Africa is not spending enough on food

This piece was posted by Hilde Faugli, Communications Intern at Find Your Feet. 

70 percent of people in Africa live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income

While most talk about Africa these days centers on the World Cup in South Africa, sobering facts about the continent’s food situation have been presented in an International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) paper entitled Public Spending for Agriculture in Africa: Trends and Composition. According to the paper insufficient spending on agriculture Africa means that the continent is “now facing the same type of long-term food deficit problem that India faced in the early 1960s.

70 percent of people in Africa live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income. Spending money on food production is therefore critical. Regrettably, only eight African countries have reached the target adopted by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in 2003. Back then, the continent committed to allocating 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture. The countries to reach the 10 percent target are Niger, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

 As a result of the inadequate investment in the African agriculture sector, the continent is vulnerable to frequent food crises and countries are dependent on emergency food aid and food imports. The paper argues that governments and donors in the past have devoted more resources to emergency aid than to long-term agricultural development, which further undermines the countries’ ability to generate economic and agricultural growth. “Consequently, poverty and hunger have persisted and threaten the likelihood that some countries will meet the MDGs”.  The authors recommend increased investment in what they call the prime movers – human capital, technology and institutional innovations – to increase farm production and accelerate agricultural growth. As climate change is likely to have an adverse effect on the continents food production, increased government spending will probably prove even more important in the future.

Meanwhile, donor funding for agriculture in Africa has dropped dramatically – from 15 percent in the 1980s to 4 percent in 2006- but the amount countries allocate from aid to food production also varies quite considerably. In 2007 Botswana and Nigeria spent less than 1 percent of all aid received on agriculture while Burkina Faso in 2006 spent 8 percent of its total aid on agriculture.

To be able to improve their food deficit, and stand strong against climate change, African countries will need to spend more of their budgets on developing their agricultural sector. However, just as important is that the agriculture is developed in a sustainable manner. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), increasing use of chemical fertilizers and intense industrialized agriculture are, by some actors, seen as the solution to the food crisis.  This approach to agriculture brings with it not only possible health risks, it is also likely to lead to a loss of biological biodiversity.

It is important to remember that this type of agriculture is not the only way to go. In Malawi, a return to age-old, chemical-free farming techniques is improving crop harvests for many poor farmers. Agriculture is the life blood of many small communities, and should be supported accordingly. The conservation of biological diversity that sustains agriculture is essential, and should be put at the heart of any national or local strategies to improve food security. Read more about Find Your Feet’s approach to agriculture.

Download the paper Public Spending for Agriculture in Africa: Trends and Composition.

And if you’d like to read about a global campaign to promote More and Better aid to agriculture, click here.

Sustainable agriculture and conservation of biodiversity will prove important in improving food production in Africa.


See the Difference

The Power of Poo video

Power of Poo - Donate to our work in Zimbabwe

See the Difference has now been launched! See The Difference is a not-for-profit video site where you can literally see the difference you make to specific charity projects.

By donating to Find Your Feet’s work through See the Difference you’ll be able see exactly where your money goes and will learn about the Difference you have made through feedback on the project you’ve donated to.

We are fundraising for two projects – for work with Lead Farmers in Zimbabwe and for our work with weavers in Varanasi.

Launched in June 2010 with support from over 150 UK charities large and small See The Difference was created in response to the demand from UK donors to know exactly where their money goes and to See The Difference it makes. Research of over 2,000 UK consumers in December 2009 found that 51% of people would give more to charity if they knew exactly where their money goes.

See The Difference aims to help charities engage more deeply with the 23 million strong “Facebook generation”. It has pioneered low cost video film-making and uses social media and a cutting edge “cloud” based platform to engage audiences and share their favourite video stories.

The Sari that protects against cholera

This piece was posted by Communications Intern Hilde Faugli.

Woman in Varanasi, India

Woman in Varanasi, India. Photo: Peter Caton

The sari, it seems, may offer more than perhaps what we usually expect of a piece of cloth. The sari, that traditional brightly coloured garment worn predominantly in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, is currently being used by innovative women in Bangladesh to filter their daily water, thereby reducing cholera. 

A study published by the American Society for Microbiology shows the amazing results of women in Bangladesh who are using their saris to filter their daily water, in reducing cholera.  In 2003 researchers found that simply teaching Bangladeshi village women responsible for collecting water to filter the water through folded cotton sari cloth could reduce the incidence of cholera by nearly half. Five years later they found that the practice was sustained by many of the women in the village, and that it had also spread to some women that initially were not given training on how to filter water.

One of the things that particularly strikes me about this story is the simplicity of the technique.  It does not rely on costly technologies and it is socially acceptable, the filtration method did not require financial resources or extensive training on the part of the village women, and it was easily included in their daily activity.

Another thing that stands out is the fact that targeting women is a very effective way of bringing about change. Women in the developing world usually bear the brunt of the responsibility for their families’ daily needs, cooking, collecting water, collecting firewood, etc. A focus on women is therefore also often a focus on the broader household, and as, seen here, sometimes the wider community.

