Women and Men and Agriculture

As with everything else, gender roles are very rigid in agriculture. They are not the same globally: in some countries, taking care of livestock is a man’s job; in some it’s a woman’s. In one place, a certain crop is cultivated by predominately women; in another place it’s grown by men. Sometimes, women add value to products through cheesemaking, preservation of crops or fish, brewing beer, etc, and take them to the markets, in other countries this is done by men.Sometimes, these roles vary even between regions within a country. Women and men around the world participate almost equally in agricultural but they do not always have equal access to inputs, resources, services, and knowledge. Which of course prevents them from making the most out of their livelihoods and makes the sector use scarce resources such as water and land in a suboptimal manner. Plus countries are not growing and poverty is not decreasing as fast as they could. Last week, I participated as a discussant in this webinar on gender in agricultural risk management, where we talked about some of these issues and how to reach both men and women to better manage agricultural risks.

Women Malawi

Two impressive female farmers in Malawi that are part of a cooperative. They are responsible for the irrigation pump behind them, which completely changed the business for the cooperative as they now can grow seeds and high-value horticulture. The two women asked me to take the photo of them after showing me the pumping mechanism, so I take the liberty of posting the photo here.

A Day on Dairy Farms in Rwanda

While my team spent much of their time going around the country and talking to farmers and institutions, I had a lot of meetings and events in Kigali and apart from the excursion  to the lake on Wednesday, I didn’t have time to get out of the capital more than on Saturday, when I met up with part of my team who were already out talking to dairy farmers. One of the areas that we are looking at is how to sustainably and viably balance the needs of a growing livestock sector with the needs of other crop sectors with limited land available. It’s a challenge that many countries are likely to face in the coming years given the increasing demand for livestock products that come with income increases. But it was inspiring to hear the stories from the farmers we met of how getting a cow changed their lives and how, as their little herd grew, they were able to improve their housing, purchase health insurance, and send their children to higher education. Knowing the hard work and determination it takes to keep livestock, I was really impressed with the achievements of these dairy farmers! 



         These last pics are from a dairy cooperative and several of the farmers we met were part of this cooperative. The top and the bottom picture demonstrate different types of ttansport used for milk collection – obviously the difference in efficiency is enormous.  The little sleeping calf was a new addition to one farmer’s herd, only seven days old. 

My First Visit to Malawi

Another journey has come to an end. I write journey and not trip, because most my travel is indeed journeys. I see so much and meet so many people, and I grow every time. Which I guess travel ought to be, but for many end up being more shopping excursions or recuperation on a beach or on a mountain. I put no value in it, I often long for recuperation travel but I always end up on some sort of journey (not counting my series of New York or Stockholm visits, because that’s just home).

This particular journey consisted of two weeks in Malawi. Just like when I went to Rwanda, I was in Malawi to look at risks to the agricultural sector. Over the past two weeks, I have met with farmers, public agricultural institutions, donors, and other participants in the sector, and discussed weather volatilities, price fluctuations, agricultural pests and diseases, unintentional herbicide contamination, crop thefts post harvest and in field, hippos and elephants eating crops and marching through the fields, crocodiles attacking farmers, and probably any other risk that comes to mind. Malawi has gone through periods of food shortages and is therefore more than aware of the devastating impacts that risks can have, yet minimizing the impacts of risks is challenging when most people are subsistence farmers and food and output markets are still in their infancy.

As always, I didn’t do much except working while I was there but since I went around the Central Region to speak to farmers and extension workers, I got to see a bit of the country (though not as much as the rest of my team, who went down South for four days). And Malawi is beautiful! Green flourishing, and hilly in some places and flatter in other. What really struck me is the maize that is grown everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere! Wherever I went and wherever I looked, there was maize. Although it’s a crop that has become popular only over the past century, maize is Malawi’s main staple crop that count for over 50 percent of Malawians diet. Even farmers who specialized in other crops would grow at least a third or so of maize for home consumption. There was even a maize plot in front of my office building in Lilongwe. When I first saw the green, hilly landscape, I immediately thought of wine and I was told at there is indeed some grape production in Malawi. But for now, the hills are covered with maize fields.

I also had a chance to see the magnificent Lake Malawi one afternoon after we had met with cassava growers in the area. So spectacular and yet so peaceful! The people I met were very nice and welcoming, and I am not at all surprised that CNN just named Malawi Africa’s next go-to destination 2014. Malawi is definitely worth visiting! Here are a few pics. More posts to come!

Malawi Landscape

Malawi Landscape

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

Malawi child

Malawi maize

Malawi woman

Malawi hospitality

Two Weeks in Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills

I’m back after a two-week work trip in Rwanda. As always, I’ve been there for work in the agricultural sector, and I met with farmers, agro-processors public agricultural institutions, and other actors in the agricultural sector. I spent most of the two weeks in the capital Kigali, but I also went to Nyanza and Huye in the southwest of Rwanda, and to Gicumbi in the north. I met rice producers, a tea cooperative, an award winning coffee farmer, a potato seeds producer, visited a cassava processing factory, and much, much more. It was immensely interesting and, as always, I learned a lot!

