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The New York Times

By RACHEL CERNANSKY MAY 1, 2015 7:00 AM

Last year, Tanzania had exciting news: a bumper harvest of corn. But even as farmers were celebrating — corn is a staple eaten at almost every meal — much of the crop had already been spoiled, having grown moldy or been infested by insects and rodents. The problem was that farmers lacked the capacity to store food safely. Even the government’s national reserve system had run out of space to hold the overflow.

Such shortages of capacity persist, and not just in Tanzania. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that largely because of a lack of infrastructure for refrigeration, transportation and sanitary, airtight storage, 15 to 20 percent of grain crops in sub-Saharan Africa and about half of fruits and vegetables show spoilage before they reach market.

The fight against hunger in Africa has experienced many successes in boosting agricultural production — from improving seeds to disseminating solar-powered irrigation. It’s only now that agricultural organizations and experts are recognizing that lack of storage represents a major impediment to keeping all those harvests edible. It’s a difficult problem because a vast majority of Africa’s crops are grown by smallholder farmers, who lack the resources to invest in refrigeration or effective storage facilities for staples like corn and beans.

Moreover, the expectation of large losses discourages farmers from taking steps to further increase their output, explained Zablon Ernest, an independent agricultural consultant and extension officer in Arusha, Tanzania. “A farmer will say, ‘Why should I produce more if I can’t store or sell it?’ ” he said.

Ernest graduated in February from an online class run by the United States-based Postharvest Education Foundation, which has taught basic crop management to students from 22 countries over the last four years. Tanzanian agriculture officials support such education, recognizing that teaching agricultural extension officers how to manage harvested crops has long been neglected in favor of focusing on production. “Farmers in the villages are desperate for this kind of information,” said Ernest.

In trying to salvage more of the nation’s harvest, Tanzania is of course pursuing the broader goal, common across Africa, of reducing hunger and boosting income. But while other developing countries are taking piecemeal steps to reduce crop losses, Tanzania’s response has been particularly robust. The government has a department devoted to reducing food waste, and its initiatives are informed by independent research.

Small-scale success stories are beginning to emerge. Julius Akanaay, for example, grows corn, beans and sunflower in the small village of Endagaw, south of Arusha. Before 2004, he and his family lived in a small mud hut, vulnerable to insects, rodents and rain. As a result, their stored crops often spoiled. “We sold early and easily lost what we kept,” said Akanaay. They now live in a cement house, which offers better protection — and more food security.

Partly out of fear of spoilage, but also out of a need for fast cash to pay debts, farmers often sell crops early in the season, when prices are low. If they wait for prices to rise, they risk their corn becoming infested. The tragedy is that, later in the season, they will have to buy corn at high prices to feed their own families. That is how some families get trapped in cycles of poverty.

Shamim Daudi and Janine Rüst of the Swiss nonprofit Helvetas want to change this situation. On a hot, dusty Sunday afternoon in February, I accompanied them while they took samples of corn from Akanaay’s storage room. With the Tanzanian government’s support, Helvetas is exploring methods of storing corn that will prove more effective than the polypropylene bags used by most rural farmers.

One promising tool is a triple-layer polyethylene-polypropylene bag (known as a PICS bag) that was developed by an entomology professor at Purdue University in Indiana; another is a simple metal silo small enough — a medium-size silo is about five feet tall — to be housed indoors. Both work by sealing out oxygen, thereby killing insects. The difference between a PICS and the common polypropylene bag is actually audible; with a bad infestation, you can hear insects squirming inside the polypropylene.

That’s why outreach workers like Daudi and farmers like Akanaay are optimistic: With these new tools, farmers who now sell low and buy high can see opportunities to hold on to more crops to feed themselves — or sell when it benefits them most.

Whether Akanaay and other farmers will be able to afford the metal silo (the one at his house now is part of the Helvetas experiment) remains a question. PICS bags are more affordable for farmers — although any added expense is still burdensome — but they are also more vulnerable to rodents. Which, if any, tool farmers will decide to purchase won’t be clear until the next harvest season.

Another challenge is preserving perishable goods in tropical regions that lack wide access to electricity. For years, Mariam Mustafa sold her tomatoes to the local open-air market near her farm in Lushoto, a major fruit- and vegetable-producing region in northeast Tanzania. “The customers didn’t care about quality,” she said. “They only cared about quantity.” She sold as much as she could — and threw away the rest.

Now, she belongs to a group of farmers who use a packinghouse in Lushoto that was built last year with support from the Tanzanian government and U.S.A.I.D. For almost half the year, farmers sort and pack snow peas for export. An Arusha-based export company sends a refrigerated truck — an extreme rarity in most of sub-Saharan Africa — to pick up the snow peas from cold storage units (also largely unheard-of) at the packinghouse. For the remainder of the year, farmers use the facility to improve the quality of their other produce and then sell it to higher-paying buyers like supermarkets. That, too, reduces the amount of waste.

