Construyendo la resiliencia en un distrito propenso a la sequía en Etiopía

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Verano de 2017 se publicaran en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (distrito) se encuentra en la zona de Sidama de la Región de las Naciones, Nacionalidades y Pueblos Sureños de Etiopía. Uno de los distritos más propensos a la sequía en Etiopía, Boricha es casi completamente dependiente de la agricultura alimentada por la lluvia. Boricha ha sido fuertemente afectada por el cambio climático, experimentando sequías recurrentes y variabilidad de las precipitaciones. La degradación de la tierra ha causado la formación de zanjas que están invadiendo tierras agrícolas y creando erosión significativa del suelo, lavando semillas, fertilizantes y plántulas de las tierras agrícolas, reduciendo la capacidad de producción, dañando la salud y productividad del suelo y afectando los ingresos de los hogares. Los impactos del cambio climático y la degradación de la tierra, junto con el alto crecimiento demográfico, pequeñas propiedades agrícolas y analfabetismo, son las principales causas de inseguridad alimentaria en la zona y han dado como resultado una baja capacidad de adaptación de la comunidad a los impactos del cambio climático. Este artículo comparte los esfuerzos de la Asociación de Alivio y Desarrollo de la Iglesia Meserete Kristos (MKC-RDA por sus siglas en inglés) para construir resistencia al cambio climático en Boricha y analiza hallazgos claves que indican que los esfuerzos del MKC-RDA en Boricha han contribuido a la conservación de suelos y agua, lo que a su vez reduce la vulnerabilidad a los impactos del cambio climático.

Durante más de una década hasta 2014, la MKC-RDA llevó a cabo un programa de reducción de riesgos de desastre y seguridad alimentaria orientado a la comunidad y medio ambiente en Boricha con el objetivo de abordar las causas a corto y largo plazo de la inseguridad alimentaria y de resiliencia al cambio climático. El programa adoptó la estrategia de “ayuda y desarrollo”, en la que se implementan intervenciones de alivio y desarrollo simultáneamente para proporcionar a las comunidades vulnerables redes de seguridad eficientes durante los períodos de hambre, junto con estrategias de seguridad alimentaria a largo plazo para ayudar a las comunidades a satisfacer sus necesidades alimentarias en el futuro y para que tengan la capacidad de hacerle frente a peligros tales como la sequía. Este enfoque enfatizó la preparación para desastres y construcción de la resiliencia de la comunidad a los desastres futuros al reducir la vulnerabilidad, en lugar de centrarse únicamente en el apoyo inmediato a las víctimas de desastres.

Uno de los componentes del programa Boricha fue la provisión de alimentos y transferencias de efectivo previsibles a través de iniciativas de alimentos por trabajo (APT) y efectivo por trabajo (EPT) diseñadas para contribuir al logro del objetivo general de adaptación y resiliencia al cambio climático. Este programa de la red de seguridad proporcionó pagos en efectivo o maíz y aceite comestibles a los hogares vulnerables, satisfaciendo sus necesidades alimentarias durante meses cuando la mayoría de la población experimentaba la inseguridad alimentaria. Estas estrategias de APT y EPT también aseguraron que los hogares tuvieran los medios para reconstruir y mantener sus medios de subsistencia con éxito después de la sequía crónica. Las personas participantes recibieron alimentos o efectivo por trabajo que ayudó a la rehabilitación de caminos y puentes para permitir a los miembros de la comunidad transportar sus productos al mercado e implementación de estrategias de conservación de suelos y agua, como la construcción de terrazas y estanques de recolección de agua. Otras iniciativas incluyeron la producción de plántulas para la agrosilvicultura en viveros y en tierras comunales y privadas, y construcción de bancos de semillas para asegurar el fácil acceso de las personas agricultoras a las variedades de cultivos adaptados a las condiciones locales.

Otro enfoque del programa Boricha fue la implementación de la agricultura climáticamente inteligente (CSA por sus siglas en inglés para Climate Smart Agriculture), incluyendo tecnologías de agricultura conservacionista. CSA se define como “la agricultura que aumenta de forma sostenible la productividad, resiliencia (adaptación) y reduce/elimina los gases de efecto invernadero (mitigación) donde es posible” (FAO). Las actividades del proyecto en el marco de la CSA incluyeron la optimización del uso de los recursos de la tierra, introducción de medidas anti-erosivas y tecnologías de recolección y ahorro de agua, promoción del forraje y desarrollo agroforestal y capacitación en técnicas de agricultura conservacionista como la cobertura, alteración mínima del suelo, rotación de cultivos y adopción de patrones de cultivo apropiados, como el cultivo intercalado. Además, el proyecto Boricha estableció y fortaleció grupos de personas agricultoras, grupos de ahorro, grupos de autoayuda y otras organizaciones comunitarias para apoyar la promoción de prácticas agrícolas sostenibles, aumentar la capacidad de conservación de suelos y agua, apoyar iniciativas de generación de ingresos e incrementar la alfabetización.

