Developing strategies to end hunger
 

17 posts from April 2012

Working for Less

Hired farm work is among the lowest-paid work in the country. Although immigrant farm workers have higher incomes in the United States than at home, they don’t always escape poverty as they had hoped.

Tomorrow, May 1, is International Workers Day. To honor the farm workers in the United States, learn more about their working conditions in this excerpt of the 2012 Hunger Report:

Three-fourths of hired farm workers are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. About half of all U.S. hired farm workers are unauthorized immigrants. Although immigrant farm workers have higher incomes in the United States than at home, they don’t always escape poverty as they had hoped. Hired farm work is among the lowest-paid work in the country. In 2006, the median earnings of these workers—$350 per week—were lower than those of security guards, janitors, maids, and construction workers. Only dishwashers were found to have a lower weekly median income.

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Although the poverty rate of farm worker families has decreased over the past 15 years, it is still more than twice that of wage and salary employees as a group, and it’s higher than that of any other general occupation. A study commissioned by the Pennsylvania State Assembly found that 70 percent of the state’s migrant farm workers live in poverty. A 2008 survey in Washington state demonstrated the impact of poverty: 6 percent of farm workers reported being homeless—living in their cars or sheds. In California, farm communities “have among the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the state.” A study of Latino farm workers in North Carolina found that their level of food insecurity was four times higher than the general U.S. population. Nearly half—47 percent—of the Latino farm worker households in the study were food insecure; this proportion rose to 56 percent among households with children. Another study found that 45 percent of all rural Latino families in Iowa were food insecure. 

A second cause of food insecurity—in addition to low wages—is the seasonal nature of some farm work. Families’ average annual earnings decrease when laborers cannot find work throughout the year. In fact, farm workers’ earnings average out to only about $11,000 a year.

Unauthorized legal status, low wages, and inconsistent, sometimes unpredictable work schedules add up to a precarious economic state. In central Florida, where hurricanes and freezes can wipe out crops overnight, food insecurity is a perennial threat. In 2010, for example, a series of freezes destroyed the pepper, strawberry, and tomato crops that farm workers are needed for. “People are working a couple hours a day in some communities,” said Bert Perry, a community organizer for the National Farm Worker Ministry in Florida. 

Escalated immigration-law enforcement has injected fear into an already difficult economic situation. “There [in Mexico] we lived poor, but we lived peacefully,” said a Mexican farm worker in Florida. “Here we live poor, but also in desperation.” Fear sometimes deters farm workers from accessing nutrition and other federal programs they qualify for. In spite of their high poverty rates, 57 percent of all hired farm workers—a group that includes authorized as well as unauthorized workers—report receiving no public support. Unauthorized farm workers, in particular, often rely on private organizations as their main source of support in emergencies.

+ Read more from the 2012 Hunger Report on the issue of Farm Workers and Immigration.

Kate-hagenKate Hagen is Hunger Report project assistant at Bread for the World Institute.

 

 

Changing Nutrition Behaviors in Bangladesh

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A community health worker explains nutrition to a pregnant mother in Barisal, Bangladesh. Photo: Scott Bleggi/Bread for the World Institute.

Readers of our blogs and those who work to reduce hunger know the critical importance of nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and small children. This 1,000-day window presents an opportunity to intervene nutritionally before the lasting effects of malnutrition lead to greater problems with life-long consequences. Sometimes hidden problems like stunting and learning difficulties–related to nutrition deficiencies–go undetected in a village of people living under similar conditions. However, other related problems like being more prone to illness can end a life tragically.

In many countries the cycle of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition has continued for generations, especially among vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and those who live in hard to reach areas. It is a sad reality that poorly nourished mothers have low birthweight babies who do less well in school, attend fewer classes, and tend to have health difficulties. Sometimes in their teenage years girls get married, and the detrimental cycle continues.

So how does one break this cycle of malnutrition? How does one get mothers who don’t read or write to understand, and how does one get the nutrition message to children who might only stay in school until they are 10 or 11 years of age?

