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Farm Radio Weekly is a news and information service for rural radio broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by Farm Radio International.

African Farm News in Review

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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Composting human waste is a healthy way to reduce disease and feed the soil

Human waste is rarely referred to in conversation. But it is a resource that, when treated and used carefully and properly, can be an effective fertilizer. Collecting and using human waste can also improve general cleanliness in communities and reduce exposure to disease and illness.

This script tells the story of how ECOSAN toilets were used in a prison in Burkina Faso. The compost produced from human waste was used in the prison’s vegetable garden. ECOSAN toilets solved sanitation issues, as well as saving money on fertilizers. Kpénahi Traoré from Burkina Faso wrote this prize-winning script as part of our recent package on healthy communities.

Read the full script here: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/93-1script_en.asp

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South Sudan: Women hope independence brings better maternal care (IPS, Al Jazeera)

Jessicah Foni, aged 36, has eight children. But she lost two babies at birth due to the lack of medical facilities where she lives. She hopes that maternal health care will improve in the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan. She says, “I come from a very remote village that is far away from any medical facility. I have lost two children due to problems related to delivery. Our new government should build hospitals close to us so that we can access medication.”  

South Sudan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. Earlier this year, the UN stated that one in seven South Sudanese women is likely to die because of complications from delivery. Just 10 per cent of South Sudanese women have access to health professionals during childbirth.

Grace Joan, aged 26, is a mother of five. She has never delivered any of her children in hospital. She says, “When my time is due, I just call a neighbour who helps me deliver my children.” She also has high hopes for better health care in South Sudan. She says, “I am happy that we have our freedom, which will enable the government to provide health facilities to all people so that women and children do not die of preventable diseases.”  

Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar is the medical officer in charge of the World Health Organization office for South Sudan. He says that the harsh living conditions, coupled with very limited access to basic health services, contribute to the poor health of the population. Dr. Abubakar says only 25 per cent of South Sudanese have access to medical facilities.

The most common diseases reported in health facilities are preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea.  Preventable diseases are common and dangerous in children. Dr. Abubakar says, “Preventable infectious diseases and malnutrition are the most common causes of morbidity and mortality for children under five years of age.”  

The newest country in Africa has big plans. Dr. Olivia Lomoro is the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Health. She said the government has drafted a five-year National Health Framework, in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The framework commits government to addressing the acute shortage of medical personnel and facilities. A new hospital is planned for the capital city of Juba, and new medical schools will open in each of South Sudan’s ten states.

In the short term, South Sudan’s health care system cannot cope with the demand. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international medical NGO, about 80 per cent of the medical care in South Sudan is provided by international aid groups. Many South Sudanese in rural areas must walk for days to reach a clinic.

For women like Jessicah Foni and Grace Joan, new health care facilities in their new country cannot come soon enough.

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Mali: Traditional healers join fight against malnutrition (IRIN)

No one can tell 64-year-old Fatoumata Kané anything new about the plants and tree bark around her town of Banamba in western Mali. But the traditional healer recently learned something new: how to detect malnutrition by measuring a child’s upper arm. 

Many families bring ailing children to Mrs. Kané each week. She is renowned in the region for her healing powers. But now she refers suspected malnutrition cases to the public health centre. Mrs. Kané believes that traditional and modern medicine can function well together. She says, “I have practiced for more than 20 years now; the gift I have for healing is not going anywhere. But modern medicine can complement it, and vice versa.” 

Oumou Sangaré is a local health agent who works with Helen Keller International, a health-focused NGO.  In the fight against child malnutrition, NGOs are tapping into the public trust granted to traditional healers and local elders.

Mrs. Sangaré said she first approached Mrs. Kané because too many malnourished children in Banamba were not getting the medical attention they needed. 

Mrs. Kané was hesitant at first, but then agreed to talk. They met several times to talk about children’s health. Mrs. Sangaré explained to Mrs. Kané the role she could play in detecting malnutrition and helping children get the care they need. “Now she’s had training and she’s helping us detect cases of malnutrition.” 

When illness strikes in sub-Saharan Africa, many people’s first move is to visit the local healer.  A doctor in Sierra Leone, who requested anonymity, said, “It is always people’s first choice here. It’s a custom people are addicted to.” 

As well as being a custom, it is often the only health care people can afford or access. In some countries in Africa, 80 per cent of people depend on traditional medicine for primary health care, according to the World Health Organization.

Traditional healers and older women already have people’s confidence. Vanessa Dickey is senior nutritionist with Helen Keller International in Mali. She thinks that collaborating with local healers means that more children who need medical care will get it. Ms. Dickey says, “Targeting just mothers can get us only so far. People are going to listen to a traditional healer or a grandmother.”

Traditional medicine is effective for many ailments. But health workers say that child malnutrition is untreatable with traditional medicine. If a parent does not understand the signs, symptoms and causes, various other conditions might be suspected.

Nurses and doctors say it is common to see families consult both a traditional practitioner and a doctor. 
The Sierra Leonean doctor says, “It can be OK if people go to both, but only if the traditional healer is competent and knows the limits of his or her capabilities.” 

Ms. Dickey agrees that it is not a question of ruling out traditional practitioners. She says, “They can continue to do follow-up. [But] we do urge them not to give malnourished children herbs or teas to consume.” She explains that the body of a malnourished child is really “in chaos.” Some plants, which might not harm another person, could be dangerous for a malnourished child. 

