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Earlier today I posted about a Heifer project participant being included in The Economist’s report, The 9 billion-people question: A special report on feeding the world. And if you’re keyed in to media coverage of sustainable agriculture, you’ve probably seen the conversation around the web on the United Nations Report, Agroecology and the Right to Food (Mark Bittman has written about it on the New York Times Opinionator blog, and Paula Crossfield for Huffington Post, to name a couple).
Both reports look at the seemingly impossible challenge of feeding all 9 billion people who are estimated to be living on Earth by 2050, and they offer different perspectives. Will we feed the world by investing in the highest-yielding crop or livestock species? Or by investing in agroecology? (Heifer has been practicing agroecology all over the world since the mid 1980s and established an Agroecology Initiative in 2000.)
I worry, though, that the theme of “feeding the world” diverts our attention from the local, on-the-ground work that needs to be done. Heifer takes on the task of ending hunger and poverty with this sort of community approach, and it’s an approach that we’ve proven works.
Ours is a bottom-up approach. We work with the very poor to help them rebuild assets and develop agriculturally and economically active livelihoods. We build strong community groups where people work together to share their limited resources and to plan their vision of a better life. At this stage, much training takes place. Participants learn improved ways to tend animals, how to best use animal by-products, water management and erosion control practices, and often even improved literacy and leadership skills.
A transformation process begins to happen within the community when the members realize that improvements in knowledge lead to improvements in health, income, relationships and eventually to their values. We call this a holistic transformation.
Once this transformation is underway, the community uses their knowledge to impact the policies, systems and practices that impact their surroundings (both societal and environmental). Community empowerment at the grassroots level can lead to changes in infrastructure to help build local commerce–roads, electricity, commodity storage and transportation, as well as market associations and structures.
We’ve seen our model work again and again, in all corners of the world (and even in our own backyard). Our challenge now is to ratchet up this model so we can begin to see our impacts on a larger scale, as we have with our East Africa Dairy Development Project. As communities begin to feed themselves, international hunger statistics will begin to come down. The need for wealthy countries to ship commodities to poor countries will decrease–countries will be growing their own food.
Left: Bolivia (photo by Geoff Bugbee), Top: Cambodia (photo by Matt Bradley)
Botton: Armenia (photo by Russ Powell), Right: Zambia (photo by Jake Lyell
And then the question of whether conventional agriculture is more productive or if sustainable/organic/agroecological agriculture is better will become a non-issue.
Can we do it alone? Of course not. We need help from individuals like you, from partner nonprofits and non-government organizations, and from governments–wealthy and poor alike.
“Women and girls are not the problem,” Kristof said. “They are the solution.”
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tells a story about an African girl who, because of donations through Heifer International, was the first of her village to study abroad and graduate from the Connecticut College. (Photo by Max Reed, Alligator Staff)
Nicholas Kristof, a renowned columnist for the New York Times and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, recently spoke to a group of people at the event, “Women: Holding Up Half the Sky,” hosted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service in Florida.
Throughout his presentation, Kristof spoke about the fact that women still face oppression in the 21st century with gender discrimination and violence. The best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls, Kristof explained.
International Women’s Day 2011 is March 8 and will be celebrated with scheduled events globally. Heifer has projects specifically focused on women in a number of countries, including India, Nepal and Laos.
Photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee
CEO Pierre Ferrari and Heifer staff recently traveled to Nepal where they saw first hand how families, communities and villages can dramatically change when women are given opportunities to make decisions, run businesses and take charge of their circumstances.
Villages like Khayarmara in Nepal are seeing dramatic change. Life was once much harder for women who spent four hours or more to get water. Now they have water pipes and organic vegetable gardens.
Pierre and the team also visited a 3-year-old buffalo and goat project in Pooja Swavalambhi where women are determined to bring their community out of poverty.
Video by Geoff Oliver Bugbee
“When we were gathered with the whole community, the women of the Pooja women’s group started talking and describing their experience of the change in their lives, which is pretty radical,” Ferrari said. “It suddenly all came together and was a very powerful experience.”