This resonates with Find Your Feet’s approach. Rather than bringing expensive, technologically complicated inputs into communities we support them to use locally available resources and to build on their own skills and knowledge to develop solutions to the problems they face. And, by involving women in leadership positions at every stage of our projects, the women we work with are gaining the skills and confidence to bring about changes that will benefit the whole community.

Click here to read more about Find Your Feet’s work with women.

Forests: Repairing the Natural World

Deborah Chisale, Katowo School

FYF supports schools in Malawi to establish tree nurseries that will act as a resource base for communities.

June 5th is World Environment Day. A couple of days ago UNEP published a report, in the lead up to WED making an Economic Case for Repairing the Natural World.

The report cites the fact that, in Vietnam “planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves has cost just over $1 million but saved annual expenditure on dyke maintenance of well over $7 million” as one example of the fact that “compared to loss of ecosystem services, well-planned restorations may provide cost benefit ratios of 3 75 in terms of return on investment.”

On May 20th I attended an Earthwatch Institute lecture on the regeneration of forests with talks by Dr Mark Huxham from Napier University and Dr Glen Reynolds from the Royal Society’s South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Some of the key points made by the speakers underline, I think, the need for an amplification of the purely ‘economic’ focus of the report. Both Huxham and Reynolds spoke of the conflict between the ecological services provided by forests such as protection from erosion and water management that forests provide to many in the area (as well as their importance in fighting the battle against climate change) and the private benefits to the few from destruction of the forests for logging and alternative uses such as palm oil or shrimp farming.

In working with tribal people in India, FYF has found that forests have been degraded by logging and industrial development. This seriously impacts on the livelihoods of the indigenous population who depend on non-timber forest produce for food, medicine and craft activities which can provide a small income. Where forests have economic value for logging or as wildlife reserves, tribal people are often moved out of or kept out of the forests where their families have lived for generations. Having been deprived of education they find it difficult to fight the legal battles to retain or regain access to the forests. In Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jkarkhand FYF supports tribal people to restore their rights to access forests for sustainable use and manage them as a community.

Meanwhile in Malawi much of the forest cover has been depleted by the pressures of a growing population for land for homes, agriculture and firewood. We support communities to regenerate local forests to provide protection from erosion, a sustainable source of firewood and help the land to store what rain does fall.

The Power of Demonstration

Whose Intellectual Property is it?

 This piece was posted by Tahsina Rumman Khan, Communications Intern at Find Your Feet.

FYF has supported weavers to get a GI for their work.

Since I started my internship at Find Your Feet I have become aware of the fact that, despite having a wealth of local knowledge and experience, poor farmers and traditional artisans are still struggling to survive. I was therefore particularly interested to hear about the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meeting on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) on May 7th.

This meeting, which was held following the World International Property Day on April 26th, included some interesting papers on the ways in which the Intellectual Property Rights framework was affecting poor communities, in particular the submission by the Centre for Peace Building and Poverty Reduction Among Indigenous African Peoples.I am divided on the issue of GM crops. I understand why it is being touted as one of the ‘solutions’ a food insecure world.

Hybrid Maize in Malawi

On the other hand, however, my time at Find Your Feet has caused me to question the effect that the privatization of seeds has had on some of the world’s poorest farmers. Large multinational corporations appropriate and privatize seeds ‘developed’ by them when they are in fact mere modifications of seeds originally developed by local farmers. In this way natural, local resources enter the rigid, legally enclosed domain of the private sector. Then they are sold to poor farmers who have to buy them year after year, or make royalty payments even to recycle the seeds! Read other articles that have been posted on this blog about GM crops.

On the other hand, IP rights look set to assist the survival of Benarasi sari weavers. Vanarasi is well-reputed for its vibrant, elegant Benarasi saris designed by specialist weavers. But, due in part to an influx of cheap imitation saris, there has been a decline in the availability of work for these weavers. Now, with Find Your Feet’s help, weavers have secured a Geographical Indication (GI) for their beautiful work. The GI will set the weavers’ work apart from cheap imitations, helping them to protect their livelihoods, their craft and their identity. Click here to read more.

Maybe it is time for a similar principle to be applied to poor farmers who conserve and protect Genetic Resources in the form of agro biodiversity. In Malawi there is, according to the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy, an ‘urgent need to recognize the efforts of local farmers and realize the true value of the local seed variety.’

Be two of 50 feet!

To celebrate our 50th anniversary this year we’ll have 50 feet in the British 10k London Run on July 11th.

Over the past seven years our amazing 10k teams have raised a fantastic £35,000 to support our important work with some of the poorest people in rural India and Malawi. Be a part of the life changing fun! Be two of 50 feet for us this summer.

World People’s Conference on Climate Change

This piece was posted by FYF Communications Intern Tahsina Rumman Khan.

