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African Farm News in Review

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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Uganda: Stoves save fuel and forests (IPS)

The mouthwatering smell of stewing beef drifts through the congested streets of Nkere, on the outskirts of Kampala. The tantalizing odour comes from Susan Nanpiima’s newly-acquired stove. Sitting on the veranda of her one-room home, Mrs. Nanpiima says, “You can’t compare this stove to the ones I have used in the past. It uses so little charcoal.”

Mrs. Nanpiima had been using a 60-kilogram sack of charcoal every month. She says, “But the sack I bought this month is not even half empty.”

Mrs. Nanpiima’s new and efficient stove was constructed in a factory right in the midst of this densely-populated part of the city. Ugastove – Uganda Stove Manufacturers Ltd. – reports that they have supplied stoves to over 300,000 families in Uganda’s major towns. They plan to scale up production to 20,000 stoves a year.

The stoves contain a thick clay lining that retains heat and cooks food more efficiently. According to Ugastove Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Kawere, the stoves use only half as much fuel as conventional stoves, saving families the equivalent of 80 dollars a year.

More than 98 per cent of Ugandans rely on charcoal or firewood as an energy source. This has taken a massive toll on the country’s forests. Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority says the country has lost two-thirds of its forests in the last 20 years and will lose it all by 2050 at present rates of destruction. More efficient stoves could reduce charcoal use, saving tens of thousands of hectares of trees.

Mr. Kawere says, “We are not saying that we shall fully stop deforestation, but we need to give people the technology that will reduce the felling of trees for charcoal.”

But selling the stoves has been a challenge. Each stove costs 26 dollars, which is too costly for many families. The scrap metal stoves most commonly used in Uganda cost just two dollars, though a Ugastove lasts longer – up to three years.

To bring the price down, and achieve recognition for the stove’s environmental benefits, the company was keen to get credit for the reductions in carbon emissions due to the higher efficiency of the stoves. They contacted Impact Carbon, a U.S. non-profit organization that specializes in quantifying emissions reductions and developing business models for projects exactly like Ugastove. Impact Carbon helped the company obtain the certification which guarantees the environmental benefits. Each Ugastove saves about one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions compared to a conventional charcoal stove.

With certification, Ugastove is able to sell carbon credits to businesses, such as car manufacturers who pay to offset their own carbon emissions. Ugastove receives nine dollars for every tonne of carbon dioxide offset by one of their stoves. This carbon financing has funded a new factory and increased production from 50 to 300 stoves per day. It has also reduced the cost of a stove. A small domestic stove now costs the equivalent of eight dollars.

The stoves don’t simply reduce Mrs. Nanpiima’s fuel costs. More efficient stoves can also save Uganda’s forests.

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Southern Sudan: Fuel-efficient stoves bring benefits (Action Against Hunger)

Ngong Tunc Malok’s home feels eerie and deserted. The smouldering ashes bear witness to the devastating fire that robbed the family of its livelihood. She says, “I was alone with some of the children when the tukuls [huts] caught fire from the open fireplace used for cooking. There was nothing I could do. Everything is so dry, it happened so quickly, and there was no one to let out the animals.” The family’s three goats died in the fire. The family also lost all their clothes, cooking utensils and stored harvest.

Ngong’s misfortune is not uncommon in households which cook on open fireplaces. Uncontrolled fires like the one in Ngong’s home are not the only hazard. According to the World Health Organization, the smoke from open fires kills an estimated 1.9 million people, mostly women and children, every year. Open fireplaces are one of the five most serious health threats facing people in developing countries, resulting in lung and heart diseases and low birth weight. Open stoves also lead to deforestation because of the quantity of firewood needed to create sufficient heat for cooking.

Many in southern Sudan know people who have suffered similar tragedies. Last year, the international NGO Action Against Hunger introduced fuel-efficient stoves to Ngong’s community. Household fires have become far less frequent.

Alor Kon Deng is one of the women who received training and materials to build her own fuel-efficient stove. She says, “Before, when we used open fireplaces, many houses burnt down and our children would have a lot of accidents.” Alor walks two hours to and from the forest to collect firewood. She spends another two hours collecting wood. She says, “With the open fireplaces, this [amount] would last me for five days. Now, with my fuel-efficient stove, it can last up to two weeks.”

