Cooperative Agroforestry Empowers Indigenous Women in Honduras

Author: Monica Pelliccia | Published: April 16, 2018

GUALCINCE, Honduras — The Lenca call it a sacrificial stone, where their indigenous  ancestors went to make offerings to deities. A triangle of rock with different circles inscribed on its surface, it has remained intact despite the passage of time.

The woods that surround the village of Gualcince, almost at the border with El Salvador, bear marks of their past, too. It was here on Congolón Mountain that Indio Lempira, the famed Lenca leader of Honduran indigenous resistance, died. Lenca culture flourished here in the pre-Columbian epoch, and people still find ancient artifacts.

Despite the great depth of history, there are new traditions starting here as well. Amanda Abrego, a 36-year-old mother of four who lives near the sacred stone, is a board member of the Cosagual Lenca cooperative of women coffee growers. Like 21 other female cafetaleras, she is now cropping organic coffee under the shadow of timber- and fruit-yielding trees, following the traditional agroforestry system that the Lenca indigenous group — to which the famous environmental activist Berta Cáceres belonged before she was assassinated two years ago — developed before the arrival of Spanish conquerors, and they are selling it in a new way. In 2014, the women launched an all-female growers’ cooperative as a part of the Cosagual coffee growers’ organization.


Josefa Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Published: March 28, 2018

Though life in Chunox may seem idyllic to some (birds chirping in the morning, exuberant kids playing marbles on the quiet dirt roads, no one walking around with their eyes stuck to their cell phones), it’s getting harder and harder to make a living here. The conventional sugarcane industry, where many have made their living, is crumbling. Due to overfishing, the daily catch is no longer as lucrative as it once was. No doubt about it, life in Chunox is tough.

For Josefa, adversity is nothing new. At age five, Josefa’s father died, leaving her mother to raise their six children alone. When her mother fell ill, Josefa was forced to leave school to take care of her. After third grade, she never went back. She speaks Mayan, Spanish, and some English, but she never learned to read or write. Though Josefa was twice married to capable, loving men, she’s also twice widowed, both of her husbands having succumbed to sickness. Now she has eight grown children, many of whom have children of their own. While Josefa has been able to support her family, it hasn’t come easily.

While Josefa’s mind may be at peace when a ranchera comes drifting through in the afternoon breeze or when she’s meditatively making corn tortillas so that all eleven members of her household have something to eat, these moments are fleeting. Before long, concerns about how to sustain herself and her family creep back in. Josefa seeks permanent solutions to food insecurity and poverty, not just temporary answers.

Despite these hardships, Josefa’s home has remained an atmospheric place full of joy and mirth. Hugs and laughter are available in mass quantities. Good quality food, however, is not always as abundant.


Pawnee Corn Coming Back Strong

Author: Shay Burk | Published: March 26, 2018

For the second time in 143 years, Pawnee people are returning to the land of their ancestors where today their native corn has come back to life in a new way.

Pawnee corn has been growing and is now again thriving in the Nebraska after 15 years of work by both past and present Nebraskans.

Ronnie O’Brien, an instructor at Central Community College-Hastings, and Pawnee member Deb Echo-Hawk started their relationship in 2003 with the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project.

Prior to the start of that project, the Pawnees’ sacred corn, which was once used for everything from daily nutrition to religious ceremonies, had dwindled to a few precious seeds in jars stored in Oklahoma.

Through years of study and hard work on the part of O’Brien, Echo-Hawk and a dozen farmers across central Nebraska, the seed and the corn has returned.

That corn, the cultural significance and the importance of sustaining the land for future generations will all be highlighted at a special event in conjunction with Earth Day on the CCC-Hastings campus April 28.

“The more we learned about the corn, the more interested we got,” said CCC student Cecie Packard.


How to Feed Ourselves in a Time of Climate Crisis

Authors: Raj PatelTracy & Matsue Loeffelholz | Published: September 8, 2017

Changing the food system is the most important thing humans can do to fix our broken carbon cycles. Meanwhile, food security is all about adaptation when you’re dealing with crazy weather and shifting growing zones. How can a world of 7 billion—and growing—feed itself? Here are 13 of the best ideas for a just and sustainable food system. 

Land Ownership 

1. Indigenous land sovereignty

The world is watching as historic land reforms on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu show how to return land sovereignty to indigenous people. The decade-long effort led by Ralph Regenvanu, leader of the Land and Justice Party, is returning control of lands to “customary owners.” More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is considered customary: owned by extended families as custodians for future generations.