One way to do it is to design a program of Behavior Change Communication (BCC) that is easily understood, can be repeated, and can be reinforced in the family and throughout the village. Effective BCC becomes a part of the daily routine and is successful when it produces positive results in health and nutrition. I saw it during my trip to Ghana last year, and I am seeing good examples of it here in Bangladesh.

I also saw the consequences of poor nutrition during a period in which cholera increased in the capital city of Dhaka. With the onset of the disease, dehydration quickly becomes a problem and if poorly nourished children don’t receive prompt treatment they are likely to die. At the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) we were taken through a children’s treatment ward. ICDDR, B is a facility that has received funds from the sale of donated surplus U.S. agricultural commodities under USDA’S 416(B) program. I was introduced to Mita and her daughter Anjali, who were admitted the night before. Mom was anxious to begin feeding her again since she responded so well to intravenous liquids.

Once the child is able to again eat solid foods, mothers in the ward are shown food that is available locally. It is explained that these foods are inexpensive, can be grown in a homestead garden, and, if eaten regularly, can provide good nutrition. They are taught about dietary diversity and “color is good,” meaning that most anything added to rice like greens, chick peas, and squash adds nutrition.

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Nutritious foods given to recuperating children are sourced locally and are inexpensive. Photo: Scott Bleggi/Bread for the World Institute.

What is being learned about nutrition through BCC in Bangladesh is that changing traditional diets isn’t difficult, and doesn’t have to be expensive. Instruction is hands-on and is repeated in the village by health workers and local volunteers. Children learn about gardening at school and see raising their own healthy vegetables as an activity that can be done with Mom after school. Surplus production is shared in the village, as is the message that a traditional rice-based diet doesn’t have to be abandoned, just supplemented with healthy foods that they can grow themselves.

Nutrition’s links to health and agriculture are clearly being taught in Bangladesh. USAID-funded programming by in-country implementing partners, like Helen Keller International and Save the Children, includes local organizations as a key element. Working with these organizations will help sustain the lessons learned as examples for the government of Bangladesh which is sincere about its commitment to scale up nutrition. My next blog from South Asia will look at some examples of how local groups are sustaining developmental assistance programs after funding from donors ends.

Scott Blog PicScott Bleggi is senior international policy analyst for hunger and nutrition with Bread for the World Institute.

 

Changing Nutrition Behaviors in Bangladesh

 

 

Readers of our blogs and those who work to reduce hunger know the critical importance of nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and small children. This 1,000-day window presents an opportunity to intervene nutritionally before the lasting effects of malnutrition lead to greater problems with life-long consequences. Sometimes hidden problems like stunting and learning difficulties–related to nutrition deficiencies–go undetected in a village of people living under similar conditions. However, other related problems like being more prone to illness can end a life tragically.

In many countries the cycle of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition has continued for generations, especially among vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and those who live in hard to reach areas. It is a sad reality that poorly nourished mothers have low birthweight babies who do less well in school, attend fewer classes, and tend to have health difficulties. Sometimes in their teenage years girls get married, and the detrimental cycle continues.

So how does one break this cycle of malnutrition? How does one get mothers who don’t read or write to understand, and how does one get the nutrition message to children who might only stay in school until they are 10 or 11 years of age?

One way to do it is to design a program of Behavior Change Communication (BCC) that is easily understood, can be repeated, and can be reinforced in the family and throughout the village. Effective BCC becomes a part of the daily routine and is successful when it produces positive results in health and nutrition. I saw it during my trip to Ghana last year, and I am seeing good examples of it here in Bangladesh.

I also saw the consequences of poor nutrition during a period in which cholera increased in the capital city of Dhaka. With the onset of the disease, dehydration quickly becomes a problem and if poorly nourished children don’t receive prompt treatment they are likely to die. At the International
Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh
(ICDDR,B) we were taken through a children’s treatment ward. ICDDR, B is a facility that has received funds from the sale of donated surplus U.S. agricultural commodities under USDA’S 416(B) program. I was introduced to Mita and her daughter Anjali, who were admitted the night before. Mom was anxious to begin feeding her again since she responded so well to intravenous liquids.

Once the child is able to again eat solid foods, mothers in the ward are shown food that is available locally. It is explained that these foods are inexpensive, can be grown in a homestead garden, and, if eaten regularly, can provide good nutrition. They are taught about dietary diversity and “color is good”, meaning that most anything added to rice like greens, chick peas, and squash adds nutrition.