The fuel-efficient stoves are made from local materials. They take one day to build and cost twelve US dollars. They look quite simple, but the stove has had a great impact on Alor’s household of eight. With the time saved every day, she can now cultivate more land. She can make a small income and save for the dry season by selling straw at the market.

She explains, “Cooking is quicker as the fire doesn’t go out or is affected by the wind, so now a meal takes about one hour [to cook], whereas before it took three hours, and you constantly had to be around to watch it.” She can now do other chores while the food is cooking.

Only a small number of households were involved in the project. But the benefits have been so obvious to Alor’s friends and neighbours that several of them were motivated to build their own stoves. Alor says, “I showed other people how to construct a fuel-efficient stove and helped them build it.”

Akuel Geng is one of these neighbours. Proudly showing off her own version of the stove, she says, “I saw how little firewood the fuel-efficient stove uses and how safe it is. With the open fireplaces, a lot of houses would burn down, and children would get hurt. I have never seen that happen with the fuel-efficient stove. Not once!”

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Burkina: The effects of gold mining on livestock owners (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

The landscape around Nobsin, a small town in central Burkina Faso, is almost lunar. The thorn savannah of yesteryear has given way to a bare and sandy landscape full of mounds and holes. Some craters are 40 metres deep and four metres wide. Gold mining is the main cause of the degraded environment in the village and its surroundings. The traditional method of digging for gold produces gaping holes in the ground.

In Burkina Faso, farmers view the discovery of the smallest gold nugget as a curse. Boukari Diallo raises cattle. He explains, “My cattle sometimes fall into the holes. Unfortunately, no one compensates [us] for the loss of animals.” If their owners are not able to save them, most animals that fall into the holes die. The animals which do escape the holes lose between 50 and 80% of their market value. Many have broken legs or are so badly injured that they must be slaughtered immediately.

As well as ruining the landscape, the miners dig for gold in grazing areas.  Amadou Diallo is a local farmer who raises cattle as his main livelihood. He says, “The miners dig holes in our grazing lands without permission. They do not respect anything or anyone.”

The miners are aware of the accusations, and do not deny the problems they cause. Tiraogo Fafando has been digging for gold for three years. He says the miners can do little to improve the situation for the farmers. “When we dig the holes, farmers ask us to close them. But given the depth of the holes, what can we do?”

Amade Kafando is a gold prospector. He says, “We do not close the holes because we move quickly to other sites when we hear gold has been found. We cannot stop our business simply because farmers complain.” Mr. Kafando builds thorny fences around the edges of the holes to deter animals from approaching. But this is the only effort miners make to lessen their impact.

Farmers in Nobsin are not alone. Two years ago in the nearby village of Mankarga, 37 cows died after drinking water contaminated with the cyanide that is used to wash the gold. Farmers alerted the Provincial Animal Resources department, but the department could do little.

Gold has an important place in Burkina Faso’s economy. With gold’s value rising on the international market, domestic and foreign investors are pumping billions of francs into the area. Gold was the country’s primary source of foreign exchange in 2009, with 177 billion CFA francs in export earnings. In 2009, the mining sector employed 300,000 people. Small-scale, artisanal mines are often unregistered, and the state loses money in unpaid taxes. But the state tolerates the mines.

There is no end in sight for the farmers. New gold deposits have been discovered recently, and are attracting large international firms as well as small-scale miners. But for the farmers in Nobsin, gold does not bring prosperity or happiness.

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Kenya: Solar energy brings opportunities to rural Kenya (AlertNet)

Producing electricity from the local waterfall was once just a dream for two farming communities on the fertile lower slopes of Mount Kenya. But thanks to a local initiative backed by U.N. cash and know-how, it is now a reality.

Kibae and Kiangombe are located 150 kilometres north of the capital Nairobi on opposite banks of the Mukengeria River. Farmers in the area grow fruit and vegetables on a small scale. Like many rural communities in Kenya, neither village has access to the national power grid.

Eager to harness power from the waterfall, villagers started the project by building a weir and powerhouse. But without a turbine, the work was in vain. The cost of a turbine put it beyond the villagers’ reach. On hearing the story from a local representative, the Kenyan government asked the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, or UNIDO, to help.

