Indigenous Women in Mexico Take United Stance Against Inequality

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Women & Economy

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko'ox Tani Foundation

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation

UAYMA, Mexico , Apr 26 2022 (IPS) – Every other Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. sharp, a group of 26 Mexican women meet for an hour to discuss the progress of their work and immediate tasks. Anyone who arrives late must pay a fine of about 25 cents on the dollar.


The collective has organized in the municipality of Uayma (which means “Not here” in the Mayan language) to learn agroecological practices, as well as how to save money and produce food for family consumption and the sale of surpluses.

“We have to be responsible. With savings we can do a little more,” María Petul, a married Mayan indigenous mother of two and a member of the group “Lool beh” (“Flower of the road” in Mayan), told IPS in this municipality of just over 4,000 inhabitants, 1,470 kilometers southeast of Mexico City in the state of Yucatán, on the Yucatán peninsula.

The home garden “gives me enough to eat and sell, it helps me out,” said Petul as she walked through her small garden where she grows habanero peppers (Capsicum chinense, traditional in the area), radishes and tomatoes, surrounded by a few trees, including a banana tree whose fruit will ripen in a few weeks and some chickens that roam around the earthen courtyard.

The face of Norma Tzuc, who is also married with two daughters, lights up with enthusiasm when she talks about the project. “I am very happy. We now have an income. It’s exciting to be able to help my family. Other groups already have experience and tell us about what they’ve been doing,” Tzuc told IPS.

The two women and the rest of their companions, whose mother tongue is Mayan, participate in the project “Women saving to address climate change”, run by the non-governmental Ko’ox Tani Foundation (“Let’s Go Ahead”, in Mayan), dedicated to community development and social inclusion, based in Merida, the state capital.

This phase of the project is endowed with some 100,000 dollars from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the non-binding environmental arm of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), formed in 1994 by Canada, the United States and Mexico and replaced in 2020 by another trilateral agreement.

The initiative got off the ground in February and will last two years, with the aim of training some 250 people living in extreme poverty, mostly women, in six locations in the state of Yucatán.

The maximum savings for each woman in the group is about 12 dollars every two weeks and the minimum is 2.50 dollars, and they can withdraw the accumulated savings to invest in inputs or animals, or for emergencies, with the agreement of the group. Through the project, the women will receive seeds, agricultural inputs and poultry, so that they can install vegetable gardens and chicken coops on their land.

The women write down the quotas in a white notebook and deposit the savings in a gray box, kept in the house of the group’s president.

José Torre, project director of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation, explained that the main areas of entrepreneurship are: community development, food security, livelihoods and human development.

“What we have seen over time is that the savings meetings become a space for human development, in which they find support and solidarity from their peers, make friends and build trust,” he told IPS during a tour of the homes of some of the savings group participants in Uayma.

The basis for the new initiative in this locality is a similar program implemented between 2018 and 2021 in other Yucatecan municipalities, in which the organization worked with 1400 families.

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Unequal oasis

Yucatan, a region home to 2.28 million people, suffers from a high degree of social backwardness, with 34 percent of the population living in moderate poverty, 33 percent suffering unmet needs, 5.5 percent experiencing income vulnerability and almost seven percent living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit this Latin American country in February 2020 exacerbated these conditions in a state that depends on agriculture, tourism and services, similar to the other two states that make up the Yucatán Peninsula: Campeche and Quintana Roo.

Inequality is also a huge problem in the state, although the Gini Index dropped from 0.51 in 2014 to 0.45, according to a 2018 government report, based on data from 2016 (the latest year available). The Gini coefficient, where 1 indicates the maximum inequality and 0 the greatest equality, is used to calculate income inequality.

The situation of indigenous women is worse, as they face marginalization, discrimination, violence, land dispossession and lack of access to public services.

More than one million indigenous people live in the state.

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate crisis, yet another vulnerability

Itza Castañeda, director of equity at the non-governmental World Resources Institute (WRI), highlights the persistence of structural inequalities in the peninsula that exacerbate the effects of the climate crisis.

“In the three states there is greater inequality between men and women. This stands in the way of women’s participation and decision-making. Furthermore, the existing evidence shows that there are groups in conditions of greater vulnerability to climate impacts,” she told IPS from the city of Tepoztlán, near Mexico City.

She added that “climate change accentuates existing inequalities, but a differentiated impact assessment is lacking.”

Official data indicate that there are almost 17 million indigenous people in Mexico, representing 13 percent of the total population, of which six million are women.

Of indigenous households, almost a quarter are headed by women, while 65 percent of indigenous girls and women aged 12 and over perform unpaid work compared to 35 percent of indigenous men – a sign of the inequality in the system of domestic and care work.

