Small, resilient agricultural solutions that will save the environment and feed generations to come.
The effective use of land remains one of the foremost solutions to poverty, and the methods used to fully benefit from farming are easily accessible and implementable.
Thankfully, there are proven ecologically-sound farming methods that contribute to household food security even in harsh landscapes, and even through droughts, as this group of women in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province have shown
Strong El Niño events worldwide perpetually cause severe crop failures across the agricultural spectrum. Yet, in Igwavuma inKwaZulu-Natal, while her neighbor’s fields lay barren, Rhoda Mvubu was still harvesting cowpeas, sorghum, sesame, peanuts and a variety of beans at the end of the 2016 summer; and sweet potatoes and pumpkins in the winter.
In the dry, rocky hills of Tshaneni, Doris Myeni was still harvesting vegetables and greens from her home garden late into a drought, enabling her to provide adequately for her extended family of 15 throughout the summer holidays. And Corinne Mngomezulu still had a good stock of seed saved from her own crops, stored well to protect them from insects and decay, ensuring that she would be able to plant again when the rains came.
All three women are part of a network of smallholder farmers in the north-eastern province of South Africa who are supported by a non-profit organization, Biowatch South Africa, to develop and implement agroecology practices on their plots. Along with about 250 other farmers, mainly women,they have improved the nutrition levels in their homes and produced enough for sale to neighbors and at markets, while increasing and maintaining the productivity and ecological sustainability of their farms.
“Biowatch is looking at an agriculture that is resilient,and which doesn’t require expensive inputs or a lot of irrigation,” explains Biowatch director, Rose Williams.
“The methods we use of working with the soil and retaining water has meant that there can be produce during the drought – whereas if you were in a situation where you were planting a monocrop which needed irrigation, you would have nothing.”
With a large proportion of Africa’s food produced by smallholder farmers who operate with marginal resources, crop failure can be devastating. As climate stresses increase, it becomes especially astute to invest in knowledge and methods that ensure smallholder farms continue to be viable.
The 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that undernourishment and severe food insecurity are on the rise in nearly all regions of the world. About one in nine people in the world is considered to be undernourished, with a fifth (21%) of Africa’s population affected.
Although a number of complex factors influence food security, the report shows a correlation between the rise in the prevalence of undernourishment in the last three years and the rise in climate shocks such as droughts, floods, cyclones, and heat waves. It points to the 2015-2016 El Niño event as a key factor.
Countries with high exposure to climate shocks have more than double the number of undernourished people than those without high exposure. Drought is an especially significant factor in increased undernourishment, with stunting shown to have higher prevalence in areas where declining food availability is linked to warmer and drier conditions.
Other factors than climate are also at play. For example,middle-income countries experience less food insecurity than low-income countries that experience the same climate shocks.
Countries that experience both climate shocks and conflict fare considerably worse than those without conflict. However, it’s worth pointing out that most countries experiencing climate-related food insecurity are not experiencing conflict. Predictably, the part of the world where climate shocks and stressors have the biggest impact on food security and malnutrition is Africa.
“With climate change in this sub-region, droughts are more intense and they are longer, flash floods are more common, and one is seeing impacts that are really devastating,” says Williams, “And we are in a province which has very high rates of malnutrition – with elevated levels of stunting and high rates of diabetes.”
Stats SA reports that in 2016, about 22% of South African households had “inadequate or severely inadequate” access to food, and about 12% of households experienced hunger.
Williams says, “In many ways, synthetic fertilisers and irrigation and hybrid crops can seem like a silver bullet – and you may get returns that are high for a few years – but it’s not resilient and it’s not sustainable. Fertilizers impact on soil fertility, and hybrid crops need a lot of water –and water is scarce in this region which means it has to be diverted from somewhere else. So if you’re looking at an earth that needs to be sustainable, this is not an option for the long-term.”
“Within agroecology, there is a strong support for natural systems, and the ecology, water system, and soils are maintained,” she explains, “It’s something that is supportive of biodiversity, and it also has a low carbon footprint if you tie it with local markets.”
As described in Biowatch’s recent report, Agroecology is best practice, agroecology is about applying a set of principles rather than specific farming methods. Biowatch partner farmers are required to compost,mulch, dig fertility beds, use grey water, and save traditional seed. There can be no use of commercial hybrids or synthetic fertilizers, pesticides,insecticides or herbicides.
Farming methods vary based on terrain and depending on the individual objectives of different farmers. For example, what made Myeni’s farm successful in a moisture-deprived area was a combination of hip-deep trench gardens filled with material such as tin, bones, grass and compost that improved the fertility and water-retention of the soils, along with water-harvesting practices and solicitous use of grey water.
For Mvubu in a higher-rainfall area, it was planting in shallow basins and intense inter-cropping that gave her good yields.In a single field, she interplants maize, beans, cowpeas, peanuts, mung beans, jugo beans, sesame, and sorghum – and in fact, she has three different varieties of traditional sorghum.