Alexander Varghese is UNIDO’s Kenya representative, and an expert in renewable energy. He says, “We were amazed with their innovation and the effort they put in place to set up the energy [supply].” UNIDO stepped in with two turbines, solar panels and technical expertise. The villages now run the energy project as a co-operative, in collaboration with UNIDO.

The community power centre was inaugurated in 2008. It is Kenya’s first hybrid zero-emission power centre, and uses a mix of hydropower and solar energy. The centre has brought cheap and climate-friendly power to the villages. Lives and incomes have improved.

An energy kiosk in Kibae stores and sells electricity produced by the project. It promotes the use of LED lamps to replace the smoky kerosene lamps that caused health problems, particularly among women and children.

Salome Njoka is a farmer and mother of six children. She says the kiosk and her energy-saving lamp have improved her life: “I use one lamp and I take it to the energy kiosk for charging once a week. I have saved a lot of money and the lamps are convenient to use.”

Mrs. Njoka used to buy 10 litres of kerosene each month, at a cost of about 700 Kenyan shillings or eight US dollars. Today she pays just 20 Kenyan shillings (around 25 cents) per charging session, or 300 shillings (three and a half dollars) per month.

Njoka’s children regularly suffered eye problems and respiratory illnesses with the kerosene lamps, resulting in frequent trips to the health centre 30 kilometres away. She says, “Since I started using the new lamps, the problems have disappeared and my hospital visits have reduced.”

Opportunities are multiplying now that the village has a power supply. Jeremiah Wangombe is a 60-year-old farmer in Kibae. He explains, “The energy project has offered employments to many youths in these two villages. They work in the maize mill, poultry hatchery, fruit extracting plant, and at the community centre where locals get market information.”

Kenya’s government, worried by worsening droughts and climate change, is now supporting a variety of renewable energy projects. UNIDO says that projects in rural areas, where only 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, could be particularly important. Mr. Varghese says that UNIDO hopes to fund further projects like the one in Kibae.

For more information on UNIDO’s Community Power Centres initiative in Kenya, visit: http://www.unido.org/index.php?id=4983

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Senegal: Women solar engineers brighten Senegal (AlertNet)

Screwdriver in hand, Doussou Konaté unscrews a broken solar lantern. She patiently cross-checks the cables. And within a few moments, it is fixed. Mrs. Konaté has never attended school. But two years ago she was one of seven Senegalese women who travelled to India to be trained as a solar power engineer at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan.

Power outages occur regularly in Senegal. They have even triggered street riots in cities.

But when darkness falls in the small village of Keur Simbara, 76 kilometres from Dakar, the lights come on. Mrs. Konaté, a 57-year-old mother of six, is known locally as the “light woman.” With a bright smile, she says, “When night falls, everybody lights up their lamp and you can go anywhere you wish because everything is clear. It is just wonderful.”

After six months in India, Mrs. Konaté returned to set up domestic lighting in Keur Simbara and the neighbouring village of Keur Daouda. Fifty households have now been equipped with solar panels, a fixed lamp, a solar lantern, an LED flashlight and a plug for charging cell phones. The system provides four hours of electricity per day. Neither village has ever been connected to the national power grid.

Mrs. Konaté explains the benefits of electricity: “This is very important for the children who go to school. Before, they had to hurry to do their homework while the sun was still up. or study using candles and torches. But now they can study at any time of the day, even at night.”

But the benefits of the light Mrs. Konaté has brought to her community go beyond the power of electricity. Villagers say her new skills have enlightened many about the importance of equal access to education for girls and boys, particularly in science and technology.

Demba Diawara is the chief of Keur Simbara. He says, “It shows that what is important is not whether a person is a man or woman; it is their motivation, dedication and confidence in achieving what they set out to obtain.” He adds, “That is why education is valuable for boys and for girls.”

Each household participating in the solar electrification scheme pays a monthly fee, half of which pays for maintenance of the solar panels and lanterns. Mrs. Konaté, who used to be a housewife and subsistence millet farmer, now has a regular monthly income of about $60.

Tostan is the non-governmental organization that is implementing the solar project in Senegal. Khalidou Sy is Tostan’s national coordinator. He says, “Five other women are getting set to travel to India to become solar power engineers. [They will] return to their communities to train other women, and there will be electricity everywhere.”