Un equipo independiente evaluó el programa de Boricha dos años después de que finalizó para determinar los impactos del programa. La evaluación encontró que, dada la degradación ambiental en Boricha, el manejo sostenible de los recursos naturales era fundamental para la búsqueda de la seguridad alimentaria y desarrollo económico dentro de la comunidad. Las actividades de conservación del suelo y del agua han permitido la rehabilitación de la tierra y de los recursos naturales: se han protegido más de setecientas hectáreas, lo que contribuye a mejorar la cobertura vegetal. Los beneficios incluyen una mayor disponibilidad de abono orgánico a través de follaje de plantas reforestadas o mantenidas, mejor disponibilidad de leña, minimización de la erosión eólica y disponibilidad de árboles para los medicamentos tradicionales. Las actividades del proyecto también contribuyeron a la restauración de los suelos y prevención de la salinización y pérdida de tierras de cultivo, incluso mediante la reforestación de tierras inutilizables. Las terrazas, montículos de tierra, represas de control de la escorrentía y otras actividades de control de inundaciones, erosión y de aprovechamiento del agua mejoraron la fertilidad del suelo y restauraron las fuentes de agua subterráneas y superficiales. Las técnicas de agricultura conservacionista, incluyendo la cobertura del suelo y adición de compostaje, también contribuyeron a reducir la erosión del suelo, mejorar la capacidad de retención de agua de las tierras de cultivo y aumentar la productividad del suelo. Incluso en años con lluvias tardías, esporádicas o escasas, las personas agricultoras que practicaban la agricultura conservacionista se beneficiaron de mayores niveles de humedad residual, lo que permitió germinar las semillas y mantener la madurez del cultivo. Como resultado de las actividades del proyecto, las comunidades han reducido el riesgo de desastres debido a las inundaciones, aumentaron la productividad agrícola y mejoraron el acceso al agua para el riego y uso doméstico, contribuyendo a la resiliencia a los impactos del cambio climático.

El proyecto Boricha resultó en la reducción de la pobreza y mejora de la seguridad alimentaria para la mayoría de los hogares participantes, aumentando su capacidad para enfrentar y manejar los efectos de los peligros. El setenta y tres por ciento de todos los hogares participantes declararon que lograron salir exitosamente de la pobreza extrema durante el término del programa; sólo el seis por ciento de los hogares que participaron en el proyecto informaron que siguen estando en situación de extrema pobreza. La reforestación de las cuencas hidrográficas y biodiversidad resultante contribuyeron a la expansión de las actividades de engorde, ganadería y apicultura para la generación de ingresos. Las plantaciones de árboles, así como la vegetación que surgió por las actividades de conservación de suelos y agua, crearon empleo y mejoraron los ingresos a través de la recolección forestal y venta de subproductos. Debido a los ingresos suplementarios obtenidos a través de la venta de productos sobrantes de los huertos del proyecto, miel y frutos cosechados de la agrosilvicultura, las mujeres experimentaron mejores medios de vida e ingresos. Estas mujeres reportaron mayor autoestima y mayor independencia financiera. Además, la situación general de seguridad alimentaria de la comunidad beneficiaria mejoró durante el período del programa. Por ejemplo, la frecuencia de la ingesta diaria de alimentos de tres comidas al día aumentó de 12,9 por ciento al inicio del proyecto a 77 por ciento al final, mientras que aquellas personas que consumían dos o menos comidas al día disminuyeron del 87,1 por ciento a 21 por ciento. En general, la evaluación encontró que el proyecto proporcionaba a los hogares oportunidades de medios de vida más exitosos y diversos, contribuyendo al aumento de los ingresos y seguridad alimentaria. Como resultado de diversas fuentes de ingresos, mayor capacidad para ahorrar dinero y mejorar la seguridad alimentaria, los hogares en Boricha son más resilientes, capaces de adaptarse a las condiciones cambiantes y hacerle frente a los efectos de los peligros.

Los resultados del programa MKC-RDA en Boricha demuestran que, la programación de alimentos y transferencia de efectivo para abordar la inseguridad alimentaria estacional, las intervenciones agrícolas climáticamente inteligentes y el manejo sostenible de los recursos naturales, desempeñan un papel importante en la protección de los bienes e ingresos de las familias pobres mitigando el riesgo de desastre y construyendo resiliencia a los impactos del cambio climático en las comunidades afectadas por la sequía.

Frew Beriso es especialista en agricultura conservacionista con el Banco de Granos Canadiense en Etiopía. Anteriormente trabajó para MKC-RDA como Gerente del Programa Boricha.

