Nonprofits put power in community hands

By Emma Beyer

DES MOINES, Iowa — Non governmental organization booths populated the floor outside of session rooms at the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. The NGOs varied in approach, but shared similar beliefs: empowering African communities, spreading the word about their missions and trying to directly connect Americans to impoverished areas. Here are three NGO efforts represented this week in Des Moines:

Self Help International 

Self Help International works by partnering with communities in Nicaragua and Ghana to alleviate hunger and improve quality of life with dignity. The program aims to get the right tools to communities to run their own programs, not hand-outs. This works by starting and setting up organizations and infrastructure in countries and training locals to continue the programs.

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Jacqueline Steinkamp, development director of Self Help International, says aid is effective when it is a hand up instead of a handout. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

Self Help programs have three aims: improve access to nutritious food and clean water, improve the ability of children to attend school and increase access to resources, including micro-loans, for women and girls.

“Of income earned by women, 99 percent goes back to the community,” Jacqueline Steinkamp, development director, said. “Compared to only 20 to 30 percent of income earned by men.”

When women have a say in how money is spent, it generally goes to clothing, food, shelter and education, all essential for breaking the cycle of poverty. By providing micro-loans for women to start their own businesses, women feel empowered and money circulates locally. 

The organization also trains women in basic business skills, stating that “even illiterate mothers who lack formal education can earn a steady income.” This, in combination with micro-loans, creates successful local businesses. One of Self Help’s fastest growing businesses is the manufacturing of sanitary pads for girls in a movement called Days for Girls.

In rural communities, girls often miss school during their menstrual cycle. In Ghana, one sanitary pad costs a week’s salary, according to Steinkemp. A Self Help program designed and developed sanitary pads made from small pieces of cloth.  The pads can be washed and reused hundreds of times and are concealed in a colorful drawstring bag to hide the normally-taboo products.

Des Moines-based volunteers sewed reusable pads from scrap material. The demand was so high that the supply ran out. The company went to Ghana, taught local women the sewing pattern and helped them create their own business. This process has been repeated in over 40 countries to date.

Another reason children miss school in impoverished communities is because there is a lack of food in schools and at home. In Ghana, 1 in 4 children under 5 years of age is stunted due to chronic under nutrition, according to Self Help.

Meal-in-Schools is one way children have increased access to nourishment. The Self Help initiative helps communities start breakfast programs, allowing children begin their day hunger-free and ready to learn. Meal-in-Schools utilizes locally grown quality protein maize, or QPM, to make porridge, which delivers more protein and nutrients to children.

This program was endorsed by Norman Borlaug himself because it honors his belief in building partnerships, rather than dependency, to empower communities across the globe. For more information start here:

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Self Help International currently operates in Nicaragua and Ghana. The organization only employs three American staff members, relying instead on employing dozens of individuals in their home communities. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

The Outreach Program

The 2017 World Food Prize week kicked off with the Iowa Hunger Summit, a luncheon where over 1000 leaders from around the world gathered. The lunch wasn’t catered by a five-star restaurant or fine dining catering service. Instead, individuals dined the same meals given to communities in need, nutritious meals from the Outreach Program.

The nonprofit offers five meal options, created in conjunction with Iowa State University to maximize nutrition. These meals include macaroni and cheese, minestrone soup and fortified rice and beans. The organization also created after-school snack packs. 

Corporations, churches, and individuals solely fund the program using a unique donation model. Rather than giving a set amount, donors may choose the number of meals and locations to which they are sent. Each meal package costs $1.50 and includes six servings, enough to feed an entire family.

Most recently, meals have gone to disaster areas in Puerto Rico and Houston. For more information, start here:

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On display are the five meal options developed by the Outreach Program and Iowa State University. Each meal can feed a family of 6. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

The Borlaug Training Foundation

There is a general perception that young people have less interest in farming and agricultural science today, said Katy Gustafson, executive director of the Borlaug Training Foundation. But she believes the problem is getting resources to interested students. The Borlaug Training Foundation connects young scientists in developing nations with teachers and mentors in the scientific community.