For more information on Tostan’s solar power project, visit:

http://www.tostan.org/web/page/722/sectionid/547/pagelevel/2/parentid/547/interior.asp

To read more about Mrs. Konaté, visit:

http://www.tostan.org/web/page/725/sectionid/547/parentID/722/pagelevel/3/interior.asp

The website of the Barefoot College in India:

http://www.barefootcollege.org/default.asp

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Uganda: Farmers’ groups reject genetically engineered seed (Daily Monitor)

Participants in a meeting of farmers’ groups in Mukono, Uganda strongly rejected the use of genetically modified seeds. The farmers stated that genetically modified seed is detrimental to indigenous seed stock. They noted that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are not the solution to the food challenges in Uganda or in Africa, but instead pose more problems.

In October last year, researchers in Uganda and Kenya were given the go ahead to plant trials of genetically modified maize. Ugandan researchers have been working to develop GM banana varieties which are resistant to bacterial wilt. Genetically modified cotton is also being tested in Serere and Kasese in Uganda, with plans underway for trials of cassava, rice and sweet potato.

The meeting of farmers’ groups in May was organized by PELUM Uganda, a network of Ugandan NGOs that work to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. The joint statement prepared by the farmers groups states, “The protection and preservation of indigenous/traditional seed is fundamental in ensuring food security.” Farmers are concerned that by growing GM crops, ownership of seed will be transferred from farmers’ hands to private companies. GM seeds make the small-scale farmers dependent on the seed producer by not allowing them to replant harvested seeds, which has been the traditional practice for generations. Farmers are also uncertain about the safety and potential environmental impacts of GM crops.

Mr. Robert Tumwesigye is the director of Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda. He said GMO trials in Uganda were done in a hurry and haphazardly. The absence of a law to regulate the technology did not make matters any better. He says, “GMOs have come, but they are a false hope [for] food security.”

Although farmers make up 80% of Uganda’s population, they face an uphill task to reverse the trend among scientists and government in favour of GMOs. Farmers also know that GMOs are promoted by multinational companies with commercial interests.

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher is a researcher with Econexus, a UK-based organization which analyzes the impact of scientific developments on environment and society. She said, “There is no need for GM in agriculture, as breeding combined with innovative and agricultural practices are better equipped to meet the challenges ahead.” She notes that conventional plant breeding has already produced drought-tolerant maize, vitamin A-rich millet and flood-tolerant rice. She adds, “And agro-ecological practices like organic practices with multiple cropping have shown that yield can be up to double without using any agrochemical inputs.”

Mr. Tumwesigye is concerned about the lack of regulations regarding use of GMOs, and the lack of protection for farmers, should any problems arise. He advises, “To avoid the impending catastrophe, the government should take caution before introducing GMOs.”

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East Africa: Rising prices mean less food on the table (The Monitor, Christian Science Monitor, Business Daily Africa)

Rosemary Nyambura sells bundles of used plastic bags in the bustling Wakulima wholesale market in Nairobi, Kenya. She works hard but is getting frustrated. She says, “Corn flour is almost double what it was only a few short months ago. I have the same money in my pocket, but food costs twice as much, so my family can eat half what it used to.”

Food prices in East Africa have increased steadily this year. Prices of staple foods in Kenya have doubled since early 2011. In mid-May, Tanzania banned food exports in a bid to slow rising food prices. In April, Ugandans began “walk-to-work” actions to protest rising food and fuel prices. One might assume that farmers are benefitting from high food prices. But Ugandan farmers say otherwise.

Mike Mulindwa is a farmer in Namirembe Kyampisi sub-county in Mukono district, Uganda. He believes that middlemen are the ones cashing in on rising prices. He says, “They tell us that fuel for their cars is expensive, so when they get here they buy our products cheaply. Yet when they reach Kampala, they overcharge the seller, who in the end overcharges the final consumer.”

According to Mr. Mulindwa, farming is not profitable these days unless you operate a big farm. Prices of pesticides and fertilizers have increased in recent months. Mr. Mulindwa says that they are now too expensive for ordinary farmers like him to make a profit.

