry sun sets over her patch of crops, Angelina Jossefa keeps pulling weeds. Many of her lettuce, carrot and beetroot plants died during a cruel winter. Now she has to work harder to feed her three children. Harvesting a few heads of lettuce, she explains, “This year things were hard because of the cold. It was very cold.” For the last 29 years, Mrs. Jossefa has been tilling the same one and a half hectares with her mother, aunt and sister-in-law.

The lack of rain this year combined with a severe winter to put even more pressure on struggling subsistence farmers like Mrs. Jossefa, who make up 80 per cent of the population.

Minimum temperatures were the lowest in 50 years, according to the National Meteorological Institute. Rainfall during the wet season was extremely poor, despite predictions of above-average rains.

Dulce Chilundo is head of Mozambique’s National Emergency Operative Centre. He says, “Already the rainy season is not normal anymore.” Usually, rains begin in October and continue until February. But this year, according to Mr. Chilundo, “The rains did not begin in October. It rained a lot in November, and after that, nothing.”

Mrs. Jossefa explains how she has seen the weather change: “Years ago, it used to rain two, three times a month. Now four, five months pass without a drop of rain.” She worries what will become of her family when her money dries up. She says, “It isn’t enough, because two are studying. I manage at least for the transport and house expenses, but it is little.”

The increasing number of poor people in Mozambique’s cities took to the streets in September 2010 to protest high food prices. But the millions of small-scale farmers spread across the vast country said little, although their livelihoods are threatened by factors beyond their control, such as climate.

Lola Castro is the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique. She says, “I think it is not possible to control such changes locally.” She explains, “Old people tell us it’s difficult to know when to plant, when to harvest, or when it will rain.”

Development analysts have studied ways for farmers to weather the storm. One solution is to change crops with the weather patterns. In Mozambique, the risk of flooding remains high because farmers plant in flood plains. Ms. Castro says, “It is impossible to change people planting in low areas [because] that is the fertile area.”

Authorities therefore encourage farmers to plant crops such as cassava, sorghum, and millet, which can survive in higher, drier areas. Another solution is to use crops that mature in 90 rather than 125 days, so farmers can make the most of one season.

Such solutions may well mean the difference between life and death for Mozambique’s forgotten farmers. Changing traditions that were formed over centuries and generations, however, is a difficult task.

http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/09/12/notes-to-broadcasters-on-banana-bacterial-wilt/

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Burkina Faso: Organic cotton under threat from GM cotton (by Inoussa Maiga for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

Maxime Ouoba is committed to growing organic cotton. He explains, “It has no adverse effects on [the] health of the producer. Organic farming also allows me to sustain the fertility of my land. I chose to produce organic cotton because this production method is right for me.”

Mr. Ouoba is a farmer in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso. He began growing cotton when he heard about a program promoting organic cotton. This program, led by the Swiss NGO, Helvetas, began in 2004.

At that time, 72 producers produced about 12 tonnes of seed cotton. By 2008, almost 7000 farmers were producing 2200 tonnes of seed cotton. This rapid expansion encouraged producers and  project staff.

But today, producers and project staff are worried about the future of organic cotton. What concerns them is the jump in plantings of genetically modified or GM cotton. By 2009, genes from GM crops had been found in organic cotton. At that time, only 10% of conventional cotton farmers were growing GM varieties. But with the massive spread of GM cotton in 2010, almost 90% of conventional producers now grow GM cotton.

Organic cotton can be contaminated in many ways.  Organic cotton seed can be mixed with GM or conventional seed before planting. Cross-pollination is possible between neighbouring fields of GM or conventional and organic cotton. Contamination can occur through mixing (whether unintentional or intentional) during storage, transport or processing.

Many supporters of organic cotton believe that the program in Burkina Faso is threatened. Pierre works for the organic project. He laments, “Today, it is virtually impossible to produce 100% organic cotton. What we want is to reduce the level of contamination.”

Another staff member adds, “Only two years ago, our mission was to recruit more and more farmers to produce organic cotton. Today, our priority is to retain those who have invested in recent years.”

By 2010, the number of organic cotton producers had dropped to around 2,400. One explanation for this drop could be the stringent measures that farmers are required to take to minimize contamination. George Giébré is responsible for the Helvetas organic cotton program. He explains, “On advice of the National Institute for Environment and Agricultural Research, we asked producers to observe a safe distance of at least 100 metres between the organic cotton fields and GM cotton fields.” But it is difficult for farmers to comply due to the size and layout of their plots.

A second way to prevent contamination is to ban the cultivation of organic cotton and GM cotton on the same farm. But the effect of this restriction is to exclude women from growing cotton. Mr. Giébré explains: “Before, in the same farm, men would grow conventional cotton and the women would grow organic cotton in the field next door. But with GMOs, this coexistence is not possible. If there is already a field of GM cotton on a farm, it is no longer possible to grow organic cotton. Thus, many women have been excluded.”

Forced to abandon organic cotton, Moustapha, a farmer in his forties, views his situation with a dose of fatalism. He says, “I was told that I could not grow organic cotton because my field is surrounded by fields of GM cotton. If they say you cannot produce, and you insist on harvesting, they downgrade your cotton.” Cotton downgraded from organic to conventional receives a much lower price.

There is fear that the production of organic cotton will come to a standstill in Burkina Faso in the coming years. Georges Giébré acknowledges the pressure on farmers: “The threats posed by the introduction of GM cotton are real and taken with the utmost seriousness. But this does not undermine the viability of the program.”

Some farmers suggest creating separate zones for organic cotton and GM cotton. This proposition would need state support.  At the moment, there are three major cotton production areas in Burkina Faso. Organic cotton is grown in the eastern zone.