 


 

What is being learned about nutrition through BCC in Bangladesh is that changing traditional
diets isn’t difficult, and doesn’t have to be expensive. Instruction is hands-on and is repeated in the village by health workers and local volunteers. Children learn about gardening at school and see raising their own healthy vegetables as an activity that can be done with Mom after school. Surplus production is shared in the village, as is the message that a traditional rice-based diet doesn’t have to be abandoned, just supplemented with healthy foods that they can grow themselves.

Nutrition’s links to health and agriculture are clearly being taught in Bangladesh. USAID-funded programming by in-country implementing partners, like Helen Keller International and Save the Children, includes local organizations as a key element. Working with these organizations will help sustain the lessons learned as examples for the government of Bangladesh which is sincere about its commitment to scale up nutrition. My next blog from South Asia will look at some examples of how local groups are sustaining developmental assistance programs after funding from donors ends.

Scott Bleggi is senior international policy analyst for hunger and nutrition in Bread for the World Institute

Postcard from the Nile River to Camp David

I am writing this blog from Uganda, also known as "the Pearl of Africa." Uganda is home to the source of the longest river in the world- The River Nile. The river gets its name from the Greek word, nelios which means river valley. The Nile and its two tributaries- the Blue Nile and the White Nile flow through nine countries (Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi). For most of the year, the two distinctly different-coloured Niles meander side by side mixing only when out of sight of Khartoum- the capital of Sudan. The waters of the Nile flow downhill from the high mountains in the middle of Africa up to the Nile delta in Norhern Egypt, where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea.

What makes the River Nile a magical natural wonder, is that its existence has for centuries provided secure means of livelihoods to countless generations. One astounding geographical fact concerning the Nile is most obvious in Khartoum. At the point where the White Nile and the Blue Nile meet, they provide a powerful engine for farmers who transport  farm produce from their farms along the Nile. These include rice, wheat, cattle and Ethiopia's  largest export- coffee. Additionally, during the wet season in Ethiopia between June and September, the Blue Nile rises in massive flood carrying immense quantities of silt in a tidal wave of floodwater toward Egypt. Over the years, wherever the silt is deposited, the farmers only wait for the floodwaters to recede a little, plant seeds in the fertile soils, and wait for their crops to grow. It is evident that the floodwaters of the combined Nile have turned vast tracts of desert land into very rich and valuable agricultural land.

Tragically however, today the water level of the Nile - crucial to the economies of Uganda, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia - is dropping as a result of climate change. This means that many more people are losing the ability to produce enough food to feed themselves as well as earn some income to support their families.

Postcard

Today, approximately 925 million of the world’s people already suffer from chronic malnourishment and hunger; more than half of these people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods
, just like the farmers by the Nile River. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recent significant, sudden increases in the prices of staple foods in 2007 and the first half of 2008 have forced more than 100 million people into hunger.

I have been inspired to write this blog because I have met and talked with people whose livelihoods are being directly impacted by high food prices and climate change effects. This is what makes the message contained in this letter crucial.

The 38th G-8 Summit of the eight largest industrialized countries, will be held next month- on May 18-19 2012 at Camp David, Maryland, in the United States. This presents a golden opportunity for world leaders to bolster commitment to adress climate change and to invest in long-term solutions that will help to resolve the crisis of global food insecurity and food price volatility. 

The 2012 G-8 Summit provides an extraordinary opportunity for the U.S. administration to make the case for coordinated agricultural development and highlight the U.S. commitment to achieving global food security. The leadership of the United States in making investments in food security can leverage the work and political will of others who share the burden, including low-income countries. Through initiatives such as Feed the Future, U.S. leadership can pave the way for low-income countries to focus on achieving greater self-reliance, productivity, and human security.

Bread for the World Institute's Briefing Paper No. 17, "From L’Aquila to Camp David: Sustaining the Momentum on Global Food and Nutrition Security" highlights that complicating efforts to find longer-term solutions is the projected surge in the global population— to 9 billion by 2050. To meet this skyrocketing demand, global food production will need to double. The coming years are also likely to bring further stressors on agricultural production: climate change, increasingly urbanized populations, environmental degradation, competition for scarce natural resources, and new diseases affecting both crops and livestock.