To add to their hardships, the Yucatan region is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, such as droughts, devastating storms and rising sea levels. In June 2021, tropical storm Cristobal caused the flooding of Uayma, where three women’s groups are operating under the savings system.

For that reason, the project includes a risk management and hurricane early warning system.

The Mexican government is building a National Care System, but the involvement of indigenous women and the benefits for them are still unclear.

Petul looks excitedly at the crops planted on her land and dreams of a larger garden, with more plants and more chickens roaming around, and perhaps a pig to be fattened. She also thinks about the possibility of emulating women from previous groups who have set up small stores with their savings.

“They will lay eggs and we can eat them or sell them. With the savings we can also buy roosters, in the market chicks are expensive,” said Petul, brimming with hope, who in addition to taking care of her home and family sells vegetables.

Her neighbor Tzuc, who until now has been a homemaker, said that the women in her group have to take into account the effects of climate change. “It has been very hot, hotter than before, and there is drought. Fortunately, we have water, but we have to take care of it,” she said.

For his part, Torre underscored the results of the savings groups. The women “left extreme poverty behind. The pandemic hit hard, because there were families who had businesses and stopped selling. The organization gave them resilience,” he said.

In addition, a major achievement is that the households that have already completed the project continue to save, regularly attend meetings and have kept producing food.

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Indian Agriculture Towards 2030

Asia-Pacific, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Headlines, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Water & Sanitation

Opinion

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Apr 4 2022 (IPS) – India began its journey as an independent nation in 1947 with fresh memory of the Bengal Famine of 1943 which claimed 1.5 to 3 million lives. Against this backdrop, the First Five Year Plan (1951-56) prioritized agriculture which, however, shifted to heavily industrialization in the second Plan.


Shyam Khadka

The mid-1960s was a difficult time when consecutive droughts hit food production and India had to import about 11 million metric ton (MMT) of wheat per year – about 15% of its domestic food grain production – under US Public Law 480. With the availability of high yielding miracle seeds of wheat and rice accompanied by increasing use of chemical fertilisers, provision of minimum support price (MSP) for rice and wheat, expansion in irrigated area, and gradual mechanization of farms, Indian agri-food system fortunately took a definitive positive turn beginning late 1960s. As a result, India has become the largest producer of milk (187.7 MMT in 2019-20) and cotton (37.5 million bales in 2019-20) and the second largest producer of rice (117.5 MMT in 2019-20) and wheat (106.2 MMT in 2019-20), fruits (97.97 MMT in 2018-19) and vegetables (183.17 MMT in 2018-19). India today is not only food self-sufficient but also a net exporter of agricultural produce. In short, the success of Indian agriculture in last six decades has been nothing less than spectacular.

The success, however, has come with significant costs. The resource intensification that the Green Revolution requires has adversely affected natural resources and environment. India pumped 245 million cubic meters – about 25 percent of total groundwater withdrawn globally – for irrigation in 2011. As a result, ground water in 1,034 blocks (16% of total blocks) are over-exploited. Worse, ground water table has become critical in 4% and semi-critical in 10% of the blocks. Similarly, some 37% of land area in the country (120.4 mn ha) is affected by various types of land degradation. Subsidy policy-induced non-judicious use of fertilizers has led to the chemicalization of soil and pollution of water through leaching and run-off. Despite abundant supply of food grains, in 2020 41.7% of under-5 children suffered from stunting. India is home to 208.6 million – or over a quarter – of world’s undernourished people. Other challenges that Indian agriculture faces today include uneven regional growth, rising fiscal constraints, mounting and unsustainable level of subsidies, small holding size and further fragmentation of holdings and accompanying land tenurial issues, and low resource use efficiency, particularly of water. These factors act as serious impediments for sustained agricultural growth and farmers’ livelihoods.

Amidst the success and emerging challenges NITI Aayog, the apex public policy think tank of the Government of India and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) decided to facilitate a national dialogue among key stakeholders including government agencies, academia, civil society organisations, farmers, private sector, international organizations, media and others to articulate a vision for 2030 and pathways for the remandating of agriculture in India. To this end, 10 thematic papers were commissioned from distinguished professionals. A 3-day national dialogue entitled, ‘Indian Agriculture Towards 2030: Pathways for enhancing Farmers’ Income, Nutritional Security and Sustainable Food and Farm Systems” was held in January 2021. NITI Aayog and FAO have now come up with a publication with the same title (Chand, R., Joshi, P, and Khadka, S., Editors (2022), Springer).

