Food Security & Agriculture PDF Print E-mail

Food is essential for life and key to economic and social stability and prosperity.

Urban Farming to Tackle Global Food Crisis

The world’s population is becoming more urban by the day. By 2030, some five billion people around the world will live in cities. This year is the tipping point: urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report).

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Urban Farmers Gain from Waste Water

The global food crisis continues to fuel food price inflation and send many into hunger and despair. Around the world, solutions are being sought to the urgent need for more food and cheaper food.

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Small-Scale Farmers Can Fight Malaria Battle

Malaria is one of Africa’s biggest killers. Each year globally 300 to 500 million people are infected, and around 1 million die from the disease (theglobalfund). Ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa – mostly to children under the age of five. The disease costs African countries US$12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.

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Putting Worms to Work

Overuse of pesticides is now acknowledged as one of the gravest mistakes of the Green Revolution, launched in the 1970s to dramatically increase food production in the developing world. Pesticides have polluted the environment, poisoned fertile soil, contaminated ground water and damaged human health.

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Picking Money from the Boabab Tree

The fruit of the highly revered African baobab tree is being seen as a great new opportunity for the poor, after a recent decision by the European Commission to allow its importation.

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Milk Co-operatives Help Hungry Haiti

The global food crisis has hit the impoverished Caribbean country of Haiti especially hard. Already suffering from decades of food crises brought on by the collapse of domestic farming, the country has become notorious for its people being reduced to eating cakes made of mud to stave off hunger pains.

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Insects Can Help in Food Crisis

For many years it was a given that the world’s problem was not a lack of food, but that it was unfairly shared. But as the switch to biofuels gathers pace, farmland is being diverted away from growing food for people, to food for fuel.

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Farmers Weather Fertilizer Crisis by Going Organic

Around the world, large-scale agriculture relies on the use of chemical fertilizers. But increasing expense and decreasing supply of fertilizer is driving up the cost of food, and in turn contributing to the overall food crisis.

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Connoisseur Chocolate from the South Gets a Higher Price

Like coffee beans, cocoa beans are grown around the world and are a major commodity, highly prized in wealthy countries. West Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world’s output, with the rest grown either in Indonesia and Brazil (20 percent), or on a smaller scale in countries across the South, from Belize to Madagascar.

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Camel Ice Cream Delivering Desert Dessert

The global food crisis is forcing people around the world to think differently about how food is produced and what new products can boost the incomes of farmers.

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Bio-Ethanol from Sturdy and Once-Unwanted Indian Plant

With awareness of global warming at an all-time high – and governments seeking real-world solutions to solve this enormous problem – bioethanol fuel has risen up the agenda as a replacement for conventional fuel sources. At present, most bioethanol fuel is produced from either corn or sugar but a less known plant jatropha could be the real solution.

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Agriculture Waste Generating Electricity

Agriculture around the world produces a great deal of waste as a by-product. It can be animal faeces, or the discarded plant husks thrown away when rice, grains or maize are harvested. When this waste meets the urgent need for electricity, something special can happen.

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Kenyan Products a Global Success Story

The East African nation of Kenya has become synonymous with high-quality agricultural products, and offers lessons for other countries across the South. The country has been able to combine innovation in new technologies (it is a pioneer in mobile phone applications like m-banking), with quality control for its products like the Coffee Kenya Brand logo ( and ease of access to information on Kenyan products and resources via the internet – crucial to drumming up international business - like the SME Toolkit Kenya (

There are several advantages to improving standards and productivity in agricultural products in Africa. The first is regional: greater productivity and efficiency will help in reducing malnutrition and food crises that have plagued the continent for decades. Secondly, it also allows Africa to export food to other countries with fast-growing economies and boost the continent’s wealth.

The dramatic changes taking place in African countries – especially rapid urbanization that has made the continent home to 25 of the world’s fastest growing cities (International Institute for Environment and Development) – means there is an urgent need to increase food production and stabilize rural economies to support farming.

Kenya is considered home to one of the continent’s most successful agricultural production zones, with multiple agricultural products and brands developing a solid global reputation for quality.

The country benefits from the fertile Great Rift Valley (, where the country’s biggest crops – tea and coffee – are grown.

Agriculture is a key part of Kenya’s economy: 75 percent of the working population is employed in the sector. Farming sits behind tourism as the country’s second biggest contributor – 20 percent - to the gross domestic product (GDP).

Kenya has had a great deal of success with fruits, vegetables and flowers (Kenyan flowers are a mainstay of many European supermarkets). Kenya has been able to achieve this by using well the 10 percent of the country’s land that is suitable for farming.

Around Mount Kenya (, the cool and wet climate is perfect for farming tea, coffee, flowers, vegetables, corn and sisal. Other products that have been successfully grown include sugar cane, pineapple, cashew nuts, cotton, and livestock-related products – dairy goods, meat, hides and skins.

Kenya’s main export markets are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Pakistan and the United States. This agricultural export success has had a knock-on effect of reinforcing a global reputation as one of Africa’s best countries for business.

