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Families, land and videos in northern Uganda January 14th, 2018 by

Enyang Bua Philips grew up in the remote Lira District of northern Uganda, an area which is only now emerging from the poverty and violence brought about by the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Philips studied agriculture in High School. Then he went on to earn a diploma in marketing. In 2016 he was one of the co-founders of the Lango Family Farmers’ Association, which he organized to help farmers with land, marketing and technical issues. The association has four staff and 569 members, including 333 women.

I asked Philips recently how he was able to encourage so many women to join the association. It wasn’t hard, he explained. The women were already organized in village-based, self-help groups, and when he told them about the advantages of belonging to a larger association, all of these groups and their members signed up.

Land grabbers are a serious threat to family farms in Uganda, where rural people are easily swayed by the promise of money. The land grabbing companies take land, strip it of its fertility by growing export crops, and then abandon the community. Philips and his colleagues teach the groups that they have the right to reject the land grabbers, who come to the villages promising money. “The land grabbers come in disguise,” Philips explains to the groups, telling them “There are no benefits, no money. (Not only do they make false promises), but when they go the land will be degraded and useless.”

Another way to protect the land is by ensuring that family farmers can benefit from it.

In March 2017, Philips read an article in the Farming Matters online magazine about the videos hosted on www.accessagriculture.org. He downloaded over 20 videos and has shown 10 of them to the members of the association. He takes his laptop to the villages. There is seldom electricity, so he uses his battery to show the video to groups of about 30 people. He starts by introducing the video; afterwards he explains and discusses it with the members.

Philips recently shared the video on managed regeneration of forests with several villages. Many of the local people were amazed to see crops growing among the trees. “Here people cut down all of the trees before planting a garden,” Philips told me over the phone.

While some of the Ugandan farmers still doubt the wisdom of growing trees and crops together, other local people have started experimenting with the idea. In each community, the Association helps people set up a demonstration plot, where they can try out innovations shown on the videos.

The farmer groups loved the videos on maize, on striga biology, and the one on mucuna, or velvet bean, a hardy legume that can be planted as a cover crop to regenerate degraded soils (such as the ones stripped by the land grabbers).

Mucuna seed can be hard to find in Northern Uganda, but these observant farmers quickly spotted wild mucuna growing on the edges of their fields. They are now gathering seed so they can plant it in damaged fields during the next rainy season, to see if they can bring some of their land back to life.

The internet is quickly spreading, but it will be a while before most farmers in Lira District are online. Meanwhile, a grassroots community organizer finds useful videos online, and shares them with groups of village farmers. That is one way that videos from the internet are reaching the most remote places.  This farmers’ association is not only helping farmers learn from videos, but also to understand the potential of the Internet as a source of knowledge.

Other blog stories about mucuna

The big mucuna

The big, bad beans

Other blog stories about northern Uganda

Winning the peace, with chilli and videos

Late night learning

The sesame cleaner

Watch videos in Luo

Luo is the language spoken in Lira and surrounding areas of Uganda and Kenya. Access Agriculture hosts 38 videos in the Luo language.

Watching videos to become a dairy expert January 7th, 2018 by

Last week I wrote about Isaac Enoch, who is using drip irrigation to grow vegetables in South Sudan. This week we meet Tom Juma, who is also one of the registered users of the Access Agriculture video platform.

Tom Nyongesa Juma grew up in a small village in Bungoma, in Western Kenya, about an hour from the city of Kisumu. As a young man he earned a B.Sc. in forestry, and studied soil science for an M.Sc. He nearly finished that degree, but was frustrated by a lack of money to pay his school fees. After university, in 2008, Tom started to work for various NGOs, especially ones that gave him an opportunity to help farmers improve their yields of cereals and other crops.

