AgriEducate and Cultivate Farms are teaming up!

Over at AgriEducate HQ we’re pleased to announce a partnership with Cultivate Farms that will help all of our subscribers kick off their farming ambitions. For a limited time, ALL AgriEducate followers get 50% off the Aspiring Farmer package currently valued at $150 a year. That means that for $75 a year you get access to:

  1. Eligibility for farm opportunities.
  2. Cultivate Farms helps you find education, development and job opportunities at discounted rates.
  3. Free Mercado market analysis membership (valued at $300 per year).
  4. A public farmer profile.
  5. Access to the eBook under construction (valued at $30).
  6. Discounts on partner opportunities.
  7. And much, much more including tips on how to be farm ready, local farm stories and priority response from the Cultivate Farms team.

To claim the 50% ($75) discount simply make sure you follow either our Facebook or Twitter pages and send us an email at AgriEducate@gmail.com. We’ll then pass your details on to Sam at Cultivate Farms and they’ll do the rest!

Cultivate Farms

Cultivate Farms is a farm and farmer ‘matchmaking service’ helping young, aspiring farmers overcome the large financial obstacle preventing a move onto the land. The program aims to improve the access of young Australians to agricultural land. As such it fits in perfectly with our ‘raison d’être’ on improving the urban and consumer connection with agriculture, and developing greater interest in agriculture from young people around Australia and the world. So we’re doing everything we can to help Cultivate Farms inspire the next generation of Australian farmers.

Anyone is eligible for the program. All you need is passion for agriculture and a drive to become a farmer, irrespective of where you were born and how you grew up.

So make the most of this opportunity, sign up to Cultivate Farms and let those dreams of being a farmer become reality!

ABC Landline Special Report: Development Agriculture in Nepal

Today’s Landline story focused on some of the Australian-funded agricultural projects in Nepal. The trip was organised and supported by the Crawford Fund, who have a commitment to showing the enormous impacts and benefits of agricultural projects in developing countries. This particular trip was the prize for Sean Murphy – winner of the 2016 Crawford Fund Food Security Journalism Award. The Crawford Funds support for increasing communications about the benefits of agricultural development projects to both local communities and to Australia is vital to the impacts of these projects being understood and valued. As stated by the Crawford Fund, “now more than ever, it’s important to communicate the impact of these projects that are supported by Australia, and demonstrate their benefit to Australia”. The 2017 Crawford Fund Food Security Journalism Award will be announced at their annual conference next week.

Development Agriculture

Communicating the enormous benefits of agricultural development projects is crucial to their continuation and support. “Science Diplomacy” is a field where Australia has much to offer, particularly in our region. But to secure the funding and resources for these projects requires the public to value the contributions that these projects make to both developing countries, and to Australia. As Andrew Campbell, the Chief Executive Officer of ACIAR says, “it’s not in Australia’s interest to have unstable countries who can’t feed themselves in our region”. These projects punch well above their weight for both developing countries and for Australia. Returns on investment in international agricultural research are in the order of 20-80%. But to keep the projects operating, people need to understand their importance, mutual value, and viability.

Agriculture is the largest source of income in developing countries. So by improving agriculture, there can be enormous effects on poverty alleviation. GDP growth generated by agriculture is four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth generated in other sectors (IFAD 2012). Just 1% increase in agricultural yields leads to a 0.6%-1.2% reduction in the number of people living below $1/day. ACIAR funds several agricultural development projects across developing countries. The program sends scientists and researchers to developing countries to help improve food security. Find out more about the work of ACIAR here.

ACIAR projects must balance the need for local farmers to continue feeding themselves, whilst also increasing production and incomes. Despite a lot of similarities, the outcomes of agriculture in developing countries are largely different to agriculture in many developed countries. One key difference is that developing country farmers often use production for subsistence, whereas the diets of farmers in many developed countries is comprised of bought produce. Consequently, diversification of production from grains to vegetables and proteins to dairy are required by smallhold farmers (to fill the pantry with everything needed), rather than a monoculture with which we may be more familiar.

