SEATTLE — Agricultural productivity is critical in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where the next population boom has been anticipated to take place. To feed everyone now and in the future, global food production must increase by 70 percent, and the most vulnerable will be affected if changes aren’t made.
Poverty, hunger and malnutrition significantly impact smallholder farmers. Currently, three-quarters of smallholder farmers live in poverty and farm their food and income from small plots of land the size of a football field. While these smallholder farmers produce up to 80 percent of the food in some of the developing communities, they are among the most undernourished.
There are around 500 million smallholder farms around the world, most of whom are not producing nearly enough to feed their communities. A lack of agricultural technology has prevented smallholder farmers from optimizing their land use, forcing them to struggle with poor soil, diseases, pests, drought, unreliable seed and inadequate information about best practices and pricing. Sharing and developing agricultural innovations with these smallholder farmers is the most efficient way to reduce poverty and hunger around the world, closing the food gap and strengthening communities.
It is imperative to recognize the impact of investing in and educating smallholder farming communities, smallholder farmers, non-governmental organizations, corporations, and governments who all work toward new agricultural innovations intended to reduce poverty. Here are some of the agricultural innovations that are achieving great things around the globe:
- The Rise of Mobile Phones
Mobile phones are changing the landscape on the African continent, connecting smallholder farmers to information about the weather, commodity prices, production practices and digital soil maps. In particular, Nigeria has mobilized cell phones to create the e-wallet system. This system allows farmers to access an online market and receive updates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development about when to pick up subsidized fertilizer. The Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries have also adopted the e-wallet system, allowing farmers to directly receive subsidies through their phones.
- New Techniques in Agriculture
Hydroponic growing techniques are bringing fresh food to Palestinians in Gaza as arable land shrinks or get destroyed due to climate change. More than one-third of cultivable land has become part of the Israeli buffer zone. Frequent power outages prevent irrigation systems from working properly and Israeli forces damaged more than 400 hectares of crops last year with sprayed pesticides. Palestinian farmers who have been growing food on this land for generations need agricultural innovations which are critical for their survival.
Said Salim Abu Nasser is at the forefront of one of these agricultural innovations. Aquaponic farming allows a farmer to grow twice as many crops as traditional farming on a rooftop. Aquaponic farming involves floating crops on polystyrene squares so their roots can absorb water and nutrients.
Abu Nasser has eschewed expensive mineral fertilizers for his plants and has instead developed a combination of crushed eggshells and ash to create the necessary calcium, phosphorus and potassium that plants need. With the help of a grant and some training from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Abu Nasser can feed about 17 people in a sustainable way.
- The Rise of Community Sourcing
Community sourcing is one of the most useful agricultural innovations. This idea involves bringing together producers of goods to cut costs. In Bangladesh and Pakistan, farmers have created dairy hubs as a community link between farmers and dairy processors. Through this partnership, farmers earn more, learn how to raise healthier animals, and increase the production of affordable milk. Farmer networks in Colombia called Familia de la Tierra have also come together to save seeds and compost and to process goods. They also do work on marketing by partnering with the local government and the Economic Development Secretariat. Through agricultural innovations and these community spaces, Familia de la Tierra is empowering smallholder farmers to earn and produce more for their communities.
- Changes to Farming Practices on Small Farms
At the seed and soil level, African smallholder farmers are increasing crop yields through agricultural innovations in the ground. In Zimbabwe, targeted microdoses of fertilizer increased grain yields and planting a greater amount of the Tainung variety of sweet potato in Kenya has tripled food yields. This new farming technique has increased the intake of vitamin A for women and children since its implementation.
The planting of different types of maize that are more resistant to pests and weeds has also increased yields. This has been coupled with the introduction of more water efficient maize further enhancing production. With help from agriculture professors, assistance like the Kenya Maize Development Programme and Farmer Field Schools in Kenya and Tanzania, smallholder farmers can identify which seeds are best to plant and how to repair and care for their soil.
This article is only a small account of the brilliant agricultural innovations around the world. Communities are discovering that by educating and empowering smallholder farmers, yields increase significantly and food production for entire communities grows.
To cultivate a world in which poverty, hunger and malnutrition have disappeared, agricultural innovations for smallholder farmers must be a primary consideration. Increasing investment in agricultural innovations that work can help women farmers and feed the world’s children, growing a future we can be proud of and eradicate poverty and food insecurity.
– Irena Huang