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Economy

Putting land To Good Use: Food Security In Our Backyards

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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.”

Mavis Nhleko, a smallholder 
agroecology farmer, at Emagengeni in Pongola. Picture: Biowatch South Africa

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.”


Biowatch director, Rose Williams. Picture: Biowatch South Africa

“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. 

Economy

5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis

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It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.

Liquidity

The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.

Hands-on

Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.

Policies

It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

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Current Affairs

Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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Current Affairs

What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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