Resilient small-scale agriculture: A key in global crises

Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture ensure the nutrition of societies. And they also provide better protection against the outbreak of pandemics. Preserving ecosystems is becoming a global survival issue.

 

Small farmers in Paraguay harvesting mate. Photo: Sonja Ritter/WWF
Small farmers in Paraguay harvesting mate. Photo: Sonja Ritter/WWF

Kerstin Weber

(c) Kerstin Weber / WWF

To change the world with small steps. Kerstin Weber and her team at WWF work every day in the field of sustainable food and agriculture. A core area that often gets lost in everyday life is the massive waste of food, which is still far too great in Germany. After all, each of our consumption decisions has an impact on nature and resources. She wants to create this awareness for reflected consumption. Every step counts!

 

Brit Reichelt-Zolho

(c) Brit Reichelt-Zolho/ WWF

Brit Reichelt-Zolho is an ecologist and has worked for the WWF since 2000. Before that she worked in Belize, Central America and Scotland, where she studied. From 1997 she lived in Mozambique and managed an environmental training centre and various conservation projects for 10 years. Afterwards she was Nature Conservation Director and Country Director at WWF Mozambique, where she was responsible for the whole range of marine, terrestrial and political nature conservation work. Since 2012, she has been working for WWF Germany as a consultant for Southern and Eastern Africa, with a focus on the KAZA transboundary network of protected areas, and is in charge of projects on community-based nature conservation, anti-poaching, lion protection and above all sustainable agriculture adapted to climate change. She firmly believes that nature conservation in Africa can only be successful together with the local population.

 

World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)

WWF

Especially in times such as the unprecedented global Covid-19 crisis, it becomes clear how important the resilience or durability of local agriculture is to ensure domestic food security. Many countries in the global South have been hit particularly hard by the current situation, since the already unstable national economy is now being further weakened by the Covid-19 crisis. In addition, they are experiencing a deterioration in the supply situation and food security of their own population. In times of crisis, we see once again how important it is to sustainably structure local and national production and food systems in order to ensure the food supply to the population.

 

It is also clear that the protection and preservation of important ecosystems plays a major role in preventing a pandemic of this kind from occurring in the first place. It turns out that the destruction of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity are key factors that lead to the manifestation and spread of diseases such as the newest coronavirus outbreak.

 

Mate seedlings in the tree nursery. Photo: Pedro Ferreira/WWF
Mate seedlings in the tree nursery. Photo: Pedro Ferreira/WWF

Therefore, a sustainable form of agriculture is needed that does not harm valuable ecosystems and habitats for numerous animal and plant species, such as forests, wetlands, savannahs and grasslands. Essential aspects include the creation of cultivation diversity in combination with resource-conserving cultivation methods, which lead to a sustainable increase in yields, but also maintain soil fertility, avoid soil erosion and ensure sustainable use of local water resources. At the same time, cultivation systems should be resilient to other external factors, such as the progressing climate crisis, which is already causing droughts in many regions of the world. Moreover, decentralised and local value chains and markets should be strengthened to ensure a resilient local and national supply of key staple foods.

 

The goal of environmental protection organisation WWF is to bring precisely these aspects together in its project work. The following examples of the establishment of agroforestry systems in the Atlantic rainforest in Paraguay and of soil-conserving agriculture in Zambia adapted to climate change are funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). They show how the preservation of ecosystems and important habitats can be combined with stabilisation of the local food situation through agro-ecological concepts.

 

Improved living conditions or rural communities through climate-adapted, sustainable agriculture and the establishment of sustainable supply chains

 

Our example in Paraguay shows a type of agriculture that works in harmony with local ecosystems. It benefits from them and simultaneously preserves these ecosystems. One of the world’s most species-rich rainforests, the Atlantic Rainforest, once stretched across the eastern part of the country in the Alto Paraná region. Due to the rapid expansion of agricultural land for the large-scale production of mechanised agricultural commodities like soya, only very fragmented and isolated patches of the forest remain. More than half of the agricultural sector in Paraguay still consists of small family farms, mainly producing for their own consumption.

 

However, they are increasingly being displaced by highly specialised, large-scale agricultural enterprises. Family farms also face other hazards caused by climate change, such as flooding and heat waves. It will put the resilience of agriculture to a tough test; food security could deteriorate quickly.

 

Zambia: Farmer in her maize field with improved, climate-adapted cultivation. Photo: WWF Germany
Zambia: Farmer in her maize field with improved, climate-adapted cultivation. Photo: WWF Germany

The MATE project of WWF Paraguay in a joint effort with WWF Germany is striving to create a near-natural type of agriculture that is adapted to the consequences of climate change. The goal is to prevent further deforestation in the region, to restore new forest areas and to improve living conditions for local farmers. By establishing agroforestry systems, near-natural systems are created and degraded areas are made usable again. The yerba mate (tea) tree is cultivated together with other indigenous tree species. Other plants such as manioc or even melons are planted under the trees. The trees and plants benefit from each other. They provide each other with shade and enrich the soil with nutrients. These types of systems deliver many other advantages.