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Jesse Dubin, a plant pathologist, teaches program trainees about wheat rust in Mexico, 2015. (Photos courtesy of the Borlaug Institute.)

The getting-your-hands-dirty initiative promotes practical training in the field. The organization relies on volunteer professors to travel around the globe.

“It’s easier to bring the teachers to the students than the students to the teachers,” Gustafson said.

Students often have issues with funding, visas, and other extenuating circumstances, but bringing one expert to a group of university students, the Borlaug Training Foundation solves many of those logistical problems. The organization is still in its initial stages.

“We want to start with what we know and do it well before we expand,” said Gustafson.

So far, the organization has worked with universities in Tunisia, Mexico, the Philippians among others, bringing in scholars from the University of Missouri and Colorado State University along with former World Food Prize laureates.

“There are students dying to spend two weeks in Mexico to learn about the people, the culture, the system,” said volunteer and retired professor Perry Gustafson. “It’s something those students will never forget.”

To learn more, start here:

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Amor Yahyaoui, Training Officer for Global Wheat Program, lectures in the field in Beja, Tunisia during the Spring, 2016. One of the Borlaug Initiatives’ goals is to bring experts to students around the globe. (Photos courtesy of the Borlaug Institute.)





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Poor nutrition risk on the rise in urban areas

By Megan Tyminski

DES MOINES, Iowa — In the effort to obtain food security, the nutritional value of a daily meal is often overlooked.

“Food systems really need to move from feeding people to nourishing people,” Sandy Thomas, director of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, said during the 2017 Borlaug Dialog International Symposium.

Both rural farmers and urban residents suffer from malnutrition, however with 66 percent of the world’s population projected to be urban by 2050, according to a new brief, there is a growing urban malnutrition crisis.

The brief, Urban diets and nutrition: trends, challenges, and opportunities for policy action, launched on Oct. 18 by the Global Panel, examines the correlation between rising urban populations and malnutrition. The ‘triple burden’ of malnutrition — under-nutrition, micro nutrient deficiency and obesity — will be most concentrated in Africa and Asia as 2.5 billion new residents migrate to cities.

Key issues, the Global Panel said, are rebalancing high-quality diets, mandating and empowering local authorities, considering infrastructure and transportation improvements, regulating labeling and advertising, and measuring all efforts.

“You [can] have enough food, but not nutrition security,” Tom Arnold, former director general of the Institute of International and European Affairs, said.

malnutrition in urban populationsIn diverse and multifaceted urban communities, diets, housing and income levels can vary greatly. These populations are often overlooked due to the focus on smallholder farmers in rural areas.

“This involves a whole range of people that we in food security aren’t familiar dealing with,” Emmy Simmons, senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

What urban diets Look likeThe complex issues in urban food systems need researched, multi-stakeholder input that focuses on issues as well as opportunities, the Global Panel said. The panel urged policymakers to “act without delay” due to the risks of conflict, diseases and stunted economies, in addition to poor human health, associated with insufficient nutrition.


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Kleckner Award goes to activist, leader in GM farming and biotechnologies


South African Farmer Motlatsi Musi with his Kleckner Award. Musi is a strong supporter of biotechnologies and GM crops and appeared in the documentary “Food Evolution,” which is narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Photo by Elizabeth Loutfi)

By Elizabeth Loutfi

DES MOINES, Iowa — South African farmer and 2017 Kleckner Award recipient Motlatsi Musi sees his accolade as a hammer.

“I am going to destroy the padlocks binding GMO regulation in South Africa,” he said. “It’s over-regulated so much that I think policymakers don’t know which direction to take now.”

Musi began working on a farm to secure housing for his siblings. After 21 years spent homeless — a result of his mother’s anti-apartheid activism throughout his youth — he found farming to be a self-sustaining profession.

“What are the basic necessities in life? It’s food, living accommodations and a steady job,” Musi said at the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. “If you are a farmer, you have a home on your farm, and your steady job is to produce food. There’s all three.”