Seeing a recovered and healthy child is the most powerful publicity. Mrs. Kané says, “My role is to lighten mothers’ hearts by helping heal sick children.” The collaboration works because everyone wants to see sick children recover. As Mrs. Kané says, “When a child is healthy, the mother is relieved and things go better in the household.”

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Republic of Congo-Brazzaville: Elephants prevent farming in Bomassa (by Privat T. Massanga, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Congo Brazzaville)

Bomassa is a village deep in the forests of northern Congo. Walking along the path towards the village, a visitor is struck by the lack of agricultural fields. The area is fertile, but there are only a few fruit trees to be seen. Villagers do not take advantage of the good soils, or the waters of the Sangha River. The main reason is the large and intrusive population of elephants. 

Bomassa is located on the edge of the Nouabalé Ndoki National Park, on the border with Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Many people sit around idly here.  In the part of the village known as Bon coin, men, women and children sit in huts. Some drink palm wine or alcohol made from maize; others just busy themselves with doing nothing. 

Gaston Gbobolo is village chief. He says, “As you can see, everyone in the village is sitting around. Apart from fishing and hunting at night, we have no activities during the day.” When asked about the reason for this lack of activity, Gaston Gbobolo replies, “Here, you cannot grow crops due to elephants. Plantations are ravaged each year. You cannot maintain a garden or field for several years.” As a result, villagers’ diets lack variety. Fishing and hunting is seasonal: when the Sangha River is low, fish are scarce. Hunting of forest animals is banned or regulated according to the season.

The situation is the same in the town of Kabo, about fifty kilometres from Bomassa. Otsangué is a 70-year-old man who lives in Kabo. He noticed the problem more than a decade ago. He says, “Before, we were not faced with the problem of elephants. I moved here almost 50 years ago. It is only in recent years that we are starving because of the elephants.”

The number of elephants in the region has increased thanks to conservation efforts in the national park. Today, the elephants live in the same area as humans. This closeness threatens the survival of the village. It is almost impossible to grow anything. People rely on neighbouring countries for food. Staple foods such as cassava, plantain and maize can be bought in Cameroon or the Central African Republic. But the nearest villages are two days away by canoe. And when goods reach Bomassa, they are sold at two or three times the original price. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society is an international NGO involved in managing the park. Some time ago, it offered the villagers alternative activities such as snail farming. But the activities were not well-planned and failed. While the villagers are fond of eating snails, they did not see the need for snail farming as it is easy to find snails in the forest.  

As a last resort, people have turned to the authorities. Farmers suggested culling a significant number of elephants. Jean-Claude Metsampitso works with the Ecosystem Management Program of the national park. For him, this is not the solution. He believes that, “The killing of fully protected animals is not an option.” 

The villagers are frustrated with the elephants, but more so with the government. Otsangué is disappointed at the official response. He explains, “What annoys us most is the silence of our authorities. One gets the impression that they [would] prefer to see us starve because the elephants are more important to them than we the people of this land-locked area.” Tourists visit the national park, and the villagers receive some of the money generated. But it is only enough for basic needs.

Despite everything, the villagers refuse to abandon their land. Gaston Gbobolo says, “We cannot leave our village because of the elephants. Our history is here.” But how long can they carry on?

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Burundi: Tea producers sell to private company against State advice (Desiré Nshimirimana for Farm Radio Weekly in Burundi)

The normally calm tea-producing hills of Burundi lost their calm in recent months. The reason: refusal by tea producers to sell their products to the Office de Thé Burundais (OTB), the longstanding state-run buyer of tea. They prefer to sell to Prothem, a local private company that buys tea leaves at a higher price.

In Burundi, 78% of tea plantations are owned by small-scale farmers. Tea is the second biggest cash crop in the country after coffee. It accounts for 10 to 15% of the national GDP. Growing tea is an important source of income for more than 60,000 households in upland areas.

Générose Sindakira is a tea producer in the Kibimba hills, in the central province of Mwaro. He explains, “I will sell my tea to whoever gives me the most money. Between the 200 FBU (US$0.16) offered by Prothem and the 140 FBU (US$0.12) offered by the OTB, the choice is clear. Just let us sell our tea to whomever we want and stop sending police officers after us.”

Last April, police fired shots in the air in a tea-producing region in central-western Burundi to scare off tea leaf traders who were dealing with Prothem. The discord began when Prothem opened a processing plant in April of this year.

Producers see many advantages in selling to Prothem. Their leaves are processed more quickly and they get a better purchase price with no holdback to repay farmer loans. On top of that, weighing and calculating is more accurate, farmers are paid more quickly, and Prothem provides service on weekends.

Juvénal Nsavyimana also grows tea. He bitterly remembers when he used to deal with OTB: “Every time, they retained 30 FBU per kilogram for loan repayment. We never knew when [we] were finished paying. They gave us other credits before we even finished paying the first. Even more revolting was how they would, for example, note that you had 10 kilograms on your seller’s sheet even though the scale indicated 10.5 kilograms.”

