Survival of indigenous communities and forests amidst the pandemic

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU.

Image by cultur668 from Pixabay

‘Impacts of the pandemic on forest communities and forest resource use – what do we know, what do we need to know and how to find out?’ have been one of the most enlightening discussions that I have participated in. It was a dialogue co-arranged by Focali (Forest, Climate and Livelihood research network) and SIANI (Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative).

It’s been around a year since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged worldwide. Yet, the impacts of it will extend over many years. Currently, there are various entities that are deeply impacted by the pandemic globally as well as nationally.  Forest resources and forest communities can be considered as one of them. Most importantly, the world is still in the process of identifying the extent of these implications. This dialogue has been an instrumental platform in creating awareness on that. However, my attention was grabbed particularly by the discussion on the disruptions that occurred in the livelihoods of indigenous people.

Absence of state and regressive actions of the governments

Having forest-based livelihoods, indigenous communities are affected by the pandemic in different ways. To a certain extent, the pandemic has been a positive cause of livelihoods for some of the indigenous communities. They got the chance to depend more on the forest resources as there are fewer external activities functioning within the forests due to lockdowns. Nevertheless, for some indigenous communities, the pandemic has been a cause of destruction.

In this event, Ricardo Camilo Niño Izquierdo, Technical Secretary of the Indigenous Secretariat of the National Commission for Indigenous Territories, Colombia and Keyla Barrero, Anthropologist, National University of San Marcos, Peru, shared their views on how the pandemic has affected the indigenous communities. According to their experience, the indigenous people are subjected to negligence with insufficient health care and sanitation by the state during the nationwide lockdowns.

The absence of state governing authorities in the forest territories during the lockdowns allowed powerful actors to expand their illicit activities. Those are illegal logging, use of land for illegal plantations, presence of armed groups, drug trafficking etc. These activities aggravated deforestation in 2020 in comparison to the previous years. Moreover, there has been a significant increase in human rights violations of indigenous communities, which sometimes ends up in murdering them.

The situation becomes worse when the governments are trying to overcome the ongoing financial crisis through detrimental policies and actions towards the forest resources. Renewal of mining and excessive extraction of resources by the authorities is such an instance that threatens the sustainability of the livelihoods. In addition to that, indigenous people who are not yet given proper land titles or tenures, get further suppressed when the local governments endorse illegal invaders to occupy the forests. Lack of effective policies and excluding indigenous community representation in the government consultation procedures has also been a stimulating factor for this vulnerable situation.

Ultimately, all these activities cause not only the deterioration of indigenous people’s livelihoods but also many other destructive consequences such as degradation of natural resources and climate and increase of global hunger and poverty. Thus, reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 has become an immense challenge to the whole world.

For a brighter future

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Under such circumstances, it is a dire need to put forward remedial measures to decrease these vulnerabilities. Yet, identifying the needful actions to overcome these issues is the toughest among all. I believe, primarily it is important at this stage to lay a legal framework to ensure indigenous communities’ land tenure and to include them in the government consultation in policy making.

As discussed in the dialogue, it is also crucial to strengthen the local capacity building on merging the voice of indigenous and local communities. I consider this kind of effort will be essential to involve indigenous people and their lay-knowledge in local sustainable development efforts such as smallholder farming and plantations. It will be beneficial to upgrade the livelihoods as well as to promote sustainable use of ecosystems. In order to make the procedure more effective, the researchers and practitioners also need to collaborate in building knowledge and applying it in implementation.

Apart from that, creating public awareness continuously through global partnerships on the challenges and opportunities for indigenous communities is also needful for the long-term survival of indigenous communities as well as the forests. Accordingly, strengthening indigenous communities will not be merely an effort of uplifting indigenous livelihoods but also a part of green recovery. However, in order to see a brighter future, the implementation strategies of these remedial measures might have to be shaped according to the situation while aiming towards sustainable development.

Is there a definite value of water?

This blog post is written by Jennie Barron, Professor at the Department of Soil and Environment; Agricultural water management, SLU

Photo: Jennie Barron, SLU

Water is a multifaceted resource from simply being served our daily glass of water, to the complex flow through the landscapes to produce food, recreation and other ecosystem services. Because of the multiple uses and benefits of water, there are many challenges of valuing and weighting benefits and impacts for the different uses and users.

This becomes evident in times of shocks and in crises. For example such as when the landscape  or society runs out of water, as in the extreme drought of 2018 in Sweden, or when 2 billion of people lack health and sanitation facilities to simply wash hands to cope with COVID-19. The past years global and local crises of COVID-19 has left no one untouched. And the crisis of COVID-19, has really reoriented the issue of conversation of water, and the value of water. 

