Tuesday, 26 April 2016


New tech allows for rapid and detailed assessments of vulnerable farmlands

In a bid to stay ahead of the negative impacts of climate change, floods and typhoons on food security, the Government of the Philippines and FAO have started using unmanned aerial drones to assess where farmlands are most at risk from natural disasters and quickly assess damages after they strike.
Drones are capable of covering up to 600 hectares a day and should
significantly accelerate the process of risk analysis.
Under a pilot phase of the still-fledgling project funded by   the Ministry of Agriculture of the Philippines and the FAO, two drones have already been sent soaring over the Philippines provinces that have been affected by the current El Niño.
Some 25 FAO and government technical experts are ready to be deployed across the archipelago to support drone missions. They were recently trained over three weeks on how to fly the drones and learned a range of remote aerial assessment methods.
The drones are equipped with navigation and photogrammetric equipment that can generate detailed and data rich maps from aerial photographs including Normalized Difference Vegetation Index or NDVI, a formula used for assessing vegetation and plant health.
Data gathered can be used to see where agricultural systems are at particular risk from natural disasters -- and identify ways through which such risks can be countered, for example, through ground contouring, building retaining walls, or planting protective vegetation.
Capable of covering up to 600 hectares a day, the drones should significantly accelerate the process of risk analysis, according to Christopher Morales, Director of Field Operations for the Philippines Department of Agriculture.
"It is efficient, it saves time and we will be using a reliable source of data so that we can plan and provide appropriate interventions and responses for our farmers in times of disasters and calamities," he says.
"Additionally, imagery generated from drone flights can reveal where agricultural infrastructure projects and service facilities like irrigation or storage facilities could be sited to best serve local farmers. The technology can also potentially support in the assessment of coastal and forest areas." said Jose Luiz Fernandez, FAO Representative in the Philippines.
A new tool for countries at risk from natural disasters
The Philippines is among the world's most at-risk countries for tropical storms and other disasters.
Over the past decade, earthquakes, typhoons and floods have claimed thousands of human lives and periodically left parts of the archipelago's infrastructure and economy in tatters.
Such disasters impact heavily on farms and food systems, leaving people without food in their immediate aftermath and undermining food production capacity for years afterwards.
Approximately 20 strong typhoons affect the Philippine Area of Responsibility each year. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan alone devastated 600 000 hectares of farmland and caused over $700 million in damage to the agriculture sector. In addition, the country is also highly vulnerable to other natural hazards such as drought, flooding and volcanic eruptions.
The vulnerability of the agriculture sector to natural hazards is evident elsewhere across the globe as well. Nearly a quarter of all damages inflicted by natural hazards such as drought, floods storms or tsunamis in the developing world are absorbed by the agriculture sector, FAO studies have shown.
Preparing for such events and taking steps to reduce risks to farmers and farming systems can greatly reduce such damages and avoid the need to build agriculture back from scratch following a disaster.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


The World Bank and other development partners have revealed that the total money transfers by African migrants to their region or country of origin surged by 3.4% to $35.2 billion, in 2015.

The sum which includes intra-African transfers, represents 6 percent of total transfers by migrants worldwide to their region or country of origin, Ecofin agency reports.
The total migrants transfers worldwide, though lesser compared to the previous year is estimated at $581.6 billion.
Africa is seen as number one in terms of migration and as such, some European countries have raised barriers thus making it more difficult for Africans to get visas.
Over the past four years, transfers by African migrants to their homes reached $134 .4 billion. A relatively low figure compared to licit and illicit financial flows from Africa.
According to a report published in 2015 by African Union High Level Panel against illicit financial flows, fiscal optimization allows Africa-based multinationals to send out up to $50 billion each year.
The report said high operations costs were behind the low level of money transferred by African migrants. It adds that these costs, though lower as compared to the year before (11.4%) represent 9.5% of total transferred.
There are presently 250 million migrants worldwide, refugees included. Populations with highest levels of migrants include Mexicans (migrating to the USA), Gulf countries and Russia’s satellites states.

The World Bank’s report however shows that African nations host at least four million migrants.


Africa’s huge agricultural potential holds the promise of covering much of the planet’s nutrition needs, but the continent is hampered by lack of infrastructure and intricate local politics.

