Jul 16, 2014

Finding Solutions to Food Security Issues in the Farmer-to-Farmer Field

This article is a contribution to a week-long blog carnival on USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program. From July 14-18, F2F program partners and American volunteers are sharing their knowledge and experience of providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. This blog carnival aims to capture and share this program experience. You can find all contributions on Agrilinks.

Food Security and nutrition are major concerns across all three of the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Southern Africa countries: Malawi, Mozambique, and Angola. Although the region as a whole has experienced political stability and economic growth in recent years, there is still a large portion of the population living below the poverty line and struggling with malnutrition and hunger. While the region has high potential for agricultural growth, it is highly vulnerable to climate change, drought, flooding, and tropical storms, and agricultural crops are largely dependent on rain-fed irrigation creating an unpredictable food supply.   Agricultural productivity of major crops is quite low, especially among smallholder farmers that do not have adequate access to needed inputs and information.

Of the many food security issues in the Farmer-to-Farmer field, one key problem is that most households struggle with having food reserves available on a continuous basis. To try and understand this complex issue better, CNFA Angola Country Director, Luciano Silva, and I met with two cooperative members that our F2F team will be working within M’banza Kongo in north Angola. Maria Rosa and Liliane Mayamba are members of a woman’s cooperative that grows cassava as well as some fruits and vegetables.

Maria and Liliane each have four children whom they must feed and care for each day. To maintain their crops, they must be at the field at least four days a week, but ensuring their children have food prepared on the days they are away can be difficult. I spoke with the two women about their daily challenges regarding meals.

Q: What do you do when you need to make a meal for yourselves and your family?

Maria: Today, for example, we brought our children to the field. We have tea with us, and we will dig up these sweet potatoes for lunch. We will cook everything here in the field. When we don’t have potatoes, we can eat some cassava. Everything we eat comes from the ground. Many days I have to leave my children at home for the whole day, and I worry about what they will eat or if they will have enough food while they wait for me to come back home.

Q: Do you have a place in your house to save food?

Liliane: There is no space to save food. Our houses are small and built low to the ground. We don’t have electricity. We can’t keep food there.

Q: Your crops are mainly sweet potatoes and cassava. Do you try and eat different fruits or vegetables?

Liliane: Nearly every day we can eat cabbage, but we have to buy it. I like to buy extra food when I can. Maria doesn’t like to buy food.

Maria: No, I can only eat what we have here or what other family members can contribute. We don’t know what that will be today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Liliane: Every day I worry about what we will be eating tomorrow.

Many smallholder farmers share the same plight as Maria and Liliane. With little knowledge of how to store food and no place to keep it, farmers across the region are forced to go to their farms every day to harvest small batches of food to eat. This time-consuming task results in lower productivity, and I asked some of CNFA’s experienced local staff why this may be the case.

Why must smallholder farmers harvest and consume their food on the same day?

Antonio Aljofre, Country Director Mozambique: Lack of food reserves in households and communities has an enormous impact on the availability of food throughout the year – this is a major problem in Mozambique, for example, where a large portion of cereals and vegetables are lost due to inadequate post-harvest techniques. Farmers who harvest only what they can consume are most-likely doing this to avoid post-harvest waste.

The F2F program can directly address these issues. F2F volunteers can train smallholder farmers in simple techniques to process their crops to last longer. Basic technologies, such as solar dryers for vegetables, can conserve nutritious foods without using electricity or water. Developing effective processing techniques for different crops can ensure that poverty-stricken communities maintain a stock of food in their homes as well as access nutrient-diverse diets. To expand this impact to more farmers, F2F staff and volunteers focus on training people who will, in turn, train others. Such trainees include government and cooperative extension staff, community leaders, progressive farmers, and others.

Q: How can Farmer-to-Farmer improve availability of food reserves for cooperatives and associations?

Rodrick Chirambo, Country Director Malawi: Farmers benefit from working in cooperatives and associations, including the use of communal storage facilities. While individual families may not be able to build proper storage facilities on their own, cooperatives or associations can band together and create these facilities for the entire community. The F2F program’s work in improving cooperative and association management can help farmers reach this goal. A properly managed group can address the needs of its members far better than an individual. By combining the efforts of smallholder farmers and technical assistance provided by CNFA’s F2F volunteers, priority issues like the steady availability of food reserves can be tackled more effectively.

Food security issues are complex, and it takes a specialized combination of technical assistance and resources to improve the unique challenges of farmers. CNFA’s F2F Southern Africa program works directly with host organizations to solve these issues while promoting improved agricultural practices and business skills in a comprehensive package of technical assistance.

As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food.  Read more articles on this topic on Agrilinks. Also, make sure to subscribe to receive a daily digest in your inbox, for one week only!