Perspectives from Chad, Africa: COVID-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge

REPUBLIC OF CHAD, Africa – While COVID-19 has forced most of the world into lockdown, we are fortunate to report that our “Trails of Regeneration” video series is alive and well. Over the last few months we’ve focused on reporting the effects of the pandemic on farmers and ranchers and indigenous peoples from around the world. 

In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, “Perspectives from Chad, Africa: Covid-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge,” we proudly feature Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an award-winning environmental activist and indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad, which practices nomadic cattle herding.

Ibrahim is an expert in adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples and women in relation to climate change, traditional knowledge and the adaptation of pastoralists in Africa. She is founder and coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which works to empower indigenous voices and improve quality of life by creating economic opportunities and protecting the natural resources to which pastoralist communities depend on.

Ibrahim was recently named Emerging Explorer 2017 by National Geographic. She has worked on the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment through the three Rio Conventions—on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification—which originated out of the 1992 Earth Summit. 

The Mbororo pastoralist community reside near Lake Chad, located in the far west of Chad and the northeast of Nigeria. It was once Africa’s largest water reservoir in the Sahel region, spanning 26,000 kilometers. However, the lake has continued to shrink over time and is now thought to be one-fifth of its original size. 

Experts say climate change, population growth and inefficient damming and irrigation systems are to blame. The loss of water in Lake Chad is having serious adverse effects on communities, such as the Mbororo people, who are forced to migrate greater distances in search of water and green pastures. 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Ibrahim explained that in one year, the Mbororo people can travel up to a thousand kilometers and beyond, relying solely on nature and rainfall. Ibrahim told us:

“Nature is our main health, food and education system. It represents everything for us. In our culture, men and women depend equally on nature in their daily activities. The men herd the cattle towards water and pastures, while the women collect firewood, food and drinking water for the community. This provides a socially strong gender balance to our community.”

However, the degradation of natural resources is threatening these traditions, leading to human conflicts, particularly between farmers and pastoralists whose cattle sometimes roam onto nearby cropland and cause damage. These conflicts have forced Mbororo men to urban areas in search of a new line of work. Sometimes they don’t return, and the women, children and elderly are left behind to fend for themselves, Ibrahim told us.

In an effort to preserve the Mbororo’s nomadic way of life, and to help resolve conflicts between farmers and herders, Ibrahim established a project in 2012 with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The project uses indigenous knowledge and 3D mapping technology to map Chad’s Sagel region, home to 250,000 Mbororo people. 

Through its 3D maps, the project brings together rival farmers and pastoralists to collaboratively draw lines of land ownership and reach agreements on grazing pathways and corridors. The work has helped farmers and pastoralists agree on land boundaries, as well as established a calendaring system to coordinate grazing patterns with the harvesting of crops. 

The result is a win-win solution where cattle fertilize and enrich the land through purposeful grazing. This prevents crop damage and helps to mitigate climate change. According to Ibrahim:

“When we experience climate change, we use our nomadic way of life as a solution. When we go from one place to another, resting two or three days per location, the dung from our cattle fertilizes the land and helps the ecosystem regenerate naturally.

“Our traditional knowledge is based on the observation of nature which is the common denominator of all the traditional indigenous knowledge around the world. We live in harmony with biodiversity because we observe insects that give us information on the health of an ecosystem.

“We look at bird migration patterns to predict the weather and we learn from the behavior of our animals who communicate a lot of information. We look at the wind. When the wind transports a lot of particulates from nature during the dry season, we know that we are going to have a good rainy season. This is free information we use to help balance community and ecosystem health and adapt to climate change.”

Ibrahim believes that events such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, are nature’s way of letting us know she is mad because we are mistreating her. In order to heal the planet, we must listen to our wisdom and respect nature, she says.

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

Transforming Food and Agriculture to Achieve the SDGs – 20 Interconnected Actions to Guide Decision-Makers

New FAO tool lists concrete steps ways to speed up implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda

Published: June 7, 2018

To help policy makers and other development actors accelerate progress towards global promises to end poverty and hunger, FAO has released a set of 20 inter-connected actions designed to show the impact sustainable agriculture can have on tackling the world’s greatest challenges.