Nepal

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in world, and it is a country where agriculture is the backbone of the economy. Agriculture and forestry provide nearly 60% of jobs in Nepal and over one-third of GDP. However, Nepal is struggling to adequately feed its population with an estimated one-third of the population undernourished.

Nepal is one of 30 countries where ACIAR has ongoing projects. The Eastern Gangetic Plains of Nepal is a region with world’s highest concentration of rural poverty and also has a high dependence on agriculture for both food security and livelihoods. The region has significant potential to become a food bowl for the local region (and also much of Asia), but productivity and crop diversity remain low due to underdeveloped markets, limited expertise and extension services, labour shortages, inadequate infrastructure developments (particularly water resources) and knowledge of sustainable production processes. The projects by ACIAR involve improving productivity, profitability and sustainability of small farmers in rice-based systems across three countries in the EGP region.

Nepal is home to one of Australia’s oldest agricultural AID programs (did you know that AID stands for ‘Assistance in International Development’). The project started more than 40 years ago, and involves planting forestry plots which serve many purposes for the local community. The forests help to prevent erosion, which conserves precious Himalayan soils. The forests also provide a supply of timber, which has proven highly valuable in reconstruction efforts following the recent devastating Earthquake.

The forests provide an opportunity for agroforestry (see our earlier agroforestry post for more) to grow things like cardamom on the forest floor. This means farmers can get value out of the forests before the trees are cut down. Cardamom is a high value and low maintenance cash crop. The income earned from this form of agroforestry enables the farmers to fund education and medical expenses, buy food in times of food scarcity, and also to be reinvested for further agricultural production.

Australian AID Programs

Ian Nuberg from the University of Adelaide explains that until the 1960s there were fewer controls on the use of forests in the region. Later on however, people became worried about water from the Himalayas washing down and eroding the precious fertile soils. This concern caused the timber mill in the area to shut down. In 1995 the timber mill reopened with Australian AID funding, with 10% of profits being given to a local community fund. This also re-opened the plantation to strict government controls.

The project focuses on skills development, and passing down the challenging lessons and adaptation strategies Australian farmers have developed. An overall aim of the strategy is to turn the Eastern Gangetic Plains region into a food bowl for much of Asia.

Neal Menzies, the Dean of Agriculture at the University of Queensland, said on Landline today “look around, it’s a very fertile area… with the introduction of new technologies there can be enormous improvements of the amount of food coming out of the EGP”.

The challenge is to intensify agricultural production, but in a sustainable way. There is growing interest in Conservation Agriculture Based System Intensification (CASI). You can find out more about the project to reduce poverty through agriculture in an environmentally sustainable way here.

One way to do this is to grow an additional crop, such as mung beans. This involves shortening the time it takes to grow rice and wheat in a traditional 2 crop rotation, and enables more yield per unit area. Farmers are learning techniques such as directly drilling rice into paddocks before the monsoon season begins.

Another problem faced in Nepal is labour shortages. 10 million Nepalese people now live overseas as remittance workers. These workers are typically men who seek higher incomes abroad, and send large parts of their income to their families at home in Nepal. This means that the agricultural economy of Nepal is largely in the hands of women.

Labour shortages also mean that investing in technology is crucial to overcome manpower shortages. On Landline today, a local Nepalese farmer stated:

“before the machine we had to uproot the stubble… now this can be done in 5 minutes” –  Landline.

Further, the technological revolution of developing country agriculture is also coupled with the feminisation of agriculture. Landline showed how women in Nepal are now using new rice ‘transplantors’ to increase yields.

“Women are driving the change to a mechanised farming future in Nepal” – Landline.

New methods of production, such as cooperative farming are helping some of the untouchables (poorest of the poor) in Nepal, who are being given access to water and land for the first time. Solar powered pumps are drawing water from shallow wells to irrigate crops in the dry season, and establishing aquaculture is also proving a stable source of income. The experiences of Australia’s projects in Nepal show how Development Agriculture provides many opportunities to make a difference to people’s lives, and also creates food security for our region.

