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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

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:


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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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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