Williams emphasizes crop diversity as an important aspect of agroecology – both for protecting the soil and for proper nutrition. “There’s a difference between having sufficient food and having sufficient nutritious food. You can have enough food to fill your stomach but it’s not going to be enough for the human body. One needs a diversity in diet. Part of our work in agroecology is in providing proper food.”
Partner farmers strengthen agroecology practices with their own tried and tested traditional practices. “There is a strong innovation element to agroecology,” explains Williams, “and that’s where we can really support farmers because we are part of initiatives where we are learning from other countries in southern Africa and what we learn from our partner farmer scan also be shared with others.”
Saving traditional seed varieties for replanting is one of the most important aspects of maintaining agricultural diversity, resilience in crops, and good levels of household nutrition.
Says Williams, “In agroecology, the farmers have control over their seeds. They grow sufficient crops for food and also for planting the next season.” With hybrid seed, the next generation often lacks vigour, and some seeds are patented, which means farmers have to buy new seed for each crop. Williams explains, “This is very different to traditional farmer varieties of seed where the vigour is maintained and the diversity is maintained and it’s a self-sustaining system.”
Some farmers, like Mngomezulu, plant fields that are only for seed saving. As quoted in the recent Biowatch report, Mngomezulu says,“These seeds are very precious to me. I need this field to save them so that they don’t get lost. I inherited these seeds from older generations and I want people to see them and use them – they are for my grandchildren, for coming generations,and for other farmers.”
As governments the world over strive to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, it might be worth taking a page from these smallholder farmers in remote rural areas who are able to feed their families nutritious food throughout the year.
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Roadmap For African Startups
Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.
Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?
There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.
A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.
READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine
In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.
There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.
In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.
There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.
What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?
After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.
At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.
The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices.
In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.
What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?
The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.
From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.
While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.
Towards One Africa
In the alphabet soup of regional African trade blocs, will the AfCFTA ease the cost of doing business on the continent?
Ghana has been named the host of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) following four years of talks to form a 55-nation trade bloc. It will be the base for the AfCTA secretariat.
The opportunities for Africa with this new trade bloc are immense. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that the AfCFTA will create the world’s largest continental free-trade area, provided all 55 African Union (AU) members join, and has the potential to create an African single market of 1.2 billion consumers whilst eliminating about 90% of tariffs on goods over the next five years.
So far, 44 African countries have signed up for the historic agreement, the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
READ MORE | Amid Trade Wars, What Africa Must Do
The AfCFTA is expected to boost the economies of African countries through employment creation and the promotion of made-in-Africa goods. But Kayode Akindele, a partner at TIA Capital, a pan-African investment partnership focussed on credit-based investing across sub-Saharan Africa, is not opening up the bubbly just yet.
“We already have ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] which doesn’t seem to be working and so why don’t we sort that out first before we enter a continental trade agreement for Africa?”
And he is not alone in his concerns.
“There are other factors we need to also consider. Firstly, with the implementation of the AfCFTA, goods made in other continents could be disguised as made-in-Africa to qualify for duty free treatment. There could also be a reduction in government revenue and also this trade bloc also threatens the profitability and survival of infant industries,” says Vincent Acheampong, an economist based in the United Kingdom.
Of the regional blocs in Africa, including EAC (East African Community) and SADC (Southern African Development Community), the ECOWAS has some way to go in terms of performance, according to Muda Yusuf, the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an interview with CNBC Africa. But he believes there is still reason to be optimistic.
“A continental trading bloc is going to build on the success of the regional blocs like ECOWAS and other blocs across Africa. So, this integration is going to build on those blocs. In terms of performance, of course ECOWAS is the least performing because East Africa is doing very well and South Africa is doing far better also. But there is no perfect time for things like this, what is important is for us to get a conviction that economic integration will work for us and also if we can get our institutions to make it work,” says Yusuf.
Amongst the many challenges of the ECOWAS is its failure to implement its vision of a single currency, the ECO, which is part of its plans to make Africa a more integrated continent. That vision has been postponed several times by the 15-member group with the newest target date set for 2020 although most experts believe the date to be unrealistic.
The success of the AfCFTA requires not only a trade policy but also a manufacturing agenda, competition, industrial policies and property rights to work well according to Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, in a statement at the launch event that took place in Niamey, Niger.
READ MORE | Trade Wars: We’re Next, European Investors Fear
The ninth edition of the flagship Assessing Regional Integration in Africa report (ARIA IX) stipulates that AfCFTA’s success will be due to its ability to actually change lives, reduce poverty and contribute to economic development in Africa.
In support of the new trade bloc, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo pledged to donate $10 million to the AU to support the operationalization of the secretariat of the AfCFTA.
Although the AfCFTA will be economically transformative for Africa in the long-term, the immediate benefits will be restricted due to the macro-economic uncertainties of regional trade.
“Most African countries are currently not producing the goods and services that their neighbors import, as a result we do not trade a lot with each other. It is easier for an African country to trade with a country in Europe than a country that lies right next to it and these low levels of intra-African trade need to be addressed before we can reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA,” says Acheampong.
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