 

They are more resilient, bind more carbon, prevent soil erosion and use resources such as water, light and nutrients more efficiently. With this project, the WWF also wants to ensure that communities receive sufficient food. Many of the families lived at the existential minimum level and consumed an unbalanced diet; for example, they only ate cassava and maize, which in the long term leads to malnutrition. In an effort to establish more variety, the project set up vegetable gardens for the communities. Among other things, they grew lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and pumpkins. Part of the harvest is left for their own use, while the rest is sold on the local market.

 

The Covid-19 epidemic is proving that this system works. Since the trade routes to the important supply countries Brazil and Argentina are closed, the food demand in the country needs to be covered by the domestic agriculture. The farmers involved in the project are able to provide for themselves and at the same time make a significant contribution to improving the food situation in the entire region. They regularly donated part of their harvest to an aid organisation in the nearby town of Ciudad del Este, which distributes the fruit and vegetables to the most needy.

 

They are also adapting their cultivation plans to the growing demand for staple foods. The government of Paraguay reacted quickly to the crisis at the national level and created a network to strengthen the nationwide supply system. In addition to national and international civil society organisations such as the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, WWF Paraguay is supporting this network with its expertise from the project producing healthy organic food to develop a strategy to strengthen the food security of the national population.

Further information can be found here.

 

 

Protection of natural resources and food security by strengthening and stabilising sustainable agriculture in the Zambian KAZA region

 

Fear of the effects of the coronavirus crisis is also spreading in KAZA, the largest cross-border terrestrial network of protected areas worldwide. This 520,000 km2area in southern Africa is home to an overwhelming diversity of charismatic wildlife. Half of all African elephants live here, a third of all lions as well as gigantic populations of buffalo, antelope and many endemic species. There are still vast natural habitats such as savannahs, wetlands and forests.  Community-based nature conservation and ecotourism are supposed to generate income streams for sustainable development.

 

But now the drop in tourism is not only endangering the salaries of community gamekeepers. Supply chains are also breaking down and the fear of a food shortage and new waves of poaching is becoming increasingly real. Two million people live in KAZA, mainly smallholders who try to make a living through subsistence farming in the barren Kalahari sand, which is poor in groundwater. But the small harvests from the nutrient-poor soils are often not enough. Periods of starvation thus occur almost every year. Every three years, new forest areas have to be cleared to create a field of 2 – 3 hectares, where they can grow maize and beans for their families (shifting cultivation). This means that humans are increasingly invading the habitat of wild animals, resulting in conflicts with the animals.

 

In order to protect the habitat, increase yields on existing fields and ensure food security for families, the Bengo/SEWOH- and WWF-funded project in the Zambian part of KAZA supports 3,200 smallholders in establishing climate-adapted and agro-ecological farming methods. Since 2015, the smallholders have been attending practical field lessons to learn agro-ecological farming methods such as minimum soil cultivation, sowing in plant hollows and the use of crop rotations and catch crops. This keeps the soil fertile longer and improves water storage. The training is carried out by trained, local smallholders, the contact farmers. This locally based advisory service ensures sustainability and reduces costs. The new methods have tripled crop yields, with farmers now harvesting 3-4 tonnes of maize per hectare instead of 1.5 tonnes.

 

Zambia: meeting of a small farmers cooperative. Photo: WWF Germany
Zambia: meeting of a small farmers cooperative. Photo: WWF Germany

In order to build greater resilience to the effects of climate change, the main focus is on drought-resistant crops (millet, sorghum). During the extreme drought of 2018, farmers were able to achieve a solid millet harvest; in contrast, 80% of the maize harvest dried up.  Smallholders are also being trained in reducing post-harvest losses. Locally adapted silos, called fellumbus, were introduced to minimise losses.

 

The establishment of a government-certified post-harvest seed programme enables smallholders to supply themselves with locally adapted seed and sell it. Some smallholders have already been able to improve their living conditions sustainably from the income.

 

In order to manifest these successes long term and secure self-financing for the smallholders, the project is now supporting the establishment of agricultural cooperatives. These cooperatives will sell their sustainable products to hotels in major tourist locations such as Livingstone and will use part of the proceeds to support the community-based advisory service. In return, they will continue to receive technical support. The development of local supply chains is especially important in the current situation, since Covid-19 prevention measures have closed the country borders. Consequently, the supply of mostly South African products is interrupted.

Further information can be found here.

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"Farmers are smart"

Interview with Maria Andrade

From the lab to the masses: Maria Andrade bred varieties of biofortified sweet potatoes which are now widely used all over the continent. She sets her hope on the transformation of African agriculture.

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(c) Kate Holt / Africa Practice

Leveraging investment impacts

A contribution by Heike Baumüller, Christine Husmann, Julia Machovsky-Smid, Oliver Kirui, Justice Tambo

Any initiative whose aim is to reduce poverty in Africa should focus first on agriculture. But what kind of investment has the greatest impact? The use of scientific criteria provides some answers.