In addition to the challenges enumerated above the books also deals with issues of climate change and its impact on agricultural production and farmers’ incomes and the strategies to mitigate such change; growing incidence of pests, pandemics, and transboundary diseases and threat to biosecurity affecting agricultural production; and alternative farming systems for transformative and sustainable agroecology and biodiverse future. The role of science, technology and innovation is identified as key to sustainable and resilient agriculture. Similarly, role of structural reforms and governance are discussed in detail and the role of price policies, market reforms and institutions are being highlighted for an efficient, inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

The National Dialogue identified pathways for transformation with emphasis on remandating Indian agriculture in a way that makes it more productive, efficient, resilient, resource conserving, nutrition centered and globally focused. These transformational outcomes are to be achieved by focusing on following pathways:

    • Increasing investment in agriculture, first to reverse the declining trend and then achieving ‘efficient’ growth rather than growth alone, increased adoption of improved technology, reorienting agricultural science, technology and innovations, applying digital solutions and artificial intelligence, better use of information and communication technology, application of One Health concept;
    • Making Indian agriculture globally-focused, shifting attention from self-sufficiency to adding value through increased processing and achieving a high rate of export growth
    • Enhancing the efficiency of the water and other resources, mainly by correcting distorted water pricing, adopting water conserving technologies and agro-ecological approach, changes in the cropping pattern, and reversing neglect of rainfed areas;
    • Making agriculture climate resilient, by adopting several no-regret technological and institutional options as well as by undertaking more targeted research, use of big data analytics, and adoption of a science-based and green growth approach;
    • Tackling nutrition and food safety, by diversifying diet, reducing post-harvest losses, encouraging bio-fortifications, empowering women, enforcing food safety standards, improving water sanitation and hygiene, and promoting food safety awareness and nutrition education;
    • Focusing sharply on innovations, incentives and institutions that contribute to enhance productivity, enhance resilience to climate change, incentivize water and energy conservation, and by adopting more conducive regulatory environment such as for exploiting ground water; and
    • Adopting appropriate policies and improving governance such as by reducing distortion caused by the MSP, accelerating rural infrastructure creation, ensuring greater engagement of the state governments, enhancing access to credit and extension services, and expansion of contract farming.

As emphasised by Honourable M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice-President of India in his foreword, the book ‘provides a sound basis for reflection because they distil important lessons and present an array of policy options for the government to choose from’.

Shyam Khadka is a former senior official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations who served as representative in India (2015-18) and was Senior Portfolio Manager in United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (1997-2014). An international development professional, Khadka works on policies, programs and projects that aim at developing agriculture, ensuring food security, and reducing poverty globally.

IPS UN Bureau

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Donors Must Rethink Africa’s Flagging Green Revolution, New Evaluation Shows (Commentary)

Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Green Economy, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Opinion

BOSTON, Mar 23 2022 (IPS) • A scathing new analysis of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) finds that the program is failing at its objective to increase food security on the continent, despite massive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US, UK, and German governments.


• On March 30, critics of AGRA will brief U.S. congressional aides about why they think it is doing more harm than good.

• As fertilizer and food prices spike with rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine war, African farmers and governments need the kind of resilient, low-cost alternatives that techniques like agroecology offer, a new opinion piece argues.

A critical new donor-funded evaluation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has confirmed what African civil society and faith leaders have claimed: “AGRA did not meet its headline goal of increased incomes and food security for 9 million smallholders.”

The evaluation should be a wake up call, and not just for the private and bilateral donors that have bankrolled this 15-year-old effort to the tune of $1 billion. It should also rouse African governments to repurpose their agricultural subsidies from the Green Revolution package of commercial seeds and fertilizers to agroecology and other low-cost, low-input approaches. They have been providing as much as $1 billion per year for such input subsidies.

Failing Africa’s farmers

Carried out by consulting firm Mathematica, the evaluation confirms that the Green Revolution has failed to achieve AGRA’s stated goal to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa.”

Wambui Mwihaki, a farmer from central Kenya, takes stock of her thriving maize crop following adoption of agroecology. Credit: David Njagi for Mongabay.

The assessment was funded by AGRA’s primary sponsor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on behalf of other lead donors in AGRA’s Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA): the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; the Rockefeller Foundation; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The evaluation includes a summary of findings, a statistical appendix, and AGRA’s formal responses to the findings, all available publicly.

Such transparency is welcome. AGRA has been plagued by a lack of accountability since its founding in 2006. I undertook my own assessment of AGRA in 2020 when I could find no comprehensive analysis, from AGRA nor its donors, of its progress toward ambitious goals to double yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming families while halving food insecurity by 2020. Using national-level data, I found little evidence of progress, with meager productivity increases, little progress on poverty, and a 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries.

The new evaluation is far from comprehensive. It covers only AGRA’s last five years of work, ignoring its first 10. It reports on results in just six of AGRA’s current 11 focus countries. Its data on yields is almost exclusively on maize and rice, to the exclusion of the many other staple food crops crucial to Africans’ sustenance. And it fails to incorporate or address the concerns raised publicly by African civil society and faith leaders in public letters to AGRA’s donors.