Competition is fierce between Prothem and OTB purchase points in Gatare, ten kilometres from the processing factory. In two hours, OTB buyers purchase two kilograms while Prothem’s buyers get 50. “Ever since our competitors are taking the tea leaves from us, we’re bored waiting for customers who do not come,” said an OTB buyer who requested anonymity. Customers continue to bring tea leaves to the OTB, but most are just waiting to pay off their fertilizer debt before switching to Prothem.

This switch worries the government. They are afraid that OTB-run plants will not survive. Odette Kayitesi is the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock. Last May, she said, “This is unacceptable and we call on the Minister of the Interior to crack down and suspend the activities of this [Prothem] plant that threatens the operation of our plants.”

But no official action has been taken so far. Local police have been told by government officials to chase away Prothem trucks that try to purchase and collect tea along village roads. But farmers now supply the Prothem factory by bringing their leaves in baskets which they carry on their heads or on their bicycles.

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Somalia: Farmers and pastoralists fleeing drought need both short- and long-term solutions (VOA, BBC, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian)

Kaltun Nur is an elderly Somalian woman. She fled her home in western Somalia to seek help in Mogadishu. Mrs. Nur says, “We endured hunger and we waited for the rains. Our livestock died and we had a farm. We were forced to sell so we can travel to Mogadishu. By that time, we were eating grass.”

Mrs. Nur is not the only one to flee her home. Fardosa Farah says she walked for 25 days to get to the Dadaab refugee camp in neighbouring Kenya. She explains, “This drought wiped out everything we had. If there’s anybody willing to remain there [Somalia], then I think it is just attempted suicide.”

While some walked, others like 56-year-old Hussain Mohamed Ibrahim travelled on an overcrowded truck, along with his two wives and nine children. Mr. Ibrahim lost all 40 of his cows to the drought. He says he had no choice but to leave. He sold his only camel to fund the journey to the Kenyan border.

This is the situation faced by tens of thousands of Somalis who left everything behind to seek help in Mogadishu and in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. The drought has been described by the United Nations as the worst to strike the Horn of Africa in six decades.

Relief is slowly trickling into a countrya wracked by war and drought. On July 13th, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Children’s Fund confirmed that a shipment including “medicines, nutrition and water-related supplies” was flown into the town of Baidoa. The aid is destined for severely malnourished Somali children, according to the Voice of America news agency.

Earlier this onth, the Islamist group al-Shabab stated that it welcomed the return of humanitarian groups to the areas it controls. In 2009, UNICEF had suspended air deliveries because of threats from the group. The World Food Program also withdrew in 2010, but is looking to return to al-Shabab-controlled southern Somalia.

While immediate relief is very much needed, more will need to be done. Nigel Harris is CEO of the NGO Farm-Africa. He says that short-term emergency relief has to be provided in conjunction with longer-term strategies that enable people to cope with drought and failed harvests.

Changes to weather patterns in recent years mean that farmers in East Africa are increasingly unable to predict when or if the rainy season will begin. Mr. Harris says farmers must be supported to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

For example, Farm-Africa is currently working with communities in Kenya. They are advising them on which crops to plant, and encouraging farmers to move away from maize. Maize doesn’t grow well with too little or too much water. Instead, they advise farmers to grow millet, sorghum or pigeon peas, which are more resilient in dryer climates.

In Ethiopia, Farm Africa is introducing drip irrigation to avoid wasting water and ensure that water is better directed to the root of the crop.

Political solutions are also needed to improve farmers and pastoralists’ lives. Ongoing fighting has reduced Somalis’ ability to cope with disaster. Paul O’Brien has worked in Somalia for 25 years and is overseas director with Concern Worldwide. He says, “Where there’s conflict, you don’t have stable communities.”

Concern Worldwide transfers cash donations of 50 to 100 US dollars to those in need. According to Mr. O’Brien, it is not an absence of food that causes the problem, but rather lack of access to food. This is often the case during severe food shortages. Many in the arid regions hit by the drought watched their animals die from lack of water. The severe drought meant that pastoralists like Mr. Ibrahim and his family who fled to Kenya were unable to sell their animals when times got tough.

But it’s not just the combination of climate change, consecutive bad harvests, rising food prices and conflict that affects farmers and pastoralists so heavily. Claire Hancock is disaster management project officer for East and Central Africa with the NGO Tearfund. She says that, for real improvement to occur, longer-term issues such as access to markets, soil erosion, and land tenure must be addressed.

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Uganda: Finding space for urban farming (Daily Monitor)

Charles Kwebingira tends to his vegetables on a plot behind the petrol station on Jinja Road in Kampala, Uganda. Customers call to him through the wire fence. He puts down his hoe to sell them some vegetables. His urban farm stall is always full with greens, eggplants or tomatoes. A typical day for Mr. Kwebingira consists of digging and attending to customers. He says, “People like buying from me because I sell them fresh vegetables.”

When Mr. Kwebingira was laid off from the Uganda Railways Corporation, he did not walk away cursing. Instead, he approached the management and asked them to rent him railway land to grow vegetables.

He had grown crops on railway land while he was still employed, so he found it easy to ask for more. He says, “They charged me one million Uganda shillings for two years [about US$380] and I started working.” They did not charge him for the third year because they longer needed to pay for people to clear the land. Mr. Kwebingira now farms just less than a hectare and makes around 10,000 shillings per day, or nearly US$4.