Then in 2017, Tom decided to put his passion for agriculture into building his own model farm. He now has turkeys, chickens, sheep and three cows. Tom is building a barn to hold 30 milk cows. He is motivated by the desire to teach others, “the extension bit,” as he puts it. But Tom also sees the urgency of producing food for Kenya: “We have so many mouths to feed.” Tom wants his teaching farm to focus on young people. He is building the barn so it can accommodate learning visits by primary schools and others, to teach kids about agriculture. “I want to show that you can make a living by agriculture, and do it smartly”, Tom explains.

As a forester and a soil scientist, Tom feels that he is not really an expert on livestock, so he has educated himself, mostly through videos. He surfed the web for any videos on livestock and horticulture and estimates that he watched over 300 videos. Tom speaks three languages, but he still found some videos in languages he didn’t understand. He watched them anyway, learning by observing the images. From videos, Tom has learned about artificial insemination and placing ear tags on cattle.

Tom says that by this time next year, he will be educating young people, and will be using videos as a key element to do that, on his model farm. Tom says that the Access Agriculture videos are of good quality, “short and to the point.” He has watched Swahili versions of several Access Agriculture videos, including the one on yoghurt making and on making a rabbit house. “They were nicely translated and educational,” Tom says.

 

Related blogs

Drip irrigation saves water in South Sudan

Why people drink milk

Related videos

Pure milk is good milk

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

Hand milking of dairy cows

Videos in Swahili

Access Agriculture has 51 videos in the Kiswahili (or Swahili) language, here.

Acknowledgements

The photos are courtesy of Tom Juma.

Drip irrigation saves water in South Sudan December 31st, 2017 by

In remote areas, in post-conflict countries, it may be difficult to get information from universities or extension agencies, but with a smart phone and an internet connection, anyone can watch videos and learn from them. While conducting an online survey of farmers who had previously registered on the Access Agriculture video platform, I recently had a chance to speak on the phone with some highly innovative people, like Isaac Enoch in South Sudan.

Isaac Enoch grew up in a village in what was then the south of Sudan, but the worsening war between the north and south drove his family across the border to Uganda. There was little for the kids to do in the refugee camp, so the teenage Isaac and his friends started to grow vegetables in small patches along the river. When Isaac got enough vegetables to fill a bucket he would hand the produce to his mother. He told me how impressed he was when she sold the vegetables in the market and came home with money. She began to buy books and shoes for her children, who had been going barefoot. Isaac says this was his first experience farming as a business.

In 2004, Isaac earned a B.Sc. from Makerere University in Kampala, thanks to scholarships for academic excellence which he was awarded from several UN agencies. He worked for several NGOs in the Sudan until he went on to get an M.Sc. from Bangor University in Wales, UK in 2007. After graduating, he went straight back to the south of Sudan, and he was there when the new nation of South Sudan was created in 2011, following 20 years of civil war. Isaac was part of a donor-funded project to promote cassava-growing with farmers, but he recalls that the returning refugees were not taking agriculture very seriously. So he said “I’ll show them how to do it.” He began growing vegetables on his own, before branching out by giving farmers seed, agreeing on a price once the produce was ready then coming back later to buy the vegetables. During this time Isaac was working in a rural area, with lots of land, but then violence broke out between different southern ethnic groups and between armed factions that had once been allies in the liberation movement. In these increasingly unsafe conditions, Isaac moved to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Land was scarce in Juba, so Isaac started a greenhouse on a small plot. He was not sure how to water his plants. At first he drew on his own imagination, poking holes in soft drink bottles, filling them with water and placing them near the plants. Then he saw how drip irrigation worked in a video on the Access Agriculture website. He followed instructions and installed drip irrigation in his greenhouse. In the video, the tanks are filled with hand-carried buckets of water. Isaac was able to fill the tanks with river water, using a small motorized pump.

This worked so well that he also began irrigating some land outside of the greenhouse. He covered the soil with mulch, to slow the rate of evaporation, and conserve water, an idea he also got from the video.