The projections of water related crises is on the rise, as food security, sustainable development and climate change takes place. The need to find metrics, process and practise to weight the benefit and impacts of water scarcity will therefore be the key. This year’s World Water Development Report is thus a first step to summarise and synthesise the current perspectives on valuing water. It builds on the recent developments such as the High Level Panel of Water  Statement (2018)  “Every drop counts” and  assessments on water security for food and nutrition by FAO (2020)  “ Overcoming water challenges in agriculture“.

 Going from high level statements to reality and practise

 Agriculture is such sector that is an intense water appropriator globally, both in using rainfall, and extracting water for irrigation. In addition, agriculture can have a negative impact on water quality, as a source of agro chemical pollution both from crop and livestock production. Valuing water for irrigation is a particular challenge, as the fresh water from surface and groundwater sources is contested for many users, including the environment, aquatic benefits and food. However, in regions where many people are affected water scarcity and hunger, the value water might bring into agriculture can make significant livelihood improvements. For example in the work assessing benefits for smallholder farmers in the dry area of Bundelkhand , India led by Garg et al (2020), evidence-based soil and water innovations introduced, improved landscape water use and the farmer incomes by up to 170%. At the same time downstream water availability reduced with 40% in a normal rainfall year. Here a dialogue on upstream benefits and values, may need to be negotiated with downstream users.  In a case of livestock systems intensification in Tanzania (Noetenbart et al 2020), choosing the most resource saving option of intensification can have negligible impacts on water use. For example a comparison of livestock production accounting for water appropriation into the fodder, showed that extensive dryland grazing could only marginally increased total water appropriation, whilst improving water productivity with 20-50%, when combining animal health, breeding and feed options.  Here the most water demanding livestock scenario was the system with import of high protein (and more water demanding) fodder crops.

Photo: Jennie Barron, SLU

 Investing to secure water for agriculture is an enabler of development. 

Globally, about 40% of food comes from irrigation-dependent crop production systems, helping to support nutritious and all year food supply. Whereas regions and countries are running out of water, we have other regions that could better support irrigation development to adapt to weather extremes and bring both steady supply of food and nutrition and income. In Sub-Saharan Africa, less than 3% of the crop area is under formal irrigation. Yet smallholder farmers are evolving and investing themselves in so-called farmer led irrigation, despite a number of technical , social and financial challenges (Lefore et al 2019).

It is becoming evident that water is a critical enabler in development and Agenda 2030 for human health, incomes, food and nutrition as well as ecosystem services. Water needs to be bothsafeguarded for multiple benefits, as well as negotiated and explored in some cases, for additional uses in anthropogenic landscapes. By opening for reflecting multiple values, we can develop data, tools and weight benefits and trade-offs more just and equal among uses and users. In 2022, it is the +30 years of the Rio Declaration (UN Earth Summit 1992), including the statement of Integrated water resource development (IWRM) Let’s hope that water is back on the agenda for enabling development as, carefully negotiated for its multiple use and value.


Embracing a better future through school feeding

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating in a Committee on World Food Security (CFS) 47 Side Event and thoughts on it.

Having participated in the CFS 47 Side Event on ‘How COVID-19 affected school feeding programmes and how to strengthen them post-COVID, including through home-grown school meals’, I realised the importance of having a school meal system. Besides, I have been able to contemplate the necessity of prioritising school feeding even amidst a scenario where schools are closed and students are getting adapted to distance learning currently.  

Providing school meals has been one of the main prevailing initiatives to ensure food security for children. Thus, I believe school meal programmes can be considered as a vital step taken by several countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal ‘Zero Hunger’.

School meals as a factor beyond food security

In the event, different international professionals with hands-on experience spoke about many positive impacts on the society by school meals, beyond ensuring food security. Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Trade, Finland, said; “Providing nutritious food in schools is among the best investments for the future”. Evidence gathered from Finland indicates that “school meals produce high returns in terms of education results, gender equality, health, social protection and economic and agricultural development”. The minister highlighted that, Finland suffered from poverty after World War II and had low literacy rates. In such a situation, school feeding became a transformative innovation to attract children to schools and to increase their literacy rate.  He also emphasised that, school meals in Finland provide one-third of a person’s daily nutrition requirement.

The discussion among the practitioners further revealed that the school meal is a key factor to initiate especially girls’ education. Indirectly, school feeding programmes have also become significant in reducing female child marriages and teenage pregnancies. Additionally, providing nutritious school meals is also a crucial matter of uplifting the nutrition status among girls.