While waiting for a solution, the only thing that program staff can do is raise awareness. Pierre says, “We encourage our producers to talk to their neighbours before the start of the season to see who plans to produce what and where. Then they can negotiate with GM cotton farmers to plant on another side of their land.” But even Pierre is not sure if this is a sustainable solution.

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Malawi: Intercropping helps farmer Phiri buy ox-cart (by Norman Fulatira, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

Mathews Phiri is a smallholder farmer living in Mlwale village, eight kilometres from Zomba, in the south of Malawi. For over eight years, 24-year-old Mr. Phiri and his wife Annah have farmed a small area of land, and made little profit. They cannot afford to buy inorganic fertilizer.

Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Program aims to assist vulnerable small-scale farmers. But there are many farmers who, like Mr. Phiri, face hunger but do not qualify for the government subsidy. Now, a new study suggests an alternative for these farmers. It found that farmers who rotate maize and legume crops can cut their fertilizer use in half without reducing maize yields.

Mr. Phiri wanted to avoid becoming dependent on inorganic fertilizers. So, two years ago, he took the advice of an extension worker. Mr. Phiri now plants maize and pigeon peas at the same time of year, on the same piece of land. This practice is known as intercropping. His maize yield has gradually improved over the two-year period since he began intercropping.

Mr. Phiri harvested 18 bags of pigeon peas in 2010. He sells them to large-scale vendors at 27 US dollars per 50-kilogram bag. With the proceeds, Mr. Phiri has managed to buy an ox-cart. He uses it to carry organic manure to his garden.

When asked about his success, Mr. Phiri explains, “I started planting maize alongside pigeon peas soon after I got the advice from the extension worker of my area, Mr. Franklin Nyirenda. It has worked perfectly well for me.”

Since the subsidy program started in 2004, Mr. Phiri benefited twice. But in 2007 he was left out of the subsidy program. So he began looking for alternatives, and decided to grow pigeon pea. Now he does not need to rely on subsidies. He uses manure, practices intercropping and watches his yields increase. Mr. Phiri says, “You know, not every peasant farmer gets subsidized fertilizer … in the past I used to groan whenever my name was not on the list of beneficiaries.”

Mr. Henry Msatilomo is the Agriculture Development Officer in Zomba District. He says that many smallholder farmers now realize the importance of intercropping. Mr. Msatilomo explains that intercropping helps farmers increase their yield while at the same time improving soil fertility. This is especially the case when one of the crops is a legume, like pigeon pea.

The scientists who conducted the study on crop rotation found that slow-maturing and shrubby legumes like pigeon pea and mucuna spend more time in the ground producing nitrogen. And the ground stays covered longer, another benefit for the soil. Dr. George Kanyama-Phiri is co-author of the study. He says that rotating with legume crops complements, but does not replace, fertilizer use.

Although Mr. Phiri is intercropping, rather than rotating his crops, he has already benefitted from planting legumes. He is proof that farmers can save on fertilizer costs by planting pigeon peas, at least in the short term.

Dr. Kanyama-Phiri cautions that local differences in farming practices may affect the benefits of legumes. For example, in the southern region, farmers construct maize ridges later in the season. This may expose legumes to damage from sun or hungry goats.

Before Mr. Phiri started intercropping, he sold his maize to get cash for his family’s needs. But with intercropping, he no longer has to do this; he can rely on the proceeds from pigeon peas. For Mr. Phiri, buying an ox-cart is a major achievement. And it’s all because of intercropping.

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Zambia: Small-scale farmer worries about rising food prices (by Brian Moonga, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zambia)

Jason Mumbi has been farming for nearly a decade in Kabwe’s Chamuuka area, north of Lusaka. When asked about increasing food prices, he replies, “High food prices are … a challenge for me as a cash crop grower.”

Mr. Mumbi operates a small maize mill as a family business, and is thinking of expanding. But the persistent increases in food prices are the main stumbling block for him. He spends most of the family’s earnings on food and school fees for his three children. Instead of growing more cash crops, he has had to reduce the size of land he cultivates as he cannot afford seed.

He says, “I grow mostly vegetables and I used to use my profits from my mill business towards buying seed and chemicals to help me grow my cash crops. But now it’s becoming difficult. I have reduced my farm from growing on an acre to half the area.”

According to Mr. Mumbi, the high food prices are not beneficial for small-scale farmers. He explains that, despite profiting from the booming demand for vegetables and the increased price of food, he eventually incurs the same high costs. He buys food which is not grown on his farm, and has to purchase non-food items which are increasing in price.

To add to his woes, electricity prices in Zambia are set to increase by 14 percent this year. The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation needs to expand the country’s main power generation station to keep up with domestic demand. As Zambia’s economy grows, so does the need for electricity.

Mr. Mumbi and the farmers who use his maize mill live on a tight budget. They are simply trying to make ends meet. Mr. Mumbi says some small-scale farmers are already reducing the amount of maize they bring for milling. Soon he will be forced to double the milling fee to meet the increased cost of electricity. He fears many farmers will not be able to afford this.

Zambia’s staple food is maize. Households commonly buy 25-kilogram bags, which now cost about 15 US dollars. Mr. Mumbi fears that an increase in electricity costs will mean higher food prices and the loss of his milling business. His livelihood is under threat.

He says, “Because I grow my own veggies, it’s easier and cheaper [for me] compared to other farmers. I grind my own maize meal in the back yard and we can eat it with the vegetables from my gardens. It’s a little easier; but I know very soon it will be difficult to even grow my own maize and mill it.”