Our message to the G8 leaders is that a sustained political and financial commitment by national governments, the G-8 countries, other nations, and the private sector is critical to addressing the devastsating effects of climate change. The Framework to be adopted at the  Camp David  Summit should reaffirm the commitment to achieving food security through country-developed and country-led plans that are focused on smallholder farmers and on improving local technical and institutional capacities.

Investments should target smallholder farmers—particularly women and girls, who are approximately 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce—to enable them to improve their practices and productivity through education, extension, financing, and market access. This is critical to ensuring that smallholder farming becomes a robust driving force for  reducing hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

 

Lydia Sasu and her Fisherwomen

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In an earlier blog post from Ghana, I said I would tell you more about Lydia Sasu, Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA), a Ghanaian civil society organization that works with rural women. The women are poor and have little education. They earn a living by farming or other forms of agricultural labor. DAA empowers them by providing technical assistance and advocacy training, improving the livelihoods of thousands of rural women and their families. 

DAA has partnered with Women Thrive Worldwide in Washington, DC, a good friend of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute’s, and this is how I learned about the organization. I met Lydia Sasu when she was in Washington in March at an event sponosored by Women Thrive Worldwide. It was excellent timing because I was planning to come to Ghana in April. After hearing Lydia discuss what DAA does, I was convinced I had to visit communities where she works.  

Lydia herself is a farmer. She used to be in Ghana’s Ministry of Agriculture before she left to start DAA. When she was in the ministry, she received training in the United States at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Lydia is a little woman but her presence increases in size as soon as she speaks. She has high expectations for every woman DAA works with, knowing what potential they have. But she is not someone you’d want to catch you shirking your responsibilities, and I’m sure the consequences of this would keep many of the women in line. They seem to adore her. She relates to them as a peer, laughing it up with them and singing together. We were welcomed (Faustine Wabwire and I) with music and song in the two communities we visited.

In this post, I’ll focus on one of the communities we visited—you can read about the other in my earlier post. It’s a fishing community in the area of Chokomey, about an hour from Accra. DAA showed them how to work more efficiently and improve their productivity. They built ovens for smoking the fish to add value so they could get a higher price at the market. But that was just the start.

We all know how crippling illiteracy is, but there’s also innumeracy—a lack of ability to do basic arithmetic. Lydia pointed to a wall where there were chalk marks. This used to be their method of keeping records of how many batches of fish they traded. One of the buyers said to them, “You gave me six batches last time, but on the wall there it says you owe me six more.” He was cheating them. What the women didn’t realize till later was children in the community had added chalk marks of their own. Shortly after that, DAA taught them how to do basic arithmetic, dramatically improving their accounting skills. 

The issue of accounting has come up more recently. Lydia has been involved in a nationwide effort to change the law on standard weights and measurements in the sale of agricultural products. In Ghana, the traditional way agricultural products are measured is with cups and bowls.  As you can imagine, this presents plenty of opportunities for buyers to cheat producers, especially those who are poorly educated.  For years, Lydia (and other advocates) lobbied to make the use of scales the law. In April, the government announced it will ban the use of the traditional measuring instruments and enforce the use of scales. The fisherwomen and other women DAA works with joined Lydia to advocate for this change. Before they started working with DAA, few of these women would have dared to speak up in public.

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It’s heartwarming to think how far these women have come since working with Lydia and DAA. To go from counting in charcoal strikes to changing laws is a big leap forward. I want to believe the end of poverty and hunger is right around the corner. Indeed that’s what I want to believe. The thing is I know it is not.

It’s a steep climb out of poverty. Behind every triumph loom other challenges. There are challenges in which the technical support and advocacy training the women receive from DAA simply aren’t enough. For example, their livelihoods are threatened by trawlers mostly from the EU reducing fish stocks in the region. Earlier this month the British newspaper The Guardian reported on these activities. This should be a concern for everyone, including us here in the United States. The Guardian reports the same encroachment by trawlers on fishers in East Africa may have contributed to piracy off of Somalia’s coast. We don’t see anything like that yet in West Africa, but it would be foolish to think it couldn’t happen. Desperate people anywhere want to protect their resources.