Furthermore, Samuel Mulinda, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Rwanda stated, “having a meal in the school is a right to every child within the government of Rwanda” and it has been nearly a decade since Rwanda initiated school feeding. Recently, they embraced a new policy to expand the school feeding system in the basic education levels. A new scheme includes a procurement method to give easy access to purchase food from local smallholder farmers. Accordingly, school meals have become a source of stabilising the agricultural market system within the local economy.

Will it still be feasible during the pandemic?

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

While countries like Rwanda, Brazil, USA, Finland, India, and many others all over the globe are having different school feeding programmes, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020. Many governments had to shut down schools completely or partially for the safety of children. Yet, it wasn’t the end of school meals. Even if the schools shifted to distant learning, some countries modified their systems to maintain school feeding. The event unfolded how Finnish municipalities adopted providing in-kind food or food vouchers for children during the pandemic.

Moreover, Bruno Costa e Silva, National School Feeding Programme Analyst, National Fund for the Development of Education, Brazil, stated that Brazil implemented a programme to distribute school meals during the crisis. The involvement of municipalities and civil society organisations is remarkable in executing this programme. He also highlighted the significance of incorporating smallholder farming into the school feeding system. He described how in the state of Amazonas, food production and food supply for school feeding is continuous under family farming during the pandemic. It is also essential that public policy should be in favour of smallholder farming and home-grown school meals. Besides, Paola Barbieri, Project Analyst, Brazilian Cooperation Agency, drew attention to the important role played by South-South Cooperation in continuing school feeding programme in Brazil.

Furthermore, Lindsay Carter, Director, USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, USA, spoke about the strategies utilised under the McGovern-Dole Program to stabilise school feeding in the needful countries. The programme is actively engaged in providing commodities and technical and financial assistance to school feeding. During the COVID-19 crisis, the McGovern-Dole Program shifted to distribution of take-home rations to children while monitoring the processes. Additionally, the programme upholds collaborating with national governments, local smallholder farmers and communities to safeguard school feeding.

Start, if there isn’t; Continue, if there is

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis followed by the pandemic definitely, providing school meals is a critical task especially, in the most fragile countries. Nevertheless, considering the numerous benefits that can be reached through school meals, I believe countries should consider continuing school feeding. In the countries where there were no school feeding programmes, it would be best to lay a stepping stone to start at least now. Specifically, in the countries where children are suffering from stunting, wasting, anemia and many other health issues due to malnutrition, initiating school feeding will be an extremely positive investment for the future.

When implementing the programmes, strategies may differ from country to country. However, as the experts in the event stressed out, school feeding programmes can be reached through national and global collaborations. I also firmly believe in the benefits of prioritising local smallholder farming and incorporate it into the school meal programme. Moreover, well-coordinated collaborations between intranational institutions are also essential to initiate such a scheme.

This way, we still can prepare to embrace the post-pandemic world with a healthy and educated generation. Nonetheless, it is up to us to decide how we are going to embrace the future. Are we going to give the future of the world to a weaker generation or to a stronger generation? I’m sure you’ll find it as food for thought.

What’s cooking at CGIAR?

Photo credit: UN Sustainable Development Goals

SLU has a long tradition of partnerships with the CGIAR, both at the institutional and individual scientist-level. The CGIAR is the world’s largest agricultural research and innovation network with 8 000 staff globally, focused on agriculture in low and middle income countries.

The CGIAR is currently reorganizing and has launched a new research and innovation strategy with the aim to transform food, land and water systems in a climate crisis. The One CGIAR vision for 2030 is a world with sustainable and resilient food, land and water systems that deliver diverse, healthy, safe, sufficient and affordable diets, and ensure improved livelihoods and greater social equality, within planetary and regional environmental boundaries. Climate change and the climate crisis is at the forefront of the new strategy that describes the food systems challenges in the contexts of six major regions across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The strategy targets multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and strives to achieve measurable benefits across five Impact Areas: (1) Nutrition, health and food security, (2) Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs, (3) Gender equality, youth and social inclusion, (4) Climate adaptation and mitigation, and (5) Environmental health and biodiversity. Three-year investment plans are set up for 2022-2024 and a number of CGIAR Initiatives (research programs) are under development. These initiatives will replace the previous Research Programs (CRPs).

The CGIAR will work with regional and national partners including universities and research institutes, business actors, and international partners. Scientists at SLU together with partners in low- and middle income countries from collaborations in research and capacity development are well positioned to contribute to this work. SLU’s global policy for Agenda 2030 points to several opportunities for cooperation between SLU and the CGIAR to contribute to the SDGs. To facilitate and support the dialogue between scientist at SLU and the CGIAR, a one page capacity statement based on SLU’s policy and the CGIAR strategy is made available here.

