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Using Less To Get More: Crop Intensification in Ethiopia

Ethiopia 1

The Central Rift Valley is Ethiopia’s predominant vegetable production belt. In this region, there are over 20,000 smallholder farmers engaged in producing over 200,000 tons of vegetables per year on about 10,000 hectares of irrigated land. Despite access to irrigation, agricultural practices have remained traditional, irregular, and unsustainable in terms of their economic, social, environmental, and ecological impacts. The agronomic practice and input application patterns are not only haphazard but also cause significant damage to the soil, water, ecology, and human health.

During our fiscal years 2015 and 2016, BGR partnered with Oxfam America in a two-year project to increase the productivity of vegetable crops (tomato and onion) by teaching farmers the System of Crop Intensification (SCI). This is a report about two Ethiopian farmers who learned this system and became qualified to teach it to other farmers in their region. The report was provided to us by our partner, Oxfam America.

Ethiopia 3-CroppedEsmile Johar is a farmer who lives on the outskirts of a fast-growing town called Ziway, 165km south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A major contributor to the recent agricultural growth is the increasing number of farmers engaged in small-scale irrigation using nearby Lake Ziway. In the last few years, farmers like Esmile Johar, a 42-yearold father of four, have seen how adopting efficient, climate-smart water-use technologies and good agronomic practices can improve agricultural production, food security, and resilience to climate shocks.

About ten years ago, Esmile and most of the surrounding farmers worked as laborers on their own land. Remembering the hard times, Esmile explained: “We had to rent our land to rich investors who had money to buy irrigation pumps, and inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. We didn’t have the necessary tools or know how. So our only choice was to rent our land and work for them as daily laborers.”

Things started changing when development agencies and the government introduced measures to enable smallholder farmers to use their land to overcome poverty and improve their livelihoods. Among them was Oxfam and a local organization, SEDA (Sustainable Environment and Development Action). Oxfam and SEDA began their partnership in 2000 with a focus on small-scale irrigation for vegetable production in the Central Rift Valley. More recently, Oxfam and SEDA have collaborated on introducing an innovative agricultural methodology called the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), which promotes efficient, climate-smart techniques to increase productivity and reduce costs for two major vegetables—onions and tomatoes.

SCI focuses on the careful application of inputs and adopting good agronomic practices. Said Esmile: “Even though we have a general knowledge about the necessary inputs, we didn’t know exactly what combination of things will give us the optimum yield. So considering the increasing cost of inputs, learning how to use things efficiently and avoid wastage was very important to us.”

Peer learning and agricultural experiments

To reach more farmers and encourage peer-to-peer learning, a “five to one ratio” structure was established whereby one demonstrator would attempt to reach five followers. In this intiative, 50 demonstrators and 250 followers were selected by the Water Users Association members to learn and practice SCI. “I was selected to be a demonstrator,” said Esmile with pride. “Everyone knows how hard I work and I have many years of experience growing vegetables.” Looking at his 1/8 hectare backyard covered with onion seedlings, tomato, carrot, cabbage, lettuce, turnip green, collard green, papaya, avocado, coffee, and banana, it is not hard to imagine why Esmile was selected to be a demonstrator.

Ethiopia 2Rukia was another person selected by the Association to be a demonstrator. Rukia served as a cashier for Abine Germama WUA, and her dedication and strength had earned her the respect of her community. Surrounded by onion seedling in her backyard, she said with a smile: “I was confident I could do it, and proud to be selected. For a long time I learned new ways of doing things by following others. So I was very happy to teach others. It is a proof how far I have come.”

One other exceptional element of the project was the high level of attention given to its participatory approach, where various experiments were used to demonstrate and increase SCI adoption rates. The project looked at farmer-designed farmer-managed efforts versus researcher-designed farmer-managed efforts on 10ft x 10ft plots in a comparative context. Esmile participated in both experiments—one in his own backyard and another on a small parcel he owned across the street from his home. He said: “I was glad to try both the traditional and the new methods and to see the difference for myself.”

Following the selection process, the 50 demonstrators were trained on the principles and practices of SCI. They were also provided with the necessary inputs, such as improved seed, fertilizer, and pesticide. Most of the farmers opted to try the experiment on onions rather than tomatoes. “Tomatoes are more profitable but need more care than onions. The risk is high so for now I chose to work on onion,” said Esmile.