Mr. Kwebingira has discovered advantages to urban farming. He does not have to pay to transport his produce to market. He does not have to involve middlemen because he sells directly to his customers. And he is not bothered by Kampala City Council because he sells his products from inside his fenced garden.

Another thing that keeps a smile on his face is the fact that he is not limited by seasons. He sells vegetables from his stall every day of the year. He plans carefully and plants in stages: as one egg plant is germinating, another is flowering and yet another is ready to harvest. He says, “There are even times when they are so many that they get wasted.”

Though everything appears blissful for this city farmer, Mr. Kwebingira faces challenges. Because his garden is in the city centre, it attracts many thieves. A private security guard from a nearby bank has been helping him patrol his garden, but the thieves keep coming. And if he apprehends them, it costs him money. He says, “Whenever I … took them to [the] police, policemen always asked me to feed them until the time they would be remanded to prison. And I had to pay 10,000 Ugandan shillings for their transportation to the prison.”

He also has to bargain with his customers. He explains, “Because customers see that I grow the vegetables myself, they always want me to sell them many things cheaply. But I always tell them that I have to sell at the market price because farm inputs are very high.”

But Mr. Kwebingira does not regret his urban farming venture. He says, “I get some money to use on a daily basis. I am paying school fees for my five children and I also bought a piece of land in Kabale which I hope to develop very soon.”

Mr. Kwebingira says he is weak these days, after a long time farming. But he shows little sign of slowing down. He has just finished digging a small dam to provide water for his crops. He has also started to use fertilizers. And he is currently preparing another garden on the other side of the railway line.

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Burkina Faso: Cotton growers gain some victories and many promises (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

Cotton production resumed quietly in the small town of Sara after farmers won a victory in their fight with SOFITEX, the leading company in Burkina Faso which buys and processes cotton. Sara lies 280 kilometres west of the capital, Ouagadougou. Local farmers now weed contentedly under the hot sun after returning to their fields.

Domboué Lawrence is president of the union of cotton farmers in Sara. He said: “We got some of the things we were asking for. We are working in the cotton fields again.”

Residents of Samandéni, 120 kilometres further west, are also enthusiastic about having their demands met. The village cotton producer group has increased the area planted to cotton. Noufou Dabo is the treasurer of the group. He explains: “We are all prepared to produce more than last season. Already we have gone from 90 hectares sown in 2010, to 105 hectares this season.”

The renewed interest in cotton contrasts with the violent protests in June. Some farmers threatened not to produce the valuable fibre this year. But others had already planted and did not support abandoning the crop. Angry farmers destroyed some of the newly-planted fields. Police intervened to prevent them from pulling up all the young cotton plants.

A wave of protests rocked Burkina Faso between February and June this year. Taking advantage of this, growers demanded improvements in the cotton industry.

One demand concerned the price of key inputs. Valentin Bonzi is a cotton producer in Kosso, in the west of the country. In May, he said, “We demand that the old prices take effect. We used to pay 13,200 CFA for a bag of fertilizer. Today, the same bag costs 16,000 CFA. A bag of urea is sold at 19,000 CFA today. Four years ago it cost 14,200 CFA.”

The producers also demanded payment of 255 CFA per kilogram of cotton. They currently receive 245. They called for the departure of SOFITEX’s director, Celestine Tiendrébéogo. Cotton farmers charge that Mr. Tiendrébéogo’s behaviour is insulting. They claim he has treated them like thieves who are trying to bring down the industry.

Farmers accused the government of failing to address their concerns. Faced with the discontent of the country’s most important agricultural sector, the government pledged support. The new Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture have met many times with cotton producers.

The government is now taking steps to appease the farmers’ anger. Celestin Tiendrébéogo, who was head of SOFITEX for 16 years, was removed from office. Inputs such as fertilizer and urea have been subsidized.

Farmers welcomed these steps. Noufou Dabo, the producer from Samandéni, said: “The Prime Minister has shown goodwill by dismissing Celestin and lowering input costs.” 

In addition, the Prime Minister has promised to increase the selling price of cotton and reduce input costs for next season. But Noufou Dabo warns, “For now, we feel that we won, but if he does not keep his promises, we will implement our threats.”

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Kenya: Import of GM crops legalized (Nairobi Star, Reuters, BBC, AllAfrica.com)

Kenya has approved laws that allow the importation of genetically-modified (GM) maize. It is the fourth African country to allow GM crops, after South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso. The National Biosafety Authority approved a law that ended restrictions on the import of GM maize. The law came into effect on July 1st. 

The Kenyan government anticipates a shortfall of nearly 15 million 90-kilogram bags of maize in the 2011/12 season. Drought is the main cause of the shortage. Six flour millers have closed their doors. Pembe Flour Mills Ltd. is Kenya’s second biggest miller. It ceased production of flour for a 12-day stretch. Abdulmajid Mohamed is a local manager with Pembe. He says, “We have a lot of orders pending  … but we cannot supply.” The millers want to import cheaper GM maize to cope with the shortages.

Now that this is possible, farmers and environmentalists are protesting in Nairobi. When news broke that the government was planning to lift restrictions on GM crops, hundreds of people marched in the Kenyan capital. The African Biodiversity Network and Unga Revolution organized the march. Gacheke Gachihi attended the protest. He said, “The importation of GM maize is a ploy by leading millers to kill us – the small-scale farmer.” 

