Tag Archives: Food Security

Mapping Food 4 the Future

This week in class, we began working on a digital mapping project in order to provide future info-graphic resources via GIS and OSM for development professionals located in the town of Chitwan, Nepal.


Last year, when I was researching food security issues in Western Africa, I encountered an interesting initiative that has begun under President Obama, and is currently operated by a consortium of different US government departments. Known as Feed The Future, or FTF, the Department of State, USAID, USDA, the Department of Commerce, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US Peace Corps, the Department of the Treasury, the US Trade Representative, as well as the US African Development Foundation all collaborate to operate as the US Government’s global hunger and food security project. The overall goal of this mission is to work towards the global eradication of extreme poverty, undernutrition, and hunger, all by collaborating with international NGO’s, the private sector, civil society, as well as the research community.

As the obstacles encountered in order to successfully implement this program are quite steep, the FTF has identified what they consider “19 focus countries” throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. A central area of focus are the countries within Western Africa, including but not limited to Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Chad. In their fiscal year 2010, or FY 2010 Implementation Plan for this region, it is quite clear that in order to identify the surplus and deficit states, as well as the necessary transportation opportunities to facilitate the complex logistics of food production, highly reliable and detailed maps are required.

Through the USAID link that will take you to the Famine Early Warning System here, one can view and understand the various food production maps for essential crops central to West Africa, like cassava, sorghum, millet, wheat, rice, cowpea, and yams. The Production and Market Flow Maps were developed by USGS and FEWS NET, in collaboration with local government ministries, market information systems, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners. In fact, Tulane University and the Payson Center played a central role in the development of the Famine Early Warning System, and you can read more about it here.

To find out more, visit the Feed the Future website for Western Africa, the FEWS site, as well as the homepage for USAID to learn about the various other initiatives that they work towards.


This Week in Class: Realizing Rural Radio

logoThis week in Class, we read a 2011 report explaining the findings of a program called AFRRI from Farm Radio International, entitled “The new age of radio; How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. I know what you’re thinking: Radio? Really? Isn’t that a bit outdated? However, what FRI found was that these existing technologies were already present in Africa en masse, and thus provided an opportunity to test the pairing of 21st century methods with prolific, accessible, and low-cost radios in order to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa. I feel that overall, the FRIs findings demonstrate an excellent way to educate farmers, disseminate knowledge, and eventually elevate the food security conditions across Africa. However, many of their conclusions and recommendations are dependent upon funding and capital as a pre-requisite. In addition, enhanced human capacity and inspired outreach programs contribute greatly to these programs’ success, which means that individuals with the capabilities to reach these remote audiences must be found, trained, and nurtured over time.

The ability of radio to disseminate knowledge to people whom can neither read or write is an extraordinary asset. The low cost penetration of this medium, particularly for communities without phones or electricity explains the immense transcendence and applicability of a technology that was invented one hundred years ago.

Farm Radio International estimates that within sub-Saharan Africa, there are approximately 800 million radios in use. Additionally, through studies across a multitude of lower-income countries within sub-Saharan Africa, FRI finds that some 76% of households own a radio. These numbers provide the foundation to have an increased framework establishing a mass movement to provide increased rural agricultural education and training for farmers and businesses throughout developing Africa. Through a 42-month action program called “The African Farm Radio Research Initiative” or AFRRI, Farm Radio International partnered with 25 radio stations in five African countries to apply and test a range of ICT “packages” with the intention to enhance farm radio.

The AFRRI included three core items. The first, Participatory Radio Campaigns or PRC, implemented new farm radio programs across five countries and evaluated over time their listeners, the passive community, whom also played a central role in the designing of more programming and provided farmer feedback. The second, Radio-based marketing information service or MIS, established a much-needed service for smallholder famers whom required better access to market information. The third, ICT-enhanced radio, equipped radio stations with better digital technologies, ranging from desktop computers and internet access to portable digital recording and editing equipment for interviews in the field. Their research led to a variety of conclusions and recommendations for equitable and successful farm radio programs in future iterations. Among them:

-Computers and computer literacy programs more explicitly were “essential” to the emergence and growth of ICTs at stations in sub-Saharan Africa.