Mr. Mulindwa has not bought himself a shirt or pair of shoes in a long time. He laments, “And if things remain the way they are, we might even have to sell our possessions.” He notes that people no longer buy sugar. He says, “I have stopped buying sugar because if I took sugar, I wouldn’t be able to buy books for my children.”

He calls on the government to assist. He says, “They should reduce taxes on the basic things we use in farming like pesticides and fertilizers.”

Rehema Namayiga is another farmer from Mukono district. She is earning more from her products this year than last year. But, she says, “Prices of commodities like soap, sugar, flour and others are too high. Last year … I was able to save some money for myself. But this year I even failed to raise school fees for my children.”

Her neighbour, Magdalena Sebuwanga, sits in her kitchen peeling tiny, poor quality yams and preparing home-grown ntula (bitter berries) for supper. She asks, “Can’t you see what we are eating?” Mrs. Sebuwanga says there was a lot of sun this year and their crops dried up. “Coffee fell off the trees. And that is why we don’t have food. We buy flour from the shops and the people who have food to sell like matooke (plantain), sell it expensively.”

Mrs. Sebuwanga says she consumes almost all the food she grows. Many of the farmers here live and work on small plots. Few are able to grow enough to take to the market. And because they need quick money, most of them end up selling to middlemen. She says, “When the traders come here, they pressure us. They buy things cheaply from us and when they get to the town centres they sell them expensively.” Farmers prefer to take their own products to markets because it’s the only way to make a decent profit.

Experts say the rise in food prices in East Africa is caused by rising oil and food prices in international markets. Small-scale farmers rarely benefit from this situation. In East Africa, Kenya is worst affected because the country’s staple crops of maize, wheat and rice are all traded on international markets, and Kenya imports maize. Price increases are passed on to the consumer. Changes in international prices affect Uganda less, as Uganda’s staple food is plantain, which is not traded internationally.

There is little optimism on the streets. As one maize dealer in Nairobi says, “We seem to share most of the challenges in East Africa as a region, and the outlook could be grim for all of us.”

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Malawi: Farmers adopt one-to-one maize planting technique (by Mark Ndipita, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

Violeti Phiri vows she will never plant four maize seeds in a planting station again. She walks around her one hectare maize field, her face filled with joy in anticipation of a bumper harvest. She says, “For the past thirteen years I have been wasting my time and energy by planting four maize seeds per station.”

Mrs. Phiri comes from Kanyinji village, in Mzimba district in the Northern Region of Malawi. She explains why she decided to adopt the one-to-one maize planting technique, and plant just one maize seed per station: “I had been planting four maize seeds per station on ridges for many years. This cultural practice made my family food-insecure, as we frequently experienced hunger at the beginning of each new planting season.” 

In 2007, she visited the demonstration plot of a nearby extension worker. She says, “I noticed that more cobs were produced on the plot with one-to-one planting technology than the other plots with three or four maize seeds per station.”  

In 2008, Mrs. Phiri planted her maize with the one-to-one technique, also known as “one-one” or “one-by-one”. She says, “I was very surprised to note that I harvested 50 bags … while previously on the same piece of land I used to harvest 17 bags of 50 kilograms each.” Mrs. Phiri plants hybrid maize and follows the extension worker’s advice to use urea and fertilizer. She says this helped produce the bumper yield.

Andrew Mvula is a small-scale farmer from the village of Musitimale in the southeast part of Mzimba district. He adopted the one-to-one maize planting technique in 2008. He says, “I learnt about this technology in 2007 from the field day held in my area.”

Mr. Mvula has just over one hectare of land to grow maize. In the first year, he used the one-to-one technique on one-third of this land. On the remaining land, he used three maize seeds per station. Mr. Mvula thought the new technology was labour-intensive and time-consuming. But he was surprised to harvest 30 50-kilogram bags from the smaller piece of land, and only nine bags from the larger area. So in 2009, Mr. Mvula decided to completely adopt the technique and use one-to-one planting for all his maize.

Mr. Mvula learned from the extension worker that there should be 25 centimetres between planting stations and 75 centimetres between ridges. This spacing gives the best chance for a good yield. Mr. Mvula says one-to-one maize planting has various advantages. “There is reduced competition on food, water and air between plants; weeds are overcome when the plants have grown, and moisture retention is good because plants are close to each other.”

