Zambia’s rainy season began last week. Maize, tomatoes, and watermelon are being harvested now from Lusaka north to Copperbelt province where IDE trains several farmer groups in best agronomic practices. Tomato prices are down this month, but watermelon are now fetching high prices at market. A couple photos here show some harvest from the Sakala family farm on 20 November 09 outside Kabwe in Central Province. The Sakalas have wisely hedged, planting both tomatoes and watermelon, and Mr. Sakala has an additional field of tomatoes which are timed to harvest in December when tomato demand will be much higher.
It is indeed an honor to be recognized by large, award-granting organizations, but we at IDE believe some of the humblest awards can be the most meaningful.
A group of Zambian smallholder farmers recently presented IDE CEO Al Doerksen with a live chicken and a cabbage while on a visit to their community—Twikatane, Ndola District in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia.
The award was made in the context of a visit to the area from a group of British Columbian IDE donors, and was an expression of respect and appreciation for the support received from them.
42 Twikatane farmers have each purchased the IDE developed, Zambian made “Mosi-o-Tunya” brand treadle pump which just hit dealers earlier last month. These pumps, along with training in improved farm methods and links to output produce markets, have enabled the farmers to realize increases in their annual income ranging from $200 to $800 per household.
“This was one of the most moving awards I have ever received,” said Doerksen. “The live chicken was equivalent to several days’ income for the group, and reinforced the fact that we are not just selling pumps—we are creating income opportunities which can allow for additional on-farm investment, send children to school, and provide for three meals a day.”
The visiting group was accompanied by IDE Zambia Country Director Keith Henderson, Director of Operations Ken Chelemu, and Aggie Chama, Team Leader for the RPI Copperbelt project. All were impressed and moved by the warm, ululating welcomes they received in spite of the deep levels of poverty that exist in rural Zambia.
When asked what he would do with the chicken, Doerksen said he would be taking it to Denver to let it range freely throughout IDE’s head office. International flights and border crossing formalities may have frustrated his plan, however.
“More people than ever are victims of hunger” was the title of a just released FAO report. “For the first time in human history, more than one billion people are undernourished worldwide.”
Having worked in the food aid “industry” for some years, and having written extensively on “food security,” I am interested in what is really being said.
The report did not say one billion people are malnourished, although undernourishment can certainly lead to that. The report also did not say one billion people are starving — in technical terms, an acute form of hunger in which the body begins to actually feed on itself for nourishment. Thankfully, the report did not suggest that lack of food production or availability was the issue, although it was observed that “domestic staple foods still cost on average 24 percent more in real terms than two years back. The report did speak to a spike in food insecurity.
My favorite definition for food security is “access at all times to enough food to live an active healthy life.” FAO gets it right when they observe that the poor are less able to purchase (ie, access) food especially where domestic markets are still stubbornly high….”the incidence of both lower incomes due to the economic crisis and persisting higher food prices has proved to be a devastating combination.
So fundamentally IDE is a food security enterprise. Why is this true? Because of our focus on incomes (which provide access to food supplies/markets) and on agricultural production (which either increases direct access to food for consumption, or which increases local supply, which on a larger scale brings down prices).
In the report, several factors contributing to the widespread decrease in food security are listed, in particular those related to the global economic crisis:
• A 32 percent decline in foreign direct investment in developing countries
• A 5–8 percent decline in foreign remittances by foreign migrant workers
• A reduction of about 25 percent in official development assistance (ODA)
• Increases in risk premiums for lending money to developing countries
• Decrease of 5–9 percent in international trade (depending on whether you ask IMF or WTO)
Some of the countries mentioned in the report include Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Zambia, all countries in which IDE has a presence. See the full news bulletin here.
— Al Doerksen, CEO of IDE
Some thoughts from Bruce McCrae, IDE VP/Asia:
Today the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced that, for the first time in human history, more than one billion people worldwide are suffering from hunger. This is a sobering, even frightening statistic. It’s also a dramatic reminder of why IDE’s mission is so important.
IDE’s PRISM methodology confronts the very structural basis of hunger by enabling poor rural households to increase their income through micro-irrigation, high-value crops and better access to the value chain. The increased income allows families to purchase food and to acquire improved inputs for their farm production. The hunger cycle is broken.
Today’s FAO press release has a table listing the main effects of the current economic crises and household responses in five sample countries. Four of the five are places where IDE has programs: Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua and Zambia.
What are the FAO’s recommendations for solving the present crisis? Here is an excerpt:
“In the short term, small‐scale farmers must be given access to indispensable means of production and technologies ‐ such as high‐quality seeds, fertilizers, feed and farming tools and equipments ‐ that will allow them to boost production. … In the medium and long terms, the structural solution to the problem of hunger lies in increasing production particularly in low‐income food deficit countries.”
This is PRISM. This is exactly what IDE does. Let’s get on with it.
— Bruce McCrae, IDE VP/Asia
An essential component of IDE’s Rural Prosperity Initiative (RPI) is design and development of several low cost technologies which have the potential to dramatically improve the incomes of poor rural households. Here are some updates of work in progress at our Technology Development Facility in Ethiopia from the end of the project’s second year:
Work continues in the development of a lightweight, low cost pump for use in Africa. Twenty test units were recently distributed to farmers in Zambia for field testing, and a systematic review of pump components is underway to select the best features for cost and performance to incorporate into a new design.
IDE’s standard model of hand-cranked pump has been redesigned, resulting in very satisfactory performance. We are also continuing development of a pedal-driven model. The results so far are very promising, and prototype testing will be complete early this year.
Solar powered pumps
We have two solar powered steam engine pumps running successfully in the laboratory that are now ready for testing under field conditions. We’re working on modifications which will further reduce the cost and achieve higher overall solar input-to-water delivery efficiency.
Wind powered pumps
A study of available designs did not identify any off-the-shelf windmill designs for small plot irrigation, but several design options could potentially modified for irrigation pumping. A prototype windmill-driven pump will be tested in Ethiopia in early 2009.
We recently began trial production of 3,000 200-liter hanging header bags to feed drip irrigation systems, and are currently testing them for durability. Later this year, we will begin testing them on farms and getting farmer feedback. A 10,000 liter water storage bag made of high density polyethylene material costing $125 has been successfully tested. In Myanmar, bamboo-supported plastic tanks are being tested on more than 150 small farms. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, protoype versions of these tanks proved essential to relief efforts.