Why are male farmers out-performing women in Africa? | 

Tanzanian farmers
Gates Foundation

The gap between men and women in some African countries is easily seen in agriculture. Male-managed farm plots consistently out-perform those of their female counterparts by as much as 66% in Niger and 25% in Malawi.

The long-held belief was that a lack of access to the necessary inputs (seed, fertilizer, labor) to make a farm successful were less available to women. That is the case to some extent, but there are more ways that women are put at a disadvantage as to their male counterparts.

“Despite the centrality of agriculture in the economies of most African nations, relatively little is known about why farms managed by women are on average less productive. This “knowledge gap” in turn translates into a “policy gap” in the steps that African governments, their development partners, business leaders and civil society can take to equalize opportunities for female and male farmers,” writes Makhtar Diop, Vice President for the Africa Region for the World Bank.

In fact, equal access to inputs does not necessarily mean that men and women will have the same levels of agricultural productivity. Doip’s comments come as a part of a joint-report on gender and agriculture led by Michael O’Sullivan from the World Bank and Arathi Rao from the ONE Campaign. A closer look at six African countries that are responsible for more than 40% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa helps to make sense what is happening.

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One Acre Fund leads Kenyan farmers in maize disease fight | 

This is the first of two articles on the One Acre Fund in Kenya. Read part two here.

Shimanyiro, Kenya – Not planting maize sounded like a crazy idea to Elium Kangayia last year.

Elium Kangayia, 42, with his sorghum crops.
Elium Kangayia, 42, with his sorghum crops.

Kangayia’s crop had been devastated by a maize disease but growing something else was not something he had considered. As member of the One Acre Fund, he was surprised to see that maize was not offered for the 2013 growing season.

The One Acre Fund is a celebrated initiative in East Africa that seeks to assist smallholder farmers by working with them on all aspects of the supply chain as opposed to focusing on a single intervention such as improving irrigation or planting techniques.

In the same region with Kangayia were some 200 One Acre Fund member farmers. When the program announced it would no longer support maize farming, 127 of the farmers quit their memberships. Kangayia decided to stay on and grow the recommended sorghum and millet.

“I was not initially happy,” he said. “But I was very happy after the harvest.”

Despite the warnings and a poor harvest, he still persisted by growing maize on one of his three acres. The maize yield was terrible. He only filled eight bags, roughly as well as he did before joining the One Acre Fund in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, before the disease (known as maize lethal necrosis, or MLN) appeared, he was able to harvest 44 bags of maize on two acres and 63 bags on one and a half acres. Continue reading

Land rush update: Uganda displaces 22,000 poor farmers to plant trees | 

The ongoing trend of foreign investors purchasing massive tracts of land in poor countries isn’t getting much media attention in the U.S., but one case in Uganda may change that.

Oxfam International reported a few weeks ago that the Ugandan government, on behalf of a British company and with financial support from the World Bank, had forcibly removed some 22,000 people in rural communities from their farms in order to transform the land into a massive tree farm.

The project is intended to provide Uganda with carbon credits in the global fight against climate change.

Voice of America, the New York Times and mostly British media have reported on it. The Guardian, which reported on it earlier as well, issued this new video report today. I think Oxfam’s video makes pretty much the same points and it’s half as long.

The Guardian video does mention the death of a child that took place when the mother claims her hut was being burned down by officials. It’s not clear if the death was related to the displacement or not.

The British company, New Forests Company, says it had believed the displacements of the farming communities were legal and voluntary. The firms says it is “puzzled” by the discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the official story.

The World Bank has also said it will investigate the allegations. World Bank watchdog Bill Easterly, who I recently interviewed, has started an online clock to track how much time it will take the WB to go from launching its investigation to reaching a determination. (The displacements began two years ago.)

The Guardian also published today a call by the UN’s lead expert on food security, Olivier De Schutter, calling for international action and consensus on how to deal with this trend that is displacing many poor communities, especially in Africa. Here’s Oxfam’s report on “land grabs” in poor countries.

It isn’t that tree farming is, by itself, a bad idea or has to displace locals. Here’s a story about a reforestation project in Burkina Faso that’s being done by the locals — as opposed to foreign investors.

NOTE: A Seattle organization, Landesa (formerly the Rural Development Institute) has been working for decades on improving the land rights of poor people. Read this essay by Landesa’s Zoey Chenitz on how the global land rush has effected women especially.

Oh, and the founder of Landesa, former UW law prof Roy Prosterman, has been named by Global Washington as the recipient of its inaugural Global Hero Award. Here’s an earlier post about Prosterman and his organization. He receives the award officially Nov. 1.

Gates Foundation’s next Grand Challenge: Vaccinating Plants | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done a lot to boost the science and delivery of vaccines for human health and to assist in the fight against disease.

Now, the Seattle philanthropy would like to start vaccinating crop plants to help poor farmers.

Gates Foundation

Rwandan farmer Odette Mukanyiko

“Not many people realize it but plants have fairly sophisticated immune systems,” said Chris Wilson, director of global health discovery at the Gates Foundation.

Finding new methods to immunize crops against disease and pests, Wilson said, could significantly improve yields for subsistence and smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Such an approach could also greatly reduce the need for pesticides, he added, and likely provide greater barrier to bugs developing resistance.

Gates Foundation

Chris Wilson

“This couldn’t really be the same thing as the vaccines we use on ourselves or for animals, but it would be functionally equivalent,” Wilson said. “This will require some novel thinking.”

Looking for more wacky ideas

The Gates Foundation is now accepting proposals from scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors aimed at improving health, reducing poverty and generally making the world a better place. The $100-million-endowed project, which awards $100,000 grants for first-time innovators, is called Grand Challenges Explorations program. Continue reading

Phone animations for poor farmers | 

The Science and Development Network has a very cool story about a project that aims to use animation sent over mobile phones to provide poor farmers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world with valuable technical information or health advisories … or whatever.

Here’s the story at

There are a lot of reasons why this may never work, but it’s fun to consider. Here’s a video report:

And here’s a Q&A with Scientific Animations Without Borders by Jaclyn Schiff at Global Health Hub

Eco-farming best for poor, UN expert says, not Gates Foundation approach | 

Flickr, Global Crop Diversity Trust

One of the Gates Foundation’s primary goals is to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa by helping improve agricultural productivity.

On Tuesday, the United Nations issued a report that appeared to challenge the Seattle philanthropy’s approach.

The Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have launched what they are calling a new Green Revolution for Africa. It is a multi-pronged strategy that tends to favor scientific and technological solutions and that some see as too heavily dependent upon Western-style, industrialized farming techniques.

This week, the UN issued a report urging “eco-farming” as the best strategy for improving farming in the developed world. In it, the author appears to challenge the wisdom of the Gates Foundation’s approach in agricultural development. Continue reading

Gates Fdn & five nations give $97 million to fight hunger. Short by billions | 

World Bank

Hey, can we get a little help here?

In anticipation of an international meeting next week in South Korea that will likely focus on the global economy, currency regulation, trade and maybe climate change, it’s worth remembering:

A billion people, one out of every six on the planet, are hungry. Right now.

Next week is the G20, or “Group of Twenty” meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations in Seoul. The protesters and the police are already clashing conceptually in preparation for clashing in reality.

Today, the recently created Global Agriculture and Food Security Program announced it was awarding a second found of funding, $97 million, to fight hunger in Ethiopia, Niger and Mongolia. The primary goal is to help small farmers in these countries improve crop production as well as their own economic well-being. Continue reading