For more information, please contact the authors:
Ingrid Öborn, Professor at the Department of Crop Production Ecology, ingrid.oborn@slu.se
Ulf Magnusson, Professor at the Department of Clinical Sciences’, ulf.magnusson@slu.se
Sara Gräslund, Head of SLU Global, sara.graslund@slu.se

Navigation towards food security and nutrition through a rice-based agri-food system

This blog post is written by Anudini Wijayarathna, intern at SLU Global & Master’s student in Rural Development & Natural Resource Management at SLU. The content is based on her experience in participating a GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference Session.

Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

I would not argue with the fact that life is not the same amidst this global pandemic affecting almost all the global citizens. Yet, I believe that acquiring knowledge should not be hindered by that. For me, it has been a great experience having the chance to participate in GOBESHONA Global Conference session on ‘Innovations in the Rice-based Agri-food Systems to improve Food Security and Nutrition’.

GOBESHONA (7th) Global Conference on ‘Locally Led Adaptation’ was hosted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) online from 18 to 24January 2021. This particular conference session listed under the category of Food Security & Agriculture lead by Mahjabeen Rahman, programme coordinator, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) consisted of three presentations, out of which two drew my interest the most.

Ensuring food security while combating nutrition deficiency

The presentation; ‘Healthier rice for healthier future’ was presented by the affiliated personalities at the IRRI and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI); Ibrahim Saiyed, Bangladesh Country Manager of Healthier Rice Program, Ahamed Salahuddin, Consultant and Syada Munia Hoque, Senior Specialist of Nutrition. They brought up the discussion on introducing ‘Golden Rice’ and ‘High Iron & Zinc Rice’ by IRRI to Bangladesh not only as a stimulating factor of food security, sustainable rural livelihoods, and economic development, but also as a solution to country’s prevailing micronutrient deficiency.

Golden Rice is developed by adding Beta carotene gene from yellow maize into ‘BRRI dhan29’, which is a high yielding rice variety already cultivating in Bangladesh. The Beta carotene gene in Golden Rice which converts into vitamin A in human body specifically addresses the substantial issue of vitamin A deficiency. The High Iron & Zinc Rice is formed through adding Ferritin-1 genes from apple, kidney bean and soybean into rice variety ‘BRRI dhan28’. The composition of High Iron & Zinc Rice results in high concentration of iron and zinc, which helps to tackle the iron and zinc deficiency amongst people in the country.

As a result of existing significant level of poverty or extreme poverty in Bangladesh where vulnerable people cannot afford a proper nutritious diet, subsequently the general public suffers from malnourishment. Since rice is a staple food in Bangladesh, the presentation upheld promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice as it would be an ideal solution to combat so-called issues. Even though, a deployment strategy for these varieties of rice is arranged, dissemination of them among the agricultural sector is still under process of receiving regulatory approval.

The content was appreciated, as it is a constructive solution to fulfil the dire need of the country. Nevertheless, the question raised from the audience was, why this administration procedure in Bangladesh is still lagging behind in a context where, international actors like Australia and New Zealand (2017), USA and Canada (2018) and Philippine (2019) have already approved Golden Rice? It was even suggested that the IRRI should communicate and collaborate with the authorities to expedite the approval process. Besides, it was proposed to have more advocacy through scientific, research and policy education in promoting these varieties. Moreover, the requirement for an awareness discussion on the nutrition level of these rice varieties even after processing (polishing) and cooking was also depicted.

Acquiring food security through machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice

The next presentation; ‘Directly-sown rice to address labour and energy constraints to precision rice establishment’ was delivered by M. Murshedul Alam, Scientist, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)-III project, IRRI. He highlighted the ‘machine-sown Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in Aus technique’ in rice cultivation as a possible solution to address the issues such as labour shortage, water scarcity etc, in Bangladesh. ‘Machine-sown DSR in Aus technique’ is a method of planting rice directly in the field by spreading seeds using machinery instead of transplanting. Transplanting is the traditional method, where the seeds are sown in a different place first and once the seedlings are ready, they will be planted in the puddled field manually or mechanically.

Several comparative evaluations were presented between different rice planting methods such as ‘machine sown DSR’, ‘hand broadcasted DSR’ and ‘manual transplantation’ in relation to the quantity of yields, landscape positions, labour use for land preparation etc. Accordingly, except in the lower landscape, ‘machine sown DSR in Aus technique’ was projected as the most probable alternative in both higher and medium landscapes in Bangladesh. This technique optimises the profit with a higher yield together with a lower requirement of water and labour.