In the tea market, James Finlay and Williamson have a strong reputation and sell to major supermarkets in the UK.

Another successful tea company is Kenya Tea Packers Limited (Ketepa) ( A Kenyan-owned company, it enhances the standard of living of the small scale tea growers of Kenya who are the bulk of its shareholders.

Kenya is one of the world’s top 20 coffee producers and has a good reputation for its Arabica beans. Kenya produces 2 million bags of coffee a year and the coffee industry employs 6 million people (

When it comes to exporting flowers (, Kenya is a global powerhouse: 38 percent of the world’s exported flowers are grown there. The majority – 97 percent – are sent to the European Union. Its popular flowers include chrysanthemums, roses and carnations. This time-sensitive crop benefits from the air links of its capital, Nairobi.

Kenya even has a successful brand of beer, Tusker Lager ( It is a leading export and is proudly African, with its elephant logo and motto “My beer, my country.” It has a large market in the United Kingdom.


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Palestinian Olive Oil’s Peaceful Prosperity

The economic devastation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians ( has brought much hardship to the Palestinian people. The United Nations under the UNRWA mission has been working to lesson the hardship for over 60 years ( But there is only so much it can do.


However, several business initiatives are creating strong Palestinian food brands to improve the reputation and awareness of Palestine around the world. In particular, Palestinian olive oil has led the way and enjoyed strong sales in countries like the United Kingdom.

Since 2004, the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) ( has been leading the movement of fair trade producers in Palestine, linking small Palestinian farms in fair trade collectives and cooperatives across the country.

Zatoun ( – or Zaytoun ( as its known in the UK – are olive oil and soap brands using the Arabic word for olive. Olive oil ( is a popular cooking and seasoning oil and is sought after for its health benefits. Most of it is cultivated in the Mediterranean region, with Spain the largest single producer. Like wine, the quality of the olive oil varies greatly and the bouquet and viscosity of the oil play a big role in how consumers select a brand. The trend in the past 10 years has been for consumers to be more selective about the olive oil they buy and to be more informed about the choices available. This increasingly sophisticated consumer choice is what is helping the Palestinian oil succeed.


Another factor is the growing global popularity of the traditional Mediterranean diet. Research has linked it to the prevention of cancers, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, and an aid to food digestion. Olive oil and olives make up one of the six key groups of foods that are part of the Mediterranean Diet. The other elements are grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, dairy products and fish.


The Zatoun brand of olive oil uses its profits to help olive tree farmers and their families in Palestine.

The brand is also hoping to alter public perceptions of Palestine. As its website states, “Zatoun helps to create a context based in ordinary everyday life to view and discuss the situation in Palestine-Israel. No longer is it an abstract geopolitical issue involving power elites and undefined national interest.”

The Zatoun brand is led in Canada by Robert Massoud, winner of the 2004 YMCA Peace Medallion. Zatoun is sold in Canada through peace groups and social justice and faith groups and is “intended as a tool to help promote their work and bring home the message that the struggle of Palestinians is ultimately one of human rights and social justice.”

The olive oil is certified fair trade under the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) ( in Switzerland. The brand is operated as a not-for-profit with volunteer labour and the entire cost of the product goes to the farmers, customs and shipping costs, and promotion and administration. Each 750mL bottle sells from between CAD $15 (US $14) and CAD $17.50 (US $17.22) and each bar of soap is CAD $5.00 (US $4.90).

In the U.K., the Zaytoun brand was started by British women Heather Masoud and Cathi Pawson, also in 2004. The Palestinian olive oil has benefited from sales promotion during the United Kingdom’s annual Fair Trade Fortnight: a highly publicized promotion over two weeks that has consistently raised the profile of all Fair Trade products. Palestinian products were profiled during the 2009 event.

The Zaytoun brand is certified with the World Fair Trade Organization ( and has been able to break through to sales in British supermarkets as a result. Having this certification is key to being accepted for display on the supermarket shelves. By being certified, the farmers are able to get guaranteed above market prices for their olives. This makes it easier to plan and invest in the farm and the community and avoid the wild fluctuations of market prices. It is common around the world for farmers to be bankrupted and impoverished when market prices crash and fall below the cost of growing and harvesting the product.

"We have been working for the Fair Trade certificate for four years," Nasser Abufarha, chairman of the Palestinian Fair Trade Association told the Guardian newspaper. "Fair Trade will increase our sales, and bring us new markets and widen our reach.

"We have given farmers hope,” he said. “An economic exchange that recognises Palestinian farmers' rights and respects the value of their connection to their land, after marginalization under Israeli occupation, is a major accomplishment."

Olives are Palestine’s biggest crop, and critical to the local economy. The industry employs more than 100,000 people and its economic health affects many more. But the ongoing conflict has harmed the olive industry in many ways, from the bulldozing of orchards to make way for the Israeli security fence – over 1,100 hectares olive orchards were cut off by the fence in the West Bank village of Anin alone – to clearing fields for the building of new settlements.

For some of the farms, fair trade has meant access to outside markets they haven’t had for 40 years.