With one-to-one maize planting, Mr. Mvula now boasts of having surplus maize each year. He says, “I can now manage to pay school fees for my children, buy soap and other groceries using proceeds from the sales of my surplus maize.”

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Zambia: New feeder roads ease farmers’ transportation blues (by Brian Moonga for Farm Radio Weekly in Zambia)

In the past, farmers like Michael Mudenda lost a lot of money ferrying their produce to market. The poor roads and rough terrain often resulted in huge financial losses and much waste, especially of perishable goods such as vegetables. Mr. Mudenda grows vegetables and raises small livestock. He says, “I was unable to get to town in time to buy chemicals and other inputs because the roads were extremely impassable, and that … resulted in delays in my farming plan.”

Luckily, such challenges will soon be a thing of the past for farmers in five rural districts of Zambia. Mr. Mudenda is one of many small-scale farmers in Choma, a farming district in southern Zambia, who will now be able to access agricultural services much more easily. Over 1,000 kilometres of unpaved roads have been built over the last two years. They link key agricultural areas with markets. In Choma district alone, new roads stretch over 250 kilometres and reach more than 2,000 small-scale farmers.

The road project is funded by the World Bank and the Zambian government. Road-building will continue until 2014, at a total estimated cost of one million US Dollars. The government hopes the project will boost agriculture in the most productive agricultural areas.

Elijah Muchima is the Provincial Minister in Choma. He is calling for feeder roads to be constructed in other highly productive areas to help small-scale farmers increase production and access more markets. He says, “Because of small-scale farmers, we are now exporting a variety of agricultural goods. This road [network] will help us deliver inputs to farmers on time.”

Subsistence farmers contribute over 90 per cent of Zambia’s total agricultural output. But they face numerous challenges, including the poor road network. In recent years, failing infrastructure, coupled with poor rainfall and increased livestock diseases, has begun to negatively affect agriculture. Mr. Mudenda recalls, “Sometimes one would have to shepherd the livestock on foot over many kilometres, and usually not make it in time to meet the buyer.”

Mr. Mudenda sells most of his maize to the government’s Food Reserve Agency, or FRA, which determines the floor and ceiling price of agricultural commodities for most rural farmers. Mr. Mudenda has always found it challenging to deliver tonnes of maize by cart to FRA’s collection and selling points. He harvests about one hundred 90-kilogram bags of maize per year but says, “I had experienced stockpiles in my backyard because it’s been hard to transport the maize to designated collection points … let alone to the district centre where the price is better.”

Mr. Mudenda appreciates the new roads. He says they have given his farming career a new lease on life. As he prepares to expand his farming activities, he hopes that the roads will help him double his earnings. He says, “I am seriously contemplating growing winter maize. So I will not grow maize in one season only but throughout the year, because I now have easier access to the market.”

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Notes to broadcasters on one-to-one maize planting

In many regions of Africa, maize is traditionally planted with two, three or four seeds per hole. Farmers may be reluctant to change practices they believe to work, or they may worry that one seed per hole is too few and too risky. But in Malawi, as farmers experiment with what they call “one-to-one” planting, (sometimes called one-one, or one-by-one planting), they are discovering that yields are higher. One explanation for this is that there are fewer seeds and seedlings per hole to compete for the available water, sunlight and nutrients. The result is more likely to be one healthy, productive plant rather than two or three weaker and less productive plants. The distance between planting stations can also affect each plant’s performance. The underlying principle behind both these cases is known in scientific terms as “plant density” or “plant spacing.” Spacing between plants affects competition between plants, which in turn affects yields. Also, when the individual plants grow well, the maize forms a canopy which prevents weed growth and reduces soil erosion. One hectare planted in this way can produce a lot more maize, as the farmers in this story discovered. This technique is promoted by the government of Malawi.

One-to-one planting was one of the topics addressed in FRI’s recent research project, African Farm Radio Research Initiative, or AFRRI.  Between September 2009 and January 2010, two community radio stations in Malawi ran “one-to-one planting” participatory radio campaigns:  Mudzi Whatu Community Radio and Nkhotakhota Community Radio. FRI’s Executive Director, Kevin Perkins, visited Malawi in 2010, and talked to some farmers who adopted one-to-one planting after hearing about it on the radio. You can read his story on p.2 of the fall issue of Network News at: http://www.farmradio.org/english/donors/publications/network/nn_fall_2010.pdf

The following Farm Radio International script shows how important it is to experiment with new farming methods before deciding on a permanent change. You could adapt this script to address a range of new methods. 