Apart from that, CSISA-III is also involved in awareness raising programmes among the community regarding ‘DSR in Aus technique’ such as providing subsidy and conducting training on machinery usage etc. Thus, the usage of this technique was mostly acknowledged by the audience while highlighting the necessity of development in technology to cater sustainable agriculture and food security.

Manual transplanting on puddled soil. Image by Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

Seeing a better future or not?

As a final remark, I view these attempts presented in these presentations as very much constructive propositions in dealing with food security and nutrition amongst all the challenges Bangladesh is currently undergoing. Especially, I also consider that, promoting Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice together with machine sown DSR in Aus technique within the agricultural sector are frugal and credible initiatives in expansion of a rice-based agri-food system in Bangladesh.

On the other hand, as I am having roots in Sri Lanka, I believe introducing Golden Rice and High Iron & Zinc Rice even to the rice cultivation and national diet in Sri Lanka, will be a healthier option to strengthen the country’s food security and nutrition more. Particularly because, Sri Lanka being located in the South Asian region same as Bangladesh, having similar tropical climate conditions, having almost the same monsoon rain-based rice cultivation seasons and with rice being a staple food in both countries I see the possibility of paving the way towards this alternative in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, I believe, these tasks will not be simple, especially because, adopting and adapting to these innovations among the general public seems time consuming. Thus, in order to realise them and to make them sustainable, a lot of stable groundwork have to be laid. Apart from that, health and food can be considered as interdependent entities. In order to be healthy one needs to have nutritious food whereas one who is not in good health has difficulties in accessing and utilising nutritious food. Therefore, accomplishment of all these initiatives will also depend on the success of the country in controlling Covid-19 pandemic as currently, it managed to destabilise the ordinary livelihoods of people, not only in Bangladesh but also in the whole world.

How Theory of Change can be a pathway to impact: three takeaways

This blog post is written by Anneli Sundin, Communications Lead in the AgriFoSe2030 programme. This post was first published by SEI.

ToC workshop group photo with project teams back in October 2019 at SLU Uppsala, Sweden. Credit: AgriFoSe2030

Theory of Change (ToC) is a systematic approach focusing on pathways to change. This approach can be a key ingredient for a well-functioning project design, blended with stakeholder participation and strategies for communication. Here, three takeaways from a recent paper exploring the use of ToC are outlined.

We still see food and nutrition insecurity in many parts of the world and, in recent years, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of Zero Hunger (SDG2) seems to have become more difficult to reach. To combat this challenge, smallholder farms need to further increase their productivity.

We in the Agriculture for Food Security (AgriFoSe2030) programme believe that we need to connect and synthesise best available scientific research with policymaking processes, as well as with practices on the ground. We focus on sustainable intensification of smallholder farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South and Southeast Asia for improved food and nutrition security and are interested in bringing change that directly benefits smallholder farmers. But we need tools that can guide us. As such, we turned to Theory of Change.

In the recently published paper in the journal Global Food Security, we showcase how we applied Theory of Change in three projects. It is an approach for evaluation, widely used today within development practice, and, stated in the paper as “a systematic way of clarifying the underlying theories and cause-effect pathways that underpin initiatives working to promote social and economic change, particularly in complex interventions”, such as those interventions that take place in agricultural research for development.

All of the three projects were part of the wider AgriFoSe2030 programme, and aimed to translate research into policy and practice. The paper explores the benefits of having used ToC in the projects, as well as some of the challenges it involved.

The projects

All three projects are related to different types of livestock production in low-income countries. One of them looked at how to develop the sector for edible insects as a way to combat food insecurity in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another one, based in Uganda, further north in SSA, focused on sustainable dairy production and artificial insemination. The third project was about improved goat keeping for smallholder farmers in a number of different regions in Laos, Southeast Asia.

Field visit to small commercial dairy farm, Uganda. Credit: Anneli Sundin
Goats in their pen, Laos. Credit: Anneli Sundin
Newly built market structure for selling of edible insects. Credit: Robert Musundire

Here, three takeaways from our paper are outlined, exploring how to enable a successful ToC process. At the bottom of this page, you can read more about the ToC stepwise method.

Takeaway 1: Stakeholder engagement as you begin your ToC

Many research studies have shown the importance of stakeholder engagement for a successful research or development project. Throughout each project period, the teams focused on activities that involved reaching out to stakeholders and finding inventive ways to engage with people. For instance, the groups involved stakeholders outside academia from the onset of the projects. The paper states that “drawing on all stakeholders’ perspectives, experience and skills to construct the ToC map strengthened the shared vision, identified the key target groups and developed a realistic ‘pathway’ to guide planning and implementation”.