The Palestinian olive oil is in a market with fierce competition. In the UK, the oil can retail for £14.49 (US $23) a litre, while some Italian olive oils can be had for just US $9. But the Palestinian olive oil has a number of advantages in the marketplace: consumers have shown a willingness to pay the premium to support the farmers and Palestine, and most importantly in the competitive world of food sales, food connoisseurs rave about it. Food and wine writer Malcom Gluck called Zaytoun olive oil “one of the aggressive yet pungently attractive olive oils I have tasted". He believes it easily ranks alongside the best Sicilian, Cretan and northern Spanish oils.

Another Palestinian company having success with the olive products is the Anabtawi Group ( Based in Nablus in the West Bank, it started in 2008 the Al-Ard Palestinian Agri-Products Company and sells Al-Ard extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and an olive oil soap. Operating on a large scale, the group has the largest olive oil storage facility in Palestine and provides training and support to the farmers. It also undertakes marketing of the products in new markets including Latin America.


Ziad Anabtawi, the company’s president and CEO, told the Brazil-Arab News Agency "Palestinian olive oil is known worldwide for its high quality and its very striking aroma. It is 'premium' and organic by nature. Farmers grow the product the traditional way. They do not irrigate the olive trees, [irrigation] comes from rainwater and we do not use any chemicals.”

The Palestinian experience shows it is possible to create new economic opportunities for farmers under even the most arduous political and security conditions.



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Brazil’s Agricultural Success Teaches South How to Grow

Inflation, environmental stresses and population and economic growth are testing the world’s food supply systems. There is a strong need to boost yields and improve the quality of food.


Between now and 2050 the world’s population will rise from 7 billion to 9 billion. Urban populations will probably double and incomes will rise. City dwellers tend to eat more meat and this will boost demand.


The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reckons grain output will have to rise by around half but meat output will have to double by 2050 to meet demand.


Two pioneering approaches to growing food in Brazil offer valuable lessons to countries looking to increase their food production.


One is taking place in Bahia state in north-eastern Brazil. On Brazil’s cerrado (savannah) (, enormous farms grow cotton, soybeans and maize. One of them, Jatoba farm, has 24,000 hectares of land: vastly larger than comparable farms in the United States.


On the Cremaq farm in the north of the country in Piaui state, a transformation has taken place. Once a failed cashew farm, it is now a highly modern operation. Owned by BrasilAgro, it is benefiting from clever agricultural innovation that gets results.


BrasilAgro’s approach is to buy derelict or neglected farms and give them a high-tech makeover. The ‘makeover’ includes radio transmitters tracking the weather, SAP software (, a well-organized work force under a gaucho (, new roads criss-crossing the fields, and a transport network of trucks to quickly get the food to ports for export. Piaui is an isolated place with few services: it can take half a day to get to a health clinic. Dependence on state welfare payments for survival is the norm for many residents.


Brazil, over 30 years, transformed itself from a food importer to one of the world’s major food exporters. It is now considered alongside the ‘Big Five’ top grain exporters of America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union. Importantly, it is the first tropical nation to do this.


The value of Brazil’s crops rose from US $23 billion in 1996, to US $62 bn in 2006. It is the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol, and there has been a tenfold increase in beef exports in a decade.


Brazil made these impressive achievements with few government subsidies. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), state support accounted for just 5.7 percent of total farm income in Brazil from 2005-07. In the US it was 12 percent, while the OECD average is 26 percent and the level in the European Union is 29 percent.


And despite frequent alarming reports, much of the farming expansion has not happened at the expense of the Amazon forests.


The agricultural success is down to Embrapa ( - short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. A public company set up in 1973, it has turned itself into the world’s leading tropical research institution. It breeds new seeds and cattle and has developed innovations from ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that turns colour when the food goes off to a nano-tech lab creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings.


Its biggest achievement has been turning the vast expanses of the cerrado green for agriculture. Norman Borlaug, an American plant scientist often called the father of the Green Revolution, told the New York Times that “nobody thought these soils were ever going to be productive.” They seemed too acidic and too poor in nutrients.


Embrapa uses what its scientists call a “system approach”: all the interventions work together. Improving the soil and developing new tropical soybeans were both needed for farming the cerrado. The two together also made possible the changes in farm techniques which have boosted yields further.


Many believe this approach can be applied to Africa as well. There are several reasons to think it can. Brazilian land is like Africa’s: tropical and nutrient-poor. The big difference is that the cerrado gets a decent amount of rain and most of Africa’s savannah does not (the exception is the swathe of southern Africa between Angola and Mozambique).


Another approach that Brazil has been pioneering is making small, family farms sustainable and productive for the 21st century.


There has long been a tension between those who believe in very large farms, agribusiness and mono-crops (, and those who believe in having a large number of smaller farms with a wide variety of crops and animals.


But small farms have endured. The livelihoods of more than 2 billion people depend on the 450 million smallholder farms across the world. With their families, they account for a third of the world’s population.