Zambia’s agriculture sector has grown in recent years. Close to 90 per cent of the sector’s production comes from subsistence farmers. But critics say the high costs of production and of doing business are likely to block small-scale farmers from growing into commercial farmers.

Mulambo Hachima is a consulting economist. He says, “Unless small-scale farmers are given vast tax concessions as in the mining sector, where [small] scale operators have recently become medium entities, we expect farmers to continue incurring high costs of production as fertilizer prices, fuel and even other essential goods go up.”

Mr. Mumbi calls on the Zambian government to take measures to protect small-scale farmers against soaring food prices. He says, “It’s essential that they introduce a recommended retail price for food because energy costs will keep increasing, and at one point we will be unable to feed our families or even buy seed and other inputs to continue farming.”

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Tanzania: Maasai women gain access to land (by John Cheburet, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Kenya)

Mary Komeiyan would like to grow food for her children. But she has no land. She lives in a village where crops come second in importance to livestock.  Cows feed on the small plot of maize near her house. She cannot take action because the animals belong to her husband. Her situation is typical of Maasai women in Tanzania. They have little or no say on how land is used.

But one local initiative is helping women to secure their land rights. The Maasai Women Development Association, or MWEDO, has succeeded in making customary practices less rigid. Over the last decade, MWEDO has enabled 850 women from two districts to acquire land. They have achieved this through lobbying for their rights under Tanzania’s Village Land Act of 1999. The Act provides for equal access and ownership of land between men and women.

Scolastika Porokwa is a social worker with MWEDO. She says, “The position of Maasai women towards access to and ownership of land is very limited. This is due to the Maasai culture, the communal land ownership system and patriarchal leadership.”

Maasai land belongs to the community. It is controlled by men and used to graze livestock. Women are the caretakers of homesteads. They have little access to land to produce food for children. This has worsened poverty among women, which increases inequality. In addition, few women know about Tanzania’s land policies and processes.

MWEDO mobilized women to form leadership forums, known locally as baraza. During these gatherings, both men and women were made aware of Tanzania’s land laws. The women worked with government authorities and traditional leaders to develop customary land use plans for each village. Through these plans, land surveying and demarcation were carried out, using traditional knowledge. This was all done in collaboration with village governments.

The next step is for women to apply to their villages to secure individual or group ownership of land. The number of women who have been able to access land for agriculture, grazing and settlement has increased. More women now request information, and more women are assuming local leadership positions.

Ms. Porokwa reflects that, “Long-term collaboration with local governments is necessary for effective results.” She also believes that increasing the number of women in decision-making bodies is key to increasing their bargaining power. This will have a positive effect on access to other rights, such as education and health. 

For Ms. Porokwa, “This success is not enough. We make sure that good practices are shared with new groups.” This sharing will ensure that the successes and lessons learned are carried to other parts of Maasailand and the rest of East Africa.

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East Africa: HIV-positive people turn to kitchen gardens during food price rises and drought (IRIN)

The small garden behind Agnes Oroma’s house is much more than a hobby. Mrs. Oroma, from northern Uganda’s Gulu district, is HIV positive. She believes her garden is one of the main reasons she remains in good health. She says, “Do not ignore that little space behind your house, it can do a lot to feed you cheaply and lessen your financial burden.”

Mrs. Oroma’s garden is ten metres by fifteen metres. Here she grows indigenous vegetables and tomatoes. She also proudly shows off a sisal sack in which she grows onions. This produce supplements her daily diet of beans, maize meal, and fish. Mrs. Oroma advises how money saved by growing your own vegetables can be put to good use.  She says, “that would enable you [to] spend on other essentials to keep you healthy on your daily ARV [antiretroviral] treatment.” 

More than 11.6 million people face starvation in the Horn of Africa. Millions more in the region are affected by rising food prices. Experts warn that people living with HIV are especially at risk. 

According to the UN World Health Organization, HIV-positive people need to consume at least 10 per cent more energy from food. Lack of food is a barrier to successful antiretroviral, or ARV, therapy. Many patients abandon their antiretroviral medicine or delay starting them until they can afford a more nutritious diet.

Francesca Achieng is a nutritionist at the hospital in Gulu. She confirms that nutrition affects HIV care. She notes, ” [Without adequate food] a patient cannot withstand the strength of ARV drugs because of its side-effects, the drugs … can destroy your body while they fight to reduce multiplication of the virus in your body.” When hospital staff began assessing nutrition levels, they realized that the patients were undergoing difficult times.

Mrs. Oroma and other HIV-positive people in Gulu have formed a group. Their goal is to become more self-reliant in food. This helps them to maintain a healthy diet and stay on their antiretroviral medication. Mrs. Oroma’s group of backyard farmers has grown to 30 in the past few months. 

Maurine Kilama has also begun growing vegetables. She says, “Food was my biggest worry for my treatment; I had become weaker because my body didn’t have the strength to withstand the potency of the ARV drugs.” Mrs. Kilama lost 6 kilogrammes in weight. But since she started her garden, she has regained 4 kilogrammes. She says, “Since I started growing these vegetables … I feel a lot of improvement and I have the strength to do other things.” She continues, “I now take my medication without worries because I know the food I grow can keep me going for another day.”  

However, for many HIV-positive people, already weakened by lack of food, working in a garden is not an option. They may find the work too tiring. Or they may be too weak to walk long distances to collect and carry water for the garden.

The limited health services in eastern Africa are often stretched to capacity. People living with HIV may not get the attention they need from overburdened health workers. Many people living with HIV rely on social or home-based care networks for support. Food and water shortages can present a challenge to the continuation of these support networks.  Some break up as a result.