Aprende más

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

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Building resilience in a drought-prone district of Ethiopia

Featured

[Individual articles from the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Boricha woreda (district) is located in the Sidama zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. One of the most drought-prone districts of Ethiopia, Boricha is almost completely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Boricha has been heavily affected by climate change, experiencing recurrent drought and rainfall variability. Land degradation has caused the formation of gullies that are invading farmlands and creating significant soil erosion, washing away seeds, fertilizer and seedlings from farmlands, reducing production capacity, damaging soil health and productivity and impacting household income. Climate change impacts and land degradation, along with high population growth, small land holdings and illiteracy, are the major causes of food insecurity in the area and have resulted in a low community capacity to adapt to climate change impacts. This article discusses the efforts of Meserete Kristos Church Relief and Development Association (MKC-RDA) to build climate change resilience in Boricha and analyzes key findings that indicate that MKC-RDA’s efforts in Boricha have contributed to soil and water conservation, improved livelihoods and increased food security, in turn reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

For over a decade up through 2014, MKC-RDA carried out a community- and environmentally-oriented disaster risk reduction and food security program in Boricha with the aims of addressing short- and long-term causes of food insecurity and of building resilience to climate change. The program adopted the strategy of “developmental relief,” in which relief and development interventions are implemented simultaneously to provide vulnerable communities with efficient safety nets during hunger periods together with strategies for long-term food security to help communities meet their food needs in the future and have the capacity to cope with hazards such as drought. This approach emphasized disaster preparedness and building community resilience to future disasters by reducing vulnerability, rather than focusing only on immediate support to disaster victims.

One component of the Boricha program was the provision of predictable food and cash transfers through food for work (FFW) and cash for work (CFW) initiatives designed to contribute to achieving the overall objective of climate change adaptation and resilience. This safety net programming provided cash payments or edible maize and food oil to vulnerable households, fulfilling their food needs during months when the majority of the population was food insecure. These FFW and CCW schemes also ensured that households possessed the means to successfully rebuild and sustain their livelihoods after chronic drought. Participants received food or cash for work that included the rehabilitation of roads and bridges to allow community members to transport their commodities to market and the implementation of soil and water conservation strategies, such as the construction of terraces and water harvesting ponds. Other initiatives included producing seedlings for agroforestry in nurseries and on communal and private land and constructing seed banks to ensure farmers’ easy access to crop varieties adapted to local conditions.

Another focus of the Boricha program was the implementation of climate-smart agriculture (CSA), including conservation agriculture technologies. CSA is defined as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible” (FAO). Project activities under CSA included optimizing the use of land resources, the introduction of anti-erosion measures and water harvesting and saving technologies, the promotion of forage and agroforestry development and training in conservation agriculture techniques such as mulching, minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and the adoption of appropriate cropping patterns such as intercropping. In addition, the Boricha project established and strengthened farmer’s groups, savings groups, self-help groups and other community organizations to support promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, increase capacity in soil and water conservation, support income generation initiatives and increase literacy.

An independent team evaluated the Boricha program two years after it ended to determine program impacts. The evaluation found that, given the environmental degradation in Boricha, sustainable management of natural resources was critical to the pursuit of food security and economic development within the community. Soil and water conservation activities resulted in the rehabilitation of land and natural resources: more than seven hundred hectares were protected, contributing to improved vegetative cover. Benefits included a greater availability of organic manure through foliage from reforested or maintained plants, improved availability of firewood, minimization of wind erosion and the availability of trees for traditional medicines. Project activities also assisted in soil restoration and prevention of salinization and the loss of arable land, including through the reforestation of previously unusable lands. Terraces, soil bunds, check dams and other flood and erosion control and water harvesting activities improved soil fertility and restored ground and surface water sources. Conservation agriculture techniques, including soil cover, mulch and the addition of compost, also contributed to reduced soil erosion, improved water holding capacity of farmlands and increased soil productivity. Even in years with delayed, sporadic or poor rainfall, farmers practicing conservation agriculture benefited from higher residual moisture levels, which enabled seeds to germinate and sustained crop maturity. As a result of project activities, communities have reduced risk of disaster from flooding, increased agricultural productivity and improved access to water for irrigation and household use, contributing to resilience to climate change impacts.