For more information, or to view the Landline episode, see here.

Other Information

http://aciar.gov.au/project/fst/2011/076

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-30/australia-helping-nepal-rebuild-after-2015-earthquake/8749390?pfm=ms&pfmredir=sm

 

Big things come in little farms: The role of smallholder farmers for global food security

Is size everything? This week’s Development Agriculture Wednesday takes a look at the huge contributions that smallholder farmers make to global food production.

Here’s some food for thought: Smallholder farmers produce over half of global food calories!

Further, one-third of the world’s population are smallholder farmers. Agriculture is now one of the few global industries which is largely supported by family production across many parts of the world, and these small farms often support some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Given this, growing and supporting smallholder agriculture has huge impacts on both poverty alleviation, and food security globally.

Picture1
Smallholder family farmers in Vietnam (source)

It is now estimated that there are over 475 million farms which are less than two hectares in size (this defines being a smallholder). Yet these farms account for over 40% of global farmland, and produce over 50% of the world’s food.

Further research (Herrero) shows that 50% global cereal production occurs in developing countries, particularly with high rates of global rice production (86%) and millet (67%). Therefore, supporting agricultural development in the developing world is not only crucial for food security within developing countries, but at a global level as well.

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Smallhold farmers in Tanzania (source)

One major challenge to supporting agricultural development is access to sufficient data to understand small-scale production across the globe.  To overcome this, researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment have mapped smallholder farms in developing countries. Check out the finished production below!

 

Picture1
Map of mean agricultural area by subnational administrative unit in three global regions (83 countries; source)

Findings from the 83 countries studied identify that smallholder farming produces 53% of food calories for human consumption. Farms of less than five hectares also account for over half of the production of eight staple crops: rice, cassava, millet, wheat, potato, maize, rye and barley.

According to the study:

“ 918 subnational units in 83 countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia average less than five hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These smallholder-dominated systems are home to more than 380 million farming households, make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land and produce more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions, and are responsible for more than half of the food calories produced globally, as well as more than half of global production of several major food crops”.

Lead author Leah Samberg says that “this map is a first step toward a better understanding of where and how smallholder farming can be sustainable for both landscapes and livelihoods”. By understanding the spatial distributions of smallholder farms, policy makers and development agriculture specialists can target policies and investments, with huge applications for food security, sustainable production and land use. This is particularly important given recent efforts that focus on intensification as a means to achieve increased production.

One important consideration when looking at smallholder farmers is that they are not a homogenous group. After all, you can only expect there to be incredible diversity when studying half of the world’s population. This means that further research is needed into the nature of smallholder farming right across the globe, if we want to target policies at particular smallholder farming regions.

So to wrap things up, global agricultural production can be understood as a complex and diverse jigsaw puzzle of billions of individuals pieces. In the wise words of Nollsy:

“Take a step back and see the little people… they’re the ones that make the big people big”.

Shannon Noll – 2004

Cover image: source

Figuring out FIGS: The Next-Gen of Genotyping Improving Food Security

As the Moroccan proverb goes it’s better a handful of dried figs and content with that, than to own the gate of peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel. For this week’s Development Agriculture Wednesday we look into the fruity world of FIGS and how it’s helping the industry adapt to ever increasing challenges.

Figuring out FIGS

We all know that feeling when you just can’t find the right sized screw out of the assortment in the drawer, but imagine the difficulties of finding a particular gene amongst possibly millions.

Well, thankfully, a new system has been developed to help just that. The Focused Identification of Germplasm Strategy – otherwise known as FIGS – allows researchers to pinpoint exact genes more accurately and quickly than traditional methods. The system allows researchers to screen collections of plant genetic resources to identify targeted genes to improve crops.

The improved genetic ‘agility’ enabled by this technique means better and more rapid control of new diseases. Virulent crop diseases can have huge impacts on yields across entire regions, potentially jeopardising regional food security. Using this system researchers can identify specific genes that may have resistance to particular diseases/pests much more rapidly than with traditional techniques, aiding the development of improved varieties.