So much of the food sold in Juba is imported, even the cereals, that anyone who can produce crops locally has a ready market. Isaac is now starting a piggery, producing fodder using hydroponics. He learnt about this from a friend, who sent Isaac a link to a video. The original video showed special mechanized trays, but this seemed expensive to Isaac, so he is now growing hydroponic fodder in trays that he designed himself, and made by cutting jerry cans in half.

While many projects across Africa have failed to get community groups organized around drip irrigation, access to inspiring training videos can make a difference. Creative, motivated people are able to take ideas from the videos, and adapt them to local circumstances.

Related blogs

To drip or not to drip

Why drip irrigation isn’t sinking in

Related videos

Drip irrigation for tomato

Hydroponic fodder

Acknowledgement

Photos courtesy of Isaac Enoch

Sorghum and millets on the rise December 10th, 2017 by

For decades, various international aid agencies have pushed Africa towards adopting maize as the hunger-saving technical solution, with traditional crops such as sorghum and pearl millet only receiving a fraction of the support. But climate change is forcing donors and governments to re-think their food security strategies. Recent research in Mali highlights the importance of research and communication to help improve traditional crops and to support farmers as they cope with climate change.

While maize was first domesticated some 7,000 years ago in Mexico, sorghum and pearl millet have their origin in Africa. Sorghum domestication started in Ethiopia and sub-saharan Africa some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Through farmer selection numerous improved sorghum types were developed, which then spread via trade routes into other regions of Africa and India. Domestication of pearl millet started only around 2500 BC, in eastern Mali, and spread rapidly to other countries through pastoralists, spurred by the increasing desiccation of the Sahara desert at the time.

The rich genetic diversity of these traditional African crops and the wealth of farmers’ knowledge have formed the basis of recent crop improvement programmes. In West Africa, a handful of devoted sorghum and millet breeders, Drs Eva and Fred Weltzien-Rattunde, Bettina Haussmann and Kirsten vom Brocke, in close collaboration with partners, were able to develop improved sorghum and millet varieties by improving local germplasm. The new varieties cope better with pests and diseases, as well as with rainy seasons that are becoming shorter and more unpredictable.

But these breeders, then working for ICRISAT, did not limit their efforts to participatory plant breeding alone: they also invested heavily in supporting farmer cooperatives to become seed producers and sellers. Some of these examples were captured in a chapter written by Daniel Dalohoun as part of the book African Seed Enterprises that Jeff and I edited with Robert Guei from FAO.

Farmers across Africa are keen to learn how to better conserve, produce and market seed of their traditional crops. While making a video on Farmers’ rights to seed a few months ago at a seed fair in Malawi, farmers eagerly exchanged traditional sorghum and millet varieties with each other. As the government had so far focused on maize only as a food security crop, some communities lost certain traditional sorghum and millet varieties , but seed fairs and community seed banks helped them to again access these varieties. In addition to seed, farmers also want new knowledge about farming practices. Mr. Lovemore Tachokera, a farmer from the south who attended a seed fair in the north, told me: “The one thing I will make sure to tell my fellow farmers back home regarding conservation of indigenous crops is that we should also practice new farming technologies even on the indigenous crops.”

And right he was. Treasuring and improving traditional crops is important, but alone is insufficient to cope with climate change; good agricultural adaptation strategies also matter. GĂ©rard Zoundji, a Beninese PhD student, investigated how a series of farmer training videos on weed and soil management helped farmers in Mali to use climate-smart technologies.

The differences he found between video-villages (where farmers had watched the videos) versus non-video-villages were very significant:

  • crop rotation combined with  intercropping (99% in video villages vs 57% in other villages)
  • compost or microdosing fertiliser application (99% in video villages vs 0%)
  • crop diversification (94% vs 52%)
  • use of improved short-cycle seed varieties (78% vs 17%)
  • use of zaĂŻ pits (51% vs 0%)

Zoundji also found that after watching the videos on Fighting striga and improving soil fertility (see the related blog: Killing the vampire flower), farmers started demanding improved cereal seed. And as a result some women’s groups in the villages of Daga and Sirakélé became seed dealers in their village. Sorghum, millet and maize yields in the video-villages increased by 14%, 30% and 15% respectively when compared to non-video villages.