The Boricha project resulted in poverty reduction and improved food security for the majority of participating households, increasing their ability to cope with and manage the effects of hazards. Seventy-three percent of all participating households stated that they successfully transitioned out of extreme poverty during the program’s duration; only six percent of households participating in the project reported still being in extreme poverty. Reforestation of watershed land and the resulting bio-diversity contributed to the expansion of animal fattening, cattle rearing and beekeeping activities for income generation. Tree plantations, as well as vegetation which emerged because of soil and water conservation activities, created employment and improved incomes through forest harvesting and sales of by-products. Because of the supplementary income obtained through the sale of surplus produce from the project gardens, honey products and fruit harvested from agroforestry, women experienced improved livelihoods and incomes. These women reported greater self-esteem and increased financial independence. Additionally, the overall food security situation of the target community improved over the program period. For example, the frequency of daily food intake of three meals a day increased from 12.9 percent at the start of the project to 77 percent by the end, while those consuming two or fewer meals a day decreased from 87.1 percent to 21 percent. Overall, the evaluation found that the project provided households with opportunities for more successful and diverse livelihoods, contributing to increased incomes and food security. As a result of diverse income sources, increased ability to save money and improved food security, households in Boricha are more resilient, able to adapt to changing condition and to with cope with the effects of hazards.

Results from the MKC-RDA program in Boricha demonstrate that food and cash transfer programming to address seasonal food insecurity, climate-smart agriculture interventions and sustainable natural resource management all play important roles in protecting the assets and income of poor families, mitigating disaster risk and building resilience to climate change impacts in drought-affected communities.

Frew Beriso is conservation agriculture technical specialist with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in Ethiopia. He previously worked for MKC-RDA as the Boricha Program Manager.

Learn more

Pugeni, Vurayayi. “Sub-Dejel Watershed Rehabilitation Project, Ethiopia.” Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development. 2013. Available at http://c4d.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-CaseStudy-MCC-Ethiopia.pdf.

Nyasimi, M., Amwata, D., Hove, L., Kinyangi, J., and Wamukoya, G. “Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa.” 2014. Available at https://ccafs.cgiar.org/publications/evidence-impact-climate-smart-agriculture-africa-0#.WO_oNkdda72.

Promoting local food sources to improve nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In many countries across Africa and Asia, communities use the bark and roots of the hardy moringa tree for medicinal purposes. Over the past several years, however, MCC and its partners in Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, India and Lao PDR have been promoting moringa leaves as a readily available, locally sourced and nutrient-rich food that is drought resistant and adaptable to changing climates. This article examines how MCC’s main partner organization in Burkina Faso, the Protestant ecumenical social service organization ODE (Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques), educates Burkinabé about the rich nutritional properties of moringa leaves as part of its overarching nutrition strategies in a country facing food insecurity exacerbated by climate change. ODE’s experience with promoting moringa leaves underscores the importance of looking to nutrient-rich, local food sources adaptable to changing climates in efforts to combat malnutrition.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates in Burkina Faso are chronically high. The global acute malnutrition rate (GAM) among children under five years of age is 8.2%, while stunting levels stand at 31.5%. High food prices and unpredictable weather can result in drought or flooding, further limiting Burkina Faso’s access to food.

Over the past 30 years in Burkina Faso the climate has changed dramatically, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to predict the planting and harvest seasons. These changing climate patterns have in turn contributed (alongside other factors) to acute food insecurity. Arouna Yameogo, responsible for sustainable agriculture projects with ODE, recalls a time when the planting season would begin in June and end in December, resulting in a six month farming season. Today some parts of Burkina Faso see only two or three months of rain per year. Instead of steady, slow rains that nourish and provide moisture to the new crops, torrential storms now flood fields and ruin crops. Intermittent, moderate rains that alternate with a dry season are becoming things of the past. Meanwhile, the Sahel (the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert) expands steadily southward, encroaching on Burkina Faso.

While these challenges to the agricultural sector exacerbate food insecurity and malnutrition, MCC and ODE see promise in the leaves of the moringa tree. Originally from northern India, moringa spread to various parts of Asia and Africa over the past thousand years. Nicknamed the “miracle tree” and the “never die” tree, moringa thrives in many different countries and varying climates. While moringa branches, seeds, pods and roots have been used in traditional remedies for ailments ranging from high blood pressure to stomach pain, the tree has not historically been viewed as a food source. Yet moringa, resistant to drought and flood, is able to weather changing climates, while also bearing the potential to combat malnutrition with its 16 vitamins and minerals and high levels of protein, potassium and calcium.

Yameogo and his colleagues at ODE provide support to farmers cultivating moringa to establish nurseries and have distributed moringa seedlings purchased from those farmers to hundreds of other farmers. Alongside efforts to promote the cultivation of moringa, ODE organizes trainings to educate communities about the nutritional value of moringa leaves and cooking demonstrations to show how those leaves can be used in and adapted for traditional dishes. “Moringa has grown in Burkina for quite some time, but people didn’t know about it or how to use it,” Yameogo explains. “Now we’ve had trainings to show the different nutritional qualities of moringa. It can prevent many sicknesses and can also fight against hunger because it has many vitamins and nutritional qualities. So now in the villages, we train people on the utility of moringa, and people use it all the time. We also train women how to make a powder from the leaves to put in porridge or in sauces. People are beginning to understand the importance of moringa.”