How FIGS works?

Across the world there are millions of plant seed samples which are conserved in agricultural gene banks. Many of you may have heard of the doomsday vault in Svalbard, Norway, which exists to protect genetic material in case of global catastrophe. In a similar theme, slightly more widespread agricultural gene banks are developed to ensure agricultural biodiversity is maintained, and potentially vital genes are not lost. Some genes may be more tolerant to drought, extreme hot or cold weather, or particular pests and diseases yet are only present in the wild type of the crop. For example there are varieties of wheat that are incredibly tall and short but may have a particular drought or disease resistant trait contained within. Being able to develop crops which contain these traits and are resistant to negative environmental stressors can help overcome low-yields in many low-income countries (and high-income countries too).

The CSIRO and many private plant breeding companies (e.g. AGT) in Australia are always on the lookout for disease, heat and drought tolerant varieties.

But, the problem is, that searching through these millions of samples is timely, costly and incredibly inefficient. The FIGS system however, applies Bayesian mathematics, with key information (geographical and agroclimatic) to find the genes. By using environmental and agroclimatic parameters, the system predicts the places where plant traits (such as drought resistance) are likely to have evolved.  The system can find genes with a higher probability of having the sought after trait, by finding genebank accessions from selected locations which have the required environmental locations to produce that gene trait. This means that researchers have smaller amounts of material to search through.

The FIGS System

figs.jpg
An overview of the FIGS process (source)

How FIGS was developed

In the 1980s, Michael Mackay was in search for a boron-tolerant wheat variety for farmers in Australia. He examined accessions from marine-origin soils from Mediterranean sites,  with toxic levels of boron. This material had the genetic variation required to develop boron-tolerant cultivars. Since then, ICARDA and partners have continued to develop the program.

FIGS in use

FIGS has already identified resistant varieties of wheat to sunn pest, powdery mildew (with a 16% success rate compared to a previous 5—6%), Russian wheat aphid (the first ever sources of resistance) and stem rust; of barley to net blotch; and of faba bean to drought.  Previous searches for resistant genes had proven unsuccessful by traditional means, but using FIGS, 12 resistant accessions to sunn pest were found in wheat.

Case Study: Strengthening resistance against stem rust

The Ug99 strain of stem rust first appeared in Uganda in 1999, and has had significant impacts on wheat production in Sub-Saharan East Africa, Yemen and Iran. It now threatens crops in Central and South Asia – an area accounting for 40% of global wheat production. Developing a resistant variety is crucial to stabilising global wheat supplies.

Plants react to virulent strains through ‘R (resistance) genes’.  These traits, however, are rare. There are about 45-50 of these genes known in wheat to have resistance to types of stem rust. Using genetic resources from genebanks, researches can use these resistant genes from wild relatives to develop resistant varieties – and ensure stability for global wheat production.

Researchers used geographical information system (GIS) approaches and found a relationship between incidence of stem rust resistance and geographic location. The hypothesis in this case, was that environmental factors from the site of collection influence the genetic materials traits. The results found that stem rust resistance was confined to particular areas, and susceptibility was also confined to different areas. The researchers could then develop a series of algorithms for future ‘trait mining’, which allowed them to create models to predict the performance of particular genes from given areas.

Figured it out?

The FIGS system has a lot to offer both researchers and development agencies in the search for more resistant crops to stabilise global food production, reduce vulnerability to shocks in the system, and overall ensure improved food security.

The FIGS system is one of many topics which will be covered at the Crawford Fund 2017 Conference to be held in Canberra. The former genebank curator at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and project leader of FIGS – Dr Ken Street – will be presenting. For more information, check out the full conference program here.

Read more on FIGS here:

Front cover image source

 The next 10 years of Global Agriculture 

It’s hard to imagine what will be dished up for the future of food security and agricultural production around the world. With so many variables – changing technologies, uncertain economies and markets, climate variability – it becomes hard to predict what exactly will be on the horizon. Thankfully though, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has teamed up with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to cast some predictions on exactly that.