While maize crops are increasingly failing in parts of Africa due to climate change, the robustness of traditional African cereal crops contributes to to their renewed appeal to African farmers. The improved cultivation of traditional, drought-resistant crops, benefiting from research and training on improved cropping practices, will enable farmers to adapt to a harsher and more variable climate.

Watch the videos

Farmers’ rights to seed

Succeed with seeds

Various farmer training videos on Sorghum & Millets

Further reading

Dalohoun, Daniel, Van Mele, P., Weltzien, E., Diallo, D., Guindo, H. and vom Brocke, K. (2010) Mali: When governments give entrepreneurs room to grow. In P. Van Mele, J. Bentley and R. Guei (eds.) African Seed Enterprises (pp. 65-88). Wallingfrod: CABI. Download chapter from: http://agroinsight.com/books.php

Dillon, Sally L.. Frances M. Shapter, Robert J. Henry, Giovanni Cordeiro, Liz Izquierdo, and L. Slade Lee 2007. Domestication to Crop Improvement: Genetic Resources for Sorghum and Saccharum (Andropogoneae). Annals of Botany, 100(5): 975–989. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759214/

Hirst, K. Kris 2017. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) – Domestication and History. https://www.thoughtco.com/pearl-millet-domestication-170647

Zoundji, Gérard, Okry, F., Vodouhê, S.D., Bentley, J.W. and Tossou, R.C. 2018. Beyond Striga management: Learning videos enhanced farmers’ knowledge on climate-smart agriculture beyond Striga management. Sustainable Agriculture Research 7(1), 80-91. Download article from: https://www.accessagriculture.org/publications

Richness in diversity December 3rd, 2017 by

For decades, new crop varieties have been bred by relying heavily on farmers’ knowledge and the local landraces they grow. Landraces have provided a major gene pool readily used by breeders to make crops better adapted to drought, floods, pests and diseases. But with increased pressure from the private sector and insufficient support from the public sector, many rural communities struggle to maintain their diversity of crops and food, as I recently learned in Malawi.

When Marcella and I were asked by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) to make a video on Farmers’ Rights to seed, we only had a faint idea of how strong the debate raged among development organisations, policy-makers and farmers. We were surprised to learn that in Malawi, a draft seed policy had been written that would force farmers to buy commercial seed only.

Driving from Lilongwe to the northern town of Rumphi we passed many fields with dried stubble, where maize and tobacco had been recently harvested. Beyond these bleak fields lie rolling, dusty hills, but decorated during the dry season by trees flowering in white, orange, purple and other colours. But the beauty of the landscape doesn’t stop one from seeing the dire poverty in which the people live.

Maize is the staple food and many farmers grow it as a cash crop, encouraged by government fertilizer subsidies. Farmers who accept the subsidy are obliged to plant only hybrid maize seed.

Families growing tobacco for multinational companies have basically sacrificed their lives to the crop, but unlike the fluctuating world market price for tobacco over the years, their living conditions have remained stubbornly low at all times.

The reliance on these two key crops is beginning to change. Recent development efforts have started to take crop and food diversification seriously. As I talked to farmers over the next few days, it dawned on me how much effort is required for farmers to preserve local crop varieties that have been nurtured over many years. Many families have abandoned their traditional crops and dishes and the current generation of farmers has little idea of how to grow anything else apart from maize and tobacco.

On our first day of filming we visited the community seed bank in Mkombezi. As member farmers arrived in small groups, we filmed the shelves lined with glass jars full of seeds of local varieties of sorghum, millet, maize, beans, groundnuts and Bambara groundnuts.

