California isn’t the only state grappling with drought

Photo credit: Takepart

Bales of hay sit on a family farm near Logan, Kansas. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Drought Is Bigger Than California: New Relief Money Will Go to 8 Dry States


California isn’t the only state grappling with dry weather and a farming sector thirsty for more water.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced $21 million to support sustainable farming practices on Tuesday to help mitigate the impacts of the dry spell. In addition to California, which has been hogging the water-scarcity headlines ever since Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory water-use reductions, seven states are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

USDA is making the funds available to farmers in those states: California, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. Funded through the 2014 farm bill, the new cash will go toward helping farmers invest in various water-conservation measures, including irrigation upgrades, watering facilities for livestock, changes in grazing systems, and more. In most cases, USDA will cover half of the required costs, with the farm’s owner making up the difference.

From a sustainability standpoint, two farming systems covered by the relief funding are most interesting: the introduction of cover crops and conversion to no-till practices, both of which help increase soil fertility and water retention.

Planting seeds in fields littered with the dead, decomposing remnants of last year’s crops—organic material that would otherwise be tilled under, hence “no-till”—has been on the rise over the past 15 years. In 2009, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report, 35.5 percent of farmland planted in the top eight crops grown in the U.S. were no-till operations. As the old plant material breaks down, it feeds the soil; the dry material covering what would otherwise be bare dirt keeps erosion down and, like mulch, helps the soil retain water.

Read the full article: Takepart

The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept to alleviate hunger and malnutrition

Photo credit: * Sack – vegetables – Photo Recetas Mierdaeuristhuerto-en-saco.png

Kenyans Attack Food Insecurity with Urban Farms and Sack Gardens

By Lisa Vives

* Sacks - Kibera, Kenya - Photo Avantgardens - 24631_623615430985555_2019559313_n_2.jpg
* Sacks – Kibera, Kenya – Photo Avantgardens – 24631_623615430985555_2019559313_n_2.jpg

In the midst of one of Africa’s largest slums, vegetables are growing.

It began as a French initiative to support jobless youth after a spasm of post-election violence in 2008 – and feed them at the same time.

The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept, introduced by the NGO Solidarites International, makes it possible to grow food in small spaces and save money for other purchases. In Mathare, Kiambiu and Kibera slums, with close to 3 million inhabitants, Solidarités has brought sack-gardening to about 22,109 households, directly benefitting over 110,000 people.

* Sacks - cabbage - Photo Pata Gonia - 309392_532589656760851_2003668906_n.jpg
* Sacks – cabbage – Photo Pata Gonia – 309392_532589656760851_2003668906_n.jpg

The upright urban farms in Kibera consist of a series of sacks filled with manure, soil and small stones that enable water to drain. From the tops and sides of these sacks, referred to as multi-story gardens, Kibera farmers grow kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and arrowroot which sprout from the tops and sides.

Today, Kibera has thousands of sack gardens spread across 16 villages in the slum, according to Douglas Kangi, principal agricultural officer on the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Across Africa, informal growing operations are expected to become critical in the coming years. With a constant stream of people leaving the farms for the cities, the continent’s urban population is set to top 700 million by 2030 up from 400 million today and 53 million in 1960, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

City farming, either in sacks or on small bits of land, has taken root in Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana with 25 to 50 percent of all city households said to be engaged in food cropping. In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have home gardens. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some schools have their own gardening programmes.

Read the full text: IPS

Water and food


Water for food security and nutrition


In her blog post on the Guardian’s Global development blog, Professor Lyla Mehta, report team leader, and professorial fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, writes that, “There is no doubt that land, food and water issues are linked. The barriers to joined-up national and global policies do not derive from a lack of technology or resources. Rather they are rooted in the absence of human rights, and the failure to recognise that water and food are intertwined.”

Launched on May 15, a landmark report by the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) for the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) argues that access to water is a vital aspect of ensuring improved food security and nutrition. Moving beyond the scope of looking at the role of water not only for agriculture but also sanitation, the report calls for an integrated approach at higher levels of policy implementation and governance to ensure that the poorest and most marginalized communities have equitable access to the inputs and resources that they need to improve their lives and livelihoods.

The press release highlights that effective policy interventions should therefore:

  • Understand that water plays a role in every aspect of life, from consumption to production
  • Prioritize the rights and interests of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women
  • Acknowledge the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as well as the right to food as globally recognized rights.

Visit the HLPE website to view the full report.

An invasive species in Kenya, Opuntia (Prickly Pear)

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: CABI

Sap-sucking insects may combat Kenyan cactus plague

“So when times are good it will continue to displace local plants and make more valuable pasture inaccessible.” – Arne Witt, CABI-Africa

Speed read

  • Prickly pear cactus is an invasive plant that threatens grazing areas in Kenya
  • A trial now shows that a species of bug can be used to control the cactus
  • But further safety testing and approvals are needed before rolling it out

An insect that sucks the sap out of cactus plants has been trialled in East Africa to contain the spread of an invasive cactus species that threatens local grazing areas.