2. Agroecology, not chemicals

Instead of single crops and fossil fuel-based amendments, agroecology relies on complex natural systems to do a better job: Bean crops that help soil retain nitrogen are rotated with other crops. Farm animal waste is used as fertilizer. Flowers attract beneficial insects to manage pests. Intensive planting of diverse crops requires less water and helps keep weeds under control. 

3. Carbon sequestration

A benefit of soil regeneration practices, which make soils more fertile and resilient to land degradation, is that carbon from the atmosphere is captured in soil and plant biomass. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says carbon sequestration accounts for 90 percent of global agricultural mitigation potential by 2030.

4. Resilient polyculture

After Hurricane Ike hit Cuba in 2008, researchers found polyculture plantain farms had fewer losses than monoculture farms. In general, strongly integrated agroecological farms sprang back to full production two months sooner than conventional farms.


5. Open source seeds

The Open Source Seed Initiative was created by plant breeders, farmers, and seed companies as an alternative to patent-protected seeds sold by agricultural giants such as Monsanto. Its goal is to make seeds a common good again, equipping new crop varieties with an open source license. This allows farmers to save and trade seeds and develop their own hybrids for climate adaptation.


Local Food Video Series: Diverse Approaches to Common Challenges

Author: Caroline Kamm | Published: December 2017

In the summer of 2017, I set out on a road trip from Monterrey, Mexico, to Toronto, Canada, filming a documentary series on North American local food initiatives. During this 4,800-kilometer (3,000-mile) journey, my co-creator and I had the privilege of meeting dozens of farmers, small-business owners, community organizers, and food advocates who shared an inspiring and diverse vision for the future of North American food.

Beginning in November 2017, each of their stories will be presented as a component of a 10-part series entitled The Food Less Traveled.

There is far from a consensus on what counts as local. The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses several definitions of “local food,” including geographic distance traveled and specific types of market arrangements. Many of the organizations in this series work expressly on shortening the distance between producer and consumer, while others are engaged in work beyond a single community or region. When exploring the concept of a local food system, this series highlights organizations at the neighborhood and community level, as well as larger initiatives that have a significant local impact.

Each of these organizations approaches food from an entirely unique perspective. Even so, a number of common themes emerged between their work, and it is these core themes that the series will explore further. This is perhaps one of the most inspiring things about food and agriculture: the capacity of creative people to devise a number of solutions to the food system’s biggest challenges.


Eating From Trees

There was a time when lots of our vegetables came from trees in our backyard or that of the neighbours. May be it is time we revisited those days

Author: Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty | Published: April 27, 2017

Imagine if we got our veggies from trees just like we do our fruits. This thought has been at the back of my mind through this summer while working with organic vegetable farmers during this unprecedented drought.

I realised that almost all the vegetables we want come from cultivated one-season crops that require a considerable amount of water and care and are vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate variations.

We expect these seasonal plants to provide vegetables consistently the year around: be it potatoes, tomatoes, okra, beans, gourds or cool seasonal veggies. Maybe it’s time to think differently.

We, in the south of India, are fortunate to have many trees with edible fruits. In fact, during my childhood in Kerala, the role of tree-based vegetables was significant. We consumed drumsticks, drumstick leaves and flowers in various forms; we made delicious poriyal, erisherri, kootu and other preparations with raw papaya. Summer food at my paternal grandparents’ home revolved around jackfruits, mangoes, grapefruit and breadfruit — raw, cooked, roasted, preserved or fried!

Jackfruit and jackfruit seeds played a stellar role with the whole family involved in cleaning the raw fruit, skinning the seed and sharing it with neighbours, so that the cut fruit is not wasted. Jackfruits converted beautifully into aviyal, kootu, and puzhukku (in which the raw fruit and seed are cooked together along with coconut). The seed was made into a delicious poriyal with drumstick; it was combined with roasted coconut into theeyal. The chakka puzhukku was also eaten as a rice replacement.

How can we forget the crisp jackfruit chips and the rich chakka varatti(jackfruit jam), which was preserved to be eaten for the next few months and used for making chakka prathaman.

Raw mangoes went into everything — the sour ones into pickles chutneys, sambar, aviyal, fish curry and mango rice or were salted away for rainy days. Apart from eating the ripe ones, we got pachadi and pulisheeri.