In December 2010, Madeleine Albright, first women Secretary of State for the United States, spoke at a TEDWomen’s conference where she said, “Women’s issues are the hardest issues.” She went on to speak about how it’s important for women to have a voice in political affairs and to become business leaders in their communities, making it much more likely they’ll be treated as equals.
“I believe that societies are better off when women are politically and economically empowered, that values are passed down, the health situation is better, education is better, there is a greater economic prosperity.”
This spring, in celebration of Women’s History Month, our 2011 Pass on the Gift campaign is going WiLD (Women in Lifestock Development). You can help Heifer transform the lives of struggling women around the world. Read more here: www.heifer.org/pog.
To celebrate a Women’s International Day in your area, please visit http://www.internationalwomensday.com. To learn more about how Heifer is working with women please visit www.heifer.org.
Fixes, a new online column from The New York Times, is all about “solutions to social problems and why they work.” I have high hopes for this series. In their first installment, cleverly called “Health Care and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Tina Rosenberg and David Bornstein look at how to get basic health care to people everywhere.
“[W]e’re beginning Fixes with the story of a health assistant named Tsepo Kotelo, whose job is to take care of people in remote mountain villages in the Maseru district of Lesotho. Kotelo’s story shows the critical need for something not usually on the global to-do list for Third World health: motorcycle maintenance. …
“Until 2008 Kotelo could visit only three villages a week, because he had to reach them on foot, walking for miles and miles. But in February of that year, Kotelo got a motorcycle … Now, instead of spending his days walking to his job, he can do his job. Instead of visiting three villages each week, he visits 20. Where else can you find a low-tech investment in health care that increases patient coverage by nearly 600 percent?”
This is a lesson that many Heifer International project participants have learned. Often, one of the first purchases a family or community will make with income earned from a Heifer project is to buy a motor scooter. Not for joyrides, mind you, but to transport more milk to the processing plant, or carry more produce to market, or get children to school, or to start a small taxi business.
What about you? Do you have any questions about international development and how it works? Or maybe you have a simple or low-tech solutions to a problem in the developing world. Let us hear from you.
Another new word, courtesy of Schott’s Vocab. “Poorism” is a portmanteau combining “poor” and “tourism” that refers to the increasing number of voyeuristic tours that take well-heeled travelers through slums in cities such as Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. Schott’s, quoting a UPI article:
Recent media coverage of slums and academic studies on the phenomenon have led to the coinage of a new term, “poorism,” analysts said.Regular poorism travel tours now attract travelers to Brazil, Ethiopia and India. After the 2005 hurricane Katrina, Louisiana became a major site for poorism tours, leaving residents who were fighting for economic recovery with little choice but to accept poorism tourists as a means of income.
Thanks a lot, Slumdog Millionaire.
Why? Because there can never be too many acronyms. But seriously, learn these two; you’re likely to see more of them in the future. They both describe “shifting global economic fortunes,” according to a Wall Street Journal article (paywall).
BRIC has been around for a while. It refers to large but previously poor countries—specifically Brazil, Russia, India and China—which are now rapidly growing economies with plenty of natural resources that subsequently wield greater power. If BRICs are rising, then HIICs are their counterparts heading the other direction. “Heavily indebted industrialized countries” are those economic giants like the U.S., Europe and Japan that have been slipping due to questionable fiscal policy, overspending and the economic downturn.
From the NYT‘s Schott’s Vocab, quoting the WSJ piece: “[HIICs] are displaying the kinds of investment risks traditionally associated with global backwaters. ‘Developed markets are basically behaving like emerging ones,’ says HSBC’s Richard Yetsenga. And emerging markets are quickly becoming more developed.”
In Haiti, it only ever seems to get worse. Already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in Jan. 2010, which displaced tens of thousands of people. These displaced Haitians, who live in makeshift tent camps, are now being evicted by property owners, according to a story in The New York Times:
“‘This used to be a beautiful place, but these people are tearing up the property,’ said Jim Hudson, a Church of God missionary living at [a 28-acre church property used as a tent camp for the displaced]. ‘They’re urinating on it. They’re bathing out in public. They’re stealing electricity. And they don’t work. They sit around all day, waiting for handouts.’ …“Almost nine months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, eviction threats have increased markedly and have become an urgent humanitarian concern, international groups say. Some 144,175 individuals have been subject to threats of eviction since March, and 28,065 have been actually evicted, according to data collected by shelter experts here.”