Community education on the use of moringa begins with awareness meetings since educating people about moringa’s nutritional properties is the first step in achieving wider adoption of moringa, with cooking classes showing how moringa leaves can be part of a daily, healthy diet. Participants in these trainings are not immediately convinced of moringa’s benefits or of its adaptability to local tastes. ODE has found, however, that participants gradually become used to adding moringa powder or leaves to everything from sauce to rice and even to eating boiled moringa leaves alone like spinach. One participant, for example, mixes moringa’s coin-sized leaves right into the peanut sauce she cooks with cabbage and tomatoes and serves over rice or , a thick, cornmeal-based mash common to Burkina Faso.

Since ODE began its projects, knowledge about and use of moringa have steadily increased in Burkina Faso. Although training and education are necessary to convince farmers that moringa is an economically viable crop and to persuade families that moringa leaves can be integrated into their diets, moringa is quickly becoming a valuable resource in efforts to combat malnutrition, both in Burkina Faso and beyond. Funding from MCC’s accounts at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) and the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) has enabled MCC and its partners to expand promotion of moringa as a nutrient-rich food source in multiple contexts. So, for example, MCC partners in Kenya and India raise awareness at the village level of moringa’s nutritional properties. In Zambia, meanwhile, MCC partners promote moringa consumption as part of efforts to strengthen the immune systems of people living with HIV and AIDS. By itself, of course, moringa will not solve food insecurity and malnutrition challenges. Yet, as ODE’s experience suggests, leaves from the moringa tree can play a vital role in addressing malnutrition in contexts in which agriculture is being disrupted by changing climate patterns.

Lauren Wade was an intern with MCC Burkina Faso in summer 2016. Arouna Yameogo is a project manager at Office de Développement des Eglises Evangéliques.

Learn more

Nielsen, Jonas Østergaard and Anette Reenberg. “Cultural Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study from Northern Burkina Faso.” Global Environmental Change 20/1 (2010): 142-152.

Durst, Patrick and Nomindelger Bayasgalanbat. Eds. Promotion of Underutilized Indigenous Food Resources for Food Security and Nutrition in Asia and the Pacific. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 2014.

Hughes, J. “Just Famine Foods? What Contributions Can Underutilized Plants Make to Food Security?” International Symposium on Underutilized Plants for Food Security, Nutrition, Income and Sustainable Development. Acta Horticulturae 806 (2009).

Engaging students for family food security and nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

As a small country with a large and rapidly growing population, Bangladesh has to make the most of its fast-disappearing agricultural land. Although the government of Bangladesh prioritizes modern and sustainable agricultural technologies to maximize crop production, many farmers’ beliefs in traditional agriculture methods, despite poor production, make them resistant to using new practices that improve production. Resistance to using improved agricultural practices that promote higher production has been a significant factor in food insufficiency and poor nutrition in rural Bangladesh, especially among land-poor farmers. This article explores how MCC Bangladesh has worked with young students to increase the adoption of new, more productive, agricultural practices.

MCC assists families experiencing poverty to increase their income from agriculture and livestock production and their access to diversified food in order to improve food security and nutrition. Encouraging farmers to shift from traditional techniques to new agricultural practices is not easy, especially among those who are older and have lower levels of formal education. MCC Bangladesh has found that young and literate farmers are generally more willing to try new techniques.

In particular, students are often willing to adopt new ideas. In Bangladesh, students are also often part of household decision-making. Despite limited financial resources, most poor families try hard to send their children to school. Families hope that, after gaining an education, their children will be able to improve the family’s financial status. For this reason, families sometimes depend on their children to make household decisions even while the children are still studying. This cultural context led MCC Bangladesh to involve students in a food security project focused on using modern agricultural techniques for improved family food security and nutrition.

Under its Research and Extension Activity Partners (REAP) project which ran from 2010 to 2016, MCC Bangladesh worked in Chattra Union, Pirganj Upazila in Rangpur district, Bangladesh. A total of 900 students in grade eight from six different secondary schools were selected as a primary participants. These students took part in the project up to grade ten. Each project year, new students were selected to join, with priority given to students from households experiencing poverty. These students received training in different agricultural technologies at school outside of regular class time, with technical support provided by MCC Bangladesh staff. The project also trained school teachers in agricultural technologies to improve their understanding of the project and to equip them to support their students.