But Mrs. Kilama is still in a position to help herself. She has not suffered the worst effects of the drought. She planted onions and vegetables between November and January. She says, “Growing them is easy provided you water them early morning and evening.” She harvested vegetables in March and even had some extra to sell.  The money helped her to buy food and pay school fees.

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South Sudan-Uganda: Farmers fear land mines (IRIN)

Farming communities along the South Sudan-Uganda border are afraid to till their land. After years of civil conflict, the risk of landmines and other unexploded ordnance is great. 

Roselina Achan lives in Ngomoromo in northern Uganda’s Lamwo district. She says, “Landmines are a big problem here; my sister was blown up in 2007 after she visited this village [Lelabur in Ngomoromo] in the hope of returning.” Mrs. Achan was speaking during the handover of a stretch of demined farmland in Ngomoromo on July 29, 2011. 

But while this stretch of farmland is clear, other land nearby remains dangerous. Cosmas Odwogo is a local leader. He says at least 19 people have been killed by landmines in Lelabur since 2000. Several cattle have also been killed. Mr. Odwogo says locals set fire to affected fields during the dry season in an attempt to explode the mines. But this proved futile. He adds, “We urgently need government intervention to clear our land so that we can return home and start cultivation.”  

The threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance has forced former residents of the Agoro, Ngomoromo, and Ogili areas in northern Uganda to settle in camps, away from their villages. 

Farmers on the South Sudan side of the border are also curbing their activities because of the landmine threat.  Ajweng Yubu lives in Laboni village. He says, “The situation is bad in Laboni and other places in South Sudan where landmines were planted along roadsides, water points, and farming areas.”

Rodger Lutalo is a program officer with the UN Development Programme in Kampala. He estimates that around 400 villages in northern Ugandan have been cleared of landmines since 2005. Some 5,000 landmines were detonated. But he notes that 329 “hazardous” villages remain.

The Ugandan government hopes the areas will be cleared by next year. But mine clearance is challenging.  Matti Nikkila is a senior technical adviser with the Danish Demining Group. He says, “Here, we are doing it [mine clearance] manually yet the vegetation is thick, making it hard to do the work.” 

According to officials, there is a need to scale-up mine risk education to help protect vulnerable communities. Even in areas which have been demined, officials recommend caution. Addressing the affected communities, Mr. Lutalo says, “It’s up to you to remain vigilant and report any suspicious objects lying on the ground.” 

Meanwhile, Mr. Yubu is still waiting to return to his fields. He says, “I don’t know when we will confidently walk and cultivate our land without fear.”

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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Committed to community radio (Syfia)

At first glance, there is no evidence of a radio station inside the colonial style building. Perhaps the two antennas on the roof and solar panels that provide electricity offer a clue. Inside, the entrance leads to an isolated room. The room looks more like a repair shop than a broadcast booth. There are two microphones on a round table. Converters, cables, and speakers are piled all around. Kasoki Tembo is busy preparing tonight’s program. The sound of a baby crying indicates that this is a family affair.   

Mr. Tembo is the founder of Kalembera radio. It’s a small radio station in Masisi, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The station has a range of about 40 square kilometres.

Mr. Tembo is in his fifties, with graying hair and a white beard. He is married with 15 children. And he is considered a pioneer of radio in the east of DR Congo. After taking several courses in communication, he began his radio adventure in 1986. He helped set up the first stations in North Kivu. For example, he contributed to the establishment of radio Star Goma, which was replaced by the National Radio Television of Congo (TRNC).

Now Mr. Tembo is technician, trainer, and journalist for Kalembera radio. The station operates with basic equipment in these times of digital broadcasting. But Mr. Tembo defends his station with passion. The most important thing for him is that the inhabitants of Masisi have the right to information and entertainment.

With few resources, but helped by his family, he brings information to people who have little access to media. A listener says, “Before installing this radio, we could hear foreign radio stations broadcasting on shortwave. But there was little information that was relevant for us. With Papa Tembo, we are informed about what is happening closer to home.”

However, some listeners complain about the way the radio is managed. One says, “I am a faithful listener of FM Kalembera, but I think the station is very poorly managed. With the father as director and journalist, the wife as technician and presenter, and children in various functions, it’s hardly professional.”

Mr. Tembo cites lack of resources to hire professionals. He emphasizes, “The most important thing for me is that people are well informed. But I cannot commit to take financial risks by hiring staff that I could not pay.” Despite these difficulties, Mr. Tembo is working hard to continue his radio adventure and communicate with his community.

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Burkina Faso: Women solve fuel problem with rice husks (by Inoussa Maiga for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

Boiling rice is an energy intensive activity. For years, the women of the rice processors union in Bama, Burkina Faso, used wood as energy. But this was very expensive. Mariam Sawadogo is president of the union. She says, “To parboil two tons of rice, we used at least 5000 CFA [around ten US dollars] of wood.”

There are around 300 women in the Sinignassigui Union of Rice Processors (in French, Union des Groupements d’Etuveuses Sinignassigui). Each year, they parboil nearly 1000 tonnes of rice which they buy from farmers. The women first soak the rice, then cook it partially. It is then sun-dried and husked, ready to be sold on the local market.

As well as the cost of wood, another issue faced by the women was the waste rice husks.  Mrs. Sawadogo says, “We did not know what to do with the rice husks. Even the producers did not want them for composting, because the husks do not break down easily.” The rice husks began piling up, making the union’s premises look like a landfill site. 

In 2009, a group of Canadian students from the University of Sherbrooke visited the women. This visit changed everything. Mrs. Sawadogo said, “We shared our problems related to energy. The students designed an oven that uses rice husks as fuel.” The students worked with a local blacksmith who then began to produce the oven.