Anne Maina is the advocacy officer with the African Biodiversity Network. She says, “We can easily import GMO-free maize from Malawi and Zambia, who had a bumper harvest last season.”

Professor James Ochanda is director of the University of Nairobi’s Centre for Biotechnology and Bio-informatics. He says that GM crops are safe, adding, “The anti-GMO proponents are prophets of doom who are not keen to improve the country’s food security situation.”

Protestors claim that a consignment of GM maize is already sitting at the port in Mombasa. The protestors want it destroyed or returned to South Africa. Mr. John Mututho is chair of the Kenyan Parliament’s agriculture committee. He confirmed that the consignment is at the port, and does not favour the import of GM foods. He said he would inspect the consignment, adding, “We are totally opposed to this toxic product.”

Dr. Roy Mugiira is head of the National Biosafety Authority. He said all GM imports will need permits and will be tested once in Kenya. The permits given to millers will ensure that all imported GM maize is milled and distributed for human consumption. It will not be used as seed. By contrast, in 2002, Zambia rejected GM food aid.

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Madagascar: Village banks change lives (by Patrick Andrisoa Andriamihaja for Farm Radio Weekly in Madagascar)

Vero Mampianina and her husband are farmers in Vakinankaratra, a village 170 kilometres from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. For six years they have been depositing money in their village savings bank. The couple is pleased with what they have achieved so far. Mr. Mampianina says, “It was good that we saved the money or we would never have been able to buy [a] cart and oxen.” Now the couple plan to expand their farming operations.

Around Vakinankaratra, many farmers save part of the money they earn from selling their produce. Some, like Raharinoro Ivone and her husband, have even managed to build farms. For the past ten years, they have saved 30,000 ariary each month, about 15 US dollars, which is three-quarters of their monthly earnings. The couple was able to realize their dream of owning livestock. Ivone says, ”Our savings have allowed us to purchase eleven cattle and build three new barns.”

Many other farmers have begun new activities. Raharivelo Masy is making pottery. She says, “My husband and I saved 20,000 ariary (about ten US dollars) [each month] for a year and a half. We managed to buy a lathe and some tools.” The couple makes about 20 flower pots per day. She adds, “We sell them for a good price each week.” Other farmers have started beekeeping, fish farming and raising poultry. Some women have set up workshops equipped with sewing machines.

The Malagasy government collaborated with the French organization FERT and the national NGO FIFATA to establish the village bank system. Village banks are decentralized and managed by farmers’ organizations. After farmers from Vakinankaratra were trained, they established twenty village banks, with over 10,000 members.

Each village bank is governed by regulations established by their farmer members, and requires a membership fee. Regulations vary from bank to bank. Farmers pay 1,000 ariary to open an account, a price they find affordable. The fees go towards the bank’s operating costs. Each bank is managed independently. If a bank has problems, the farmers’ organization that operates it tries to find a solution. The government and the NGOs intervene only when farmers ask for their help.

Previously, farmers in Vakinankaratra and the surrounding communities had few resources and opportunities. Only the most deprived municipalities benefited from grants given by local and international NGOs. Others had to depend on basic tools and hard work. Agriculture, livestock and handicrafts were slow to develop. But since the first village bank opened in 1986, farmers in Vakinankaratra have succeeded in improving their lives.

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Rwanda: Fishing is also women’s business (Syfia Grands Lacs)

A woman paddling a canoe no longer arouses curiosity in eastern Rwanda. While still not a common sight, you can readily spot women wearing orange life jackets and sitting alongside men, paddling canoes and fishing on Lake Rwakibare. This small revolution is well accepted by men.

The women fishers are happy to practice a profession that was at one time reserved for men. One woman says, “We start at 7 a.m. and leave around noon. Afterwards, we take care of other activities such as farming and housework.”

Lake Rwakibare is a small body of water in Kayonza district in eastern Rwanda, near the Tanzanian border. Most people who live near the lake come from other places, including former Rwandan refugees from Tanzania or Uganda. Rwandans from the north of the country come looking for land. Upon arrival, some begin to farm and raise livestock. Others choose to fish in their new home. And this includes the women.

Fortunée Nyiransabimana is a fisher. She says, “Before, we could not imagine that a woman could fish. But in 2005, we dared to try it.” She says they did not intend to compete with their husbands, but to contribute to the family. But not all women want to go out in canoes. One 50-year-old woman says, “At my age … I prefer to sell the fish.”

Claudine Mukeshimana, her life jacket on her back, proudly tells her story: “Before, my husband went fishing and I worked in the fields. I did not want to be a burden to him. I asked him to teach me his job. And here I am among the best.” She says that skilled women are as good as men: “Some catch more fish than men. They can earn 30,000 Rwandan francs (50 US dollars) per month, and they also work in their fields in the afternoon.”

Men do not object. Ildefonso Mugemana remarks, “If women are traders and entrepreneurs, why can’t they be fishers?”

Everyone who fishes in the lake or sells fish is registered with and belongs to a co-operative. The president of the co-operative says, “We currently have over 260 members, including more than fifty women.” All members agreed to let women join. The president says, “Why should women expect their husbands to provide everything? In addition, current government policy requires that women are involved in all sectors, and that includes fishing.”

Everyone who fishes pays an annual insurance fee of 12,000 Rwandan francs (20 US dollars) to cover accidents. The president of the co-operative says, “Three fishermen lost their lives in the water. Two of them have already received one million [Rwandan francs] in benefits.”