-Durable, portable, and multifunctional MP3 recorders, especially when combined with audio-editing workstations should be considered a staple among Farm Radio Stations.

-Farm radio stations should implement ‘on air call outs’ to agriculture experts as well as other farmers as a cost-effective way to include a plethora of informed and educated voices for their listeners.

-Regular, 30-minute reminders issued via SMS are an excellent way of encouraging regular listenership of farm radio programs.

-Farm radio stations should supplement their DJs with MP3 radios that are able to record and replay broadcasts in order to increase listening opportunities and group listening for communities.

-The use of the Freedom Fone or other IVRs (interactive voice responses) can be used in order to reach even more listeners through phone calls for additional or repeat listening opportunities.

-Establishing the Farm Radio Station complex itself as a wireless networking hub through VSATs (very small aperture terminal) is a cost-effective way of improving access in remote areas.

Make sure and check out Farm Radio International on twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Picasa!!

An Innovative Approach to Food Security

Radio National, a segment of abc.net.au, recently broadcasted an interview with Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University on their program Ockham’s Razor. In the discussion the issue of food security was evaluated. Walqvist argues that food security is a growing concern around the world, and that in order to combat the growing phenomena a fundamentally different approach is necessarry. This approach must consist of support from national governments, international organizations, and assistance from the local and commuity level. More emphasis needs to be placed on biodiversity and ecology of local areas in relation to the functioning food ststem. A way to encourage these types of innovation come with connecting the communities at hand. While Walqvist’s Australia may have access to advanced ICTs enabling the farmers to community, developing regions are relying on other ICT.


According to Dr. Hilde Munyua in a report published for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food security can only be achieved “when all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life, and has three main components: food availability, food access, and food utilisation” In order to obtain this reality an effective and efficient agriculture system, that suppies food utilizes natural resources in a sustainable manner needs to be put into play. The information revolution is just one way the issue of food security can be alleviated. By increasing the spread of knowledge of rural development, we can increase one of agricultures most important inputs. Knowledge and information are basic ingredients of food security and are essential for facilitating rural development and bringing about social and economic change. These communities need information on new technologies, early warning systems in relation to drought, pests, and diesease, credit, market prices, and their competition. These systems of rural information sharing must place emphasis on the local communities. Traditionally the information has been spread through radio, print, television, film, and mobile phone messages. New ICTs, however, have the potential of getting vast amounts of information to rural populations in a more timely, comprehensive and cost-effective manner, and could be used together with traditional media.Telecommunication and internet can completely change the global agricultural industry. It worked with the Green Revolution in East Asia, why not spread the word?




Restaurants in NYC Adopt New ICT Management Technologies

Hurricane Sandy recently caused immense destruction to the eastern seaboard of the US, especially in New York and New Jersey. The epicenter of restaurant culture in the USA, New York City was especially hard hit by the storm. Restaurant owners found themselves reeling from the impact, loosing thousands of tons product, having issues with workers unable to get to their jobs, infrastructure, and loss of power.

During this disaster restaurant owners and managers found themselves reliant on a major ICT technology, their mobile smartphones, to assess, report, and react to destruction and issues that arose from the storm. Although this worked to some extent, many are looking at the storm as a message that they must update and revise their emergency plans. One of the major areas mentioned was figuring out a new line of communication non-reliant on mobile phone towers, which while they did not fail during Sandy, were an area of worry for owners.

While many restaurants may not be able to reopen because of costs and damages experienced by the storm, many will use this as a learning lesson to fix issues that they encountered. The inclusion of new ICTs in managing their restaurants during disasters to avoid loosing revenue and product. One manager, who was running operations over his mobile phone in the gym bathroom, was resolved to create a communication center for emergencies for all of his restaurants.