In an effort to respond to the global food security issue, agribusinesses have expanded their activities in the developing world, with a special focus on Africa’s rich soils.
The move is seen with suspicion by environmental campaigners, which warn that turning to a Western type agri-food production model will only increase farmers’ dependence, leading them to long-term deadlock.
Declining poverty and rising population
The economy of the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region has seen remarkable improvements over the past decades.
World Bank figures show that the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, has declined by 23% between 1993 and 2015.
According to the latest estimates in the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World, hunger in the region declined by 31% in the period 1990-2015, by no means a small achievement. Today, approximately one out of four persons in SSA is estimated to be undernourished, considerably less than in the 1980s.
But the food and farming conundrum in Sub-Saharan Africa is far from being solved. First, the region is challenged with rapid population growth which affects the ability to ensure stable supply and access to food.
Second, Sub-Saharan Africa’s current population is 800 million and its economy remains deeply rooted in traditional farming. Agriculture employed 62% of the population and generated 27% of GDP in the region in 2005.
Smallholders dominate
Smallholder farms, defined as being two hectares or less are dominant in the region’s agriculture model. According to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 80% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is managed by smallholders working on up to 10 hectares.
The issue does not only concern Africa. On a global level, the UN says more than 90% of the 570 million farms worldwide are managed by an individual or a family, producing more than 80% of the world’s food.
Scientists have warned that in order to prevent a food crisis, pre-emptive measures should be taken to make these small-scale farms sustainable while avoiding intensive resource use.
Africa’s “green” revolution
To help meet those goals, the 10-year-old Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on smallholder farms to meet the various environmental challenges of the region, like seed production and soil health. A further objective is to open up a rich agriculture market which has been neglected all these years.
It brings together public and private sector working directly with African farmers, businesses, and governments.
AGRA argues that it has helped African farmers increase their production, resulting in direct household consumption and surpluses for the market.
According to AGRA’s 2015 report, in 2015 smallholder households produced about 3.4 million additional metric tons of cereals, soybeans and groundnuts for their own consumption as well as 1.5 million metric tons surplus for the market.
“Over the past nine years, AGRA and its partners have worked across 18 sub-Saharan African countries to deliver a set of solutions that have reached 18.2 million farm families,” AGRA’s Dr Richard Jones told EurActiv.com.
However, many challenges still lie ahead, mainly on a logistical level.
According to Dr Jones, the rapid population increase and high rates of urbanisation have exacerbated the need to increase local production through increased productivity.
“Local growth and development will come about not only from production but from aggregation, transport and value addition. The volumes required to meet the growing food requirements cannot be met by imports alone for the simple reason that the existing infrastructure is already challenged,” he stressed.
He added that the large numbers of widely-dispersed smallholder farmers who are poorly organised make it hard to deliver services and productivity-improving technologies on the input side.
“The costs of aggregating small quantities of surplus production from these widely dispersed smallholder farmers is logistically challenging,” he said, adding that the high costs of transport often make locally-produced grain more expensive than the imported one.
Another problem for smallholder farmers is the lack of access to productivity enhancing technologies such as quality seeds of superior varieties, mineral fertilisers, and crop protection products.
“The limited number of commercial seed companies, inappropriate government policies hindering the release of farmer-preferred varieties, lack of enforcement in quality control, and limited support for commercial distribution systems are some of the reasons,” he noted.
Tanzania’s agricultural “corridor”  
Attempts to overcome these myriad of local obstacles have focused on the creation of local transportation and distribution corridors.
One of them is the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), an agricultural multi-stakeholder partnership between the Tanzanian government, agri-corporations, donors, and NGOs.
Its main objective is to develop the region’s potential including productivity, food security and livelihoods and achieve a “Green Revolution” in Tanzania.
Initiated at the World Economic Forum Africa summit in May 2010, several stakeholders try to go beyond raising agricultural productivity and attract investments in several areas – roads, electricity, policy reform – to create an efficient and well-functioning agricultural chain.
Oslo-based fertiliser company Yara recently invested $25 million in a terminal in Tanzania and wants the country to become a national and regional hub for fertiliser distribution. Yara currently supplies 120,000 tons of fertiliser annually to the East African region, including through a network of distribution outlets across Tanzania.
Environmentalist NGOs, however, are concerned about such activities in Africa.
Increasing farmers’ dependence
Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero told EurActiv that G8 governments’ investments in developing countries’ agriculture, such as via the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa (NAFSN), have indicated that they operate in close contact with the private sector.
“This has, for instance, led country beneficiaries of international funds to modify or put in place biosafety legislation to set up the right legal framework allowing agro-chemical companies to market their patented seeds.”
He said that instead of external inputs such as seeds, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, the focus of governments should be on the actual needs of the population, “namely building infrastructures, storage facilities and irrigation systems”.
“These countries do not need (GM) seeds, even if it is true that they have very poor quality seeds, but their problem is that they don’t have silos to store their harvests, nor streets to bring their harvest to the market, nor functional markets where to sell their products”.
“This sends a very worrying signal,” the Greenpeace activist said, underlining that focusing Africa’s development on input-dependent agriculture is the “opposite of sustainable”.
The agri-food industry’s activities in Africa often come under environmentalist NGOs scrutiny.
One recent example is the British company Agrica which received millions in support from international aid donors to establish an industrial rice plantation in Tanzania as part of a SAGCOT project.
According to a research by The Oakland Institute in collaboration with Greenpeace Africa and Global Justice Now, the project had a devastating impacts on local communities.
“Although Agrica is portrayed as a responsible investment venture, its takeover of fertile land has brought misery to local communities,” Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute said.
She claimed that smallholders were forced off the land, received meagre compensation for their losses, and had to face debts resulting from doing business with Agrica.