The women’s efforts are well-rewarded. Fortunée says, “Each time I sell fish, I save some money. I saved 350,000 Rwandan francs (about 585 US dollars). Thanks to this, I have bought some land.” With her next catch, she plans to buy a new motorbike.

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Global: Rinderpest eradicated (FAO)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization formally announced last week that rinderpest has been eradicated.

Rinderpest is also known as cattle plague. It is a contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle and buffalo. Epidemics of rinderpest have killed millions of cattle worldwide, resulting in hunger and poverty.

Bernard Vallat is Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health. He said, “Today we witness a historical event as rinderpest is the first animal disease ever to be eradicated by humankind.”

Ann Tutwiler is FAO Deputy Director-General (Knowledge). She said, “With the eradication of the disease in live animals, livestock production around the globe has become safer and the livelihoods of millions of livestock farmers are less at risk.”

Rinderpest eradication was achieved through global efforts and with strong support from governments, donors and international institutions. The rinderpest virus still exists in laboratories for the production of vaccines, or should the disease reappear.

For more information, visit: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/80894/icode/

For further discussion on the eradication of the disease, see:

-‘FAO declares rinderpest vanquished’ https://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/its-official-fao-declares-rinderpest-vanquished/

-‘Analysis: Local wisdom key to combating animal diseases’


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Rwanda: Tea co-operatives promote unity (IFAD)

IFAD photo by S. Beccio. Smallholder Cash and Export Crops Development Project. Tea pickers working in a field in Nshili, Nyaruguru, Rwanda

Bernadette Mukamazimpaka was the only member of her family to survive the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She says, “When I finished high school, the genocide happened. Everything was destroyed. The tea fields grew wild. I was lucky to survive.” She began growing tea in 1997. Now she farms one hectare of tea in Nshili, southern Rwanda.   

Nshili is poorly suited to growing food crops because the soil is acidic. But fortunately for Bernadette, tea thrives here. She and other farmers rejuvenated the tea fields. In 2008, the Nshili tea factory opened. The factory was built as a public-private venture between investors and the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD. Bernadette says, “Since the arrival of the factory, every villager has been able to grow tea. That is why I too have a hectare of tea today.”

The villagers formed the Nshili-Kivu tea producers co-operative.  With assistance from IFAD, the cooperative has a 15 per cent share in the factory. This has helped to build trust between the locals and the factory’s investors.

Michael Kanyongo is the factory manager. He says, “When you put up a factory like this … there could be a lot of suspicion.” But co-operative members serve on the factory’s board, and the management reports to them. Mr. Kanyongo says, “We have not had the tug-of-war we normally see between farmers and companies in other places.”

And the co-operative serves a social purpose, according to Bernadette. She says, “The co-operative is helping people here to achieve unity and reconciliation. Everyone experienced what happened here in our country; we know that divisions shattered the lives of Rwandans. So now in joining together, it helps us to rebuild our lives.”

Faustin Mazimzaka is president of the tea producers co-operative. He agrees with Bernadette, saying, “As regards unity and reconciliation, tea-growing has a role to play. Burundians have a saying: ‘Go to sleep with hunger and you wake up with hatred.’ So whenever there is tea-growing going on, people don’t worry about what to eat.”

Bernadette’s tea bushes are still young. They will be ready for harvest next year. She is content that the co-operative works with the factory. She says, “Now we have a place to take it [the tea]. Whatever quantity we grow, we know there will be no problem.”

She is able to look forward to a better future, saying, “The income from my own tea means that I will be able to send my children to school. And eventually they will be able to inherit the tea, because you know, tea grows forever.”  

And because the co-operative plans to double its production, the chances are that its members will grow a lot more tea in the future.

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Malawi: How making juice can save a forest (IPS)

Tedson Kameta is a member of the Village Hands co-operative in Neno District, southern Malawi. He used to chop down and burn trees to make charcoal. But now, as part of the co-operative, he harvests wild fruit and makes juice for a growing domestic market. Mr. Kameta says, “Until around 2000, people here didn’t know that we could benefit from this forest in a more profitable way while also sustaining it.”

In Malawi, 95 per cent of rural households use firewood for energy. The Zalewa forest in Neno District has long been under pressure from people seeking wood for fuel. Forests in Malawi are disappearing fast.

The tamarind tree is widespread in the Zalewa forest. Tamarind produces a durable charcoal that burns for a long time. Local people have traditionally soaked tamarind and baobab in water to make a beverage. David Zuzanani is operations manager for Village Hands. He says that until a project came to the area in 1996, the villagers had no idea that they could develop that drink into a commercial enterprise.

Mr. Zuzanani says, “As soon as people realized they could make money out of juice and the fruits, they started raising awareness in their areas to protect the forest.”

The co-operative now bottles up to 10,000 litres of juice each month. The beverages have been approved for sale by the Malawi Bureau of Standards. The juice sells for the equivalent of one and a half U.S. dollars in major supermarkets and at service stations. Average sales are two thousand dollars per month. The co-operative employs 11 local workers full-time in its one-room factory.

Production is done by hand. Workers soak fruit in three large containers before pasteurizing it and straining it to remove the pulp. One innovative technique extracts additional nutrients from baobab seeds to give one juice a distinctive taste and brown colour.

