On Earth Day, a Salute to Agriculture

April 22, 2011

Agriculture is often cast as a villain in the fight to protect the environment. Why not consider how it can play the role of hero? That’s the idea behind a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, a respected Washington, D.C.-based research organization that works on energy, resource and environmental issues.

Agriculture is often cast as a villain in the fight to protect the environment. Why not consider how it can play the role of hero?

That’s the idea behind a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, a respected Washington, D.C.-based research organization that works on energy, resource and environmental issues. For the last two years, Worldwatch has been evaluating innovations in global agriculture as part of its Nourishing the Planet project. That effort culminated in the recent release of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

The report outlines 15 ways that agriculture can address environmental challenges while also improving food security and lifting people out of poverty. These practical solutions include promoting the nutritional and economic potential of vegetables, improving food production from livestock and harnessing the knowledge and skills of women farmers.

The Worldwatch report also highlights the vital need to look beyond the solitary goal of maximizing production, which can lead to surpluses of certain crops in places where people suffer from chronic hunger. Instead, agricultural development must focus on all the steps needed to produce food and bring it to market, an approach that encourages efficient use of natural resources while also increasing incomes. As an example, Worldwatch highlights a TechnoServe project in Uganda to support growers of matooke, a green banana that is a staple of the Ugandan diet.

When TechnoServe first began working with matooke, farmers were receiving little income from the crop because of inefficiencies in the traditional method of distribution. The report details how TechnoServe’s market-driven approach has helped bring big changes to the industry:

TechnoServe first encouraged Ugandan banana farmers to form business groups, which would buy inputs, offer technical advice to farmers, and also sell their crop. Group representatives met with banana buyers, discussing pricing structures, product requirements, and distribution points.

By aggregating farmers, transaction costs declined dramatically. “The price farmers receive has improved by about 70 percent,” said Erastus Kibugu, Uganda Country Director for TechnoServe. “The buyer is able to pass on his savings because he’s no longer losing money from inefficiencies built into the marketing chain.”

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), TechnoServe has helped more than 25,000 smallholder matooke farmers in Uganda reach commercial markets. The benefits of these improvements go beyond just higher incomes. These farmers are now more resilient to changes in global food prices and better able to supply local communities with food. They are producing a healthier, higher-quality crop in an environmentally friendly way. On Earth Day, that’s something to celebrate.

 

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