Transforming food and agriculture to achieve the SDGs offers a practical guide for countries on how to strengthen food security, generate decent employment, spur rural development and economic growth, conserve natural resources and respond to climate change – all part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“For the first time, FAO has put together a set of interconnected tools that can help fix our broken food systems, and show that from the roots of sustainable food and agriculture come the fruits of transformation,” Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, Natural Resources, said at an event during FAO’s annual governing Council meeting.

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Ever Wonder How Rainfall Affects Your Peanut Butter Sandwich Habit?

Climate change will impact agriculture and food supplies. That’s why this digital classroom is teaching food literacy.

Author: Angela Fichter | Published: June 5, 2018

Almost 800 million people are currently facing chronic hunger, and we waste one-third of all the food we produce. Americans are eating nearly a quarter more than they did in 1970, but we’re not just eating more than we used to—we’re eating way more than we need to. While our consumption is up, we’re misinformed and less connected to what we’re putting in our mouths.

Many people don’t know where their food comes from—where their vegetables or the grains in their bread are grown, or the farming methods used to harvest them, or how they arrive in the store from which they were purchased. According to a 2017 survey by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. This reflects a broad social trend—we generally don’t learn about farm-to-fork food systems in school. But the Center for Ecoliteracy is trying to change that.

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Stop Buying ‘Fake’ Beef

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: January 30, 2018

The average American is slated to eat about 800 burgers’ worth of beef in 2018, or about 222 pounds.1 Where you get this beef, how it’s raised and, ultimately, the way it is prepared make all the difference in how it affects your health and the environment. Source matters — greatly — and part of that includes knowing where your beef was raised. You’d probably assume that beef labeled “Product of the USA” was a product of the U.S., but this isn’t necessarily the case.

In a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, ranch groups R-CALF USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) allege that millions of pounds of imported beef are being labeled as “Products of the USA.” They cite the Tariff Act of 1930, which requires imported beef to be labeled with its country-of-origin, including when it reaches the consumer, “unless the beef undergoes substantial transformation” in the U.S.2

However, the USDA has argued that imported beef can be treated as U.S. beef if it comes from a country with food safety standards that are equivalent to those in the U.S. As reported by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), “Consequently, the Secretary allows multinational meatpackers to label imported beef as ‘Products of the USA’ even if the imported beef receives only minor processing, such as unwrapping and rewrapping the package.”3

Why Is Imported Meat Allowed To Be Labeled as US Meat?

While it seems like labeling meat to let consumers know where it came from would be a straightforward requirement, it’s anything but. The original Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule, which was approved in 2002 and took effect in 2008, required the country of origin to be listed on meat labels. In 2013, the COOL rule was improved and meat packages were supposed to be required to label where the animal that provided your meat was born, raised and slaughtered.

At the time, industrial meat producers like Tyson, Cargill and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association were among those who spoke out against the rule, calling it unnecessarily costly and “shortsighted,” while fearing it would shrink demand for imported meat. Unfortunately for U.S. consumers seeking greater transparency in their food sources, the meat giants needn’t have worried because global dictators stepped in and essentially told consumers they don’t have the right to know.

In 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled U.S. law requiring COOL labels on meat was illegal, as it discriminated against Canadian and Mexican meat companies and gave an advantage to U.S. meat producers.4 WTO even ordered more than $1 billion in trade sanctions annually against the U.S. if the COOL labels were not weakened or removed altogether. As reported by the Huffington Post:5

“[The] World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against the country-of-origin meat labels (COOL) that Americans rely on to make informed choices about their food provides a glaring example of how trade agreements can undermine U.S. public interest policies … Mexican and Canadian livestock producers and the U.S. meat processing industry fought fiercely against the policy’s initial enactment and then turn to deregulation-by-trade-agreement as Plan B.”

Americans Want to Know Where Their Meat Comes From

As it stands there is no USDA requirement that beef or pork be labeled to let consumers know what country it came from, despite the fact that Americans overwhelmingly want to know. A Consumers Union poll found that 93 percent of those who responded said they favored country-of-origin labeling.6 And why wouldn’t they? It’s one more way for you to know where your food comes from, providing once commonplace information that has disappeared in the industrial food arena.