At home, students discussed what they learned about these new technologies with their parents and other family members. When their parents expressed interest, MCC Bangladesh staff arranged for demonstrations of different agricultural technologies at their homestead. These agricultural demonstrations focused on best practices for rearing milk cows and goats, calf fattening, raising chickens, fruit tree cultivation, integrated pest management and making different types of compost for homestead gardening. Each household worked with at least two or three new techniques, with the entire family involved. MCC Bangladesh staff and the school teachers frequently visited participant students’ homes to monitor and discuss the new agricultural activities.

Students’ motivation encouraged households to focus their work on these new agricultural activities. Significant changes to nutrition occurred among the selected farm families over the project period. Families’ diversified agricultural activities provided them with more fresh vegetables of greater variety, more eggs and meat, more milk and more income from new agricultural activities like cattle rearing. With the extra income, families could afford to diversify their diets while meeting other family needs as well.

Some students have been particularly successful in generating income through the new agricultural activities. For example, one young woman in Sokhipur village received training in vegetable cultivation, cattle and goat rearing and compost production. MCC also provided her material support so that she could start raising goats and making compost. Now, besides being a respected source of agricultural knowledge in her community, she sells goats and compost to pay tuition fees for herself and her three sisters and has further expanded her family’s livelihoods by purchasing two cows.

In addition to agricultural work, the REAP project also provided peace education to targeted students and parents. These trainings, alongside other community peacebuilding work, helped ensure that conflicts that might arise from students teaching parents and encouraging new practices at home could be peaceably mediated and resolved.

Through this project, MCC Bangladesh learned that involving students in extension work to diversify agricultural activities addressed the challenge of motivating farmers to adopt new techniques. Through the work of students to improve families’ skills and capacity, parents were motivated to try modern agricultural practices, while students gained additional skills and knowledge. Ultimately, the combination of approaching parents through students and setting up demonstration plots on families’ own homesteads ensured sustainable changes to food security and nutrition due to changes in participants’ knowledge, attitude and practice.

Md. Arefur Rahaman is sector coordinator for food security and Md. Mokhlesur Rahman is program director with MCC Bangladesh.

Learn more

Quasem, M. A. “Conversion of Agricultural Land to Non-Agricultural Uses in Bangladesh: Extent and Determinants.” Bangladesh Development Studies 34/1 (2011): 59-85.

Ballantyne, Roy, Sharon Connell, and John Fien. “Students as Catalysts of Environmental Change: A Framework for Researching Intergenerational Influence through Environmental Education.” Environmental Education Research 4/3 (1998): 285-298.

A holistic approach to sustainable nutrition

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The term monga describes seasonal food insecurity that affects vulnerable landless labourers in northern Bangladesh as a result of decreased employment opportunities for the rural poor between rice planting and harvesting seasons. The monga season also negatively affects household nutrition. During this time, households generally reduce food consumption to one meal or less per day, with a corresponding decline in diet quality. People consume insufficient quantities of milk, eggs and vegetables. Most households report using credit to purchase food. Poor and extremely poor households report that they experience eight to ten months of food insecurity annually. In this article we examine learnings from a ten-year MCC initiative in northern Bangladesh to improve household food security and nutrition through regular seasonal food transfers, livestock promotion, connections to markets and nutrition education.

A holistic approach to promote sustainable alternative livelihood options was required to combat such a deeply rooted and persistent problem. To address this situation, MCC Bangladesh, with funding from MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), implemented the Monga Mitigation Project from 2006 to 2016, working with 2,500 households. The project focused on increasing households’ livestock assets and improving participants’ knowledge and practice of livestock management. MCC chose this approach because participant households had little or no agricultural land, but did possess some experience with livestock management. The first phase of the project experimented with a variety of asset transfers, from chickens and goats to different cow breeds. Through action research, we found that hybrid dairy cows were the most appropriate asset for promotion, given the good market for milk in Bangladesh. The project also worked to educate participants about caring for these livestock and to establish complementary services through the training of veterinary service providers. While these services were free at first, over the course of the project participants gradually took on the costs of these services themselves. MCC also encouraged participants to access government services and to form good relationships with other private service providers like para-vets and fodder stores.

Scarcity of fodder and high prices of cattle feed made it difficult for poor families to bear the feeding expenses of rearing cattle. At the beginning of the project, the project only supported its targeted participants leasing land for fodder cultivation, including Napier grass. However, when most of the land owners did not renew the land leases, MCC shifted focus to supporting other community members involved in selling and marketing fodder grass in order to increase the availability of fodder for participants’ cows. By the end of the project, the area of fodder land had expanded through newly created businesses in the project area and participants reported easier access to fodder for their livestock.

The monga project also focused on increasing the long-term sustainability and productivity of assets by developing value chain linkages. The severe milk shortage in Bangladesh, coupled with high levels of unmet demand from both consumers and dairy processors, made dairy cows a highly appropriate asset for promotion. Therefore, in its second phase, the monga project worked to develop linkages with milk chillers so that the participants could sell their milk upmarket and increase their income. Although this proved challenging to implement, ultimately it increased income among participants. Connections with milk chillers meant that milk could be sold in the city for a higher price rather than just in the local community.