Through this genuine and early stakeholder engagement, the projects gained wide support early on, which manifested in tangible outcomes in the longer term. For example, in the edible insect project, representatives from the municipality of Chinhoyi in Zimbabwe were part of the project team, and understood through their participation the value and importance of boosting the edible insect sector. As a result, they decided to devote a piece of land to the construction of an insect market facility.

In the example of Laos and goat management, a strong feeling of ownership of the project and its goals was created among the agricultural extension officers (the intermediaries between farmers and researchers), thanks to robust collaboration between the researchers and extension agencies. This also resulted in the project reaching farmers more easily.

Takeaway 2: Allow for flexibility

When we made sure that there was good internal communication within projects, and also between projects and both the AgriFoSe2030 management and the communication and engagement team, everyone had a better understanding of the contexts in which the projects were operating. Hence, it was easier to redirect funding and resources in ways that helped achieve the projects’ desired outcomes. This allowed the project teams to adjust their ToC plans. Previous research points to this as very important for success; in order for them to succeed, projects need to have some degree of flexibility in budgeting and resources, and there is a need for “complexity-aware” approaches.

Takeaway 3: Combine your ToC with communication strategies

In each case, we gave the project teams training and guidance in how to communicate with relevant stakeholders. This covered, for example, how to explore windows of opportunity, and how to tailor speeches, presentations and written texts so that audiences would not just understand, but also listen to them and become interested and involved. The projects used planning matrixes for their communications, in which they mapped specific stakeholder groups, the change they were targeting for that particular group, what messages would work well and through which channels they could communicate them. The projects also made sure these matrixes were aligning well with their ToC plans.

It’s not all rosy – but the benefits outweigh the challenges

The projects did also experience some challenges. It can be difficult to learn the ToC approach if you’re completely new to the concept. It was important to de-mystify it and have a facilitated process with a ToC expert, from start until the end.

The two projects on the African continent aimed at going beyond improving practices to also influence policy. They realised that policy development on governmental level is often a slow and fluid process. Sometimes you rather need bottom-up approaches that can demonstrate clear results. They decided, therefore, to get closer to local policy processes. When a policymaker can clearly see that an activity or initiative is successful on local level, it can open up opportunities for policy changes on regional or national levels.

Early in the process of developing their respective ToCs, the project teams understood that creating associations with their target groups (e.g. the farmers, traders or extension services) would help in consolidating the projects, as well as spreading knowledge and experience to a wider group. However, all three projects struggled with launching these farmers’ or traders’ associations due to the short project periods and contextual challenges linked to “e.g. demographics, the institutional landscape in which the associations operate, the environmental context, as well as underlying economic structure or local economic base”.

However, thanks to the early involvement of stakeholders and the fact that some of these associations could create demonstration farms, spin-off effects could be seen. In the case of dairy farming in Uganda, both an association of AI technicians was formed, as well as a number of farmers’ associations. These activities led to the renewal of the animal fertility and breeding centre at the Makerere University, and AI skills training is now included in the university’s educational programs.

We are yet to see the long-term impact of these AgriFoSe2030 projects, but we understand that ToC has helped them to more effectively integrate science-based knowledge in agricultural practice and policy. When we engage with stakeholders and develop refined communication strategies as part of our ToC planning, we will increase the likelihood of getting on the right path to impact.

What are the steps in a ToC process?

These projects walked through an eight-step process, guided by a ToC facilitator. This process begins with understanding the purpose of using ToC methods and describing the desired change, as well as the current situation. It then continues with the identification of what, where and by whom change needs to be made, and with the mapping of change pathways. Thereafter, strategies are developed for the interventions needed to make that change happen. Last but not least, it is important to look at monitoring and evaluation of the project and reflect on the full process. See the figure below to get an overview of this stepwise approach.

The ToC stepwise approach. Diagram modified from van Es et al. (2015)

Read more about the AgriFoSe programme here
AgriFoSe2030, Agriculture for Food Security, contributes to sustainable intensification of agriculture for increased food production on existing agricultural land; the aim is to do so by transforming practices toward more efficient use of human, financial and natural resources.

Can charcoal business be sustainable? Examples, challenges and opportunities in Africa.

Written by Alin Kadfak, SIANI-SLU Global Communicator and Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU. This article was first published by SIANI.

A trailer loaded with bags of charcoal coming from Nigeria and heading to Niamey
Photo: Anders Roos.