We also consumed the sour bilimbi (supposed to reduce cholesterol) that was made into an aviyal with small onions, added in fish curry, made into pickles and used in almost every curry that requires a souring agent.


Start Small – The Story of Bec Hellouin Permaculture Farm

Author: Alexis Rowell | Published: December 1, 2017

Charles and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer decided to become low impact farmers in 2006. It was a long and difficult initiation. He had been a sailor, she an international lawyer; their efforts to grow food without mechanisation or chemicals were often ridiculed in the early years. But their farm in Normandy, Bec Hellouin, is now established as the premier permaculture farm in France. It is also the source of a number of scientific studies showing that it’s possible to make a living wage by growing food using permaculture techniques on just a quarter of an acre of land. Their book “Miraculous Abundance” was recently published in English. Alexis Rowell, a stalwart of the early Transition movement in the UK and author of the Transition book on local government, interviewed them on behalf of Transition Culture.

Alexis Rowell, a stalwart of the early Transition movement in the UK and author of the Transition book on local government, interviewed them on behalf of Transition Culture.

What motivated you to become farmers? Charles, you were a sailor; Perrine, you were an international lawyer. That’s a long way from the world of agriculture!

Charles: Personally, I always dreamed of being a farmer, but I grew up in Paris where everybody told me that it wasn’t possible for a Parisian to become a farmer so, by default, I became a sailor! And when I had my school-boat [a French version of Operation Raleigh allowing young people to travel the world in an educational setting] we shared the life of many farming communities, mostly in the global south. And after years and years of spending time with these farmers I was almost jealous of the intimacy they had with nature. I wanted to discover for myself this intimacy with nature. And with Perrine we were determined to be politically engaged, to do something for the planet, for humanity, without taking ourselves too seriously.

Perrine: We started our personal transition and family transition at the same time. The first door we went through was self-sufficiency. I liked that idea very much. Producing the food for a family of two children (now four), doing as much as possible for ourselves, household cleaning products, cosmetics, personal hygiene products – that was more or less the ambition. When, in 2006, Charles said he’d really like to work the land, I said ok even though I absolutely didn’t get it, or rather I didn’t see myself doing it. I told myself it was passing phase, that he’d get over it. But he persevered and it was so hard he had to do so many things that I felt obliged to give him a hand, and soon we became 100% engaged, without, if I‘m honest, me being totally happy at the start. For sure we were in organic agriculture, we were using animal traction, but the sense of it all was missing for me. From 2006 to 2008 it was chaotic and then in 2008 it was in a chance email that we discovered permaculture and that made sense because it reconciled our desire to be politically active but for a cause.


Major New Scientific Research Finds That Organic Farming Can Feed the World

A major new scientific report reveals how organic agriculture can help feed the world whilst reducing the environmental impacts, PETER MELCHETT, of the Soil Association delves into the data.

Author: Peter Melchett | Published: November 27, 2017

New scientific research has identified the important role that organic agriculture can play in feeding a global population of 9 billion sustainably by 2050.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, by scientists from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the key question the research examines is: “whether producing a certain total amount of food, in terms of protein and calories, with organic agriculture would lead to higher, or lower, impacts than producing the same amount of food with conventional agriculture”.

The scientists’ answer is that organic agriculture can feed the world with lower environmental impacts – if we cut food waste and stop using so much cropland to feed farm animals. The authors conclude: “A 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use.”

Unsustainable diets

However, they go on to explain that, if food waste is reduced and arable land is not used to produce animal feed, with less production and consumption of animal products, ‘land use under organic agriculture remains below’ the current area of farmland.

The authors note that organic agriculture has faced claims that far greater land use and associated deforestation would be necessary to feed the world organically due to an average yield gap of 20% on intensive production. Yet when other sensible and necessary changes are made, organic farming can provide enough food for healthy diets, and organic food is produced with far fewer unsustainable inputs.

The Soil Association welcomes this study, which rightly looks at organic farming as part of an interconnected global food system, and which highlights the need to address the impacts of unsustainable diets, animal feed production, and food waste. Other commentators have commented on the report’s findings about the role of organic farming.

Alternative food

Dr Geoff Squire, Principal Scientist, Ecological Sciences, James Hutton Institute, said: “The models suggest that certain combinations of organic production area, reduction in food waste, and transfer of feed-producing to food-producing activities on arable land, coupled with greater use of nitrogen-fixing legumes can sustain the world’s 2050 population with no more than existing farmland.”