Click here for the link to the NYT article on NYC restaurant’s managers reactions to Hurricane Sandy destruction.

Shamba Shape Up: Extreme Makeover Kenyan Edition

All of us have either heard of or seen make-over shows in the US, but “Shamba Shape Up,” a television show in Kenya, provides a different type of make over.  Each episode of the show features a farmer who is struggling with his business. The Shamba Shape Up team swoops in and teaches the farmer how to improve his crop yield by planting different crops, installing new irrigation systems etc, often calling in experts to explain and demonstrate the recommended changes.

This article talks about the success of the show since it was first broadcasted in 2007. Mostly funded by the Department of International Development in the UK, Shamba Shape Up also incorporates an interactive aspect. Viewers are encouraged to text or e mail questions to the show, some of which have served as inspirations for entire episodes. Viewers can also text in requests for informational pamphlets and communicate questions on the show’s Facebook page, which is getting more and more traffic as Kenyans start to enter the world of social media.

Although it may seem unlikely that many rural Kenyans would have access to televisions, it appears that the shows audience is quite large. In just one season of the show, 16,000 leaflets were requested and over 22,000 text messages were received. Viewer surveys are also promising. 40 percent responded that they have changed their farming practices after watching the show, and 91 percent responded that they had learned something new. A similar show, Makutano Junction, which focuses on general development issues has 7.2 million viewers in Kenya, the majority of whom live in rural areas.

I think that Shamba Shape Up is an excellent example of a way to combine several types of ICTs in a way that is fun, entertaining, and can help a lot of people.

Here’s a clip of the show where they talk about drip irrigation:

Dr. Vandana Shiva, the WTO, and GMOs in India

During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.

Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.

I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization:




Unwin Citation: Making ICTs work for Food Security in Africa

In Chapter four Of Unwin’s ICT4D textbook he discusses particular technology interfaces used in development and the challenges and benefits associated with each. One of his sources was an arcticle by Romeo Bertolini titled, “Making Information and Communication Techonolgies work for Food Security in Africa”. Not only does this article touch on more points in Chapter four of Unwin, but it also adds more background to article from last week, “Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa” and a variety of points about overall ICT development in Africa.

Bertolini reitereates the point that ICTs are not the solution to ending poverty and famine, but can make a significant contribution if implemented correctly. He even mentions how this will be of importance in meeting the first Millenim Development Goal, to halve the number of people suffering from malnutrion and hunger by 2015. Issues that deter from this goal,include that most Africans do not have personal access to ICTS and on average 60% of African households are not connected to their nation’s power grid (Bertolini,3).

He describes how in Africa ICTs have to the potential to…

–accelerate agricultural development and knowledge, in particular for food security they can…

-improve marketing and distribution

-enable the exchange of information about innovations, weather, farming news, etc.

– integrate farmers into local, nationanal and even international trading systems

Some useful ICTs mentioned in the article that are being used for food security in Africa..

– Satellites like the GIS (Geographic Information System) to record land registration and surveys that Bertolini says will help increase farmers land management and allow them to “borrow funds against the asset in order to invest”Image

-Food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems (FIVIMS) which can compile data to understand where people are malnourished, where these is risk of famine, and the underlying causes of these issues.

Bertolini offers policy suggestions so that ICTs can be more effective, including, creating preconditions for pan-African collaboration on trade and monitoring, better incentives for donors and investors to develop infrastructure “such as sound business and tax environments”, private sector development especially of low cost technologies,and finally freeing up more resources to build capacity and involve local organizations. All of these are extremely important because there is much to be done in Africa regarding ICTs and it is clear that ICTs can have a major effect on food security. Famine is not a sudden event but a gradual issue that can be recognized and hopefully averted. ICTs have the ability to make this a real possibility to today, and hopefully Africa uses this capability to the fullest.