I was glad to see that, at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba last week, the focus was finally being placed on listening to the voices of the poor.

After the deep disappointment of the Copenhagen Climate Summit which failed to delineate adequate policies for addressing some of the worst effects of climate change, and which was, arguably, merely a rich man’s club and a chance to burn air miles, last week’s conference and its wider movement comes at a welcome point in time.

For the 65% of people in sub-Saharan Africa who rely on agriculture to feed their families, issues relating to climate change and food security are critical in deciding what lies in store for them over the coming years.  

The World People’s Conference acknowledged the effects of agribusiness on climate change, and assessed all the methods and procedures used in agribusiness, underlining the need to respect Mother Earth and its resources. The ideas and visions came from the people themselves, illustrating the stark contrast to the top-down approach used by the UN Climate talks.

Visit the World People’s Conference website to read more.

Business as usual is not an option

As the UK election is approaching, Find Your Feet is one of the 188 organisations that joined the Vote Global manifesto.

One of the key demands in the Vote Global manifesto is that the UK government support the poorest countries to adapt to and mitigate against climate change, ensuring that this funding is additional to official development assistance. 

Poor people living in rural areas, who depend on farming to feed their families, are already suffering the effects of climate change. Their crops are failing more frequently, meaning that they are seriously struggling to grow enough to survive.

In the wake of the World Food Crisis, over the past couple of years debates have raged as to how we can best feed the world.  A 2007 intergovernmental report, co-sponsored by 7 UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation and World Bank suggested that a ‘business as usual’ approach to agriculture was not sufficient. However there is little evidence that different approaches to agriculture are seriously being considered.

The approaches I am talking about are, in fact, centuries old. Early farming systems were characterised by diversity – depending on a wide range of plants and animals for food. In fact there is still there is successful farming going on in many countries that makes good use of polycultures; land husbandry practices such as crop and field rotation, composting and use of legumes; and of ‘traditional’ varieties of seed bred for resilience across a range of conditions. This agricultural approach, which is broadly termed ‘agroecology’ is productive, resilient in the face of environmental shocks, and less dependent on fossil fuels; it also offers consumers a source of good quality healthy food and offers farmers fulfilment as valued members of a community.

Whilst the industrial agricultural approaches regarded as exemplary in the twentieth century have reduced the drudgery of agriculture, and in many cases increased production, there have also been great environmental costs. Industrial agriculture, which is characterised by the use of non-renewable resources that deplete the environment, constitutes our recent past. It cannot, however, be our future.

Agroecology challenges us to move beyond the narrow focus of ‘Green Revolution’-type approaches that privilege production over all other criteria, to a more coherent, sustainable, vision for the future. It is both conservative when it comes to the potential over utilisation of environmental resources and radical in its protection of the rights of small family farmers and its promotion of a new paradigm for agriculture – one that recognises the interconnections between food, farm, family and notions of a just society, not just ever increasing production.

At this election we would like to see a real recognition of the fact that, in the light of the pressures of climate change, ‘business as usual is not an option.’ In considering how we are going to support the poorest countries to adapt to and mitigate against climate change there needs to be space for a serious consideration of how exactly this ‘additional’ funding will be used.

Dr. Dan Taylor is Director of Find Your Feet

Reflections on turning 50

Find Your Feet is 50

1960 was the year when 17 African countries gained their independence (The Year of Africa); when President Eisenhower signed the ‘Food for Peace’ agreement to supply India with 17 million tonnes of surplus grain; and when FYF began.

In March 1960 FYF was founded by journalist Carol Martin as a response to the Hungarian Refugee Crisis. She was, she says, “motivated by outrage – that we, who live in plenty, do so little.”  It was in this context that FYF was to start working in 12 countries around the world, supporting thousands of people to abolish hunger and ensure long-term food security.

Over the decades that followed ‘International Development’ was caught between the ‘top down,’ neo-liberal approaches characterized by the Bretton Woods structural adjustment programs and ‘bottom up’ approaches in which participation and empowerment formed the core.  Amartya Sen’s concept of Human Development, which finally gained traction in the 1990s, opened the way for a more inclusive conception of development which cannot be reduced to the mere satisfaction of material needs and the accumulation of wealth.

Meanwhile FYF continued to work closely with rural communities, supporting them to access services they are entitled to and to practice agricultural techniques that would conserve the environment.

Then, at a time when many African countries were finally emerging from decades of post independence struggle and autocratic government, and as the environmental damage caused by India’s Green Revolution was starting to become apparent, FYF decided to draw lessons from processes of social and economic change by focusing its activities on fewer countries. This decision was based on the understanding that there are no quick fix solutions to poverty, and that real change requires the dedication of time and resources in supporting communities to build self-reliance .

FYF is currently working with 36,000 people in rural India and Malawi and aims to reach 50,000 people this year. 

Help us celebrate our 50th anniversary this year! Visit