The oven is 30 centimetres tall. The cooking pot sits on the metal top. The husks burn in a funnel-shaped combustion chamber. It is designed so that the husks burn efficiently, not too fast and not too slowly. The oven is sold in the market at 1500 CFA, around three US dollars.

Using this oven has radically changed the lives of the women. They no longer need wood. Now they parboil rice using only husks as fuel. Around ten of these ovens are in use every day on the union’s premises.

As the rice husks are free, the financial impact is considerable. Mahamadi Ouédraogo is director of the union. He says, “For each bag of 100 kg of parboiled rice, we gain an additional 700 FCFA [one and a half dollars].”  

Now, blacksmiths manufacture the ovens and sell them locally. They are very popular, as most households produce enough husks to power the ovens. Mrs. Sawadogo says, “Virtually all households in Bama use this oven to cook their meals.”

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Zimbabwe: Women grow better lives near the city (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Zimbabwe)

A group of about fifteen women crowd around a borehole, waiting to collect water for their gardens. It is a noisy scene here in Gwabalanda. This low-income, high-density suburb is about 14 kilometres north-west of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. On the edge of the suburb there is a vegetable garden about 100 metres long and wide.

Mrs. Siboinisiwe Gumede is one of the co-operative members who run the gardening project. She joined the co-operative because her husband earns little and they always have financial problems. Her life has changed for the better since joining. She explains, “My life has improved because I can now afford to make some income by selling produce in the local market and customers around the suburb. Now I do not have to wait for my husband’s salary.”

The garden has about 45 plant beds. Members grow a variety of vegetables including rape, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots and spinach. Each member tends their own vegetable beds, the number depends on how many each person can manage to water and weed.

There is a small hut at the edge of the garden. The hut is used as a guard room because thieves are a problem here. Project members were forced to employ a security guard over night because they were losing a lot of vegetables to thieves. Mrs. Gumende says, “We have a serious problem of thieves. As you can see, our garden is not fenced and we are really losing a lot.”

Despite this challenge, Mrs. Gumende thanks the city council of Bulawayo for allowing the women to use the vacant land for agriculture. She explains, “Very few city councils would allow people to farm in the cities.”

The garden project was initiated by Bulawayo City council about seven years ago. Bulawayo is one of the few urban councils in Africa with an agriculture policy. The aim of the project was to alleviate hunger, targeting the unemployed and people with low-incomes. Bongiwe Ngwenya is the spokesperson for the city of Bulawayo. She said, “We realised that agriculture plays an important role to us African people – even when we live in cities we still want a piece of land to farm.”

Mrs. Ngwenya also recognised the role that farming can play in nutrition. She said, “There is also the issue of nutrition especially to people living with HIV and Aids. They need a balanced diet and it becomes easier when they can have a piece of land to cultivate their own vegetables.”

Today the garden benefits a number of people like Mrs. Gumende. She has been working on this garden for the past three years and she has no regrets.

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Kenya: How much relief can Purchase for Progress bring? (IPS)

Mourid Abdi Dolal and Wilson Rotich are both small-scale farmers who grow staple crops. But while Mr. Dolal sells his produce at the local village market, Mr. Rotich farms to feed the growing number of refugees in Kenya.

Mr. Rotich is from Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. He has a one hectare farm in Transmara village where he practices crop rotation with maize, beans and a couple of other leguminous plants. He used to make very little profit. Then he heard of the World Food Programme’s Purchase for Progress, or P4P project.

These days, he can sell his yield to the World Food Programme, or WFP, at the national market rate. It’s about five times more than what he can earn selling it locally. For every successful harvest, Mr. Rotich puts aside a share of the yield, which he sells to WFP through smallholder-friendly tenders. According to WFP, this is a new approach which sources relief food from local farmers instead of importing it from overseas.

Mr. Rotich says, “WFP officers told us to form farmer organisations through which they would [buy] our farm yields. This has helped my family because I am able to pay school fees and even foot hospital bills when one of us falls sick.”

Rose Ogolla is the public information officer for WFP Kenya. She says, “The project is meant to shore up the relief food supply chain as well as make agriculture attractive by offering farmers a ready market.” She explains that this is done through a contract or tender with farmers. 

To be eligible, a farmer needs to be legally registered with a cooperative organisation. He or she must be able to generate 56 metric tonnes of food from their small-scale farm, have proper storage facilities and a bank account.

But P4P does not reach or benefit all farmers. Mourid Abdi Dolal is a pastoralist in the North Eastern Province. He says he has not benefited from the P4P project because it has not reached this Province. This region is home to a growing number of drought refugees in the country and from Somalia.

Mr. Dolal has recently begun practicing small-scale horticulture in his drought-stricken Dertu village. He is able to harvest reasonable quantities of kale, tomatoes and cowpeas. But they only provide him with a small income, since he sells his produce to villagers at throw-away prices.

He says, “I would be happy if WFP reached out to us with subsidies because my village is about 50 kilometres away from the Dadaab refugee camp.” Currently there are about 400,000 people at Dadaab, the majority of whom have fled the drought in Somalia. Mr. Dolal says, “Our village is feeling the pressure due to a surge in displaced people fleeing from the drought.”

Ann Maina is advocacy coordinator with Africa Biosafety Network. Referring to Purchase for Progress, she says, “This is a good initiative because it encourages a home grown solution to the food crisis in the country and could prevent the country from importing maize laced with GMOs.”

Dr. Alfred Mutua is Kenya’s Official Government Spokesman and Public Communications secretary. He is not sure whether the country has the ability to feed the growing number of displaced people, despite the success of the Purchase for Progress project.