On 13 October 2020, The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), in partnership with the African Forest Forum (AFF) organised a webinar to discuss the opportunities for creating more sustainable charcoal value chains in Africa.

Growing population and urbanization increased charcoal consumption in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Charcoal is an affordable energy source and generates rural jobs and incomes. However, the use of charcoal causes significant downfall of health due to indoor air pollution and slashing deforestation and forest degradation.

Eight scholars were invited to discuss the core question ‘What is required to promote charcoal value chains that provide affordable energy and rural income, without degrading the forest resources?’ and to provide their recent experiences of working in different countries in Sub Sahara Africa. Based on the discussion at the webinar, this article gathers four key considerations for developing sustainable charcoal production and consumption.

Unpacking the value chain

The life cycle of the charcoal business is full of uncertainties. Who is involved in different processes of charcoal production and marketing?  How many hectares of forest are being cut? What is the difference between the selling price and the costs of production, including the raw material components? These questions can be addressed by following the charcoal value chain, from harvesting and production, to transportation, wholesale retail and to consumption.

This approach doesn’t only allow us to unpack the values of each step, but also makes the hidden actors visible. Such hidden actors include, for instance, illegal woodcutters, who are often migrant workers from neighboring countries, or international companies investing in charcoal production in the region, or women who work as charcoal traders or even a local cartel. According to Anders Roos, ‘most of the charcoal producers we met during the fieldwork were relatively poor. They have tried to earn their incomes to pay for food, clothes and school fees. While they were hoping to establish a sustainable charcoal production, where they for instance planted trees to replace what were cut.  However, the charcoal ban 2018 in Kenya has blocked the development of legal and mores sustainable charcoal value chains. Moreover, by unpacking the value chain, we can see that consumers are not only concentrated in cities, but also in rural areas. Rural value chain actors deal in smaller volumes but make up a large part of charcoal production and consumption.

Charcoal retailler in Dosso, Niger. Photo: Anders Roos

Improved technology

Better technology can improve the sustainability of charcoal value chains, including raw material production, transportation and marketing. For instance, a study in Kenya showed that mobile technology and network coverage are the key physical resources for producers, traders and transporters throughout charcoal value chains.

Moreover, developing a new technology like biochar could provide alternative energy product for rural households. A long-running participatory project with 150 Kenyan farmers tested the effects of biochar on the quality of the soil. Farmers who have a biochar stove can collect agricultural waste, like crop-residue, and small branches from forests and turn them into energy and biochar. Biochar stoves are energy efficient and save time on waste collection, which is often done by women. The triple wins of this method are 1) less smoke during cooking 2) less biomass input and 3) rich soil nutrient biochar! This technology may foster out-of-the-box thinking and farmers can start using crop residues, parts of the tree or farm waste as alternative cooking fuel. While biochar can be reused for soil improvement and carbon sequestration.

Trader selling regular cooking stoves (Jikos) in Voi, Kenya. Photo: Anders Roos

Gender perspective in charcoal production

Women have a marginal position within charcoal value chains. A study from Kenya showed that women are the most vulnerable when it comes to uncertainties. For instance, when Kenya imposed a logging ban in 2018, it affected women who were mainly working in production and retail sectors the most. Women experienced more challenges from the ban due to the lack of access to and control over productive resources and social capital. Moreover, women who were working in charcoal business often came from poor households and didn’t have an alternative livelihood option to resort to in time of change. With limited financial independence, women can only be involved in localized, and less regulated markets. Moreover, the logging ban has affected the income of their husbands who were working in the logging industry. And with fewer remittances, the women’s businesses had lower cash flow.

Women’s vulnerability was also exposed by the current pandemic. COVID-19 has affected the whole value chain of charcoal industry. Border restriction has fueled production challenges, both in terms of transportation and migration of labour. With transportation bans and limited labour, but the same demand, charcoal prices grew and small-scale female retailers have been outcompeted by larger business owners due to their lack of capital and inability to obtain long-term loans.

A community group of charcoal producers and vendors at their tree nursery in Mwatate, Kenya. Photo: Anders Roos

Livelihood or forest: trade off or both?

Overall, the charcoal business dilemma boils down to the trade-off between livelihood and forest sustainability. However, it is possible to meet both needs if the raw material for charcoal production comes from sustainable sources. While we are working towards creating sustainable charcoal businesses, a value chain approach may help achieve a more holistic understanding of the topic. Lastly, it’s important to remember about the importance of innovative thinking in biochar production, employing a gender-sensitive lense and developing sustainable sourcing.