An official response was sent by Agrica, denying the accusations.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


Many parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas are scorching in heat caused by a cyclical phenomenon known as El Niño. The unusually warm waters that come up to the surface in the Pacific Ocean every three to six years cause extreme weather conditions. The resulting drought is especially hard on the poorest people of sub-Saharan Africa.

Somaliland is one of the poorest African regions. Its rural population is struggling to make a living in the best of times, but drought makes it impossible. 
"I am 80. In the 80 years of my life, I've never seen such severe drought. It has killed so many animals and caused so much famine. Our lives are in danger," said Mohamed Omar, a farmer.
The situation is similar in the neighboring Puntland region and parts of Ethiopia. The United Nations last month called for urgent aid to save 1.7 million people in the affected parts of Somalia.
"Communities are losing their means for survival, and we need to stop this loss of lives and forced displacement as people have no other option than to move in search of food, water and income," said Peter de Clercq, a U.N. humanitarian coordinator.
But when there is no food and water for miles and miles around, moving may be futile. Some Ethiopian farmers have crossed the border to try to escape famine.
"The drought has been raging for three years in Ethiopia. We were told that there were pastures on the other side of the border. But when we got here, we found nothing," said farmer Hawo Rayab.
Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, is in the grip of its worst drought in decades. The government is appealing for aid to help 10 million affected people. 
The food shortage is also grave in Malawi, which has not yet recovered from last year's record flooding.
"Before the floods, my child was doing well. But after we lost our crops, my child got sick and became malnourished. That is what made me come to this hospital for treatment and food," said Liza Fatchi, a Malawian woman.
Malawi's president has declared a state of national disaster. But the food crisis in parts of Africa could get worse yet.
“The peak of the crisis is still to come. So, I think we will see the situation getting worse before it will get better. We talk about maybe a small improvement around mid-2016 or shortly after this," said Echo Ethiopia’s Johan Heffinck.

Experts say people in the affected areas depend on aid to survive and are calling for an urgent step-up of humanitarian efforts.


Engagement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through providing technical assistance would help establish growth-friendly policies for Sub-Saharan Africa, an official has said.
Speaking at an IMF meeting recently in Washington DC, South African Finance minister Pravin Gordhan made the remarks on behalf of sub-Saharan African countries that include Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“The engagement with the Fund will help in establishing a growth-friendly policy environment and rebuilding of policy buffers. As economies in the region evolve to forward-looking monetary policy frameworks we urge the Fund to provide technical assistance to support in smoothing the transition, and in building sufficient capacities,” he said.
“We welcome the upcoming review of the debt sustainability framework for low income countries to support in maintaining sustainable debt in pursuit of growth-enhancing fiscal policies. In addition to deepening structural reforms, infrastructure spending remains a key priority in creating an enabling environment for private sector growth.”
Gordhan said prospects for the region are weaker and uneven due to trade growth slowing, investment levels declining, continuing currency depreciation, increasing inflationary pressures, and financial conditions have tightened.
The IMF meeting was chaired by the governor of the Bank of Mexico Agustín Carstens, who said the fund supported efforts to assist low income countries in boosting their domestic resource mobilisation efforts.

“We support efforts to integrate capacity development and policy advice more closely, in particular, plans to assist low-income countries in boosting their domestic resource mobilisation efforts, alongside international tax issues,” Carstens said.