Agroforestry is a kind of agroecology where crops are grown in combination with trees, like this pumpkin that Eunice Manyi raised among fruit trees in Kenya. Credit: David Njagi for Mongabay.

Still, the findings about poor outcomes for farmers should raise concerns for private and bilateral donors to AGRA’s PIATA strategy and for the African governments that are active partners – and funders – in that effort.

Quoting from the evaluation:

    • “PIATA improved maize yields in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria, but not in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, or Kenya.” Maize is AGRA’s most heavily supported crop, so the failure to achieve yield growth in half the countries studied is alarming.
    • “Across these six countries, only farmers in Burkina Faso experienced improved maize sales as a result of PIATA.” This raises serious questions about the Green Revolution “theory of change.” Even when yields rose, they failed to translate into rising incomes for farmers.
    • “Farmers who adopted improved inputs and experienced yield increases were typically younger, male, and relatively wealthier…. productivity and income gains were also concentrated among these relatively high-resource farmers.” This finding directly contradicts the stated goals of USAID and other bilateral donors to ensure that their assistance programs benefit and empower women.
    • “AGRA’s next strategy could formally recognize that agricultural technologies and practices—such as fertilizer use and rice cultivation—can negatively impact environmental conditions and greenhouse gas emissions.” Evaluators fault AGRA on a wide range of environmentally damaging impacts, including a lack of attention to helping farmers adapt to climate change.
    • “AGRA surveys are currently not suited for rigorous impact analysis.” Evaluators offer many criticisms of the initiative’s poor monitoring and evaluation methods.

Time to rethink Green Revolution model

Evaluators gave AGRA credit for some of its work, saying it “was successful in developing key policy reforms, mobilizing flagships and partnerships, and reaching farmers with extension and seeds,” and it helped “incentivize private sector engagement in the production and delivery of improved seeds in some countries.”

But these intermediate objectives, carried out with substantial funding over 15 years, have thus far failed to further the goals of improving farmers’ productivity, incomes, and food security. When one’s development successes fail to produce the intended results, after 15 years and one billion dollars in donor funding, it is time to reconsider the efficacy of the initiative. It is time to rethink the Green Revolution model.

See related: Push-pull agroecology method debugs organic farming’s pest problem in Kenya

Farmers with seeds in West Africa. Image courtesy of Grassroots International.

AGRA’s management responded to the evaluation saying, “We must therefore rethink our models and focus our support, and that of our partners, on building resilience and adaptation specifically for smallholder farmers.” But there is little sign AGRA intends to pull back from its costly input-intensive Green Revolution model. AGRA president Agnes Kalibata recently defended the status quo in a Q&A with the East African.

Hopefully donors and African governments will take the new evaluation more seriously. African civil society and faith leaders have urged donors to shift their funding to agroecology and other low-cost, low-input systems, which were endorsed last year by the U.N. Committee on World Food Security as a key strategy for climate-resilient development. Such approaches have shown far better results, raising yields across a range of food crops, increasing productivity over time as soil fertility improves, increasing incomes and reducing risk for farmers by cutting input costs, and improving food security and nutrition from a diverse array of crops.

USAID was quick to reject any change in aid priorities. A spokesperson told US Right to Know, “USAID reviewed the findings and recommendations and is satisfied with the independence and rigor of the [Mathematica] evaluation. We appreciate AGRA’s response to the report conclusions and concur with their proposed next steps to improve performance outcomes.”

That will not satisfy African civil society and faith leaders, who were not consulted for the Mathematica evaluation. They plan to take their complaints to the U.S. Congress, which this year has to reauthorize funding for AGRA through its Feed the Future initiative. On March 30, they will brief congressional aides in a closed-door session to explain why the supposed beneficiaries think AGRA is doing more harm than good. As evaluators acknowledge, the main beneficiaries are wealthier male farmers, an outcome at odds with the stated goals of U.S. development policy.

As fertilizer and food prices spike with rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine war, African farmers and governments need the kind of resilient, low-cost alternatives agroecology offers. Kenyan farmers report today that the biofertilizers they make themselves from locally available materials cost one-quarter the price of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers.

African governments should recognize that continuing to subsidize increasingly expensive synthetic fertilizer is a losing proposition, especially when that and other Green Revolution inputs are producing such meager results.

It is time for private and bilateral donors – and African governments – to stop throwing good money after bad and recognize that their 15-year effort to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa” through Green Revolution seeds and fertilizers has fallen short. Fortunately, more promising alternatives are proving their efficacy all over the world. They deserve support.

Timothy A. Wise is a Senior Research Fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. A detailed analysis of the recent evaluation of AGRA is available from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), where the author is a senior advisor.