By removing COOL, multinational companies are allowed to pass off imported meat as U.S.-raised, while U.S. farmers suffer. AGA noted, “Evidence submitted by the groups indicate that U.S. cattle producers received higher prices for their cattle when the origins of foreign beef was distinguished in the marketplace.” AGA president Will Harris continued:7

“The American Grassfed Family Farmer suffers financially, from this intentional anonymity, more than any other segment of the meat industry. Thank you R-Calf for bringing this injustice to light. Some American Consumers make the decision to pay a premium for beef that is produced in a humane and regenerative manner.

They do this, in part, to positively impact lands, animals and farm communities in the United States. Hiding the National Origin of products from these consumers is a travesty. It should not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against the USDA alleges that it’s actually illegal for the USDA to allow meat without country-of-origin labels because it violates the Meat Inspection Act. That act requires COOL on imported steaks and chops, according to Public Justice, which is representing the ranchers’ groups behind the lawsuit.

“And if you don’t believe our suit, believe the USDA itself,” Public Justice reported. “The department had COOL requirements in place for eight years, and it did so in order to be in compliance with the Meat Inspection Act. In other words, the USDA knows its current policies don’t follow the law; it is just captured by corporate interests. It’s time for that to change.”8

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Research Center Proposes Carbon Tax on Unsustainable Food

Author: Nithin Coca | Published on: December 2, 2016

Agriculture has a huge negative impact on the environment, including being responsible for 11 percent of global carbon emissions. Could a carbon tax on food, as proposed by the International Food Policy Research Institute, help make our food system not only more green, but healthier too?

In a report published in the journal Nature, researchers from the institute argue there is immense climate mitigation potential if we just change our diets.

Right now we, as a planet, have an unsustainable food system. We take up huge swaths of the earth for intensive, chemical-laden food production. The least sustainable food, the researchers insist, is red meat. But the problem is that these very foods are, often, the cheapest choices.

This is something all of us experience every day. The true impacts of food are not included in the price we pay at the store, not at all. Go to your local grocery, and you’ll see that organic produce is far more expensive than a factory-farmed piece of red meat, despite the fact that the former has a far smaller carbon footprint. It is why a healthy sit-down, farm-to-kitchen meal is far more costly than a trip to McDonald’s.

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How “Open Source” Seed Producers From the U.S. To India Are Changing Global Food Production

Frank Morton has been breeding lettuce since the 1980s. His company offers 114 varieties, among them Outredgeous, which last year became the first plant that NASA astronauts grew and ate in space. For nearly 20 years, Morton’s work was limited only by his imagination and by how many different kinds of lettuce he could get his hands on. But in the early 2000s, he started noticing more and more lettuces were patented, meaning he would not be able to use them for breeding. The patents weren’t just for different types of lettuce, but specific traits such as resistance to a disease, a particular shade of red or green, or curliness of the leaf. Such patents have increased in the years since, and are encroaching on a growing range of crops, from corn to carrots — a trend that has plant breeders, environmentalists and food security experts concerned about the future of the food production.

A determined fellow dedicated to the millennia-old tradition of plant breeding, Morton still breeds lettuce — it just takes longer, because more restrictions make it harder for him to do his work.

“It’s just a rock in the river and I’m floating around it. That’s basically what we have to do, but it breaks the breeding tradition,” he says. “I think these lettuce patents are overreaching and if they [were to hold up in court], nobody can breed a new lettuce anymore because all the traits have been claimed.” He continues to work with what is available, breeding for traits he desires while being extra careful to avoid any material restricted by intellectual property rights. He has also joined a movement that is growing in the U.S. and around the world: “open source” breeding.

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New Report Ranks Countries on Food Waste, Nutrition, and Sustainable Agriculture

Author: Marisa Tsai | Published: December 2016

The newly released 2016 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation, ranks countries on food system sustainability based off three pillars: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges.  The index, presented at the 7th International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan in December 2016, aims to encourage policy makers to place food and its production issues as high priority items in their policy agendas. According to the FSI, The world population is projected to reach 8.1 billion by 2025. The vast majority of the growth, 95 percent, will come from developing countries, many of which are dealing with the double burden of hunger and rising obesity. Meanwhile, climate change is presenting new challenges to the agriculture sector. By highlighting performance of different countries and identifying best practices, the index establishes a comparable benchmark for leaders around the world to reference and measure their progress in establishing a sustainable food system.  According to the authors, “The FSI is a tool for policymakers and experts to orient their action, for students to be educated, and for the public to conscientiously adjust their behavior for the food of our health and our planet.”