His mother’s activism made Musi’s early life difficult. She was arrested so often that his mother was absent for long periods of time during his childhood. On a snowy day in 1965, he returned home from school to find his family home padlocked and his mother’s belongings being thrown out by government agents.

Musi dropped out of high school in June 1976 to follow in his mother’s footsteps after his brother was nearly beaten to death for demanding equal rights for black South Africans.

But Musi’s education didn’t stop there. In 2005, he successfully grew a trial plot of glyphosate-tolerant maize, and has been an educator and strong advocate of biotechnology and genetically modified, or GM, crops ever since. In South Africa, he shares his tools and knowledge with other smallholder farmers by hosting regular training sessions on his farm.

The use, import and export of GM crops in South Africa are highly regulated under the GMO Act of 1997, placing restrictions on research, production and marketing of the crops. Most GMO-related experiments require a permit and a measure notifying the public. Scientists are also held civilly and criminally liable by the act, and must take appropriate measures to avoid negatively impacting the environment or human and animal health.

“In my 20s I decided to go for liberation before education,” Musi said. “Don’t get me wrong, they are both essential. I liberated one of my sons through education. He now has a degree in biomedicine.”

Musi’s other three sons assist him on the farm.

“Farming, if handled professionally, can be generational. All I am accumulating now, my children can inherit; my land, my tools. You do not grow old on a farm.,” Musi said. ‘Sure, you can age, but people are always going to need food. That’s doesn’t change.”

Every year since 2007, the Kleckner Award has been awarded to a farmer who exemplifies leadership and determination to improve the rights of farmers to choose their own tools and technology to advance their farms. Musi is the 11th recipient of the Kleckner Award for his leadership in using biotechnologies and his approach to farming education.

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Collaboration aims to cut African poverty in half


Panelist Ousmane Badiane talks about the Malabo Declaration on Thursday, which seeks to halve the number of Africans in poverty by 2025. (Photo by Elizabeth Loutfi)

By Elizabeth Loutfi

DES MOINES, Iowa — Alone, countries can spend decades — maybe more — fighting hunger and malnutrition. 

“We are stronger in groups,” said Nachilala Nkombo, interim Africa executive director for the ONE Campaign. “Strong collaborations across different sectors in Ghana are already bringing forth solutions.”

In Ghana, the poverty rate has dropped from 52.6 percent to 21.4 percent between 1991 and 2013, according to a poverty and inequality report by UNICEF. But there are still 17.6 million men, women and children throughout sub-Saharan Africa who are suffering from malnutrition.

Nkombo was one of four participants in a panel on European-African collaboration on food security at the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. The panelists shared what their organizations were doing to combat food insecurity with agriculture, and more specifically, nutrition. Three of them also sit on the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of 17 agriculture experts focusing on policy changes to secure nutrition worldwide.

Fighting malnutrition, said Ousmane Badiane, a Malabo Montpellier panelist and African director at the International Food Policy Research Institute, is more than just looking at the impact and results. It’s also about discovering what works, why it works and how, which he acknowledged is easier said than done.

“It has to be translated into actions,” he said. “The Malabo Montpellier Panel helps us do that through enacting policy changes.”

In 2014, the panel and 54 African government signatories adopted the Malabo Declaration, which seeks to halve the number of Africans in poverty by 2025. Every year, the panel hosts its own forum, bringing together agriculturalist experts, key stakeholders, NGOs and individuals from the private sector to share research.

“We very much welcome the work of the Malabo Montpellier Panel,” said Stefan Schmitz, Deputy Director-General and Commissioner for the One World — No Hunger Initiative. “No one should be left behind. Women and children especially need access to healthy and nutritious food.”

In 2015, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated about 233 million people in Africa were hungry or malnourished.

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Technology brings more nutritious foods to Africa

By Elizabeth Loutfi and Emma Beyer

DES MOINES, Iowa — New technology has exploded onto the agricultural scene, and it’s never been more affordable for smallholder farms.