“We keep seed of our local varieties and multiply them to share with our members, and also to supply non-members. At this moment we have 14 tons of seed in our store room,” proudly explains Shadreck Kapira, secretary of the seed bank.

Outside the seed bank more farmers have gathered. With the support of a local NGO, some eight farmers from southern Malawi have travelled over 600 kilometres to meet fellow farmers in the north. The next day, they will all attend a seed fair to exchange and sell seed of their food crops. The visiting farmers proudly display small plastic bags, each containing precious seeds. Each lot is poured onto a red, blue or green plastic plate and a label attached with the name of the farmer and seed variety.

During the group discussion the farmers from the north show great interest in the sorghum varieties on offer by their colleagues from the south. With the changing climate the hybrid maize varieties do not perform as well as they used to. If rains are not good, a farmer risks losing her entire crop. Some of the local sorghum varieties mature in just 2 months, a month earlier than the hybrid maize, and they can better withstand drought.

Farmers also talk about how they use different crops to prepare food and drinks for special events, such as weddings or the nomination of village chiefs. Millet is one of their favourite crops. It produces a porridge which is not only more nutritious than that made from maize, but can be prepared with less water and without cooking, so there is no need for fuel wood. Millet is also an essential ingredient of traditional sweet and sour beers.

The next morning we leave early, just before dawn at 5 o’clock, to reach Mpherembe on time for a seed and food fair. The local community has fenced off an area near the water well and tied bundles of local grasses to sturdy poles to keep out the dust-laden wind. Local NGO staff register each farmer, the type and amount of seed they bring to the fair. Women have also prepared a diverse range of foods and when I peek under the lid of the occasional plastic bucket I find millet beer, an important part of a fair.

According to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, signed by over 140 governments across the world, every farmer has the right to exchange and sell their local seed. When we interview Bena Phiri, she is very explicit: “My rights, I can say that my local crops that I grow are mine and no one can have control over my seed. I have the right to sell them at my own will and no one can say anything because they are mine.”

However, a draft seed policy wants to force farmers to buy all their seed at agro dealer shops. If approved, it would spell disaster for local crop varieties. Most agro dealers have few varieties for sale, and hardly any are local. The stores mainly sell hybrid maize from Monsanto, Syngenta and perhaps one or two other multi-national companies. Fortunately, pressure from development agencies and farmer organisations has delayed the new regulation and the draft seed policy has not yet passed Cabinet.

We hope that our video on Farmers’ right to seed, available in English and two Malawian languages (Chichewa and Tumbuka) will help to raise farmers’ awareness across the country. Distributed by Access Agriculture and its diverse partners in Malawi with the support of GFAR, the videos will soon be shown in farm clubs, on local TV, and aired on the radio. We also expect many farmers will view the video directly on their inexpensive mobile phones.

It is ironic that wealthy people are now able to access more food diversity than ever, at a time when the poor could have many of their local crop varieties wiped out by misguided laws. The media has a role to play in raising awareness among farmers, legislators and consumers and to ensure that local cultures based on a rich diversity of crops and foods is maintained.

Further viewing

Watch the training video Farmers’ rights to seed

Related blogs

Bolivian peanuts

Forgotten vegetables

Forty farmer innovations

Homegrown seed can be good

Meeting the need for groundnut seed

Onions from Agadez

The sunflower: from Russia with love, and oil

We share

Quinoa, lost and found

Further reading

Van Mele, P., Bentley, J.W and Guéi, R.G. (eds.) 2011. African Seed Enterprises: Sowing the Seeds of Food Security. CABI Publishing, UK, 256 pp. Download chapters here.

Timothy A. Wise. 2017. Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy? https://foodtank.com/news/2017/08/monsanto-malawis-seed-policy/

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR). Support in Malawi was kindly provided by the Development Fund of Norway, Biodiversity Conservation Initiative and the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy.

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