The co-operative buys all its fruit from villagers. In 2008, Mr. Kameta made one hundred dollars from selling his baobab fruit. With the money, he bought three goats and feed for his dairy cow. Last year, he harvested 40 bags of baobab fruit and made two hundred dollars profit. He plans to buy an oxcart and start raising guinea fowl.

Village Hands is managed by 14 trustees, including village chiefs. When profits are good, the villages share the returns and finance local projects chosen by the trustees. Mr. Zuzanani says, “Some villages have chosen orphan care centres. We have financed several such small projects. But we intend to grow the business so that we can finance bigger projects such as boreholes and school blocks.”

In spite of progress, charcoal production is still a big problem in the area. Forests close to populated areas are protected, and villagers guard them. But forests further away are still being cut for charcoal. Mr. Zuzanani says, “Those people [who chop down forests] have money and they can corrupt anyone. Chiefs are working hard to stop this, but we also need the forestry department to help us.”

A forestry official confirmed the corruption. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said it was difficult for his department to control the trade. “Government says [charcoal] traders should be arrested. That’s not practical. There is no law for that.” The official also said there are powerful individuals in the trade who would get staff fired if they caused trouble.

The villagers believe the co-operative is the best way to reduce poverty in the area. Belita Ngomano owns a small grocery shop near the juice factory. She and her husband opened the shop in 2009 with capital raised partly from selling tamarind fruits to the factory. She says, “The factory is the best tool to improve living conditions for many people here, if it can grow. So we hope government sees what we’re doing and gets these [charcoal] merchants out.”

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Congo-Brazzaville: Brazil donates maize to DRC refugees in Congo (AllAfrica, ReliefWeb, ICRC)

In October 2009, nearly 115,000 people fled violence in the Equateur province of northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo. They crossed the river Oubangui and found refuge in Likouala, on the other side of the border in the Republic of the Congo.

The country called for international assistance with the refugees from DR Congo. Brazil recently responded by donating 200 tonnes of maize, at a cost of approximately $200,000 US dollars. Paulo A.V. Wolowski is the Brazilian ambassador to the Republic of the Congo. He announced, “Through this donation, we want to relieve the suffering of the many refugees in Likouala. Brazil will continue its efforts for these populations in distress.”

Residents of the department of Likouala have received assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross as they struggle to cope with the influx of refugees. Bernard Metraux is head of the Red Cross mission in Congo. He says, “Residents of the region made a remarkable effort to welcome their brothers from the other bank of the Oubangi River.”

The maize was obtained by the World Food Programme (WFP), which purchased it from farmers in the Congo’s southern department of Bouenza. It is ready and waiting to be transported north to Likouala. Mr. Wolowski praised the efforts of WFP and local maize farmers. “It is the first time in the Congo,” he said, “that sufficient maize could be grown in Bouenza for this purpose. This has helped to increase farmers’ incomes.” 

June 20 was the 11th World Refugee Day. Mahamat Ali is head of the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He praised the hospitality of the Congolese people and government, who have always agreed to host foreigners fleeing violence in their countries.

Brazil joins countries such as the USA, Sweden, Canada and France in donating emergency food aid through the WFP. The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was recently awarded the 2011 World Food Prize for his efforts in alleviating hunger and poverty in Brazil.

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Kenya: Re-discovering cassava during drought (IPS, Daily Nation)

 Now that she grows cassava instead of maize, Jemima Mueni has enough food to last until the end of the year. She also has enough money to pay school fees for her children, despite the current drought. But many of her neighbours in the village of Wolile in Makueni County, eastern Kenya, are not in the same position. Some people in this semi-arid region are already relying on food relief.

The drought was declared a national disaster in June. The long rains failed in most arid and semi-arid districts, with dry spells of up to three weeks after the onset of the rains. The government expects that more than 3.5 million Kenyans will require food relief until September.

Mrs. Mueni started increasing her cassava planting in 2010 when she learned of its benefits from her self- help group. Although cassava is not new to the region, the members of the Kituluni Farmers Self Help group have re-discovered its value. She says, “We have learnt how to cook and eat both cassava leaves and tubers, make flour from dried tubers for domestic and commercial consumption, [and make] snacks and crisps from the tubers.”

Mrs. Mueni has always known that cassava is a drought-resistant crop, but never bothered to grow it. She explains, “Until three years ago it was a stigmatized crop … local residents [believed] that it is a crop for extremely poor and desperate people.” As a result, people grew no more than 10 cassava plants on their farms.

But Mrs. Mueni and her husband, Samuel Mukonza, have stopped growing maize in order to concentrate on cassava, which grows all year round. Mr. Mukonza says, “So far, we have just one acre [about half a hectare] under cassava, with 540 stems.” The couple decided to plant cassava after they failed to harvest a single grain of maize from a two hectare piece of land following a drought in 2010.

In 2006, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) launched a project to promote cassava as a food security and commercial crop. The project is called Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Land management.

John Wambua is the project’s principal investigator. He says, “We selected nine improved cassava varieties from the KARI root and tuber research program for multiplication, after which more than two million improved cassava planting materials were distributed to the farmers through commercial villages.”  “Commercial villages” is a concept initiated by the project. They are composed of several existing self-help groups whose members have expressed an interest in cassava farming.