Besides long-term support aimed at increasing household income, the project also addressed immediate nutritional needs during the monga season. For instance, MCC provided lentils during the monga period to meet basic protein nutritional requirements and distributed fruit saplings and vegetable seeds for planting, the produce of which could be harvested during the monga season. Participant households received training in improved nutrition practices, including complementary feeding, exclusive breastfeeding and improved dietary diversification.

The project did encounter problems due to high poverty and illiteracy rates among participants. Given the acute seasonal food insecurity faced by participants, there was temptation to liquidate assets, and providing technical knowledge was difficult at times. To overcome these issues, MCC staff continuously encouraged participants to consider the ultimate goal of increasing their assets over the long-term. MCC also gave high priority to incorporating participants’ perspectives of community needs when designing and implementing the project. For example, MCC scheduled trainings, especially targeted at women, outside of planting and harvesting periods when participants could join. MCC staff reported back to participants on the project’s progress, with project activities modified based on participant feedback. So, for example, after one feedback loop MCC increased the quality of mustard oil cake distributed for livestock feed.

After ten years of MCC implementing this project, participants who used to be monga-affected now have assets that increase their self-confidence, income and food security, leading to improved household nutrition. Income from livestock production has improved participants’ daily life and economic status: the project end survey showed an average 300% increase in income over the income levels recorded in the baseline survey. Income sources include selling vegetables, livestock and livestock products like milk and dried dung for fuel. Improved income has had positive effects, including on participant households’ access to education, medical treatment and even land for agriculture and housing.

More secure livelihoods and earning opportunities have also improved households’ stable access to food, ultimately improving nutrition. The project’s final survey found zero months of food insecurity, compared with eight to ten months of food insecurity before the project started. Additionally, participants reported notable improvements in eating more food (meals and calories) of better quality, including higher consumption rates of a protein-rich diet. The integrated approach of diversifying livelihoods to increase income, increasing homestead production and providing nutrition training and continual motivation has had a positive impact on household nutrition.

Additionally, the project targeted women as direct participants in trainings and as legal livestock asset holders. Women were targeted because they are highly invested in care for their families, so they were considered more likely to use project inputs for the long-term good of the household. This targeting improved women’s power in household decision-making and increased their control over resources.

The project always considered the sustainability of community development by working to improve participant capacity to rear livestock without project support. MCC trained participants to cope with challenges as they arose, gradually withdrew project support and linked participants with alternate sources of most essential project services: these strategies prepared project participants to continue rearing livestock when project services ended. The project also worked to set up strong bonds within the community by implementing events designed to help community members support each other.

Providing encouragement to participants, appropriate selection of participants and holistic nurturing of assets and services to increase sustainable income were key to overcoming the persistence of the monga season. Long-term planning and holistic intervention are necessary to bring about sustainable changes in any sector. Rather than simply distributing livestock, this project supported value chain linkages and complementary service to farmers and families to sustain new assets. All of the project activities worked together to help improve participants’ food security and nutrition and develop new agricultural livelihoods to sustain those positive changes.

Md. Shahjahan Ali Sarker is a program officer and Md. Mokhlesur Rahman is program director with MCC in Bangladesh.

Learn more

CARE Bangladesh. Pro-Poor Analysis of the Dairy Value Chain. Dhaka: CARE Bangladesh, 2008. Available at www.carebangladesh.org/publication/Publication_6751088.pdf.

Rao, C.K. and Puis Odermatt. Value Chain Analysis Report on the Milk Market in Bangladesh. Dhaka: Livelihoods, Empowerment and Agroforestry Project (LEAF), 2006. Available at www.scribd.com/doc/28847769/Bangladesh-Milk-Market-LEAF.

Conservation agriculture and religious motivation

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Farmers in every region of the world are adapting to a changing climate. In Africa in particular rainfall is becoming increasingly unreliable, forcing farmers to seek out new ways to conserve precious soil moisture for food production. A growing number of MCC partner organizations in sub-Saharan Africa are promoting a style of farming called conservation agriculture (CA). MCC works with a number of church-based organizations,
including the Mennonite church in Tanzania and the Brethren in Christ Church in Honduras, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to promote CA. This article examines the promotion of CA through “Farming God’s Way” and assesses how that framing impacts the adoption of new agricultural techniques.