This week’s Development Agriculture article will count down our top 10 highlights from the UNFAO and OECD’s  2016-2025 Agricultural Outlook.  The report takes a look at the outlook of global agriculture in the coming 10 years, covering 41 countries and 12 geographic regions.

10

Global food commodity prices are projected to remain low. Overall agricultural prices fell in 2015 (across staple crops, livestock and fish products), signalling the end of an era of high prices. Demand growth in many emerging economies is expected to continue to slow down, partly owing to the diminishing impact of biofuel policies on markets.  On the supply side, the past decade has seen a replenishment of cereal stocks by 230 million metric tonnes, which has nearly restored levels to supply levels prior to the 2007-08 global food crisis (the less well known twin of the GFC).

9

Increased food demand is expected to be met mostly through productivity gains, with yield improvements projected to account for 80% of the increase in crop output.

8

Projections estimate that the global proportion of undernourished people will decline from 11% to 8% (or 788 million to below 650 million). However, Sub-Saharan Africa is not expected to see these improvements, expected to have over one-third of total undernourished people in 10 years.

7

Yield growth is expected to slow in key soybean producing countries as it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue shifting the technological frontier. However, many developing countries have significant potential to shift the frontier forwards and significantly increase global supplies.

6

Food consumption growth rates in Southeast Asia are expected to be higher than in other developing regions. However, this is given a lower baseline, with current consumption particularly low. Consumption growth for most agricultural products is also only marginally ahead of population growth (33.6% – much higher than the average growth rate across other developing countries of 10.5%).

5

5 main exporting countries are expected to account for at least 70% of global exports. Food important dependency is predicted to remain high for poor regions, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East.

4

Agricultural trade is expected to remain more resilient to economic downturns than trade in other sectors. This is despite expectations that agricultural trade will expand at about half the rate of the previous decade. Most countries aim to be self-sufficient in staple foods, which constrains agricultural trade in these products. This is accompanied by a structural shift favouring value-added products.

3

Additional calorie and protein consumption in the coming 10 years is expected to come from three main sources: vegetable oil, sugar and dairy products.

2

In developing countries, sugar consumption is expected to increase by over 15% per capita. There is great variation within this figure, however. Sugar consumption in least developed countries of Oceania is predicted at 2kg, whilst higher predictions are seen in Brazil (57kg), Thailand (56kg), and Malaysia (65kg). The largest increases are predicted in India, China and Indonesia.

1

Average Calorie Availability is projected to exceed 3000 kcal per person per day in developing countries, and 2450 kcal in least developed countries.

 

In presenting the Agricultural Outlook OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria also made some key points. Agricultural markets are inherently volatile, but increasingly important. Gurria says,

“As we have seen, unexpected events can easily take markets away from these central trends. In the past I have talked about the ‘hikes in the spikes’; now we have to beware of the ‘bumps in the slumps’!”.

So whilst these outlooks show many positive indicators, realising these predictions demands careful management and planning of policies, economies, technologies, and scientific research.

“In 2015, we agreed on a common level of ambition through the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Agriculture will be crucial in delivering on these commitments, ensuring food security for all, while safeguarding our planet for future generations”

To take a look at the report for yourself.

 

The Agricultural Economy of Tomorrow

Agriculture is so much more than just the production of food and what the farmer does on their land. This week’s Development Agriculture Wednesday tunes into this year’s McDougall Memorial Lecture by Achim Steiner (UNDP Administrator) at the 40th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) Conference. We’d definitely recommend a listen, but here are some of the highlights!

https://soundcloud.com/unfao/opening-of-the-40th-session-of-the-fao-conference-mcdougall-memorial-lecture

Steiner talks about the Agricultural Economy of Tomorrow, and the opportunities this may have for changing our world. What exactly the agricultural economy of tomorrow may involve, however, is a rather complex issue.

The agricultural economy of today is laden with paradoxes and misconceptions. There are currently 800 million people who are undernourished, yet, one-third of food produced goes to waste. This contradictory reality continues as the majority of those 800 million people who lack adequate food consumption, are the producers themselves.