Technology should be seen as a weapon that fights poverty while improving nutrition, said Enock Chikava, deputy director of agricultural development, global growth and opportunity at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

One such technology is a newly developed phone app that can identify plant diseases. Rural African farmers can take a photo of any diseased leaf and the app will identify disease with 95 percent accuracy.

“I think what’s going on is amazing,” said World Food Prize Laureate of 2013 Robert T. Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto. “In the last three years, there’s been over $10 billion in startup technology agricultural companies.”

Previous technology has been slow to get to small farmers, but today, fewer cost barriers exist because of mass production. Even the smallest farmers in the world can access new technologies such as farming tools, scientific measurement systems and a wealth of agricultural knowledge through specifically developed apps. This is something that hasn’t been possible before.

“When they first sequenced the human genome, it cost nearly nearly a billion dollars,” Fraley said. “Today in our labs we can sequence, for $10, enough of a corn genome to map and breed from.”

Howard-Yana Shapiro, chief agricultural officer for Mars, Inc., developed portable soil examination kits. Within a few minutes of testing, the kit can identify the first 25 components on the periodic table, which helps farmers make planting decisions. This used to take weeks, he said.

In rural Africa, 37 percent of children are stunted in growth as a result of poor nutrition. This is why nutritious foods are so crucial, said Chikava.

“With these tools, now is the time (to improve) the whole food system,” Shapiro said.


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Enock Chikava, shares his personal experiences on poverty and nutrition with regular symposium audience members and more than 400 high school students and teachers. (Photo by Emma Beyer)

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Conflict and climate change key issues in hunger

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Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution and former Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda, shows a “Maxi-maize” planting string at the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, with bottle caps marking how far apart maize seeds should be planted and where to place fertilizer in relation to the seed. (Photo by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck)

By Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

DES MOINES, Iowa — In Africa’s growing cities, demand for more diverse and nutritious food is expected to triple within the next 20 years. Yet in Africa’s rural areas, which are home to some of the most underused farmland in the world, farmers growing crops on small plots can barely produce enough food to feed themselves. Globally, for the first time in a decade of decline, there was a 4.5 percent increase in daily hunger in the last year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations identified these problems, among many others, in its State of Food and Agriculture, an annual report released earlier this month. The 160-page SOFA details the agencies’ priorities for the coming year. At the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, government officials, industry leaders and farmers discussed key problems identified in the report.

Conflict, climate change impact food security

Conflict in the continent drives food insecurity. According to another FAO report, more than half of food-insecure people live in countries with ongoing violence and more than 75 percent of the world’s chronically malnourished children live in conflict-affected regions. In Nigeria, violence almost completely wiped out farming in the state of Borno in the late 2000s. Boko Haram militants burned crops and forced farmers to flee for their lives.

At the same time, smallholder farmers are losing crops to more powerful storms and more frequent droughts due to a changing climate. According to Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution and former Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda, of the 850 million people going hungry, 500 million are hungry due to conflict and the remaining 350 million are impacted by climate change.

“We can do something about it,” Kalibata said. “Whether it is the wars, the displacement, even climate change. We need to do more.”

Solutions: creating opportunities via infrastructure and policy

Youth in Africa pose both a risk and solution. In its current state, the African agricultural system isn’t equipped to deal with the 100-million-person rise in population ages 15 to 24, with most of that growth in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the FAO. Without growth in service and industry in both rural areas and African cities, these youth will have few opportunities for success.

“In many of those countries there’s pressure on the land because of population growth and climate change,” said the Rev. David Beckman, president of both the Alliance to End Hunger and Bread for the World. “You have this big bulge of young people coming of age, and there is no place for them to go. If they stay where they are, they’re not going to live even as well as their parents, and so they are going to be pushed to move someplace.”

With no option but migration, they are more likely to move to cities, transforming the rural poor to the urban poor.

Another element of the problem is the continent’s lack of infrastructure. Many rural, smallholder farmers walk or bike to markets. There are few rural roads and electrical power grids. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina,  president of the African Development Bank and 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, said 645 million Africans don’t have access to electricity. Without power, Africa’s ability to process and store food is limited. A lack of refrigerated transportation systems eliminates rural farmers’ ability to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy to urban markets. Basic, non-refrigerated grain storage is a struggle for smallholder farmers. In many sub-Saharan African homes, maize is stored in bags in homes or sheds. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the region’s maize crop is lost to pests during storage.