“Experts came to my house and showed me in my own backyard,” said Rukia. “They taught me how to prepare the land, how much seed, fertilizers, and pesticides to use, and how many times I should water for best results. I was so excited that even when my pump broke in the middle of the experiment, I didn’t mind pulling water out of a 12 meter deep well to water the vegetables and finish the trial successfully.”

Throughout the trial period the five followers worked closely with the demonstrators. The setup encourages mutual learning where they continually share knowledge, ideas, and experiences. At the end of three months, the farmers were very happy and quite surprised with the outcome of the experiments. “I knew the research will improve my productivity but didn’t expect this much,” Esmile said with a smile. “Even though I used almost half of the seed and fertilizer and only watered the onions two days instead of five, my yield doubled compared to the traditional method.” Rukia was also very happy with the result. From her backyard plot she got almost three quintals of onion.

Visible signs of improved livelihoods

“Now I produce up to four times a year and I can easily meet the needs and wants of my family,” said Esmile, who is more than happy to show all the wonderful things he managed to buy and do. Among them were, healthy children who are eating a balanced diet, a better and bigger house, a comfortable bed to sleep on, a bicycle for his son to go to school, and so on.

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Rukia is investing in her children’s education and on inputs to adopt what she learned on her half hectare land nearby. Her backyard is already covered with second round onion seedlings following the new SCI method she learned.

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 2 (of 6)

BGR Staff

4. Cambodia: Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School

Girls in Classroom

Lotus Outreach, a trusted BGR partner since 2009, is dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world, especially in Cambodia. The long-standing BGR-Lotus Outreach partnership provides rice support to primary, secondary, and tertiary students receiving scholarships via the GATE and GATEways programs. The GATE programs provides educational scholarships to girls pursuing primary and secondary education. The GATEways program builds on this by supporting girls who graduated from high school through GATE and are pursuing higher education at universities and technical schools across Cambodia.

Rice support is a critical feature of the GATE and GATEways programs. It not only ensures the girls will go to class with nourished minds and bodies, but relieves families of the pressures that often compel them to force their girls to drop out of school and join the work force. In 2015, 76 percent of GATE scholarship recipients successfully passed their examinations and advanced to the next grade level. Students enrolled in the GATE program are more likely to attend and stay in school, lowering their likelihood of turning to exploitative labor.

In the next phase of our partnership, BGR will provide Lotus Outreach with funding to offer 50 kilograms of rice each month during the next school year to the families of 70 girls who rank among the poorest of GATE scholarship recipients in Siem Reap, and an additional 5 families in Phnom Penh. Likewise, all of the 37 scholars enrolled in the GATEways program will receive a monthly provision of 15 kg of rice support to ensure they have enough to eat during their studies and will not be under constant pressure to drop out of college to find work.

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Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 1 (of 6)

BGR Staff

2016 Group Photo-2

Group photo outside the library

On Saturday, April 23, BGR team members held their annual general meeting, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the U.S., including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State.

This year, at the Saturday meeting, we were honored by the presence of Ayya Yeshe, the Australian nun who founded and directs the Bodhicitta Foundation in India, a long-term BGR partner. Ayya Yeshe, who arrived from India just a few days before the meeting, gave a deeply moving presentation on her activities in Maharashtra, where she works with girls and women of the Dalit community, the former “untouchables” or “outcasts,” leading them in their endeavors to emerge from poverty and social exclusion and rediscover their innate dignity and potentials for high achievement. She poignantly reminded us that the statistics that testify to the success of BGR’s work are not mere numbers but represent real human lives, people who have been touched and transformed by our support for her projects and those of our other partners.

At the board meeting on April 24, the BGR board approved 26 projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total outlay of about $580,000, a big jump over last year’s $375,000. Several projects are renewals of  annual projects, while others are new projects with established partners and new partnerships, including one in Nicaragua, our first in Latin America.

This year our capacity was bolstered by an extremely generous offer from the Chao Foundation to provide BGR with grants of $100,000 per year over a three-year period to support several multi-year projects. The three projects we agreed to sponsor are: (1) a partnership with the Helen Keller Foundation to improve health services and access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children in Kenya; (2) a partnership with Moanoghar to construct a permanent residential facility for boy students at their school in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (the girl students already have a secure residential facility); and (3) a partnership with the What If Foundation to fully equip a new school for extremely poor children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. These projects will be described more fully in this series of posts. We are deeply grateful to the Chao Foundation for this grant, an extraordinary expression of compassion and trust in the mission of BGR.

