On April 18, Worldwatch Institute’s blog, Nourishing the Planet, published a list of 15 ways agriculture can “promote a healthier environment and a more food-secure future.” In honor of Earth Day 2011, we would like to explore these 15 ways and how Heifer’s projects around the world are addressing these issues. We’ll do this in three separate posts, matching five Heifer projects with the corresponding Nourishing the Planet concepts.
1. Guaranteeing the Right to Food
The goals of the National More Organic for Everyone (MORE) Project are to increase organic producers’ supply, improve access to high-quality organic food by underserved communities in Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas City, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin and identify opportunities to strengthen the linkages between organic producers and communities in food desert areas. This project is helping 60 farmers initiate or make the transition to organic production while providing organic food to 600 food-insecure families.
In the words of a MORE Project participant in Georgia:
My name is Alfred, 64 and a half years young. And having lost my job, this is the best thing that could have ever happened to me, preparing myself to become an organic backyard gardener. The experiences and classes I am having I would have never gotten from books alone. Specifically when working hand-in-hand with the volunteer farmers, I am learning to do various things in different ways and learning to adapt them to my specific needs and requirements.
Since I started the project, I finished building several raised and standard beds, which are planted, harvested and producing already. I’ve improved my methods of seeding, learned the proper way to compost and learned the principles of crop rotation, planning and companion planting. I’ve also started building a walk-in hoop-house. And if everything works out okay, I’m planning to sell at local farmers markets soon.
2. Harnessing the Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables.
Mr. Alu and Mrs. Muba Yaesaw are participants of the project. Before, the family made their living from selling wild products at Wednesday and Saturday markets. But after becoming project participants, they began growing a kitchen garden for home consumption and sale. They grow both native and wild vegetables. Their family’s nutrition has improved from the more diverse diet. In addition to selling at the market two days a week, they sell their vegetables from a mobile shop within the village and nearby villages and at special events. Mr. Alu said that after growing their own vegetables, they did not have to buy vegetables for more than a year. They also shared vegetables with their neighbors and guests who came to their village.
3. Reducing Food Waste
To diversify the income streams of families benefiting from the gift of livestock, Heifer Sierra Leone entered into a partnership in 2010 with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). This partnership has resulted in the distribution of high-yielding cassava varieties to supplement project families’ agricultural inputs, diet and income. Cassava, also called yuca or manoic, is a woody shrub native to South America. Cassava is the third-largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world. However, one of the challenges of cassava production is its relatively short post-harvest storage capacity. To preserve this staple food year-round in areas where there is no refrigeration, it is often processed into garri, a kind of cereal that keeps for long period. It is sometimes turned into fried chips and eaten as a snack. An additional benefit of cassava is that the peels are good for feeding animals, and the leaves are made into a nutritious stew.
The Tongea Women Farmers in Kailahun district are one of the groups that has benefitted from Heifer’s partnership with IITA. Along with various trainings they received from Heifer, the group also received cassava cuttings, which they planted in a group garden. Because their cassava production was so successful, IITA contributed further to the project by having two cassava-processing centers built. These facilities have become a resource for the women who engage in homemade garri processing and other cassava products. Garri and other foods processed from cassava sell at higher market value than the cassava plant itself, and the women are now learning that by adding value to their farm products, they are able to generate real income to improve their livelihoods and those of their family members.
4. Feeding Cities.
The population of El Alto in La Paz, Bolivia, largely consists of families who have migrated from the Bolivian highlands. As part of the rural-to-urban migration process, these families often exchange their healthy, traditional diets of Andean crops for por quality, highly processed and carbohydrate-rich foods, resulting in the high rates of both malnutrition and obesity among the urban poor. Heifer’s Restoring the Consumption of Native Foods in El Alto, La Paz Project
promotes food security in eight peri-urban communities in El Alto. Heifer works to improve the eating habits of school children and their families through advocacy with local decision-makers, strengthening of the network of social control of the School Boards, and community awareness-raising as a strategy to recover and consume the vast diversity of healthy traditional Andean products
5. Getting More Crop per Drop.
Small farmers in the Piura region of Peru live in poverty. Approximately 35,000 families live in this territory, and their livelihoods are vitally dependent on the region’s ecosystem. They are affected by El Nino floods, which deteriorate roads and isolate communities. They are equally affected by subsequent drought years, which come as regularly as El Nino and bring with them forest fires. The Building a Sustainable Way of Life Project
is turning the threat of El Nino into a major opportunity for families living in the dry forest. During the yet years, the project replants trees, bushes and pastures; builds grain storage sheds and improves housing conditions to protect against heavy rains. Communal wells are being improved, and equipment is provided to ensure the availability and quality of water in yet years and dry.