Kenya is facing another threat. The United States government is preparing to pull out of the WFP relief programme, which may mean a 40 percent drop in funding for relief food.

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Notes to broadcasters on rice husks

Rice husks (or hulls) account for about 20 percent of rice by weight. In rice-growing regions, rice husks are abundantly available, to the extent that disposing of rice husks can become an environmental problem. They decompose slowly, and are often thrown away as waste. This story is a good example of how to reduce fuel costs while taking advantage of a resource that would otherwise be wasted.

Parboiling rice is a tradition in West Africa. This rice processing technique reduces the number of broken grains at milling. It creates physical and chemical changes in the grain that make it more nutritious and easier to sell and cook.

For more information on rice husks and their potential uses, visit:

http://www.knowledgebank.irri.org/rkb/index.php/rice-milling/byproducts-and-their-utilization/rice-husk

Wikipedia has some general information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_hulls

Earlier this year, Farm Radio Weekly produced a short series on energy, with two stories on fuel-efficient cookstoves. Refer to the Notes to broadcasters on cookstoves here: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/06/13/notes-to-broadcasters-on-cookstoves/

The stories on cookstoves can be accessed here:

-Uganda: Stoves save fuel and forests (FRW 159, June 2011)

-Southern Sudan: Fuel-efficient stoves bring benefits (FRW 159, June 2011)  

In July 2009, Farm Radio International produced a script from Benin about parboiling rice:

-Parboiled rice is easy to mill, cook, and sell (Package 88, Script 11)

You may also be interested in adapting and using this script on rice:

-Growing and processing top quality rice will get you top money (Package 89, Script 8 )

The topic of cookstoves would make an engaging rural radio program, as it touches so many people’s lives. As it is most often women who do the cooking, make sure you include women in the program, through interviews and features. The adoption of new and efficient cookstoves has been hindered in some regions because those responsible for cooking were not involved in decisions and information sharing.

Try to find women who use different types of cookstoves, whether they are fuelled by gas, charcoal or firewood, and ask why the women use that type. Find out if they have experimented with other types of stoves or fuels. Ask them what are the most important factors they consider when choosing a cookstove.  You could even set up an experiment by asking one or more women to try a more efficient cookstove for a week, and then report their impressions on your program.

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Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize

The 2011 Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize is open for entries!

Established in 1992 by the European Commission (EC), the Lorenzo Natali Prize is awarded to journalists for outstanding reporting on human rights, democracy and development issues. The Prize is open to print, online or broadcast reporters worldwide. A special Radio Prize will be awarded.

All Prize winners will be honoured at an Awards Ceremony organized by the EC in December 2011. The deadline for applications is August 31, 2011.

For more information and to apply, visit http://lorenzonataliprize.eu/the-prize/.

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Malawi: Young farmer succeeds through compost making (by Mark Ndipita, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

Ten years ago, Harry Keliyala viewed farming as a tradition and a practice from his ancestors.  He says, “I was brainwashed that farming was for the poor and for those who did not go to school.” Mr. Keliyala could not produce enough food for his wife and children. For him, farming was a burden.

But that all changed in November 2001. Mr. Keliyala says, “My attitude towards farming changed … when the extension worker visited this village and advised us to start making [compost] manure.” Mr. Keliyala, now aged 29, hails from Kamphampha village, in the northwest of Dowa District.

The extension worker guided Mr. Keliyala and other farmers to analyze the challenges they faced in farming. They determined that one of the problems was a decline in soil fertility.  They knew that to produce surplus food, they needed to fertilize the soil.

Following the extension worker’s recommendation, Mr. Keliyala made a lot of compost manure. This compost would complement the little chemical fertilizer he had. He explains, “I applied the manure in the maize garden and to my surprise I harvested more than what my family required for that year and I sold a few bags of maize.”

After experiencing a bumper harvest in 2002, Mr. Keliyala began to regard farming as a business. He shares the experience, “I witnessed myself that farming can sustain one’s life and can keep a family going.”

The following year, Mr. Keliyala increased the amount of compost manure he made.  He also started growing tobacco and diversified into livestock. He started with five goats, three chickens, and two cattle.

Mr. Keliyala explains that he learnt about diversification from the extension worker. He describes the benefits of diversifying: “Crops and animals complement each other. I use droppings of my animals for making manure and I use some crop residues as feed for animals.”

Raising livestock has improved Mr. Keliyala’s income and nutrition security.  He says, “I sell eggs and milk from the animals I rear and these give me more money to take care for my family. Milk, meat, and eggs also provide nutritious foods to my family.”

As the years passed, Mr. Keliyala’s life started changing for the better. He sold his tobacco for a good price, and noticed that other young farmers began to admire his success.

Advice from the extension worker was the turning point in Mr. Keliyala’s life. Today he boasts of assets which his community associates with rich people. He says, “I am now a model to many young farmers in my village. Currently I have 10 cattle, 73 goats, four pigs, a corrugated iron sheet house, two bicycles, a motor vehicle, and an ox-cart.”

Mr. Keliyala attributes his success not only to himself but also to extension workers, lead farmers, and fellow farmers. “I have benefited a lot from the advice of various stakeholders. I have learnt several agricultural technologies which have changed my farming beliefs, attitudes, and practices.”

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Uganda: Making money with mushrooms (Spore)

When Ismail Mulindwa finished high school in Uganda’s Mukono district, he knew just what he wanted to do. During school holidays, he had tried growing mushrooms using cotton seed husks. He was convinced it could be a profitable venture. He said, “We are farmers by nature. My parents are farmers, they saw potential in me and encouraged me.”