-Comparing Crop Varieties: Start Small, Go Slowly. Package 68, Script 8, September 2003. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/68-8script_en.asp

You can browse other scripts on crop production in our archive here:  http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/crop.asp

You might want to produce a short feature about this simple technique, especially if you broadcast to a maize-growing area. Talk to NGOs or extension workers about how to improve maize yields, and ask them whether they know the “one-to-one” technique. It might have different names in different regions. Ask extension workers to explain the technique clearly in simple language and describe any drawbacks as well as potential advantages. You could also talk to farmers and ask if they have tried it, or would consider trying it. Find out the reasons behind their opinions. Arrange for farmers to call in and ask the extension worker questions about the technique, and how best to begin trying it out.

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Indigenous Nguni cattle find favour in South Africa

This week, we present two stories to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22. The theme for this year is “Forest Biodiversity.” You can find out more at: http://www.cbd.int/idb/.  While biodiversity refers to the variety of life on our planet, agricultural biodiversity refers to the variety of life relevant to agriculture. For a definition and discussion of agricultural biodiversity, visit: http://www.cbd.int/agro/whatis.shtml The African Biodiversity Network’s website provides information on current debates in biodiversity within Africa: http://www.africanbiodiversity.org/

Win an MP3 player! All you have to do is tell us what you think of Farm Radio Weekly and we will enter your name in a draw. Please take the online survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DGLT576

Our first story is about agricultural biodiversity, and how an indigenous breed of cattle is returning to favour. Nguni cattle have long been appreciated by farmers in South Africa, but scientists and government are increasingly appreciating how well-adapted this breed is to local conditions. Read how the Nguni breed has made a comeback. 

In other news this week, Liberia is the latest country to sign an agreement with the European Union to ban illegal logging.

We are taking a one-week publishing break and will be back in your in-boxes the week beginning 30 May.

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South Africa: Farmers happy with revival of Nguni cattle (by Fidelis Zvomuya for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)

Ten years ago, Xolisa Nteo Diale received two pregnant Nguni heifers from the South African government. He recalls, “I was among the first to be selected as part of a Nguni pilot project. Now I have a herd of 150 animals.”

Nguni cattle are a native breed of cattle from South Africa. But farmers switched to “exotic” cattle from developed nations and the Nguni were dying out. The apartheid regime regarded the Nguni breed as inferior. A 1973 government decree empowered animal inspectors to inspect bulls in communal areas and to castrate them. This resulted in the near extinction of Nguni cattle. In addition, the gene pool became diluted through cross-breeding with exotic breeds.

Mr. Diale says his fortunes changed after he ventured into Nguni production. He is a small scale livestock farmer from Didimana village in the Eastern Cape. He adds, “I also used money from my pension to buy more cows. I sell the animals to local producers, butcheries and those who sell the skins.”

Due to its hardiness and longevity, the Nguni breed has now returned to the South African livestock industry. After realizing the animal’s genetic importance, the government, with technical support from the University of Fort Hare, is donating Nguni cattle to smallholder farmers.

Ms. Tina Joemat-Peterson is South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. She says, “We are bringing back the Nguni, as the animal develops easily under a process of natural selection in a highly challenging environment.” She adds that the animal is easy to manage and is highly adapted to surviving in the harshest and most disease-ridden areas of South Africa.

Mr. Diale confirms that the cattle thrive under challenging conditions.  They are known to have a long productive life, and cows produce 10 or more calves. They graze in the bush, require little management and produce good yields of milk in harsh conditions.

Mrs. Sithembisile Mtembu is a farmer from Limpopo Province in north eastern South Africa. She says that emerging farmers like her have few resources and technical skills to handle high-maintenance breeds of cattle. She says, “Giving us these breeds as nucleus breeding stock is disastrous.” She explains, “The animals deteriorate rapidly under low-input conditions, straining us with limited resources.” Mrs. Mtembu knows that Nguni cattle need good management for optional production. But she says they do not need as much management as most other breeds.