Members are given access to processing equipment such as milling machines. The groups sell a kilogram of cassava flour for just over one dollar, and demand is growing. One self-help group operates a food kiosk at Mbuvi market in Makueni County. They sell foods made from cassava, including chapattis, ugali (a dough-like meal made with water and flour) and crisps. Some meals are served with cassava leaves. Rose Matheka is the group’s production supervisor. She says, “Selling it as ready-made food gives us three to four times more money.”

With its success in eastern Kenya, the commercialization of cassava is now being promoted in other semi-arid parts of the country.

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Rwanda: Powering homes with cow dung (AlertNet)

Mix three buckets of cow dung with an equal amount of water. That’s the recipe Francine Musanabera follows every day to produce the energy she needs to run her home in Gasabo, 30 kilometres south of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Mrs. Musanabera is a schoolteacher as well as a farmer. She says, “It gives me two hours of gaslight and six hours of cooking gas every day.” She was one of the first Rwandans to equip her property with a biogas installation. The installation converts methane from decomposing animal waste into power.

Only 10 per cent of Rwanda’s population of over 10 million is connected to the national electricity grid. Power cables run directly over Mrs. Musanabera’s modest house and garden. In this village, no one is connected to the grid. “Too expensive,” she says.

Over 90 per cent of Rwandans cook with wood, charcoal or kerosene. These fuels pollute the environment and deplete the country’s forests. The government had hoped to help 15,000 households set up biogas systems by 2012, but has extended that ambitious timeline to 2015. Today, almost 1,000 homes have a biogas installation. 

Each system costs nearly 1,300 US dollars, with the government providing a subsidy of approximately 500 dollars. Households can save money by supplying sand and stones to build the underground receptacle, and by helping to construct it themselves. They can also negotiate special low-interest bank loans.

Mrs. Musanabera had to think twice before investing in biogas on her small plot. She says, “It involved a lot of money. But now three years later, I am so glad I did it. It changed our lives.”

She explains, “My children can study at night and do not have to inhale the bad fumes of kerosene lamps. I save money because I hardly need to buy kerosene and charcoal for cooking. And biogas makes cooking so much faster.”

The easy part for most Rwandans is supplying the animal waste needed to produce the biogas. Under a government scheme, each poor family receives one cow, whose first calf must be donated to another poor neighbour.

Since it became known that livestock produce the greenhouse gas methane through their digestive processes, the government has been trying to limit the country’s cattle population. One solution is to channel the methane they emit into biogas installations to produce much-needed energy. 

Another benefit of the biogas system is the liquid fertilizer left over at the end of the biogas generation process. Mrs. Musanabera applies it to her small vegetable garden, where she grows beans, bananas and tomatoes.

She says, “The yield of my garden has almost doubled since I’ve been using the fertilizer. So I also save because I have to buy less food in the market.”

The government has launched an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the possibilities of biogas. Though Rwanda is a small country, most people in remote areas have not heard about this green source of energy, nor the financial help the government is offering to encourage citizens to use it.

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Democratic Republic of Congo: Cooler houses with bamboo roofs (Syfia Grands Lacs)

Lemba is a small town in the west part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One part of the town has earned the name madiadiMadiadi means bamboo in the local dialect. Many houses in this part of town have bamboo roofs. 

Bamboo roofs began appearing in Lemba and other villages in Bas-Congo province in the last few years.

Roger Buanga is from the village of Patu, near Boma, the second largest city in the province. He describes these houses as “A breath of fresh air.” Bamboo roofs are less expensive than the metal sheets commonly used for roofing. It can be suffocatingly hot inside a house with a metal roof. But houses with bamboo roofs stay cool inside.

Bamboo is common in this forested region, and provides an inexpensive alternative to hot and stuffy houses. Noella Poba lives in a house with a bamboo roof. She says, “Nature gives us everything. People who buy tin roofs are just losing their money.”

But environmentalists fear that bamboo’s growing popularity will result in huge quantities being cut. They urge people to use bamboo responsibly. Bamboo roots hold the soil and help prevent soil erosion. Anderson Mavungu represents the provincial Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. He advises, “We have to stop the unregulated and uncontrolled cutting [of bamboo] if we are to avoid a catastrophe later.”

Despite these warnings, bamboo roofs are replacing straw roofs. Straw roofs provide cool housing, but often leak unless well-maintained or replaced. It is now possible to find small brick houses with bamboo roofs. These are effective at keeping inhabitants cool and dry. Barnabé Pembele lives in the village of Mvululu, near Kasangulu. He says, ”Since I discovered this idea, I got rid of my straw house that leaked when it rained. Now I sleep peacefully.”

Building a bamboo roof is similar to building a tiled roof. Edmond Kimpioka built a large house with a bamboo roof. He says, “We start by cutting bamboo from the forest. The poles are then dried in the sun until they lose their green colour.”

Once the poles are dry, each pole is cut in half lengthwise. One row of bamboo poles is laid with the hollow part facing upwards. Other poles are placed lengthwise on top, hollow side down, so that the top poles rest in the hollows of the bottom poles. The poles thus interlink to make the roof waterproof. The whole construction is bound together with ropes, and is very solid.

Villagers who live in houses built in this fashion say they do not need ceilings, unlike houses with tin roofs. They are happy with the cool bamboo roofs provided by nature.

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