IPS UN Bureau

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Peasants Marginalized by Big Farmers

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Food and Agriculture, Global, Headlines, Inequality, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW DELHI and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 2022 (IPS) – A recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study shows the largest farms cultivate a high and increasing share of agricultural land in much of the world.

Farm size concentration
World Agricultural Census data for 129 countries show about 40% of the world’s farmland is operated by farms over 1000 hectares (ha) in size. About 70% is operated by the top 1% of farms, all bigger than 50 ha each.


Vikas Rawal

A rising share of farmland is in larger farms. But farm sizes in developed and developing countries seem quite different. Farms smaller than 5 ha accounted for 63% of land in low and lower middle-income countries. But such farms covered only 8% of farmland in upper middle and high-income countries.

The “share of farmland farmed on the largest holdings has increased in … several European countries (France, Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and in the United States of America.” Similarly, in recent decades, more land in many Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries is in larger farms.

Data coverage uneven
Most agricultural censuses in developing countries do not cover large scale farms well. Official agricultural statistics in many developing countries focus on farm households, often ignoring corporate farms.

Agricultural censuses typically rely on land records, usually neither up to date nor complete. Large farms often have land registered to different persons and entities, typically to avoid taxes and bypass land ownership ceilings and regulations.

Government surveys in India have not comprehensively covered large farms, understating inequality. Other data from India suggest the top fifth of farms account for 83% of land.

Even where large farms are legally recognized as commercial entities, land is often held via subsidiaries in complex arrangements. For such reasons, the extent of concentration is probably greater than what the study suggests.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Ominous trends
Despite its limitations, the study findings are ominous. Changing inequalities in farmland ownership and cultivation have reduced the smallholder or peasant share of food production.

The study suggests that ‘land grabs’, new laws and policies have enabled large (capitalist) farmers, agribusiness corporations and other commercial entities to control most of the world’s farmland.

Disparities in government support allowed by World Trade Organization and other trade agreements have enabled large farms in developed countries, like the US, to gain more advantages over relatively uninfluential peasants in the South.

More advantages to big farm capital in recent decades, particularly to large-scale commercial agriculture in the global North, have enhanced their edge. More peasant distress has pushed many deeper into debt. Many of the most vulnerable have had to migrate, seeking precarious employment elsewhere.

Under various pressures not to protect food agriculture, developing countries have cut support for peasants. Withdrawal of such assistance has forced farmers to buy inputs at commercial prices. Meanwhile, many have to sell their produce cheap to those providing credit or other facilities.

By enabling easier land takeovers, commercial farming has quickly spread in ecologically fragile areas such as the Brazilian Cerrado, various parts of sub-Saharan Africa and steep slopes subject to deforestation.

Small farms, world food
The study has triggered a controversy by asserting that ‘family farms’ is a broader category than smallholdings. These would include large family-owned or run farms.

Hence, family farms account for 80% of the total value of food produced in the world, while smallholdings account for only 35%. These estimates have been contested by several civil society organizations who have protested to the FAO Director General.

Most agricultural censuses do not provide data on production by farm size. Instead, the study divides the total market value of a country’s food output by its total farmland. It then assumes a constant food output value per hectare. But this ignores significant differences in crop output among farms of different types.

Commercial bias
In many countries, large farms produce more commercial crops, not necessarily food. These may be for manufacturing (e.g., rubber, cotton), animal feed, or to be industrially processed for consumption (e.g., sugar, palm oil, coffee).

Many smallholder peasants consume significant shares of their own farm outputs. They typically work on limited land and need to meet their own food needs, rather than maximize cash incomes. Hence, their priorities may be rather different from those of commercial farms.

More fertile regions (e.g., river deltas) tend to have greater population densities, smaller farm sizes and higher productivity. Such smaller farms often grow multiple crops yearly, while larger farms with harsher agro-climatic conditions (e.g., higher temperatures, more snow or less water availability) often only have a single crop annually.

Although not universal, and often overstated, there is evidence of smallholders having higher land productivity, inversely related to farm size, owing to differences in the way factor inputs are used by various types of farms.

By assuming constant food output value per hectare, the study ignores many important variations, and probably under-estimates the contributions of small farms to world food supply.

Peasants marginalized
The study shows how various systemic advantages and biases have enabled big capitalist farms to control more of the world’s farmland and food supplies. But the share of food supply produced by smallholder producers is far from settled.

While more pronounced in rich countries, large corporate farms have also been growing in many developing countries. Even where family farming is predominant, increasing farm sizes have been apparent.

The study rightly notes the need to consider different types of farms in making appropriate policies for family farms of various sizes. This is necessary to better formulate policies to address poverty and livelihoods, especially for smallholder producers in distress.