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Our Modern Food System Is Not Set up for Good Health

Author: Paul Ebeling | Published on: Nov

Cheap food is really more of a curse than a blessing.

Agriculture has undergone huge changes over the past 70+ years. Many of them were heralded as progress that would save people from hunger and despair.

But, today, we are faced with a new set of problems driven by the innovations and interventions that were meant to provide people with safety and prosperity.

Since WWII food production has been all about efficiency and lowering cost. Today, we see what this approach has brought on heightened disease statistics and a faltering ecosystem.

The success of the processed food industry has come at a tremendous price to the people who eat it. As their lives are now at stake due to diet-related diseases. Many people have also become incorrectly convinced that eating healthy is a complicated equation requiring lots of nutritional data.

They are wrong.

It is very much simpler than one might think. Eating healthy is really about eating REAL food, meaning food as close to its natural state as possible. Avoiding agricultural toxins like pesticides is also part of the answer. But sadly this is not the kind of food American farmers are currently focused on producing.

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World Soil Day Hails Symbiotic Role of Pulses to Boost Sustainable Agriculture

Author: UN Food and Agriculture Organization | Published on: December 5, 2016

New report explores how nitrogen-fixing plants enhance nutritious diets, carbon sequestration and soil fertility.

5 December 2016, ROME- Soil and pulses can make major contributions to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population and combating climate change, especially when deployed together, according to Soils and Pulses: Symbiosis for Life, a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released on World Soil Day.

“Soils and pulses embody a unique symbiosis that protects the environment, enhances productivity, contributes to adapting to climate change and provides fundamental nutrients to the soil and subsequent crops,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Pulses are environmentally resilient crops that deliver high-nutrition foods to people and critical nutrients to biological ecosystems. Soil, a non-renewable resource, is essential for plant life and 95 percent of the global food supply.

Pulses such as lentils, dry beans and chickpeas are nitrogen-fixing plants that can benefit soil health, leading to better growing conditions for themselves and for other plants. On average, cereals grown after pulses yield 1.5 tonnes more per hectare than those not preceded by pulses, which is equal to the effect of 100 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer.

The new book illustrates a variety of ways that pulses and soils can be “strategic allies” in forging more sustainable food and agriculture systems.

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How One Borderland Farm Is Planting the Seeds of Food Justice

Wearing hats to block the midday New Mexico sun, the summer campers crouched in the rows of the 14-acre La Semilla Community Farm would soon break for lunch. In the full kitchen at the nearby La Semilla offices, they made tortillas and cooked recipes with chia, nopales, amaranth, and other fresh vegetables grown on the farm.

“There was a day there was no nopales left,” La Semilla’s Elena Acosta said, laughing. “They ate it all up.”

At the geographic center of the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border sits the Paso del Norte region, a tri-state area where El Paso, Texas; Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; and Las Cruces, New Mexico, meet. It’s here that La Semilla—which means “the seed”—is sowing a healthy, more equitable food system. With a recent $825,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in the coffers, hope grows in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, which La Semilla calls home and where 39 percent of children live in poverty.

Cofounded by Aaron Sharratt, Cristina Dominguez-Eshelman, and Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard in 2010, the farm grew out of community garden work and the realization that there was a need for an organization dedicated to addressing the challenges of the local food system.

“They took on a task that seems monumental to me because people in our region are so unfamiliar with food justice issues and food systems. It takes a lot of education,” Catherine Yanez, an educator at La Semilla, told Borderzine in 2013.

“Our organization came out of a variety of different backgrounds,” Krysten Aguilar, director of programs and policy, told TakePart, from people “who are really looking at the food system holistically.” Board of directors President Lois Stanford, for example, is an associate professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University; she recently won a national award for her work with La Semilla. “It was really important to look at it through that lens of the whole system,” Aguilar said.

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