This is the first of a six-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts. Continue reading

Food for Thought for Young Haitian Scholars

by Jennifer Russ

“You need an education to succeed,” says seventeen-year-old Vanessa Petit-Homme, a tenth grade student in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Polard Marie Guenthine, another tenth grader, agrees. “I don’t know what I’d do without my education,” she says. “It is so important to me.”

If it weren’t for a partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the What If? Foundation, these two promising young scholars would not be able to attend school. Vanessa and Polard live in an unstable political situation in an impoverished country still reeling from an earthquake more than six year ago. Both girls’ parents are poor, so they and their siblings rely on full scholarships from the What If? Foundation to continue attending school. In 2015, Buddhist Global Relief funded the educations of fifty students like Vanessa and Polard.

Since 2009, BGR has supported the What If? Foundation’s hot lunch program, Lamanjay, which provides more than 1,200 meals daily to hungry children in the Ti Plas Kazo community. The What If? Foundation reports that 2015 was a particularly challenging year. The presidential election led to protests and demonstrations from August 2015 to January 2016, which were sometimes so heated they kept children at home from the lunch program. When the demonstrations cleared, children showed up extra hungry.

Thanks to the adaptive and innovative cooking team, however, the children who attended the lunch program were still well-fed. One eight-year-old boy, who said he was called “Estimable Emmanuel,” told his interviewers that “this year was very good. I found food every day that I came to the program.”

“Life is very hard for me without this food program,” Emmanuel said. “I don’t know what my family would do.”

The children of Haiti need support now more than ever. Even as protests have quieted, the World Food Program recently announced that due to a three-year- drought, Haiti is entering its worst food crisis in 15 years.

Delia, a seventeen-year-old student who has relied on the What If? Foundation’s scholarship program for five years, is confident that the foundation and its donors will continue to support the country’s children. “It is the best foundation I know,” she says. “They have never given up on the country or the people. We are so lucky that the donors keep donating money and giving us their attention so we can go to school.”

These scholarship students are not only dedicated and thankful, they are also determined to give back to their country. Vanessa Petit-Homme says she’d like to be a psychologist so she can help children in Haiti. “Life is not easy and children have so much stress. I would like to be there the way the What If? Foundation has been there for me.”

Delia says she wants to be an engineer. “I would love…to make my country more beautiful and construct strong buildings. That way I can help my country in its development.”

The What If? Foundation is also constructing strong buildings. In January 2016, the foundation completed construction on their new school and cafeteria, which they hope will inspire optimism in the Ti Plas Kazo community and help its children “become part of the next generation of leaders.”

The children are as optimistic and dedicated as the organizations that support them. Delia says that to achieve her goals, she must “study hard and pray. If there was no What If? Foundation, I would not be able to continue with my studies.” To her donors, and to BGR, she says, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Jennifer Russ is a staff writer for BGR.

We Are La Via Campesina

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

We are La Via Campesina,” a short 15-minute video about the international peasants organization, offers a range of insights from the movement’s representatives as they speak about their struggles for food sovereignty and for social, economic, and climate justice.

A movement of small farmers around the world is probably far from the everyday concerns of Western Buddhists, whose interests are usually focused on meditation, Buddhist doctrine, and the application of mindfulness to their daily lives. But if the Buddhist principle that all things are connected is indeed correct, then our own fate and the destiny of the world may be intimately bound up with the fate of peasants working the land in Subsaharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. The Buddha says that all beings subsist by nutriment, and for a billion people, the system of food production we adopt determines whether they will eat or go hungry. Even more critical, our choice may determine whether we manage to put a lid on climate change or push the earth’s biosphere beyond its viable limits.
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Climate Change is a Moral Issue

A Buddhist Reflection on the Pope’s Climate Encyclical, Laudato si’

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On June 18, Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter, Laudato si’ (Praised Be), “On Care for our Common Home,” pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone.

The future of human life on earth hangs in a delicate balance, and the window for effective action is rapidly closing. Tipping points and feedback loops threaten us as ominously as nuclear warheads. What heightens the danger is our proclivity to apathy and denial. For this reason, we must begin tackling the crisis with an act of truth, by acknowledging that climate change is real and stems from human activity. On this, the science is clear, the consensus among climate scientists almost universal. The time for denial, skepticism, and delay is over.
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