The cochineal bug, known as dudu in Swahili, for biological control has been released on farmland in Kenya’s Laikipia region, which is used by Maasai for livestock herding. The trial showed that the bug feeds exclusively on the Opuntia stricta cactus, better known as prickly pear, which has invaded grasslands and drives out local plants used to feed cattle.

The Maasai community in Laikipia partnered with the Centre for Agriculture Biosciences International (CABI) to conduct the trial and halt the spread of the cactus. According to CABI, an non-profit science organisation from the United Kingdom, the trial, which concluded last month, has shown that the dudu bug will not be harmful to native and non-harmful imported plants in the region.

“The cochineal has not been found on other cactus species such as Austrocylindropuntia subulata and Cereus jamacaru that are growing in association with Opuntia stricta,” says Arne Witt, the coordinator of the invasive species programme at CABI-Africa. “In a nutshell, there is no risk.”

The prickly pear cactus was introduced in Kenya during colonial times as an ornamental plant capable of living in arid regions. Since then, the plant has colonised thousands of acres of fragile rangelands in northern Kenya, putting at risk the livelihood of animal herders.

According to CABI the cactus is also suspected to have caused the death of baby elephants after they consumed its fruit, meaning it poses a threat to local wildlife and related income from tourism.

Read the full article: SciDevNet


COMMENT OF Willem Van Cotthem

The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is an invasive species.  Due to its hard spines it has almost no predators and known methods to destroy it are expensive.

On the contrary, the spineless variety (Opuntia ficus-indica var.inermis) is a widely cultivated plant in Central and South America, edible for men and animals.

Therefore, describing the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a noxious invasive species is a generalisation that is far too negative for its edible and ornamental spineless variety.  Moreover, the prickly pear can also be used to produce an interesting biofuel.

Forests provide food

Photo credit: Forest News

Food from the forest sustains almost one in six people across the globe. Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Feed the world: New global report highlights forests’ role


Forests and trees must be considered essential in global food security and dietary diversity, according to a major new report.

Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition: A Global Assessment Report was released at the UN Forum on Forests in New York.

Sixty of the world’s leading forestry scientists contributed to the report  – several of them from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)  – which was coordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) .

The report looks at the value of forests which provide food for nearly one in six – almost one billion – people around the globe.

“Despite impressive productivity increases” the report states, “there is growing evidence that conventional agricultural strategies will fall short of eliminating global hunger and malnutrition. (This report) provides comprehensive scientific evidence on how forests, trees, and landscapes can be – and must be – an integral part of the solution to this global problem.”

The authors write that effective management of landscapes and improved governance of forest landscapes is essential for the delivery of ecosystem services for crop production, to provide better and more nutritionally-balanced diets, and to create greater control over food inputs, especially during lean seasons, periods of vulnerability or for marginalized people.

Read the full article: CIFOR

Food crisis in Zimbabwe ?

Photo credit: IRIN News

Impact of a long dry spell on maize in Mhondoro-Ngezi district, about 160km south of the capital, Harare

Zimbabwe plunges towards a food crisis


Many more farmers in the drought-prone south of the country are facing the same situation, with the April/May maize harvest – Zimbabwe’s staple crop – reportedly written off in entire districts.

An initial assessment in February estimated that 23 percent of cultivated land failed to produce a crop. But a new report by a UN and NGO consortium called the Food and Nutrition Survey Working Group says more than half of Zimbabwe’s farms could be affected.

Rural households in the south could produce “next to nothing this season,” according to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS NET).

“In the absence of any assistance, households will likely be in ‘crisis’ [defined as at least 20 percent of households facing high or above usual acute malnutrition] from July through September,” FEWS NET warned.

Confirmation of the extent of the problem will come with the release of the joint government-UN agency Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment, due possibly as early as next month.

“We don’t have precise figures, but we do have indications of a looming food crisis,” World Food Programme spokesman David Orr told IRIN.

According to the Food and Nutrition Survey Working Group report, maize prices in the drought-hit south are already climbing – up 44 percent from February to March in Gwanda, Beitbridge and Mangwe.

After a good season last year, Zimbabwe’s farmers have been hit by a string of unfortunate weather events. First, the rains were late in coming, then there was bad flooding in western Mashonaland, and now an extended dry period in the south.

Trying to cope

With little to harvest, farmers in Mhondoro-Ngezi district hang around the town centre. The conversation inevitably revolves around how to make ends meet for the rest of the year.

Read the full article: IRIN News

Impact of agribusiness on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers

Photo credit: CIAT-DAPA

In the middle Mr. Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar, former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia, serving in the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.