Photo by Pieter Hugo, for The New York Times
What happens to your old computer when you dump it after two years to get the latest model? It probably gets shipped overseas to a developing country, where it is stripped for metals like copper, brass and aluminum.
The dumping grounds for old computers are hellish scenes of smoke and fire, smoldering keyboards, broken glass–detritus of the technology age. And it’s not just unsightly; it’s also a threat to the environment and health. The air is heavy with the stench of burning plastic, and the soil has high levels of heavy metals and other toxins, like PCBs and dioxins.
Yet, with all of these risks, dumping grounds have their inhabitants. The New York Times Magazine published a special photo feature on one such dump in West Africa: “In Agbogbloshie, a slum in Accra, the capital of Ghana, adults and children tear away at computers from abroad to get at the precious metals inside.” Pieter Hugo photographed the desperately poor people, including children as young as 11, who work in the smoke and fire and toxic rubbish to scrabble together a livelihood from our digital cast-offs.
Good piece in the NYTimes today (the Fashion section, no less) about Kakuben Lalabhai Parmar, an artisan from India whose story embodies “a half-century of global feminism and the evolutionary arc of modern India.”
“My group was treated as untouchables,” said Ms. Parmar, 50. And if the community was untouchable, its female members were still more disadvantaged by being invisible. …
“Yet here she was in Midtown Manhattan last weekend, wrapping her arms around the strangers who gather there regularly to dispense affection, some of them understandably astonished at the apparition clad in a mirror-spangled skirt and a tie-dyed shawl, her throat and hands and arms lavishly adorned with the homemade tattoos that are a form of what Ms. Parmar termed ‘affordable beautification’ in the far reaches of Gujarat.”
Stories like this—of women’s empowerment and community transformation—are familiar to Heifer supporters. In the upcoming issue of World Ark magazine, Heifer writer Annie Bergman takes a look at the transformative power of Heifer in the lives of women in India. Once forced to live a life, literally, behind the veil, these women now recognize their own worth. (Read Annie’s blog posts from the trip.) Photos for the story are by renowned portraitist Brigitte Lacombe. Look for it the end of August.
Photo from Flickr/mamichan. Creative Commons.
The most recent NYTimes magazine had a piece about Alexandra Reau, a Michigan teen who turned her family’s backyard into a mini-farm:
“Now in its second season, her Garden to Go C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) grows for 14 members, who pay $100 to $175 for two months of just-picked vegetables and herbs. While her peers are hanging out at Molly’s Mystic Freeze and working out the moves to that Miley Cyrus video, she’s flicking potato-beetle larvae off of leaves in her V-neck T-shirt and denim capris, a barrette keeping her hair out of her demurely made-up eyes. Who says the face of American farming is a 57-year-old man with a John Deere cap?”
Should we promote projects like this as an alternative to the typical teen summer job at the mall? What other ideas do you have for a productive summer?
In his Sunday NYTimes op-ed column, Nicholas Kristof took on the uncomfortable topic of how the poor spend what little money they have. Kristof, with data to back it up, asserts that
“… if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”
That’s sure to cause a ruckus in the development community. Some who defend the poor as trapped in a poverty caused by larger external forces will choose to ignore Kristof’s claim or rail against what may be perceived as a smug piety. While on the other side of the aisle, those who contend the poor remain in a poverty of their own making will find themselves in the position of quoting and defending Kristof.
The column’s real message, beyond the shock of tawdry topics like moonshine and prostitutes, is to call into question the easy assumptions we make about the causes of poverty and instead to consider the complexity of poverty: “If we’re going to make more progress … we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths.”
The piece proves that Kristof knows one secret to a successful column: Say something so potentially inflammatory that it riles up everybody. But does Kristof go too far when, throughout the piece, he calls out Congolese parents by name and at one point asks a father “why he prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids”?
UPDATE: Kristof continues this discussion on his NYTimes blog, where readers can also comment.