One thing that makes this study different to others is that it has designed a new global food system model which aims comprehensively to capture organic production systems for the first time.

The SOL model takes the FAO food systems projections for 2050 of different environmental impacts, such as land use, nitrogen surplus and deforestation. It then applies alternative food system scenarios to the model, including reducing food waste, lowering animal feed production, and lower inputs, especially of nitrogen, and lower yields of organic agriculture.


The Grain That Tastes Like Wheat, but Grows Like a Prairie Grass

Author: Madeline Ostrander | Published: October 11, 2017

On an August morning in Minneapolis, I sat at a wooden table inside the Birchwood Cafe, a bright, cheerful restaurant a few blocks from the Mississippi River waterfront, tasting an éclair as attentively as I could. The flavor I wanted to detect was partly obscured by more conspicuous ingredients: a high-pitched, jammy blueberry glaze painted across the top of the pastry, and the sweet song of a yellow corn custard. But beneath that, there was a subtle and earthy background note: the grain. The pastry was made in part from wheat flour, but you could detect another ingredient as well—something that tasted like nuts and crackers, coffee and grass. That flavor came from Kernza, a grain almost entirely unknown to the human diet until a few years ago, when the Birchwood became one of the first places in the country to serve it, and the first to list it on the menu.

Tracy Singleton, the café’s owner, likes getting people, including herself, to try new and improbable things. More than two decades ago, when she was in her early 30s, she inherited about $10,000 from her grandfather, quit her waitress job, took out a loan, and launched the Birchwood. Her café grew into one of the city’s best-known institutions, a place for Midwest-grown ingredients both gourmet and unpretentious. “We’ve been telling farm-to-table stories before people were using the term ‘farm to table,’” she told me.

So she was undaunted when Helene Murray, an agronomist at the University of Minnesota, asked, in early 2013, if she wanted to try serving up Kernza, even though no one in the kitchen knew exactly what to do with it. “It was like, ‘Wow, this a pretty big honor,’” Singleton recalled. “Yeah, we’ll put it in some food and we’ll talk about it.” About two weeks later, Murray parked her car next to the Birchwood, and she and Singleton hoisted a 50-pound bag of the new grain out of the trunk and through the café’s front door.

Kernza is sometimes called a “perennial wheat.” Birchwood has touted it as “the wheat of the future.” But it’s a separate species. Chestnut-colored, skinnier, and more irregular in size than wheat berries, Kernza yields a little under a third as much in the field as conventional wheat. But it has one major advantage over the grain that helped launch human civilization: a long life span. Wheat is an annual; it dies every year after it sets seeds, and farmers have to replant it again and again. Kernza lives on, season after season.


How Climate Change and Wars Are Increasing World Hunger

Author: Leah Samberg | Published: October 18, 2017

Around the globe, about 815 million people—11 percent of the world’s population—went hungry in 2016, according to the latest data from the United Nations. This was the first increase in more than 15 years.

Between 1990 and 2015, due largely to a set of sweeping initiatives by the global community, the proportion of undernourished people in the world was cut in half. In 2015, UN member countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which doubled down on this success by setting out to end hunger entirely by 2030. But a recent UN report shows that, after years of decline, hunger is on the rise again.

As evidenced by nonstop news coverage of floodsfiresrefugees and violence, our planet has become a more unstable and less predictable place over the past few years. As these disasters compete for our attention, they make it harder for people in poor, marginalized and war-torn regions to access adequate food.

I study decisions that smallholder farmers and pastoralists, or livestock herders, make about their crops, animals and land. These choices are limited by lack of access to services, markets or credit; by poor governance or inappropriate policies; and by ethnic, gender and educational barriers. As a result, there is often little they can do to maintain secure or sustainable food production in the face of crises.

The new UN report shows that to reduce and ultimately eliminate hunger, simply making agriculture more productive will not be enough. It also is essential to increase the options available to rural populations in an uncertain world.

Conflict and climate change threaten rural livelihoods

Around the world, social and political instability are on the rise. Since 2010, state-based conflict has increased by 60 percent and armed conflict within countries has increased by 125 percent. More than half of the food-insecure people identified in the UN report (489 million out of 815 million) live in countries with ongoing violence. More than three-quarters of the world’s chronically malnourished children (122 million of 155 million) live in conflict-affected regions.