It even suggests the need to “hold large scale and corporate agriculture accountable for the negative externalities of their production (for example on the environment)”. Besides better farming data, farmland concentration and its many implications in various parts of the world should be more appropriately addressed.

Vikas Rawal is Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has conducted field research on agrarian relations in different parts of India for three decades, and works on global agricultural development challenges. Inter alia, he was lead author of The Global Economy of Pulses (FAO).

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Rural Women in Peru Seed Water Today to Harvest It Tomorrow

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation, Women & Climate Change

Water & Sanitation

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

CUZCO, Peru , Dec 22 2021 (IPS) – “When I was a little girl we didn’t suffer from water shortages like we do now. Today we are experiencing more droughts, our water sources are drying up and we cannot sit idly by,” Kely Quispe, a small farmer from the community of Huasao, located half an hour from Cuzco, the capital of Peru’s ancient Inca empire, told IPS.


She is one of the 80 members of the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristan Peruvian Women’s Center, a non-governmental institution that has worked for the recovery of water sources through traditional techniques known as seeding and harvesting water in this part of the southern Andean region of Cuzco.

Muñapata, Huasao and Sachac are the three rural Quechua-speaking communities in the province of Quispicanchi, located between 3150 and 3800 meters above sea level, that have so far benefited from the project. The feminist-oriented institution promotes solutions based on nature and community work to address the problem of water scarcity and inadequate water use practices.

“We want to boost water security as well as gender equality because they are two sides of the same coin,” Elena Villanueva told IPS. On Dec. 14 she presented in this city the results of the initiative whose first phase was carried out in 2020 and 2021, with the support of the Basque Development Cooperation Agency and Mugen Gainetik, an international association for cooperation with countries of the developing South also based in Spain’s northern Basque region.

According to the National Water Authority (ANA), Peru is the eighth country in the world in terms of water availability, with a rich hydrodiversity of glaciers, rivers, lakes, lagoons and aquifers. However, various factors such as inefficient management of water and uneven territorial distribution of the population, in addition to climate change, make it impossible to meet consumption demands.

“The lack of water severely affects families in rural areas because they depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. The melting of glaciers as well as the increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts due to climate change are reducing water availability,” Villanueva explained.

This impact, she said, is not neutral. Because of the gender discrimination and social disadvantages they face, it is rural women who bear the brunt, as their already heavy workload is increased, their health is undermined, and their participation in training and decision-making spaces is further limited.

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center's Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center’s Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

“Moreover, although they are the ones who use water to ensure food, hygiene and health, and to irrigate their crops, they are not part of the decision-making with regard to its management and distribution,” she stressed.

The expert said that precisely in response to demand by the women farmers at the Agroecological School, where they receive technical and rights training, they are focusing on reviving water harvesting techniques used in ancient Peru, while promoting the equal participation of women in rural communities in the process.

She said that approximately 700 families living in poverty, some 3,500 people – about 11 percent of the population of the three communities – will benefit from the works being carried out.

Harvesting water

So far, these works are focused on the afforestation of 15 hectares and the construction of six “cochas” – the name for small earthen ponds, in the Quechua language – and an infiltration ditch, as part of a plan that will be expanded with other initiatives over the next two years.

The ditch, which is one kilometer long in 10-meter stretches, 60 centimeters deep and 40 centimeters wide and is located in the upper part of the community, collects rainwater instead of letting it run down the slopes.

The technique allows water to infiltrate slowly in order to feed natural springs, high altitude wetlands or small native prairies, as well as the cochas.

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

In their communal work, villagers use local materials and greenhouse thermal blankets to help retain water. In addition, they have used extracted soil to raise the height of the ditch, to keep rainwater from running over the top.

Although the ditch has been receiving rainwater this month (the rainy season begins in November-December), the ecosystem impact is expected to be more visible in about three years when the cocha ponds have year-round water availability, helping villagers avoid the shortages of the May-October dry season.

Several community members explained to IPS that they will now be able to harvest water from the ditch while at the same time caring for the soil, because heavy rain washes it away and leaves it without nutrients. Some 150 agricultural plots will also benefit from a sprinkler irrigation system, thanks to the project.

Since agriculture is the main livelihood of the families and this activity depends on rainwater, the main impact will be the availability of water during the increasingly prolonged dry periods to irrigate their crops, ensure harvests and avoid hunger, for both villagers and their livestock.

Eucalyptus and pine, huge consumers of water

The mayor of the Sachac community, Eugenio Turpo Quispe, told IPS that this is the first time that water seeding and harvesting practices have been carried out in his area. “We had not had the opportunity before; these works have begun thanks to the women who proposed forestation and the construction of cochas and ditches,” he said.