His instincts paid off. He now heads a thriving enterprise. He earns a good income and provides work for a team of outgrowers.

When Mr. Mulindwa started his enterprise, he bought mushroom spawn from Makerere University and the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute. But he soon realized he would be better off on his own.

Mushroom spawn are like seeds for mushrooms. Determined to produce his own spawn, Mr. Mulindwa enrolled in a microbiology course at Makerere University. To perfect the technique, he signed up for another course at Baraka Agricultural College in Kenya.

Now 25, Mr. Mulindwa has built a spawn laboratory at his farm. He took out a loan from a private company to set up the facility. The cost was 15 million Ugandan shillings (about 5,000 American dollars). He paid back the sum on time, without great difficulty.

Mr. Mulindwa sells fresh and dried mushrooms to individual customers, supermarkets, and hotels. He also supplies spawn to farmers in Kenya and Uganda and the government’s National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). He makes an average monthly profit of 1.5 million Ugandan shillings (about 550 American dollars). If he lands a big contract he can earn much more. He said, “I have the capacity to deliver 2,000 bottles of spawn a month.”

Mr. Mulindwa set up a network of outgrowers to help meet demand. He is even seeking to expand to meet the booming international market. Many of his suppliers are women. They borrow start-up money from microfinance institutions. Part of the attraction is the quick turnaround. Mushrooms can be harvested 20-30 days after planting the first spawn. And the crop is not restricted to seasons.

Namirembe Joanita is one of the outgrowers. She said, “I was scared of getting a loan but whenever I visited Mulindwa’s farm, I got encouraged. With mushrooms you start earning after just three weeks.” She invested one million Ugandan shillings (nearly 400 American dollars) but made the sum back within three months.

Mr. Mulindwa also teaches mushroom cultivation. His goal is to set up a teaching facility. This will allow him to share the knowledge and skills behind his business. He says there is still much untapped potential in the sector. He claims farmers could make even better profits if they used quality packaging and branding. The young mushroom producer says that owning a farm has taught him the value of hard work. But the results are well worth the investment. He said, “I sweat for my profit, but I benefit from it. I enjoy being my own boss.”

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Senegal: Youth find opportunities in fish farming (IPS)

Singing fills the air at the small dam in Sébi Ponty, about 40 kilometres from Dakar in Senegal. Young co-operative members sing while they pull in their fishing nets. As they draw the nets tight, gleaming fish leap to escape the tightening mesh. The spectacle is a delight for children watching on the banks.

Twenty-year-old Pape Ndaw is one of the men pulling in the nets. He says that many families have come to depend on the fishery since the dam’s rehabilitation in 2006. He says, “I earn more than 120,000 CFA francs (around 270 American dollars) per month when there’s a good catch. I’m supporting my elderly parents as well as my own young family.”

Aquaculture is a vital economic activity for youth in the area. All fishing activities are handled by a co-operative. Around 300 co-operative members are local youth.

The dam is half a kilometer long and about the same wide. In 2006, the dam was stocked with tilapia hatchlings. According to Senegal’s National Aquaculture Agency, it yields 50 kilogrammes of fish per day during each fishing season. The first fishing season begins in July. This signals three months of intense activity for residents of the villages around Sébi Ponty. In October, fishing in the dam will be forbidden for two or three months. This allows stocks to reproduce before another fishing season begins in December.

Anita Diagne Diouf sells fish products. She says the fishery offers real opportunities for young people in the area. And young women like her benefit as much as men in the co-operative. She says, “We share the income and get the same amount as the men.”

However, the dam has several obstacles to overcome, according to Senegal’s National Aquaculture Agency. The main challenge is the co-existence of various dam users. 

Amadou Camara is president of the dam’s management committee.. He says, “The market gardeners use water from the dam. The herders bring their animals here to drink, especially during the dry season.” He explains that this often creates tension between the managers of the dam and the farmers.

One worrying sign of poor co-ordination is that the dam is filling with sand. This is caused by overexploitation of the water. Babacar Ndao is the national minister with responsibility for small-scale water reservoirs. He says the government will soon begin dredging sand from the dam.

He is aware of other challenges faced by the co-operative, such as lack of fishing gear and access to finances. He promises, “The government will launch a program to improve the equipment and reinforce training of the various classes of users.”

Pape Ndaw looks forward to this support. The work at the dam is his only employment. But he does not sit and wait. He says, “During the off-season … when the fish are allowed to reproduce, I keep myself busy with poultry at the house.”

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Zimbabwe: Small-scale farmers still waiting to benefit from land resettlement program (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

Elliot Ndlovu frequently visits the nearby Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement office in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. His goal is to claim his share of land from the government’s land resettlement program. Fifty-seven year-old Mr. Ndlovu says, “I have been on the waiting list since 2003, and each time I go to the lands office I am told there are no farms available − but other people are allocated land every day.”

Since independence, land has been a central issue in Zimbabwe. In July 2000, the government launched the Fast Track Land Reform program. After a controversial resettlement process, a war of words has erupted over land in the western region of Matebeleland.

Villagers are accusing the government of resettling people who are not from the region. Mr. Ndlovu and other farmers who hail from Matebeleland say they have been sidelined in the land resettlement program. They claim that the people who were resettled in the area are from other regions.

Alfred Sibanda is a 44-year-old small-scale farmer in Figtree, about 40 kilometres northwest of Bulawayo. He claims that, although he applied in 2003, he is yet to be allocated his piece of land. He says, “I regret not invading the nearby farm. Some of us behaved like good citizens. The people who were allocated land here come [from] as far as Harare.”