Family farms are critical to weathering economic crises and ensuring a steady and secure food supply. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ( called in 2008 for small family farms to be put at the heart of the global response to high food prices and uncertain food security.


In Brazil, this call is being answered by a bold initiative to create what is termed a “social technology”, combining a house building programme with diverse family farms.


The Brazilian farmers' cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares ( – a World Habitat Awards winner - combines housing and farm diversification to support family farmers.


"Family farming is very important for the country – 70 percent of food for Brazilians comes from family farming," said Adriana Paola Paredes Penafiel, a projects adviser with the Cooperhaf. "The government wants to keep people in rural areas."


“We see the house as the core issue,” she continued.  “The farmers can improve their productivity but the starting point is the house.”


Started in 2001 by a federation of farmers unions, the Cooperhaf works in 14 Brazilian states with family farmers. In Brazil farmers have a right to a house in the law and the cooperative was formed to make sure this happened.  


“We promote diversification to make farmers less vulnerable: if they lose a crop in macro farming, they lose everything. We encourage diversification and self-consumption to guarantee the family has food everyday. We help to set up a garden.”


The concept is simple: a good quality home acts as an anchor to the family farm, making them more productive as farmers. The farmers receive up to 6,000 reais (US $2,290) for a house, and can choose designs from a portfolio of options from the Cooperhaf.


As in other countries, the Cooperhaf and other co-ops encourage markets and certification programmes to promote family farmed food and raise awareness. Penafiel says promoting the fact that the food is family farmed is critical: to the consumer it is healthier, fresher and contains fewer chemicals than imported produce.


“Most agri business is for export,” said Penafiel. “If we don’t have food in the country, food for poor communities would not be available. This enables farmers to be more autonomous, not having to buy fertilizers and equipment and take on too much debt. That approach is not sustainable as we saw with the so-called Green Revolution.”





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  • Olam: A global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria  and shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade. Website:
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China’s Booming Wine Market Can Boost South

A great South-South opportunity has emerged with the recent boom in wine drinking in China and the pursuit of quality tastes. Matching high-quality wine producers from the global South - including South Africa, Chile, Morocco, and Lebanon – with China’s thirsty wine drinkers could deliver a major income boost.


In the past year China has become the world's fastest-growing wine market with newly wealthy seeking sophisticated tastes and young working women seeking the health benefits of wine ( Yearly wine consumption in China is expected to increase by 20 percent to 126.4 million cases by 2014, a fact that is grabbing the attention of old and new-world wine producers.


Women are driving China's growing market for wine, which is perceived as a symbol of affluence, a benefit to health - in moderation - and good for the skin. A new report from the International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) group says wine consumption in China and Hong Kong jumped 100 per cent between 2005 and 2009, from 46.9 million to 95.9 million cases.


Import taxes have been reduced as China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this has prompted foreign wine brands to lunge into the market.


The government is trying to get people to switch away from high-strength alcoholic drinks by increasing the tax on them.


Awareness and experience varies widely amongst the winemakers of the global South. Some countries, such as South Africa, Chile and Argentina, have long-standing international reputations for producing quality wine, and use sophisticated branding and marketing campaigns to connect with their customers. But other countries, including Lebanon, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, have lower profiles and do not pack the same brand punch. But all these countries help show the role viticulture can play in economic development. By tapping into this Chinese wine drinking boom, they could reap rich rewards.


In Lebanon, viticulture - the harvesting of grapes for wine ( - has prospered despite the country’s wars and instability.


Lebanon has a long and illustrious history of winemaking stretching back 5,000 years. The modern Lebanese wine industry dates itself from 1857, when Jesuit monks at Ksara in the Bekaa Valley began importing vines from Algeria. After World War I, when the French took control of Lebanon, its vineyards expanded to satisfy France's thirsty imperial troops.


Then Lebanon was hit by the brutal civil war of the 70s and 80s. And things have remained unstable and uncertain since.

But despite this, well established businesses like Ksara (, Kefraya ( and Musar (, and small boutique producers, thrive.


Massaya ( is one of Lebanon's most dynamic and successful wineries, owned by brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn. Both are Christians like many of the Lebanese winemakers. They have been able to succeed in an area fraught with tension from past conflicts.


Another winery is using the business to revive a community and restore old skills. In the hills east of Beirut, the BBC found Naji Boutros - who used to be an investment banker in London - and his wife Jill. Boutros started Chateau Belle-Vue in Bhamdoun (, in the village where he grew up. As well as producing wine, the Chateau finances community projects and a library.


The two kings in the global South of wine exports are South Africa and Chile. Both countries have very strong brand awareness in export markets and both have triumphed after years of boycotts due to the political situations in the respective countries (Chile’s military dictatorship and South Africa’s Apartheid regime).


Wine-making is one of South Africa’s oldest industries and plays a key part in the economy (, with exports growing from less than 50 million litres in 1994 to more than 400 million litres in 2008 – year-on-year growth of 17 percent.


Since the end of the racist Apartheid regime ( in the mid-1990s, various government and industry initiatives have begun to reverse the iniquities of the country’s wine-making industry. South Africa has been pioneering switching black Africans on to the pleasures and profits of wine making and drinking.