The local leader lamented that due to misinformation, two decades ago they planted pine and eucalyptus in the highlands of his community. “They have dried up our water sources, and when it rains the water disappears, it does not infiltrate. Now we know that out of ten liters of rain that falls on the ground, eight are absorbed by the eucalyptus and only two return to the earth,” he explained during the day that IPS spent in the community.

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Turpo Quispe said they had seen forestation and construction of cochas and ditches in other communities, but did not know how to replicate them, and that only through the Flora Tristán Center’s project have they been able to implement these solutions to tackle the serious problem of shrinking water sources.

In Sachac, the three techniques have been adopted with the participation of women and men in communal work that began at six in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon. “Side by side we have been planting native plants, digging ditches and hauling stones for the cochas,” the mayor said proudly.

In this community, 9,000 seedlings of queuñas (Polylepis) and chachacomos (Escallonia Resinosas) – tree species that were used in the times of the ancient Inca empire – were planted. “These trees consume only two liters of rainwater and give eight back to Pachamama (Mother Earth),” Turpo Quispe said. As part of the project, the community has built fences to protect crops and has relocated grazing areas for their animals.

“We have planted seedlings and in 10 or 15 years our children and grandchildren will see all our hills green and with living springs so that they do not suffer a lack of water,” the mayor said.

Kely Quispe from the community of Huasao is equally upbeat: “With water we can irrigate our potatoes, corn and vegetables; increase our production to have enough to sell and have extra money; take care of our health and that of the whole family, and prevent the spread of covid.”

“But just as we use water for life, it is also up to us to participate on an equal footing with men in irrigation committees and community councils to decide how it is distributed, conserved and managed,” she added.

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The decade of water security

Villanueva of the Flora Tristán Center said it was important for the country’s local and regional authorities to commit to guaranteeing water security in rural areas within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development was declared for 2018-2028 by the United Nations and SDG6 is dedicated to water and sanitation, to ensure universal and equitable access for all, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, and support the participation of local communities in improving management and sanitation.

“At the national level, public policies aimed at seeding and harvesting water should be strengthened because they revive the communities’ ancestral knowledge, involving sustainable practices with low environmental impact that contribute to guaranteeing the food security of families,” she said.

However, Villanueva remarked, in order to achieve their objectives, these measures must not only promote equal participation of men and women, but must also be accompanied by actions to close the gender gap in education, access to resources, training and violence that hinder the participation and development of rural women.

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COP26 Could Get Hot, but Southern African Region Needs it to be Cool and Committed

Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Action

The Southern African region is particularly vulnerable to climate change while only being responsible for a fraction of emissions. It is hoped that COP26 will deliver tangible benefits to the area which has already suffered severe impacts of climate change like the effects of Cyclone Idai, Mozambique, in March 2019. Credit: Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

Johannesburg, Oct 26 2021 (IPS) – COP26 is almost upon us, and dire warnings abound that it’s boom or bust for a greener future. Meanwhile, everybody boasts about what they will do to cool down our planet, but there is a disjuncture between talk and action. Even Queen Elizabeth II of the host country, the United Kingdom, has grumbled publicly that not enough action is taking place on climate change.


In the Southern Africa region, the SADC’s member countries are clear that the developed countries must stump up the money to help them deliver their promises to reduce carbon emissions and carry out a raft of measures to combat global warming. All the SADC countries are signatories to the Paris Agreement.

The region has joined the cry of other African countries that the continent suffers most from climate change but hardly contributes to the causes of the phenomenon – emitting less than 4% of the world’s greenhouse gasses.
According to research undertaken on behalf of the UN, climate change adaptation needs for Africa were estimated to be $715 billion ($0.715 trillion) between 2020 and 2030.

In southern Africa, each country has its own Nationally Developed Contribution plan for dealing with climate change, including costs. Of course, funding will be needed to achieve these goals. Developing countries have pledged a $100bn annual target to help the developing world tackle climate change. All the Southern African countries will need a slice of this funding. The Green Climate Fund was established under the Cancun Agreements in 2010 as a dedicated financing vehicle for developing countries.

In the lead up to COP26, the fund is under scrutiny. Tanguy Gahouma, chair of the African Group of Negotiators at COP26, has said: “African countries want a new system to track funding from wealthy nations that are failing to meet the $100bn annual target.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates this funding stood at $79.6bn in 2019. OECD data reveals that from 2016-19 Africa only got 26 percent of the funding.

Gahouma said a more detailed shared system was needed that would keep tabs on each country’s contribution and where it went on the ground.

“They say they achieved maybe 70 percent of the target, but we cannot see that,” Gahouma said.
“We need to have a clear road map how they will put on the table the $100bn per year, how we can track (it),” he said. “We don’t have time to lose, and Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

Amar Bhattacharya, from the Brookings Institution, says about the fund, “Some progress has been made – but a lot more needs to be done.”