This is going to be my last post from Ghana. It’s onto Uganda next. The trip to Ghana has exceeded my expectations in so many ways. The best thing about it has been my encounters with people like Lydia and the women she works with through DAA. I have no doubt my own work on the Hunger Report will be enriched by these encounters.  Faustine and I chose to come to Ghana because it was the first sub-Saharan country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger and poverty in half. While we found plenty of evidence to explain the country’s progress, so did we find extreme poverty and inequality, and if I tend to focus mostly on that rather than the progress, it’s because it’s impossible for me not to want to report on those who seem to be left behind. Good luck to all Ghanaians. Best wishes from Bread for the World Institute.

In Short Supply: Small Farmers and the Struggle to Delivery Healthy Food to Your Plate

The American food system doesn't make it easy for small farmers to get their healthy food to your home, but meet two farmers who are trying: Ricky Horton and Sherilyn Shepard. They're siblings who grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables in southwestern Virginia.

Their livelihood is filled with uncertainties ranging from unpredictable weather to changing immigration laws. Learn from their story by watching "In Short Supply"—Bread for the World's companion video story to the 2012 Hunger Report.

+ Get a behind-the-scenes perspective from Laura Elizabeth Pohl, multimedia manager at Bread for the World and executive producer for “In Short Supply.”

+ To learn more about policies that could help small farmers visit: hungerreport.org.

 

Kate-hagenKate Hagen is Hunger Report project assistant at Bread for the World Institute.

 

 

Under the Same Moon

To many people Africa is one homogenous block often characterized by tragedies- in travel magazines and documentaries.

I woke up this morning with an urge to share my reflections on the other side of this vast continent’s story.

A colleague of mine- Todd Post and I are visiting some African countries to learn from the experiences of small holder farmers in rural areas. The conditions in places we have visited are much less luxurious than most people can imagine. Most people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

This is not news - I know.

But hunger and material deprivation is not all I see. In these same faces, and beneath the tragedies that often make bold news headlines, lies the real story of Africa. A place where value systems- hospitality, hard work, generosity, vibrant cultures and much more converge. I marvel at the dreams and aspirations its people- young and old, men and women. Most importantly however, I can’t fail to recognize their resilience of untold magnitude. This is the real Africa.


My interaction with the various communities here reinforces my belief that often times we dwell on the obvious differences that exist between people around the world at the expense of the great beauty of our similarities. Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher speaks about the I-Thou and I-It relationships. According to Buber the I-Thou relationship occurs when two people see each other simply as people created by God in His image. There is neither qualification of poor versus rich, nor us versus them. The I-Thou sees the humanity and the divinity within each person. On the other hand, I-It exists when a person sees the other as an object to be used to serve his or her interest. It gives a person permission to define, label and objectify the other person.

Unfortunately in our world today, we seem to want to romanticize people living in poverty, regarding them as the It instead of the Thou. We have the tendency to come into these places seeing only the separating differences instead of the inviting similarities. We are horrified by the tragedy of poverty, which often estranges us more than connects us. By focusing only on the contrasts, we fail to see the other as a brother or a sister, as a reflection of the image of God - who is equally loved and valued by Him.
When we relate with our brothers and sisters in parts of the world with less material possessions than our own little worlds, it's easy to label them as poor and unfortunate, but do we really know them?

The question am struggling with today is, “How would the world look like if we could see the sacred in every person? What if our response to suffering was a desire to see people for who they are and to learn from them about their experiences, instead of making a one-sided attempt to heroically pull them out of their circumstances?”

It takes discipline of the heart and mind to treat others as Thou. When we embrace this, we no longer see them as distant, strange people. Rather we see each other as One People Under the Same Moon!

Earth Day in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Earth Day photo

A woman walks through Durga Sagar Dighi, a park in Barisal, Bangladesh, on Saturday, April 21, 2012. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

For the past week, leading up to today's observance of Earth Day, my Bread colleagues and I have been traveling in Bangladesh.

I haven't seen a single plastic bag.