The landscape is amazing and Rwanda rightly deserves the nickname the Land of a Thousand Hills. But this together with high population density in rural areas has meant soil erosion and Rwanda has struggled with landslides and soil losses, especially during rainy seasons. In order to revert this trend, intense work has been carried out to terrace the slopes and I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. One of the photos below shows how the entire landscape had been transformed into terraces to save the soils on the hills.

Rwanda is also very interesting for an agricultural development practitioner like me: Rwanda’s agricultural policy is very much rooted in the in broadly accepted theorem that for agricultural economies, poverty reduction and economic development is largely driven by growth in the agricultural sector. Significant focus is, thus, on increasing agricultural productivity and value added along the agricultural supply chains. To still ensure a diverse diet in rural areas (an objective that not rarely is compromised under ambitious agricultural growth programs), nutritional aspects are incorporated in agricultural policy. It will be interesting to see what these policies yield over the next decade, both in the fields and for the country as a whole.

So I really enjoyed my two weeks in Rwanda! The people that I met and worked with were very nice and shared so many interesting insights to Rwanda’s multifaceted history. We stayed at Hotel Des Mille Collines, which incidentally is the hotel depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda. (It can be noted that my colleague told me that the story and its main characters are less black and white than in the Hollywood version, but most stories are.) Since I was there for work and only did just that, I didn’t have a chance to see the gorillas this time, but fortunately, it’s not my last visit to this spectacular country.

Rwanda Land of a Thousand Hills

Rwanda students

Cassava Rwanda

Rwanda kids

Terrace landscape Rwanda

Terrace landscape Rwanda

Huye Rwanda

Monkey at hotel

Tea cooperative plantation Rwanda

Rwanda tea testing


Apologies for the quality of some of the photos, I took them through the window of a moving car… From the top: Rwanda – Land of a Thousand Hills // Students on their way from school // Cassava drying on the roadside // Curious kids // Amazing terraces // Huye // Sneaky monkey steeling breakfast from the guests at our hotel in Huye // Tea cooperative plantation in a valley // Tea processor testing every batch // Hotel Des Mille Collines. 

Mongolia Dressed in Snow

I’m blogging from a small hotel room in Mongolia’s second largest city, Darkhan. For the past two days, my colleagues and I have been traveling around the North Central part of Mongolia, talking to herders, crop producers, and local agricultural institutions. It’s been interesting as always, though a little challenging to look at pastures and crop land with all the snow. Tomorrow is our last day in Mongolia’s rural areas, before going back to Ulaanbaatar, and we will meet with more herders. Livestock is the traditional agricultural sector here in Mongolia, and nomadic herders have historically been the backbone of the country. Although Mongolia is rapidly urbanizing, a substantial share of Mongolia’s population are still traditional, nomadic herding households. I hope to be invited in into a traditional gher and I’ve been thoroughly briefed in gher customs such as not to step on the wood in the door post and to walk to the right in the gher, which is women’s side. In the meantime, here are some pictures of Mongolia’s spectacular landscape:






Three Reports on Food and Agriculture in the World

As I wrote in my previous post (and in a few others these past months…), I’m in the middle of my dissertation writing. One of the best thing about doing this is all the reading that I get to do. I have come across so much interesting literature and I wanted to share three very good reports with those of you who are interested in better understanding where our agro-food systems come from, where we are today, and where we are heading vs. where we need to go.

The State of Food and Agricuture 2000: The 2000 issue of FAO’s annual report SOFA gives a good summary of the growth of global agriculture in the 20th, which only over a fee decades multiplied yields and grew beyond that of population. The report is surprisingly silent on the agricultural policies that to a large extent drove this growth but also distorted markets, but if keeping this in mind, it explains well what impact modernization of agriculture had on those who couldn’t keep up in quantity focused production systems.

Food and Agriculture: The fiture of Sustainability is a new study published by the UN that gives a good overview of the environmental impacts from the agro-food systems that we developed in the 20th century and why they are not sustainable. The study also suggests alternative paths for future food systems in order to cope with an increasing population, climate change, and nutritious diets.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012: This year’s issue of FAO’s annual publication SOFI gives a good overview of the changes in diets that are taking place all over the world, or the nutrition transition as it is called. (This is also the topic of my dissertation.) This transition is partly good, i.e. the shift to more diversified diets is essential for food security in many parts of the world. However, many times, this also means diets that are higher in salt, sugars, and saturated fat, which has negative health implications. Similarly, the shift to more animal-sourced and often more processed foods has implications for the environment. It gives a good overview of where global food consumption is heading. It is up to you to determine if you think this is realistic or if we all need to make changes.

20121020-105841.jpgPumpkins again, this time from Whole Foods