CA has three main principles: minimal soil disturbance (no plowing), ground cover (mulch) and crop rotation. For many farmers, these principles have contributed to greatly improved yields, even during very dry growing seasons. The no plowing and mulch principles can have significant positive impacts on soil moisture levels, but they are also
countercultural for most farmers. Farmers in most communities where MCC’s partners work have for generations tilled and cleared land (with clearing often done by burning plant material) in preparation for seeding. These culturally entrenched practices go back generations and die hard. Asking a farmer not to till before seeding is something like telling city homeowners not to cut their lawn. “That’s not the way we do things around here. What would the neighbors think?”

So even as farmers actively look for new techniques to respond to drier conditions, convincing them to try CA with its counter-cultural elements has proven challenging. To overcome this cultural barrier, some organizations bring biblical and spiritual principles into their conversations about CA with farmers, integrating biblical ethics with scientifically sound agriculture practices in order to connect with and influence farmers more effectively. These organizations seek to persuade farmers that CA is akin to farming God’s way. In fact, a growing movement that started in Zimbabwe actually calls itself Farming God’s Way. For its proponents, Farming God’s Way is not a farming model per se, but rather a perspective from which to present, promote and understand CA.

Mulch, for example, in standard CA parlance is simply referred to as mulch. Mulch is plant material that covers the soil to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and foster plant growth. Farming God’s way, however, describes mulch as “God’s blanket”. Farming God’s Way promoters explain “God’s blanket” to farmers thus: If one observes the natural, God-created world, one rarely sees soil not covered with some sort of plant material. God’s intention is thus for soil to be covered with plant material, even in human cropping systems: applying “God’s blanket” participates in God’s creative and sustaining action while protecting the soil for future generations. Suddenly, with this explanation, once skeptical farmers are now more convinced that mulching and CA as a whole are worth a try. MCC partners who present CA as farming God’s way report that it smoothes the road for change in many communities. This approach apparently works equally well for Muslim and Christian farmers alike. In fact, even non-religious farmers do not seem to be turned off by the argument. Furthermore, framing CA using “farming God’s way” language provides better community entry, using existing community structures such as churches and church youth groups.

Organizations that promote CA as farming God’s way are not trying to pull the wool over farmers’ eyes with talk about God and the Bible: they are sincere in their belief that CA mimics the natural world more closely than conventional farming and is therefore closer to God’s intended way of farming. However, farming God’s way proponents also realize that talk about God only goes so far. To be sure, CA often leads to dramatic increases in yield. In fact, recent reports suggest average yield increases of over 100% for first-time CA farmers. Increased yield obviously offers extra motivation for farmers, regardless of their desire to be good stewards of God’s creation. But along with entrenched notions of how to farm properly, the extra work required by mulching presents a real barrier for many farmers. In some communities, farmer adoption levels have not been as strong as expected, mostly due to the perceived increase in labor requirements, particularly in the first year of using CA approaches. But farmers tend to be innovators. Some farmers have come up with alternatives to mulching that serve the same purpose, like growing beans
along with corn (intercropping). The beans cover most of the bare ground around the corn, acting as a sort of living mulch. The extra bean harvest makes the additional work worthwhile.

While farmers prove time and again to be innovators, organizations promoting farming God’s way have not always encouraged this innovation, holding to an overly dogmatic or narrow understanding of what it means to farm God’s way. Yet lived reality challenges such dogmatism, and proponents of farming God’s way have begun to learn that diversity is also a part of God’s created order. Most MCC partner organizations now encourage farmers to embrace the three CA principles in general and then adapt them to their own particular farming circumstances. MCC’s partners hope to convince more than 20,000 African farmers to try CA farming within the next few years. One of the challenges will be
to present CA not only as God’s way, but also as a way toward a more sustainable and food-secure future for farmers. One might argue that these two things are mutually inclusive, but farmers rightfully require evidence of CA’s effectiveness, given that their families’ livelihoods are at stake. A current initiative funded by the Canadian government in eastern Africa and implemented by MCC and its partners seeks to gather better information about crop yield and other food security metrics in order to provide a more complete picture of how CA methods improve the lives of farmers and their families.

Some MCC partner organizations that promote CA avoid framing arguments for CA in religious terms, choosing to rely solely on agronomic arguments. Most organizations, however, choose a balance between God and yield, making the case that CA practices mimic the created order while also demonstrating CA’s practical benefits. MCC does not mandate a specific approach to promoting CA, opting instead to listen and learn from its partner organizations about what works best. For now, however, the initial evidence seems to support the hypothesis that framing CA in religious terms fosters adoption of CA practices.

Vurayayi Pugeni and Dan Wiens are disaster response and food security coordinators, respectively, for MCC.

Learn more:

Investing in Communities: The Benefits and Costs of Building Resilience for Food
Security in Malawi. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2010. Available at http://tilz.tearfund.org/en/themes/disasters/disaster_risk_reduction_drr/cost_benefit_analysis_of_drr/.