That's because Bangladesh was one of the first countries to prohibit the use of plastic bags, back in 2002. Why? Because when the country suffered one of its periodic major floods in 1998, plastic bags blocked drainage systems, compounding the loss of life and damage to laboriously built infrastucture.

The vast majority of Bangladeshis are poor in material terms, causing individuals and the country a host of problems, including environmental degradation -- as, for example, when people have few alternatives to depleting forests to get firewood for outdoor cooking.  But even acting on its own, Bangladesh, with about 160 million people in a country the size of Wisconsin, can put a sizeable dent in global plastic bag waste. The bags commonly used instead are made of jute, one of the most environmentally friendly choices.

Poverty has also forced people to devise low-impact ways of getting things done. Traffic in the capital city of Dhaka is a sight completely unlike rush hour in Los Angeles or Washington, DC -- it is slower-moving yet more chaotic. This is partly because residents have taken cycling to an extreme: in the most crowded areas, the majority of the vehicles on the street are bicycle rickshaws. These operate a little bit like jogging strollers, except that rather than being pushed from behind, they are pulled by someone on a bike. Frequently they outpace cars, getting passengers or goods to their destinations fairly quickly.

I'm not suggesting that the world adopt the rickshaw as a model for public transportation -- the operators are constantly breathing in fumes, and the work is exhausting mentally as well as physically since it requires constant vigilance to dodge larger, more powerful vehicles. I'm truly surprised (and somewhat impressed) that I only saw dozens of near-misses and not a crash where someone was seriously hurt. Rather, my point is that less-polluting strategies can still get the job done. 

But how other people celebrate Earth Day – or more accurately, how people in developed countries treat the earth every day -- affects people in Bangladesh perhaps more than anything they have the power to do themselves. Why? Climate change. 

Bangladesh is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, with floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges, and droughts expected to become more frequent and severe in the future. The government of Bangladesh has developed a 10-year Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. Donors, particularly European countries, are contributing to a fund to help the country respond. At the end of the day, Bangladesh did not cause climate change and cannot cope with its effects alone.

When people in the United States think of Bangladesh, they’re likely to think of disaster and disaster relief. But we should also be keeping prevention in mind. That time-honored motto "think globally -- act locally" applies to both the United States and Bangladesh -- whether it's typified by working for stricter controls on greenhouse gas emissions, bringing a jute bag to the store, or one of the myriad ways to celebrate the earth on April 22 or any other day.

  Michele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.

  

 

 

On the Road in Ghana

The road that gets you in and out of Accra the fastest is called the Bush Motorway in honor of President George W. Bush. The Millennium Challenge Account, one of President Bush's signature development assistance programs, provided the funding to build the road.

Roads and other physical infrastructure projects are some of the best investments in development assistance donors can make. The Bush Motorway runs all the way to Accra's main port and has been a boon to importers and exporters. But the farther away from the city the less impact it’s had on development.

My Bread for the World Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I rode the Bush Motorway on our way out of Accra to visit rural areas of Ghana. One has to get off of paved roads and onto rougher terrain to get to the communities that Faustine and I had come to Ghana to visit. Slow, bumpy and dusty: these are the roads in Ghana I expect I will remember far longer than the paved ones.

Faustine and I spent two days with Lydia Sasu, Executive Director of the Development Action Association, a Ghanaian NGO that works with some of the poorest women farmers in the country. Lydia is a dynamic organizer, and I will write more about her in my next blog post, but I want to focus on one community she took us to meet in Sege, an area east of Accra by about 100 kilometers.

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Lydia had organized a meeting for us to talk with some women from the community. We met them in a Spartan building they use mainly as a church. It was scorching hot outside and some of the women had walked for miles to be there. Lydia had brought them food and fresh water, incentives to ensure we got a good size group. These women don't have much to eat or drink, so there was more drawing them to come than a couple of researchers from Bread for the World Institute.

It was still the dry season so they were doing little farming, tending to livestock mainly. They raise piglets which I had seen running around the hamlet where the church was located. The sell the animals in nearby markets. The ones they slaughter for themselves provide a vital source of protein. Some of these women have buried children who've died from malnutrition.