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Small-scale farmers’ responses to COVID-19 related restrictions

A study by SLE

The lockdown due to COVID-19 hit the economy hard - including agriculture in particular with its supply chains and sales markets. What creative coping strategies have those affected found? The Seminar for Rural Development has begun a research study on th

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Do we have to dare a new food system?

A contribution by Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein (BÖLW)

Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.

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Video diaries in the days of Corona: Voices from the ground

A contribution by Sarah D´haen & Alexander Müller, Louisa Nelle, Bruno St. Jaques, Sarah Kirangu-Wissler and Matteo Lattanzi (TMG)

Young farmers’ insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa @CovidFoodFuture and video diaries from Nairobi’s informal settlements.

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(c) Klara Palatova/WFP

A global signpost: What way is the market, please?

A contribution by the World Food Programme

There is a clear global task: We need to feed nine billion people by 2050. We, the people of Earth, must produce more food and waste less. That is the top priority of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), too - the description of a challenge.

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Karel Prinsloo/Arete/Rockefeller Foundation/AGRA

"Nutrition is a human right"

Interview with Joe DeVries (AGRA)

Joe DeVries is a breeder – and Vice President of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). What are the chances and risks of a ’green revolution‘ in Africa? A discourse between Jan Rübel and him about productivity, needs, and paternalism.

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(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Green from the growth container

A contribution by Maria Smentek (WFP)

If there is a lack of fertile soil and rain, hunger breaks out quickly. Maria Smentek from the World Food Programme (WFP) explains how farmers and pastoralists can counter climate change with hydroponic-systems.

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How the self-help approach empowers smallholder women

A report by INEF and Kindernothilfe

Supporting groups of smallholding women substantially contributes to strengthen rural operations economically. The organisation and associated group activities can help to reduce extreme poverty and improve the food situation.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

A contribution by Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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Gender equality: Essential for food and nutrition security

A contribution by Carsta Neuenroth (BfdW)

The majority of producers in developing countries are women. Although they contribute significantly to the food security of their families, they remain chronically disadvantaged in male-dominated agriculture in terms of access to land, credit, technology and education.

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Hunger must not be a consequence of the epidemic!

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

Even though COVID-19 poses a threat to the health of humanity, the reaction to the pandemic must not cause more suffering than the disease itself. This is particularly relevant for poor developing countries, where the impact of the corona crisis on food security is even more severe!

 

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Developing countries hit doubly hard by coronavirus

A contribution by Gunter Beger (BMZ)

In most African countries, the infection COVID-19 is likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. This means: In order to cope with this unprecedented crisis, consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever, our author maintains.

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Hier steht eine Bildbeschreibung

Statement from GAFSP Co-Chairs: GAFSP and COVID-19 Pandemic

A contribution by GAFSP

COVID-19 has unprecedented effects on the world. As always, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit, both at home and - especially - abroad. A joint appeal by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

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(c) Michael Bruentrup/DIE

News from the starting block: Changeover

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is on the decisive verge of a great development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how? About possible roles and potentials of digital services.

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An investment in Africa's future

A contritbution by Essa Chanie Mussa (University of Gondar)

Rural youth need viable livelihood opportunities to escape out of poverty and realize their aspirations. How could they be helped to fully unleash their potential? This is an aloud call that needs novel strategies among governments, policy makers, and international development partners and donors.

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(c) Privat

Borderless food security

A contribution by Christine Wieck

Enabling smallholders to trade across regions and borders promotes food security and economic growth. Although everyone is calling for exactly that, implementation is still difficult

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JOERG BOETHLING / GIZ

Continent in an uptrend

A report by Dr. Agnes Kalibata (AGRA)

Partnering for Africa’s Century: Innovation and Leadership as Drivers of Growth and Productivity in Rural Areas

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(c) Christoph Mohr/GIZ

Microinsurance against climate change

A contribution by Claudia Voß

Climate change is destroying development progress in many places. The clever interaction of digitalisation and the insurance industry protects affected small farmers.

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(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Hunger is caused by people, not the climate

Interview with Jacob Schewe (PIK)

A study by the World Bank predicts that millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa will have to leave their homelands because of climate change. We have spoken with one of the authors

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How do you campaign “Food Systems”?

Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.

The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.

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The Rice Sector in West Africa: A Political Challenge

New insights on trade and value addition in the rice sector in West Africa

Low import tariffs, smuggling activities, unpredictable tax exemptions and weak enforcement of food safety standards: The potential of local rice value chains is undermined in West African countries.

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“We have to prepare for the unexpected”

Interview with Dr Maria Flachsbarth (BMZ)

In August, Germany’s development ministry set up a division concentrating on One Health topics. Parliamentary State Secretary Maria Flachsbarth on knowledge gaps at the human-animal-environmental interface, the link between One Health and food security, and lessons learnt from previous pandemics.

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