The packinghouse operation is still a work in progress. Concepts like sorting good tomatoes from bad to reduce the spread of rot are new to many farmers; they have to be trained.

Mustafa still sells at the local market, but only after selling as much as possible through the packinghouse, where a harvest of tomatoes can bring in 400,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $215). That’s more than double the local market’s potential, because the improved quality and packaging allow the produce to fetch higher prices after being transported to more distant, higher-end buyers.

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The packinghouse is not suitable for every town, not least because the market for high-quality produce is minuscule compared with the scale of the rural markets, where an estimated 95 percent of horticultural trade in Africa still takes place. But where it’s feasible, it has the potential to simultaneously reduce waste and boost incomes, so other areas are now building or considering packinghouses.

As with most major changes, the biggest challenges are often behavioral and cultural. Farmers are accustomed to selling produce quickly, and consumers are used to eating farm-fresh food, not dried fruit or canned vegetables. It’s likely that the market potential for value-added produce will be greater among distant buyers like supermarkets and export companies than rural dwellers. Indeed, some farmers groups are looking to turn the region’s agricultural bounty of tropical fruits like mangoes and bananas and nutritious vegetables like amaranth and sweet potato leaves into products that wealthier customers will pay extra for.

This kind of endeavor requires an attitudinal shift. “Many women think, ‘When I grow crops, they are just for feeding my family,’” said Odette Ngulu, an agricultural consultant in Arusha. “They don’t have the idea of preserving.”

Ngulu has been training women’s groups to use solar dryers — simple boxed-in shelves of mesh designed for optimal heat absorption and air flow — to dry sliced or shredded produce in a day or two with adequate sunlight. The dryers protect the produce from contaminants like dirt and insects, and the UV-treated plastic cover allows light in but still protects the nutrient value. Production and sales are uneven, but the goal is to refine and perfect the process in order to appeal to people in those larger, wealthier markets.

There’s some reason for optimism. Packaged dried vegetables are already for sale in a few supermarkets in some African cities, including Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. In Rwanda, a women’s group dries pineapple in larger versions of the solar dryers Ngulu uses; they already sell to high-end clients around the country, and a client in Switzerland is interested in importing.

There are encouraging signs that food waste can be reduced in other parts of the developing world as well. Some involve other tools like the zero-energy cool chamber, a brick structure invented in India that uses evaporative cooling. In Rwanda, the government plans to improve farmers’ access to storage facilities nationwide; and in India, a network of agencies is offering subsidies for investments in post-harvest infrastructure and simple related technologies.

Bertha Mjawa was Tanzania’s first point person on post-harvest losses, as a senior agricultural officer with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives. She now works with a separate, but government-affiliated, project on the same issue. And she is seeing great changes from these efforts, which started over a decade ago but kicked into high gear only around 2010.

“Just last week, I met some women selling tomatoes on the side of the road,” she said. “Some of them graded, some didn’t,” she added, referring to the process of separating good tomatoes from bad. The women who sorted their tomatoes told her that they didn’t see any impact at first, but eventually customers noticed and buying habits changed. First came a bit of customer loyalty toward sellers offering the highest quality; economic benefit for the producers followed. “They’re starting to charge more — and people are willing to pay,” said Mjawa.

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Rachel Cernansky is a freelance journalist in Denver. She writes about agriculture, health, and the environment.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/01/wasting-less-of-the-harvest-to-prosper-in-africa/?smid=nytcore-iphone-share&smprod=nytcore-iphone&_r=0

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The Christian Science Monitor

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2014/1117/Ghana-s-success-in-fight-against-hunger-holds-lessons-for-others
It started with a simple move to change the tax code so that farmers could keep more of the value of their cocoa crop.
By Chris Arsenault, Thomson Reuters Foundation

NOVEMBER 17, 2014

ROME — As India starts its version of Brazil’s famous zero hunger campaign, the world’s most populous democracy could take some inspiration from Ghana.

The West African country “has met zero hunger,” Jose Graziano da Silva, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization said last month.

Former Ghanaian president John Kufuor can take at least some of the credit for this.

It started with a simple move to change the tax code when Kufuor’s government first took office in 2001.

Taxes on cocoa, a key export crop, stood at 60 percent of the market price, so growers could keep only 40 percent of the value of their production.

“We reversed this, giving the farmers 60 percent of the profits,” Kufuor said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The state had been over-taxing the farmer.

“Farmers needed chemicals for fighting pests and fertilizers, the government paid for this.”

The investment paid off, and cocoa production doubled within four years, sending more money into state coffers for infrastructure investment.

The government then turned its attention to trying to mitigate deforestation. In 1960, more than 60 percent of the country was covered in forest but deforestation has decreased coverage to 21.7 percent today.

The state allowed landless families and unemployed people to use land where the forests had been cut, to plant crops interspersed with new trees in what became known as the Modified Taunga System.