They have always battled dry conditions but over the last two decades periods of drought are more protracted. For anyone who doubts climate change, I challenge them to come to this community and see what climate change has wrought. The hungry season in this community now lasts from January to June, so we had come to visit them when one meal a day is all they are eating. Most of men had left to find work in salt mines, or they’d gone to find work in Accra.

Ghana 024I asked them why they stay in a place where the conditions are so harsh. The women are illiterate, they haven't got many options. Poverty and hunger in a place you know is preferable to poverty where you feel like a stranger. One woman stood up and explained she plans to abandon the community and move to Accra. Her prospects there may be no better, but perhaps her children's will be. She expects to earn a living as a porter, meaning she will carry goods on top of her head to sell on the street.

Climate change is driving people like this woman out of rural areas into cities. In 1950, the rural population in Africa outnumbered its urban counterpart by eight to one. By 2030, the number of urban residents is expected to surpass the number of rural. People are leaving rural areas not only because of climate change but it has accelerated the pace of the outmigration.

Infrastructure development is just as important in rural areas. Roads are a good place to start. Everyone in Ghana knows about the Bush Motorway. One of the things we heard wherever we went was please ask the U.S. government to help us to build roads.

When we talked with government officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, they emphasized what the agricultural sector needs is storage infrastructure to cut down on post-harvest losses. Ghana, like other sub-Saharan countries, loses up to 40 percent of crop harvests due to spoilage. You think about the need to increase agricultural production to keep up with growing populations. Africa’s population alone will grow by nearly a billion people by the middle of the century. We all love a good technology challenge but African countries could do a lot to improve productivity by using boring old technologies like asphalt to put down roads or concrete and steel to build storage facilities to prevent crop loss. 

 

A Fairer Farm Bill is Simpler Than You Think

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just published a study by Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock that provides a clear accounting of how much less a fairer crop insurance program would cost the U.S. government and taxpayers.

The EWG report focuses on crop insurance because it is as bloated and inefficient a part of the federal government’s budget as anything short of defense.  If lawmakers adopted the EWG proposal to provide farmers with a fairer system of crop insurance (this is about reform, not elimination of crop insurance), it would clearly take pressure off the need to find savings from nutrition programs.

The reform is quite simple. The government would offer crop insurance free to farmers up to 70 percent of their losses. Farmers would pay a small administrative fee. If farmers wanted to insure beyond 70 percent, they could purchase the additional insurance in the private insurance market. Currently government is subsidizing the private crop insurance industry, which contrary to common sense is much less efficient than if government simply gives away insurance to farmers.  The savings would be on the order of $18.4 billion over 10 years. “The reality that giving away free insurance would actually save money underscores how inefficient the current system is,” writes Dr. Babcock.

Last year, Bread for the World Institute invited Dr. Babcock to participate among a small group of distinguished agricultural economists to advise us on how to design a fairer U.S. farm safety net. The 2012 Hunger Report, Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies, outlines Bread for the World Institute’s own reform proposal. Our proposal did not include a dollar amount of savings. The EWG study is very similar to our proposal and includes the value addition of a budget analysis.

As many people who follow Bread for the World know, a version of the farm bill is moving through the Senate right now. The House will later take up its own version. In the midst of this, the House budget proposal calls for draconian cuts to nutrition programs. The largest nutrition program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, received the largest cuts in the House budget.  SNAP is reauthorized in the farm bill. The House budget, if it were to pass in the Senate, would directly affect what legislators do with SNAP in the farm bill. In other words, the EWG study couldn’t arrive at a better time.

Goats in Accra

Sprawling, open-air markets are common in the developing world. The Madina Market in Accra, the capital of Ghana, is an example. Vendors hawk food and clothing mostly, plus a little bit of everything else—electronics, jewelry, CDs, cell phone jackets, beauty products, toys for children, you name it. It's crowded, it's noisy, it's verging on the edge of chaos, except this is the equilibrium of markets the world over.

My Bread for the World Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I are in Ghana for a week and plan to spend most of our time in the Accra area. The Madina Market is home to some of the city’s poorest residents, who also happen to make up a large share of the vendors. Where they live is hard to tell. Based on what I’m seeing, there doesn’t appear to be space for anyone to make a home. We’ve come to the market as night is falling and the trading quiets down. Our objective is to meet some of the people who live here.