Like Argentina, Chile ( has a strategic plan for its wine industry by 2020. It hopes to be “the Number One producer of sustainable and diverse premium wines from the New World by the year 2020.”


Chile - recovering from the severe earthquake on February 27, 2010 - uses a sophisticated marketing strategy to promote its wines, including websites, social networking media and events and tastings. Since 2007, it has unified its marketing efforts under one umbrella organization, the Vinos de Chile, and it also offers wine tourism to further develop a close relationship with drinkers, The Wines of Chile Experience (, launched in 2010.


Chile's neighbour Argentina ( is the world's fifth largest producer of wine,


The country has seen its domestic consumption of wine shrink as tastes changed, and has also experienced very extreme economic fluctuations. It has had to raise its game in order to earn income from exporting. This has been a spur to the wine industry and it has seen growth since 1996.


Wine growing has a long history in Argentina, going back to its Spanish colonial foundations in the 1500s. Argentineans drank large quantities of wine domestically in the 1970s but this tailed off in the later decades.


That had been balanced by a great export success with wines from the malbec grape. The flavour of this wine and its brand image has proven to be a weighty ambassador for Argentinean wines in general. By keeping a competitive price, Argentinean wine has flourished during the global economic crisis as people have moved to less expensive brands. The country cleverly has a wine marketing strategy based on Australia's experience. This is an ambitious plan with the goal of capturing 10 percent of the global wine market share by 2020.


Argentina also aggressively pursues new markets by visiting them regularly and doing wine promotions and tastings with potential customers. It also brings people to the country to visit the wineries and experience Argentinean culture and food.


In North Africa, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have a long history cultivating wine and have been winning awards since the 1859 Fall Exposition in Paris. Over the years quality control was an issue as political and economic factors disrupted access to global markets. But in the last few years governments have been working to support the industry and regain its past reputation.


Winemaking in North Africa goes back to the Romans and the Phoenicians. Despite Islam prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, the industry has survived. The industry is currently being re-organized to make the most of a free trade agreement with the European Union.


Tunisia has a long, rich winemaking heritage known the world over. About half of Tunisia's vineyards are dedicated to producing grapes for wine production rather than for sale as table grapes.


Over the last 20 years, Les Vignerons de Carthage, a cooperative of 10 cellars located in the Cap Bon region of Northern Tunisia, have been working under the leadership of Belgacem D’Khili, a Bordeaux trained oenologist to improve and maintain wine quality.


They have kept the old vines, persevered with hand-harvesting and traditional techniques, but have modernised the cellar equipment, the storage and overall approach to hygiene.


North African wines are being collectively marketed by resellers like Cotes d’Afrique (


Morocco, too, has become a respected wine maker and has a robust domestic wine-drinking market. Morocco’s oldest winery, Celliers de Meknes (, told the Global Post how it handles the delicacies of wine-making in a majority Muslim country.


“We are tolerated,” said Jean-Pierre Dehut, the export manager for Celliers de Meknes. “But the tolerance requires that we stay within certain boundaries.”


Celliers de Meknes sells some 30 million bottles of wine per year — 25 million in Morocco.


A little-known wine producer, Zimbabwe has been producing wines since the early 1950s and commercially since 1965, according to Zimbabwe Tourism. Production peaked in the 1980s and later suffered from an export ban. Despite the country's economic and political problems, the wine industry has grown. New techniques, equipment and grape varietals have been introduced and winemakers have been trained in Germany, Australia and South Africa. Regular visits from outside consultants have helped with raising standards.


Apart from economic problems the industry struggled with viruses and climate. But since the 1990s the industry has started to win international wine competitions


One of the successful wineries is Mukuyu Winery (, which produces an average of 1.5 million litres per year from 100 hectares under vines. Over the past 13 years, Mukuyu wines have won Silver and Bronze medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, and regional wine tasting competitions in South Africa.



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Food Inflation: Ways to Fight It

Food inflation has taken off at the beginning of 2011. As the global economic crisis enters its next phase, both developed and developing countries are experiencing inflation. There are many factors fueling the rise in prices – inefficient distribution and storage systems, lack of investment in agriculture, devaluing currencies, high demand, natural and man-made disasters, use of food products like corn to make bio-fuels – but there are also ways to counter the effects of food inflation that have been tried and tested across the South.


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says the least developed countries spent US $9 billion on food imports in 2002. By 2008, that amount had risen to US $23 billion. Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, says "the import dependence has become quite devastating.”

Worse, more people had less money to buy the food. The number of individuals living in extreme poverty "increased by 3 million per year during the boom years of 2002 and 2007," reaching 421 million people in 2007.

For millions of people, it is a matter of life and death that food remains affordable. The poor pay the largest share of their income on food. Raise that cost, and the poor quickly have little money left for other things, like housing, transport, clothing or education.

Approached as a problem needing a solution, it is possible to deal with a bout of food inflation. Every food crisis has its origins and can be resolved. A staggering amount of food goes to waste every year, and a vast quantity can’t get from the farm to the market in time because of infrastructure problems.