Given these numbers, it’s an imperative that we increase agricultural production, particularly with rapid increases in our population. The imperative of feeding more people, may require us to produce more food, produce different food, or to address an economy which seems to rationalize wasting possibly more produce than in any other sector of the economy.

But the challenges of agriculture today, require more than just a lens of maximising food production. Decision making in the 21st century has to address complexities that were not present in the past. At the forefront of this, is the recognition of the role of farmers in an increasingly complex web of global food production. This involves recognising that farmers are more than just food producers, but are custodians of their land, fathers and mothers, and that they are the best hope of managing natural resources, environmental infrastructure and biological capabilities to sustain life into the future.

Agriculture is so much more than just the production of food. It is so much more than what the farmer does on his or her land. It speaks to a recognition that what happens to Agriculture will determine what happens in the world far more than other sectors. We must recognise that what happens in Agriculture touches on so much more than what happens in food production.

However, whilst we speak about increasing agricultural production, we are also eroding the very capital that we depend on to produce food – water, land and biodiversity.

Water security demonstrates this perfectly. Agriculture accounts for 70% of fresh water use globally. By 2025, one-third of humanity will be deemed to be living under ‘water-stress’. The decisions that are made in agriculture, will be the decisions that determine water management for a vast number of societies across the world.

Biodiversity is another example. Humanity depend on just 15 plants and 8 animal species for 90% of our total calorie and protein intake. As Steiner says – “that’s called a high risk strategy”. More concerning, is that three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agriculture crops have already been lost.

The challenges of today’s agricultural economy extend far beyond farms and farmers. Because of this, they are also challenges that farmers alone can’t solve. As Steiner puts it – farmers are becoming miners of their very own resources rather than sustainable managers of the foundations of the agricultural economy of the future. The pressures of trade liberalization, competition, distortions through subsidies, and protectionism – often leave farmers with very little choice. Farmers are often trapped in markets, pricing systems and contradictory signals that they receive. The future of global food production which is premised on the farmer as the agent of change, and as the backbone of food security, does not really capture the reality of where decisions are made.

Focusing on the farmer alone is a misrepresentation of the notions of freedoms that farmers have in today’s world. Steiner suggests we need to rethink how we conceptualize and measure the agricultural economy, and highlights that we need to look beyond simply numbers and statistics. If we look at today’s agricultural economy with only the traditional measure of GDP, we see a figure of only 4%. This does not even come close to reflecting how significant it really is. Behind each of these numbers and figures are extraordinary narratives of real people who depend on agriculture, and their livelihoods.

Our agricultural economy of the 21st century takes place upstream and downstream of the farmer. Decision-making is far more than the decisions made on the farm about what to grow, what risks to take, and how to hedge against price fluctuations. Upstream of the farm – we see inputs (seeds, technologies, fertilizers) which represents a far larger proportion of the agricultural economy than the farmer who produces the food. Downstream of the farm – traders, food processes, packagers realize the true value added prices once the product leaves the farm. These are the parameters which define the agricultural economy. The mandate to influence what is upstream or downstream is often beyond the jurisdiction of one minister or one decision maker. This is exactly why we need an integrated approach to the agricultural economy of tomorrow. Decisions must come from people from a variety of industries, trades, academic backgrounds and professions.

Realising that the greatest issues in International Development cannot be solved in isolation is an essential component of the integrated agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). This involves bringing together science and policy, with international collaboration, to address some of the biggest challenges of the times. The challenges that face the modern 21st century farmer are complexities that requires a systems management approach.

There are two take-away messages from this address. Firstly, the agricultural economy needs a rethink. Global food production goes far beyond farms and farmers, and whilst farmers are incredibly important agents of realizing food security, they are not the only ones. Secondly, in a world that is polarized between malnourished and over-nourished, we need to identify the breadth, complexity and diversity of agriculture across the globe, before we can understand the agricultural economy of tomorrow. Once we start realizing that Agriculture is so much more than just the production of food, we can then also start realising the agricultural economy of tomorrow.