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Ghana is the one sub-Saharan nation so far that has met the first Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger and poverty in half by 2015. At Madina Market, you could almost forget that Ghana is supposed to be a success story. Ghana, like much of the world, is experiencing rising income inequality. Here it is, with an urban orientation.

The poorest region of the country is the north. The north and south (Accra is in the south) have been described to us as like separate countries. Migrants come down from the north, mostly young people, looking for some kind of work in Accra, anything they can do to scratch out a living and send what’s left back home to relatives worse off than themselves. Because we won’t be traveling to the north, it was suggested we go to the market to talk with migrants who can tell us about the other Ghana up north. We’ve hired a guide to translate for us, a research assistant of a professor at the University of Ghana whom we met the day before.

When we arrive I begin to take pictures and that upsets a young man who seems to be drunk or high. He helps to draw enough attention to us that it’s clear we’re now the subject of some curiosity. We’re told by a shopper who works for a local NGO that it would be best to visit the head of the market and ask permission to take pictures. Eric, our guide, asks around and we're told where to go, an area of the market that we enter off the main drag almost like a crack in the wall. I’m not kidding, after we wind our way around some corners flanked by shanties, it’s like we’ve stepped out of the city into a rural community. A group of men, probably 20 or more, are lounging in chairs and on benches, tending to a heard of goats. There is also a chicken coop alongside, where it sounds like some plucking is going on.

The leader of the group is a big man who could seem scarey except he's indifferent to what we want to do at the market. He gives us permission to shoot photos and talk to people, and since we're here and the scene is so odd, we ask Eric to request an interview with him and some other men. He’s amenable. We talk with seven or eight to start with, ranging in age from their 20s through maybe late 50s or early 60s. As we get into the discussion, more men in the area approach to listen on the fringes and occasionally add a word.

Where else to start the interview than with the goats. They tell us they bring the goats down from the north (yes!) to trade in Accra where livestock fetches a higher price. Most of the men have relatives in the north, who help them to get the goats, although they don’t rely exclusively on their relatives. The income they earn from trading the goats in Accra is their main source of livelihood. They still endure periods of hunger. Their wives who work in the market also endure hunger.  Their children face hunger less often than the parents, in part because they attend school where they get a free meal through Ghana’s school feeding program. Theoretically, the program is supposed to provide every child in the country with a meal. In remote areas of the country, like you find in the north, school meals may not be available. In fact, schools may not be available.

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The men say they can earn good money at various times of the year. Many households in Accra want to purchase a goat to slaughter when celebrating religious holidays. When their earnings are good, they send some back to relatives in the north to help support their farming. In exchange, when the relatives harvest a crop, they share some of their earnings with the family members in Accra. Urban and rural poverty are often set in contrast. In this case, we see how they become intertwined.

The most remarkable thing they tell us comes late in the interview, just before the men, who are Muslim, leave us to say prayers. I ask them, as I always do when interviewing people in developing countries, how could U.S. government assistance help to make the most difference in their lives. I’m startled when they say—every one of them—“Peace.” I had expected to hear answers like provide jobs, build roads for their relatives in the north to reach markets, support school feeding in secondary education as well as primary.

Ghana is considered a stable country—yet several of its neighbors are not at peace or peace there is quite fragile. Instability in Ghana would make travel to the north to purchase goats incredibly difficult and dangerous, and maybe even impossible. Their main source of livelihoods, albeit miniscule, could vanish.

Before they leave, I want them to clarify are they saying Ghana is not a stable country. I'm guessing because West Africa is one of the most unstable regions in the world and because Ghana is in West Africa, there may be a certain level of dread people everywhere in the region feel when it comes to security.  The men surprise me again. They are not saying that they want the U.S. government to intervene to ensure peace in Ghana in the event of instability. Rather they are saying they do not want the United States to send its military to disturb the peace in Ghana.

I suppose I could say I believe that's highly unlikely, but why do that when the whole point of being here is to listen. I wonder if the U.S. government would listen to what people like these men are thinking.

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