An Indian refrigerator – the ChotuKool fridge ( – is designed to stay cool for hours without electricity and to use half the power of conventional refrigerators. Priced at US $69, it is targeted at India’s poor – a population of over 456 million, almost half the total Indian population (World Bank).

Manufactured by Godrej and Boyce and weighing just 7.8 kilograms, it is designed around the stated needs of the poor, who wanted a fridge capable of cooling 5 to 6 bottles of water and 3 to 4 kilograms of vegetables. Portability was crucial as well, since needs to be moved when large family gatherings take place in small rooms.

As a photo shows (, the fridge looks more like a drinks cooler than the typical large refrigerator. It works by replacing the standard compressor motor found in most fridges with a battery-powered heat exchanger.

In Ghana, a mobile phone-driven Internet marketplace is helping to improve efficiencies in farming and selling food. Esoko (, tracks products including ground nuts, sesame, tomato, maize and white beans. It offers market information from Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan and Togo.

India’s e-Choupal is making food distribution more efficient in a country experiencing high inflation. E-Choupal ( has developed a reputation for both controlling prices and increasing incomes for poor farmers. Started in 2000 by the major Indian company ITC Limited (, it links farmers to the latest prices for products including soybeans, wheat, coffee and prawns.

E-Choupal works through computers set up in rural areas and has built one of the largest internet initiatives in rural India, reaching 4 million farmers in 40,000 villages.

Brazil, over the last 30 years, has transformed itself from a food importer to one of the world’s major food exporters. It made these impressive achievements with few government subsidies. The agricultural success is down to Embrapa ( – short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. A public company set up in 1973, it has turned itself into the world’s leading tropical research institution. It breeds new seeds and cattle and has developed innovations from ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that turns colour when the food goes off to a nano-tech lab creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings.

Another approach can be found with a farmer in Kenya, Zack Matere, who boosted his potato crop by turning to Facebook for help. On his farm in Seregeya, Matere used the internet to find a cure for his ailing potato crop.

He uses his mobile phone to access the internet at a costs of about US 0.66 cents a day. One example of the kind of intelligence Matere is able to glean from the internet is reports of cartels deceiving farmers by buying potatoes in over-large 130 kg bags instead of 110 kg bags. Matere takes this information, translates it into Swahili and posts it on community notice boards.

Another fast-growing solution is bringing farming to urban and semi-urban spaces, where the majority of the world’s population now lives.

Urban farmers can take advantage of their close proximity to consumers, keeping costs down and profits up. They can also solve one of agriculture’s enduring problems – where to find water for irrigation by using existing waste water. Waste water is plentiful in urban environments, where factories usually pump out waste water into streams, rivers and lakes.

In Accra, Ghana, more than 200,000 people depend on food grown with wastewater. In Pakistan, a full quarter of the grown vegetables use wastewater.

Family farms are critical to weathering economic crises and ensuring a steady and secure food supply. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ( called in 2008 for small family farms - which sustain the livelihoods of more than 2 billion people _ to be put at the heart of the global response to high food prices and uncertain food security.

In Brazil, this call is being answered by a bold initiative to create a “social technology," combining a house-building programme with diverse family farms.

This is where the Brazilian farmer’s cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares ( steps in.

“We see the house as the core issue,” said Adriana Paola Paredes Penafiel, a projects adviser with the Cooperhaf. “The farmers can improve their productivity but the starting point is the house.

“Family farming is very important for the country – 70 percent of food for Brazilians comes from family farming,” said Penafiel. “The government wants to keep people in rural areas.”


Making farming more appealing is being shown as a great way to get ahead in modern Africa. One woman hopes more people will be attracted to farming and boost the continent’s food security and reduce costly imports.


Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru’s company, Honeysuckle PTL Ventures (, is based in Lagos, the business capital of Nigeria.


Leading by example, Umoru has set up a successful and modern agribusiness focusing on high-quality food products using modern packaging and fast delivery. She produces meat products, from seafood like shrimps and prawns to snails, beef, chicken, and birds. Her niche is to deliver the product however the customer wishes: fresh, frozen or processed.


Radical new food sources are also another option over time. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has explored insect protein as a contributor to better nutrition, the economics of collecting edible forest insects, methods of harvesting, processing and marketing edible forest insects, and ways of promoting insect eating with snacks, dishes, condiments — even recipes.


The range of insects that can be tapped for food is huge, and includes beetles, ants, bees, crickets, silk worms, moths, termites, larvae, spiders, tarantulas and scorpions. More than 1,400 insect species are eaten in 90 countries in the South. Entrepreneurs in the South are making insects both palatable and marketable – and in turn profitable. These innovations are adding another income source for farmers and the poor, and supplying another weapon to the battle for global food security.



  • The global movement for slow food, which encourages organic production and appreciation of traditional foods and cooking. Website:
  • A video story by CNN on Tradenet/Esoko. Website:
  • Olam: The story of Olam – a global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria – shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade. Website:
  • South African company Eat Your Garden: It provides urban dwellers and food businesses with their own food gardens bursting with juicy and tasty foods whilst at the same time reducing carbon footprints, and creating employment and provide training, helping poverty alleviation.