Giving these farmers better access to basic technology, such as agricultural extension education and hybrid seeds, could improve their productivity immensely. Mara Sovey Downing, president of the John Deere Foundation, said exposure to John Deere’s mobile training unit, a box truck that brings agricultural education to rural communities, improved yields four-fold on Ghana and Kenya farms. Mobile phones provide an immense opportunity for agricultural extension and democratizing access to knowledge.

“The most important tool in the hand of a farmer today is the mobile phone,” Adesina said. “With it, they will find out information on markets. They will know about weather. They will be able to access finance. They will be able to get access to nutrition for mothers.”

Kalibata urged more policies to allow private companies to play a bigger role in Africa. Downing said that mechanizing African farms in the same manner as the United States isn’t feasible because of trade policy. Basic parts such as oil filters and tires can take six months to cross state borders. Smallholder farmers can’t afford this equipment, according to the FAO, and in the near-impossible event that they could, the knowledge of upkeep and repair just isn’t there.

Using what we know

A key to implementing solutions, Kalibata said, is partnering to applying the knowledge that governments, companies and non-profits already have.

“We [the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa] believe that between us, even in this room, we have enough knowledge,” Kalibata said. “We have enough models. We have enough technology and probably enough resources. If we put it together in the right way, we can be transformative.”

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Armyworm invasion crosses borders

Fall Armyworm in Africa

Data obtained from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Briefing Note on FAO Actions on fall armyworm in Africa, Sept. 17, 2017. Graphic by Emma Beyer

By Emma Beyer

DES MOINES, Iowa — The fall armyworm is African nuclear bomb, said 2017 World Food Prize Laureate, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina. Without proper control methods, the fall armyworm could lead to maize yield losses of $2.5 to $6.2 billion a year. Maize is the most affected crop although the pest also affects wheat, rice, sugar, and vegetable crops.

“Almost anything you can find, it will eat,” said Adesina. “They have no visas, no passports, they go everywhere.”

“If there’s a fence, they climb over it,” Pedro Sanchez, former World Food Prize Laureate and University of Florida professor, said. “It’s an invasive species nightmare.”

The fall armyworm is actually a moth, not a worm. The larvae, which look like those of an average, brown caterpillar, feed on all parts of their chosen plant, leaving hundreds of holes. The brown and white patterned moths are able to travel up to 60 miles a day.

The insect most likely originated in Central America, Sanchez said. It came to the United States as early as the 1800s but it wasn’t until 2016 that the fall armyworm reached Africa. The pest was transported by an airplane traveling between Florida and Nigeria, Sanchez said and spread over 80 percent of the continent by fall 2017.

While the insect has been an issue in the U.S., cooler winter weather and migrating patterns of the moth tended to kill the insect. In Africa, however, there is no winter, explained Sanchez, so the moths continue to breed year round.

To date, the species has affected 300,000 hectares, or 1 percent, of farming crops.  The damage has the potential to increase to 7 million hectares by 2018.

Sanchez has recently brought a coalition of scientists and researchers together, to form what he calls his science advisory board in order to continue efforts in pest education.

As the invasive species continues to spread, so does a wealth of misinformation, says Sanchez. Many communities doubt the potential destruction of this menace and disagree on how to keep the insect at bay. The goal now, Adesina said, is to spread clear scientific methods for minimizing the pest.  The key, he said is to build partnerships between farmers and scientists and find resistant crops. Finding environmentally friendly alternatives to pesticides is optimal, both Sanchez and Adesina said.

“This species will never be eradicated, but with hope, it can be controlled, but honestly I’m scared to death,” said Sanchez.

Both scholars are in agreement, the future of African food security rests of the present danger of the fall armyworm.

“We don’t know what will happen next year,” said Adesina. “We need an army of partners to take on an army of worms.”

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