After getting training from the state, local residents were able to earn an income when the trees were harvested, preventing additional land from being logged and improving food security for some of Ghana’s most vulnerable citizens.

Finally, the country tried to move up the value chain for its cocoa production.

“Chocolate, which is loved internationally, especially by the ladies, wasn’t part of our traditional diet,” Kufuor said. “The beans were exported.

“We saw the need to attract top quality processors to Ghana.”

Some large multinational confectionery companies moved in and set up factories, though the country still exports more raw beans than refined chocolate.

“The objective is to add value locally so 70 percent of the cocoa is processed and only 30 percent is exported [raw]. We are moving towards this,” Kufuor said.

Ghana’s per capita GDP shot up to $1,300 in 2007 from $400 in 2001, thanks largely to growth in the agriculture sector, high commodity prices, and the discovery of oil, which allowed it to reach lower middle income status and meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction ahead of schedule.

“One of the key factors [in Ghana’s success] has been strong political commitment at the highest level,” FAO Ghana representative Lamourdia Thiombiano said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They subsidized production, put resources into boosting capacity, and invested in providing services to farmers.”

“More production led to relatively better access to food,” Thiombiano said.

Significant development challenges remain, despite the improvements in agriculture, and Ghana ranked 138 out of 187 countries surveyed in the U.N. 2014 Human Development Report.

Today Kufuor, who gives speeches on the U.N. circuit and runs his own foundation, is optimistic that “rays of hope” and good policies will continue to improve food security in a world where 1 in 8 people still suffer from chronic malnutrition.

• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.

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FAO

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/238490/icode/

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Photo: ©FAO/©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) Editor-in-Chief Belinda Goldsmith.

9 July 2014, Rome – The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the corporate charity of the world’s biggest news and information providers, is teaming up with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve global information and awareness on hunger and food-related issues including food production, food security, food waste, agriculture, land use, and malnutrition.

An agreement signed today by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and the Thomson Reuters Foundation Editor-in-Chief Belinda Goldsmith outlines a number of joint activities to be undertaken by the Organization and the Foundation’s global team of journalists covering humanitarian issues, women’s rights, human trafficking, the human impact of climate change and corruption.

Speaking at the signing event, Graziano da Silva said: “This is a strategic alliance with an institution that has a longstanding commitment to free independent journalism, to human rights, to women’s empowerment, and to the rule of law.”

“We cover the world’s under reported stories,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “this new partnership is perfectly in line with our core values, and I am extremely happy and confident we will deliver the necessary impact, boosting awareness and triggering change”.

A new online platform on hunger and nutrition
The agreement foresees the creation of a new section on trust.org, the Thomson Reuters Foundation portal, entirely dedicated to delivering news content on hunger and food issues to be launched next fall. Stories will be produced and sourced by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and made available for free usage worldwide in order to spread information on food security as widely as possible.

Topics to be covered will include food production, food security and safety, food waste, agriculture and land use, under nutrition and malnutrition, and food affordability among others.

Media’s critical role in transforming lives
Under the shared view that trusted news and information is a key tool in the fight for human rights and specifically against hunger, the partnership aims to highlight the importance of providing accurate, updated and helpful information about hunger, nutrition and food production challenges.

“I am fully convinced that the media play a critical role in every society, not only informing and raising people’s awareness, but also being able to transform their lives,” Graziano da Silva said.
This potential is “far more significant when it can benefit and change the lives of people who suffer from chronic hunger and improve their food security,” he added.

The Director-General also underlined the importance of considering nutrition a public issue and a main element of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

“Hunger and food security-related issues are under reported,” said Goldsmith. “With population growth and increased demand for food, food security is such a critical issue that we cover.”

Goldsmith stressed that this new partnership is an opportunity to make the public aware, which she said was the first step to taking the problem seriously and making changes that can impact lives.

“Ending hunger is a difficult and complex task, but with the invaluable contribution of partners like the Thomson Reuters Foundation to our work, we can definitely meet the challenge,” Graziano da Silva said.

The United Kingdom’s commitment to tackle malnutrition
The United Kingdom Permanent Representative to FAO, Ambassador Neil Briscoe, said: “The story needs to be heard loudly. In a world of competing priorities, it is easy for some of these longer-term issues to get drowned out.”

“Partnerships like today’s can help make the story long-lasting and underscore that hunger is not going away, and unless we give it the urgency that it deserves we will fail.”

He referred to the UK’s strong commitment to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity as part of a “moral imperative to help those who don’t have enough food to reach their physical and cognitive potential.”

Briscoe reiterated that this can only be done as a multi-stake holder effort. “We can only deliver if we involve governments, UN organizations, the private sector and civil society, often the best source of information on the ground,” he said.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the corporate charity of Thomson Reuters, the global news and information provider, and is headquartered in London, United Kingdom.

 

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