Denmark’s development coordination minister Flemming Møller Mortensen has warned that only a quarter of international climate finance for developing countries goes to adaptation.

COP26 may turn into a squabble over money and perhaps an attack on developed countries as they are blamed for creating the problems of climate change in the first place by using fossil fuels for the last two centuries. G20 countries account for almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Again, it is all about the money. Many developed countries do not want to change; their economies (and their rich elites) are wedded to fossil fuels. There are also problems with paying for adaptation. Will the rich countries fund the developing countries to green themselves up?

Southern Africa will need to deal pragmatically with the outcomes of COP26 as it becomes crucial to deal with climate change impacts – like the vulnerability to intense storms like Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique in March 2019. Credit: Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

Professor Bruce Hewitson, the SARCHI Research Chair in Climate Change Climate System Analysis Group, Dept Environmental & Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town, told IPS: “The well-cited meme that Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change impacts is true, as is the common response that Africa needs external aid to implement adaptation and development pathways compatible to climate mitigation. However, such messages hide a myriad of political realities about the difference between what is ideal and what is likely.”

Hewitson argues that what emerges from COP26 is an exercise in hope and belief.

“It’s a tightrope walk trying to balance competing demands and self-interests. At the end of the day, Africa will need to pragmatically deal with a compromised outcome and face the climate challenges as best possible under limited resources,” he says.

If Africa goes to COP26 with a begging bowl attitude, it could face the risk of dancing to the strings of the powerful and rich nations.

“Climate change impacts Africa in a multiplicity of ways, but at the root is when the local climate change exceeds the viability threshold of our infrastructural and ecological systems. Hence, arguably the largest challenge to responding to climate change is to expand and enable the regional capacity of the science and decision-makers to responsibly steer our actions in an informed and cohesive way; Africa needs to lead the design of Africa’s solutions,” says Hewitson.

While he argues that some of the best innovation is happening in Africa, it requires resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased international funding.

“Each community has unique needs and unique challenges, needing unique local solutions that are context-sensitive and context-relevant, and this will inevitably include the pain of some socio-economic and political compromise.”
The southern African region’s climate woes chime with the problems faced by a legion of developing countries. We have Mauritius’s threatened Indian Ocean islands, Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros and those offshore of Tanzania and Mozambique, plus many thousands of miles of coastline. We have inland waterways. We have jungles, forests, vast plains and deserts. All prey to the viciousness of global warming.

The SADC’s climate change report quotes an academic paper by Rahab and Proudhomme that from 2002 “there has been a rise in temperatures at twice the global average.”

According to the SADC, “A Climate Change Strategy is in place to guide the implementation of the Climate Change Programme over a Fifteen-year period (2015 – 2030). The plan is innovative in terms of food security, preserving and expanding carbon sinks (which play a major role in stabilising the global climate) and tackling problems in urban areas that cause global warming like high energy consumption, poor waste management systems and inefficient transport networks.

Out of the region’s fifteen member countries, South Africa is the biggest culprit when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said, “We need to act with urgency and ambition to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and undertake a transition to a low-carbon economy.”

This is a big ask for the region’s economic powerhouse with entrenched mining interests, an abundance of coal and a huge fleet of coal-fired power stations.

Recently, Mining and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said South Africa must systematically manage its transition away from coal-fired power generation and not rush a switch to renewable energy sources.

“I am not saying coal forever… I am saying let’s manage our transition step by step rather than being emotional. We are not a developed economy, we don’t have all alternative sources.”

Angola has some of the most ambitious targets for transition to low-carbon development in Africa. The country committed to reducing up to 14% of its greenhouse gas emissions – commentators have met this with scepticism.
Mozambique, not – as yet – a significant carbon emitter, has potential, through its vast natural gas resources, to provide the wherewithal to heat the planet in a big way.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo – a least-developed country, has committed to a 17% reduction by 2030 in emissions. The DRC has the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest – a major carbon sink.

Other SADC countries that suffer from climate change but do very little to cause it are Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Madagascar, which is currently suffering from a climate-induced famine; Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia.

While talking up the need to cut emissions, Zambia’s neighbour Zimbabwe said it would increase electricity and coal supply to the iron and steel sectors, thus adding to emissions.

Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros are all vulnerable Island economies and have a lot in common with the many other island states throughout the world and are very low carbon emitters but extremely vulnerable to climate change especially rising sea levels.

Despite all the problems emerging in the lead up to COP 26, we need to take to heart the fact that scientists and commentators worldwide are warning that COP26 must deliver a way forward that works for our planet and our people. Southern Africa and the African continent as a whole can contribute with innovation and enthusiasm by tapping into the vast potential of our youthful population.