  • Vertical farming, where hothouses are piled one on top of the other, is an option being promoted as a solution to the food needs of urban dwellers. Website:

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Hip-driven Pump Brings Water to Parched Fields

Finding ways to increase agricultural productivity is key to expanding food supplies and making farming pay. With the world's population continuing to rise and becoming more urban, there is a pressing need to improve both the quantity and quality of food supplies.


The many small-scale farmers across the global South - and their high levels of poverty - demonstrates the urgent need to change the way farming is done.


Based on Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) census data, it has been estimated that some 525 million farms exist worldwide, providing a livelihood for about 40 per cent of the world's population. Nearly 90 per cent of these are small farms with less than 2 hectares of land (Nagayets, 2005). Average farm sizes around the world run from 1.6 hectares in Africa to 121 hectares in North America.


Small farms occupy about 60 per cent of the arable land worldwide and contribute substantially to global farm production. In Africa, 90 per cent of agricultural production is derived from small farms (Spencer, 2002).


One social enterprise is pioneering the development and selling of innovative farming tools for these small-scale farmers to increase their efficiency and make their lives better and more profitable.


The MoneyMaker Hip Pump is a lightweight irrigation tool designed to be used by anyone, but aimed especially at women farmers. It helps to increase the amount of water that can be pumped into a field during the dry season. To date, the makers of the pump, Kickstart (, claim to have sold 190,000 pumps. It can irrigate up to 0.40 hectare of land.


Kickstart, which calls itself a non-profit promoting technology and entrepreneurism in Africa, develops and markets simple agricultural tools for Africa's rural poor so they can improve their businesses. The company estimates it has helped 600,000 people since it was founded in 1991.


The MoneyMaker Hip Pump was launched in stores in 2006 and received a sales and marketing push in 2008. It sells for US $30 and weighs 4.5 kilograms. Kickstart says the pump's most effective attribute is its simple pivot hinge. This pivot hinge allows the user to combine their body weight and strength from their legs with sheer momentum to power the pump rather than straining upper back and shoulder muscles - something that is very hard on farmers' bodies and leads to repetitive strain injuries that shorten a farmer's effective working life.


The pump can pull water from 7 metres and push water up a field for 14 metres.

Kickstart says that by early 2012, it had sold 32,037 pumps.


Reporting in a paper for the World Bank, Vincent Nnamdi Ozowa found small-scale farmers needed five things that will make a big difference to their productivity: better access to information on new methods, scientific advances and timely market updates; better education and improved literacy rates; access to credit; better marketing; and better technology that minimizes drudgery and improves efficiency.


In 2011, Worldwatch Institute's State of the World report found small-scale agriculture could be key to tackling world hunger and poverty. It urged a move away from industrial agriculture and towards small-scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa, believing it could make big gains by being more efficient and reducing waste.


Kickstart has found communities are receptive to the idea of using the pumps and building agro businesses.


"These are people who are already entrepreneurs, so it is not like we are sensitizing them; they are people who are trying to find ways to make money," Kickstart Tanzania's Anne Atieno Otieno told


"When we meet them in the communities we talk to them about the value of irrigation versus relying on rainfall. Most of them are used to having to wait for the rain. At the time we were working with the Super MoneyMaker pump, which is a bigger, more expensive pump. They asked if we could make a low entry pump, which we passed on to our tech deputy and that is how we came up with the MoneyMaker Hip Pump."


It is part of a range of products Kickstart makes to aid small farmers become more productive (


KickStart believes that self-motivated private entrepreneurs managing small-scale enterprises can play a dynamic role in the economies of developing countries.


These entrepreneurs can raise small amounts of capital (US $100 to US $1,000) to start a new enterprise. KickStart then helps them to identify viable business opportunities and access the technologies required to launch the new enterprises.


Kickstart also uses something called a Mobile Layaway service to make it easier for farmers to afford a pump. This service lets farmers pay off the cost of the pump in small instalments by mobile phone. The farmer can choose how large or small the instalment is according to their means.


"Speaking to the women, and going out into the field and speaking with farmers, we identified a major obstacle - purchasing power, the ability to buy the pump. In Africa, in the field, the pump is a capital item," Otieno said.


"They really have to organize themselves to be able to save for it. And so when we were speaking to the farmers, many were asking us, 'Can you come up with a credit facility?' or some system whereby they could purchase the pumps, because many of them wanted the pump but they were not able to afford it.


"The program works through a mobile phone service, MPesa ( ... so the farmers are able to save money, and send money through that program."


Kickstart recently received an award from the US State Department and the Rockefeller Foundation for "transforming agriculture for women by harnessing technology and spurring entrepreneurship."