Dr. Mark Ngwadla was an animal breeder and now raises livestock. He says “… [The Nguni breed] has survived for over 2000 years in harsh conditions. Nguni is the most inexpensive to breed. One doesn’t need expensive feeds and vaccinations.” He says the breed is unique in that each animal’s horn shape and hide pattern is different. He notes that, “No two animals are alike, which has its own attraction.” 

The animal can be used for both beef and milk production. It can also be used for draught power. Nguni beef has low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, according to tests done at academic and government centres. For the health-conscious, the beef compares well to the popular Aberdeen Angus and Bonsmara breeds. For the farmer, the return of this native breed is a welcome opportunity.

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Liberia: Agreement signed to stop illegal logging (Reuters, BBC)

The Government of Liberia and the European Union have signed an agreement to end illegal logging in Liberia. The deal, in the form of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, will ensure that all timber exported from Liberia to the EU comes from legal sources. It also contains provisions to ensure that the trade will benefit the Liberian people. 

Illegal logging was common during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. Former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was accused of selling timber to fund his regime. Much of this illegal timber found a market in the EU. In response, the United Nations placed sanctions on timber exports in 2006.

The agreement is legally binding. It defines what constitutes legal timber, and ensures that exported timber can be traced back to its source.    

Dr. Florence Chenoweth is the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia. She says, “In the past, Liberia’s natural resources have been used to drive conflict and greed that benefited few and destroyed many lives. Now it is clear that we are committed to ensuring the gifts from our forests will benefit all Liberians now and in the future.”

Liberia contains over half of the remaining rainforest in West Africa. Around 45 per cent of the country is covered in tropical forest, over four million hectares. Liberia is home to rare and endangered wildlife, such as the pygmy hippopotamus. It is also known as a biodiversity hotspot, with a total of 2200 plant species.

The agreement involved more than two years of negotiations, following a participatory process that included civil society and representatives of forest communities.

In March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation will come into effect. This will require all companies selling timber to the EU to demonstrate that their timber is legally harvested. Liberia’s newly signed agreement will allow the country to continue trading with the EU. Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo also recently signed similar Voluntary Partnership Agreements.

Some are worried that the agreement will simply cover up existing poor practices. Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his exposé of the illegal timber trade in Liberia. He comments, “To control illegal logging, there must be strong political will on the part of the EU and the Liberian government, as well as the active participation of civil society actors, including local communities…. Without that, the VPA will be used simply to ‘greenwash’ illegal logs from Liberia.”

Despite these concerns, the agreement raises the hope of jump-starting the sustainable forest industry in Liberia for the benefit of all.

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Ivory Coast: Rains arrive but farmers afraid to return to their land (IRIN, VOA, FAO)

The rainy season is just beginning in Ivory Coast. But in many places, the rain will fall on unplanted ground. Although the post-election fighting is mostly over, many farmers, especially in western regions, have not yet returned to their land.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates that one million people have been displaced in and around Abidjan, with at least 200,000 displaced in the west. Few people remain on their farms to cultivate the land.

Doh St. Michel fled his village near Duékoué in western Ivory Coast in November. Gunfire erupted and farmers were killed on the day of the presidential run-off election. He now lives at the Catholic mission along with an estimated 27,000 others. He says, “We live off the land … We just want to get back to work so we can feed our families.” He is not proud of staying at the mission but is afraid to return to his farm.

Land disputes and tensions between different ethnic groups are not new in Ivory Coast. The post-election crisis raised tensions and triggered violence. Mr. St. Michel continues, “The only way we’re able to eat is by our own hands, our own might. It’s not the president who’s going to manufacture food for us; it’s our machetes. We have nothing to do with these politics.”

Patrick Berner is a senior emergency expert with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He is assessing the situation in the western region. He says, “When all these people left their homes, very often they left without anything. And also their food and their stocks of seed have been looted.”

Many people will not be able to return to their land in time to plant. Mr. Berner says, “They will lose this season. So it will have a huge impact on food security, and these people will be in need of food assistance [for] a long period.”

FAO is assisting recent returnees by distributing seeds. So far, they have reached around 10,000 households. Aid agencies still have limited access to western Ivory Coast. Until they can be assured of peace and security, farmers like Mr. St. Michel feel they have little choice but to watch the rain fall on untilled land.

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