Mr. Sibanda says similar mis-allocations of land also happened in Marula, 20 kilometres from Figtree. He wonders why the government allocates land to outsiders, and leaves the traditional owners with nothing. He explains, “All this land up to Plumtree about 60 kilometres from here belongs to our forefathers.”

Mr. Sibanda’s grandfather is buried in the middle of a commercial farm 10 kilometres from his house. He says, “I do not have access to the land where my father was buried because the area was turned into a game sanctuary. I worked as a farm worker for the rest of my life and today I cannot benefit from the land reform.”

Many people believed that land reform would address the problem of land shortages. Gifford Moyo is a social commentator and member of an advocacy group in Bulawayo which fights for the rights of the Ndebele people. He warned that if the land issue was not handled properly, it might erupt into a serious conflict. He says, “The primary objective of going to war was to get back our land which was taken by the colonial regime. Now, if this government is failing to properly address the issue of land, the question is ‘Why did we go to war?’ ”

Methuseli Moyo is a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). He says it is very discouraging that all the prime lands in Matebeleland have been allocated to people outside Matebeleland.

Mr. Andrew Langa is ZANU PF’s chairperson in Matebeleland province and the Deputy Minister of Public Service. He says the land resettlement allegations are not true, stating, “Most of the people who claim that they did not benefit from land reform did not apply for the land. What I know is that there is no land for Matebeleland or Mashonaland people, but there is land for Zimbabweans.” He continues, “When we started the land reform, we never said we are going to resettle people according to their languages or where they come from.”

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Malawi: Women work to improve water supply (IPS)

Every morning, Ethel James rises at 4 a.m. and walks an hour to the only functioning borehole in the neighbouring village. She returns home with just one bucket of water, which her five children use to get ready for school. Then she begins work on repairing the gravity-fed water scheme in her village.

Mrs. James could not wait for the existing system to be fixed, so she joined the team of villagers in the repair effort. The system consists of a pipeline connected to a reservoir. Taps are connected to the pipeline, but there is no running water in the village of Kwilasha, southern Malawi.

The water system fell into disrepair in the mid-1990s when the government could no longer maintain it. With the assistance of Water Aid Malawi, an international charity that helps people access safe drinking water and good sanitation, the community has taken over ownership of the scheme that covers Kwilasha and 13 surrounding villages.

Villagers organized themselves into clubs, with women assuming leadership roles. Women are also involved in laying pipes and digging trenches. Community members are replacing old pipes with new and larger ones and expanding the network to reach more people.

The nearest alternative source of water is a river just 10 minutes away. But the river is dry at this time of the year. Even during the rainy season, Mrs. James avoids the river because of the crocodiles. She explains how the villagers manage: “So we just dig wells in the village. But that is also a problem because cholera becomes rampant since the water is unsafe. Now that it is the dry season, the wells no longer have water, so we rely on the borehole.”

Water Aid Malawi and the Machinga District council are now training the community in leadership, project management, fundraising, conservation and sanitation. Once the repairs to the water system are completed, it is expected to serve about 45,000 people, three times more than it served in the 1990s.

Mrs. James says that repairing the water system will make a difference to the lives of the women in her village, as they are the ones who suffer most during water shortages. She continues, “Now we’re learning every skill so that we [can] maintain the scheme ourselves and ensure a reliable water supply. Our work does not stop at digging trenches; we also join men in laying pipes and fixing the facilities.”

Monalisa Nkhonjera is program officer responsible for communication at Water Aid Malawi. She says the involvement of women in “rough and dirty” jobs such as fixing pipes means they can maintain the scheme themselves. They will not need to rely on their husbands or others for help.

Each household contributes the equivalent of 13 cents a month to buy accessories and construct new water points. The community has organized a water user association. The association has a bank account with money that is set aside for the day when Water Aid Malawi hands over the facilities to the community.

Mrs. James thinks the water supply scheme will not collapse again, mostly because women are no longer spectators in the project. She now knows how to repair a tap and where to buy spare parts for the system. She says, “We are doing all we can to learn everything, so that we are able to maintain it ourselves even when the men are not there. An efficient water supply will help us look after our families well.”

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Madagascar: UN Special Rapporteur urges review of sanctions (RFI, African Press Organization)

Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, recently urged the global community to re-examine sanctions against Madagascar. Following a mission to the country, he commented that sanctions are one of the reasons Madagascar is “…on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis.”

Many international organizations have suspended aid to Madagascar since elected president Marc Ravalomanana was toppled in a coup in March 2009. Prior to the political crisis, international aid had accounted for half the country’s budget and funded many development programs. At a press conference in Madagascar’s capital in July, Mr. De Schutter said, “Given the lack of progress and that we don’t see a solution on the political horizon, we need to re-examine the impact of these sanctions on the civil population.”

He continued, “It is not acceptable to take them [civilians] hostage under the pretext of wanting to influence the behaviour of the country’s leaders.”

UN figures show that 76.5 per cent of Madagascar’s population lives under the poverty line and 35 per cent of the rural population are hungry. Mr. De Schutter added, “All food security indicators are in the red.”

Mr. De Schutter noted that before the political crisis, Madagascar was showing potential for developing ecological agriculture. He said, “We know that the system of intensive rice cultivation, a pure Malagasy invention, allows to double, triple or even quadruple [rice] yields.”

Madagascar is currently importing 100,000 to 150,000 tons of rice annually. But, according to Mr. De Schutter, “A national strategy to support this type of ecological production could make the large island self-sufficient in rice in three years.” However, he noted, for this to happen, “the authorities must decide to act.”

For more details on this story, visit: http://www.starafrica.com/en/news/detail-news/view/madagascars-hungry-population-is-taken-179470.html

For more information about the office of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.srfood.org/

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