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Cooking Bag Helps Poor Households Save Time, Money

For millions of poor people around the world, life is lived on the economic margins and household and personal budgets are tight. There were 1.29 billion people in the world living on less than US $1.25 a day as of 2008 (World Bank), and 1.18 billion living on US $1.25 to US $2 per day. There was only a modest drop in the number of people living below US $2 per day - the average poverty line for developing countries - between 1981 and 2008, from 2.59 to 2.47 billion.

Since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, the world's poor have seen prices fluctuate wildly as the international financial system fights the effects of the turmoil. In 2008, this led to the Food and Agriculture Organization sounding the alarm about the harmful effects of rising food inflation. Increasing hunger led to civil unrest and rioting that year.

Anything poor people can do to make their slim daily budgets go a little bit further means more money left over for better quality food and other expenses, like clothing, shelter, fuel and education. One clever invention from South Africa is trying to tackle household cooking costs and shave the cost of fuel required to prepare the family meal. The Wonderbag ( is a brightly coloured, puffy cooking bag that slow cooks a meal in a pot - be it a stew, curry, rice, soups - to save energy.

“The cost and savings per household are significant,” according to the Wonderbag’s inventor, Sarah Collins.

It has many other advantages, too: it is a time-saver, allowing people to spend the time doing something other than just tending the cooking pot. It can also reduce cooking accidents because less time is spent around the stove or fire. It is an efficient cooking method that uses less water to cook meals. And it even avoids the risk of burning - and wasting - food.

“20 per cent of all staple food in Africa is burned, due to pots being placed on open fires and unregulated stove tops. With the Wonderbag, no burning happens,” confirms Collins.

To date, the Wonderbag has created 1,000 jobs and is looking to increase this to 7,000 jobs in the next five years.


Wonderbag bills itself as "eco-cooking that's changing lives."


Eco-cooking seeks to use every joule ( of energy from the cooking fire or heat source to maximum effect. A pot is placed on the stove and brought to the temperature required for cooking the dish. Then the pot is placed in the Wonderbag. Since the bag is heavily insulated, it reflects back the existing heat in the dish and allows it to continue cooking for up to 12 hours. It can cook rice in one hour and lamb in two to three hours.


It works in four easy steps, summed up on the Wonderbag website: "boil it, bag it, stand it, serve it".


The Wonderbag claims to use 30 per cent less energy than other cooking methods. According to cost breakdowns on the Wonderbag website, someone with a Wonderbag would use 2.4 litres a week of paraffin - a common fuel for cook stoves - compared to 4 litres without. This works out to a cost of US $2.40 a week with a Wonderbag and US $4.00 a week without.


The trade-off with the savings in money and energy is time - Wonderbag is not suitable for those looking for a quick meal. According to Wonderbag, meat that cooks in 20 minutes on the stove will take five hours in the Wonderbag. Chicken that takes 15 minutes on the stove takes three hours in the Wonderbag. Vegetables that take five minutes on the stove will cook in an hour in the Wonderbag.


South African entrepreneur and inventor Collins originally developed the Wonderbag for people living in the townships of Durban ( She found many of the residents spent up to a third of their income on fuel for cooking. They would either use paraffin or spend many hours gathering wood or dung.


These common fuel sources for cooking give off toxic fumes and are a health hazard if used for long periods. The Wonderbag means households spend less time inhaling fumes from a stove.


“The Wonderbag will always be a work in progress for me as I look to adapt the bag in line with my consumers’ feedback,” confirms Collins. “For example, we are now about to launch Wonderbag 2, which has an even more efficient insulator than polystyrene and is more readily available and easier to recycle following feedback earlier in the year.”


In South Africa, the bags sell for R170 (US $22) and there are discounts for the very poor. Collins estimates that a family of four could save US $80 a year if they used the Wonderbag two or three times a week.


Collins has used clever marketing strategies to get the Wonderbags out to the public, and 150,000 have been sold so far. One promotion gave away a Wonderbag with every purchase of boxes of curry powder.

Wonderbag has also partnered with local communities. Swartland Municipality ( purchased 5,000 Wonderbags and distributed them to 4,700 of “the most indigent and deserving households - the poorest of the poor.”

It is also running a promotion in the United Kingdom where, for every Wonderbag bought, one is given to a family in the developing world.

The popularity and success of the Wonderbag prompted the multinational food company, Unilever - one of the world's leading suppliers of fast-moving consumer goods - to purchase 5 million bags for distribution. According to the Wonderbag website, this could lead to savings of US $1.35 billion on fuel for the users.


“The partnership has also enabled us to scale up and test the Wonderbag in different markets,” explains Collins.

Wonderbag hope to expand to 12 or 15 developing countries in Africa in 2012. The company says it plans to target developing countries with high poverty, fuel supply shortages, high incidence of health problems from air pollution, and high incidence of injuries from fuel fires.


And for Wonderbag’s success so far, Collins has this advice: “Immerse yourself in your product and the way of life of your consumers. Understand it and them inside out so you can be your best advert. Word of mouth is by far the best form of advertising and the truth out of your own mouth is a great start.”



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Issue 2 - Youth & Entrepreneurship

Upcoming Issue 3 - Agribusiness & Food Security

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