The webinar was organized as part of the ongoing SLU research project, ‘Sustainable Business Models for Tree-based Value Chains in Sub Saharan Africa’, led by Prof. Anders Roos. The goal of the project is to generate knowledge about the charcoal value chain, more specifically, on its processes, actors, and their interactions. The research is conducted in Kenya and Niger in a participatory manner that involves various stakeholders.  The project aims to analyse resources, competences and business models among supply chain members to foster sustainable natural resource used and improved livelihoods.

“Planting trees is always good”

– A Master’s thesis about Swedish carbon offsetting initiatives through tree planting projects in the Global South.

This blog post is written by Emil Planting Mollaoglu, Research Assistant at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, MSc in Rural Development at SLU

Image by João Lima from Pixabay 

Over the past two years, I have studied the Rural Development and Natural Resource Management Master’s Programme at SLU. During the spring and summer of 2020, I wrote my Master’s thesis – which focused on the role of companies and consumers in mitigating climate change. More specifically, the thesis explored how two Swedish companies, MAX Burgers (MAX) and ZeroMission, presented carbon offsetting on their websites. MAX is a fast-food restaurant chain that has received a lot of attention for its engagement with climate change and ZeroMission is an intermediary company that sells carbon offsets to MAX and many other Swedish and Scandinavian businesses. Through interviews with customers at MAX, my thesis also explored how carbon offsetting was perceived by a sample of Swedish consumers. The thesis illustrates how planting trees in Uganda has enabled MAX to communicate to its customers that they will solve climate change by eating at their restaurants – in spite of the company’s yearly increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent years, many Swedish companies have voluntary made commitments to reduce their climate impact. An approach adopted by several Swedish food and beverage companies (among others) to lower the impact is to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. This is commonly called “carbon offsetting” and it means that emissions occurring in one place are compensated for by reducing emissions or storing carbon somewhere else. This is done through projects producing carbon credits – for example through capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by planting trees. The carbon credits can then be traded on carbon offsetting markets as a way for people, companies, organisations and governments to offset their negative climate impact.

Although it may sound good that actors offset their climate impact, carbon offsetting by planting trees in the Global South is not without contestation. Critique has for example been raised regarding uncertainties of the permanence and additionality of projects. These are two of the conceptual pillars of carbon offsetting. Offsetting projects are also meant to deliver sustainable development benefits to stakeholders in the Global South, and yet, there are documented cases of a lack of such benefits and even of negative impacts on communities. In addition, so-called natural climate solutions (such as forest preservation) and methods for carbon dioxide removal (such as afforestation) are not infinite. To meet the targets of the Paris Agreement we need these tools for negative emissions to counter the impact we already have had on the climate. Researchers have therefore argued that we should change how we think about carbon offsetting and move away from the idea that we can compensate for continuing to emit greenhouse gases.

From Vi Agroforestry in Kitale, Kenya. Photo: Malin Planting.

Since 2008, MAX has been offsetting 100% of its emissions through Plan Vivo certified tree planting projects – mainly in Uganda. Since 2018, the company has expanded its investments in planting trees and now offsets 110% of its emissions. MAX calls this approach “climate-positive” because the carbon offsetting extends beyond the company’s own emissions and captures an extra 10% of CO2. The Swedish company has gained international recognition for this approach. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has praised MAX for introducing the world’s first “climate-positive” menu and in 2019 the company received the UN Global Climate Action Award, which was presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

The results of my thesis show that the two companies describe climate change as a problem of both reducing emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but that MAX’s emissions have continued to increase on a yearly basis. My analysis also show that the companies highlight consumption as a cause of climate change, but that the “climate-positive” approach attempts to turn consumption into the very solution to the problem. In this regard, a lot of responsibility for solving the problem was put on consumers, who were expected to choose products and companies based on their climate impact. The two companies also highlighted that deforestation is a major cause of climate change and that companies within the food industry in particular are part of causing deforestation. The argument here was that deforestation occurs as a result of land-use change, from forest land to agricultural land for cultivation of food crops. Both MAX and ZeroMission therefore argued that companies within the food industry have a responsibility to counter the loss of trees by planting new ones. The final theme of the analysis emphasised how carbon offsetting was represented as a solution to sustainable development challenges in the Global South.

Image by João Lima from Pixabay 

The thesis concludes that all the abovementioned representations reinforced each other and created a strong narrative for offsetting by planting trees in the Global South. At the same time, the customers’ responses implied that the view on how private actors and individuals can mitigate climate change is not homogenous, as they partially contrasted the two companies’ representations of climate change. The customers’ responses also illustrated a mental distance to the tree planting project in Uganda. This was for example apparent as one of the customers expressed that they did not understand the connection between MAX in Sweden and a tree planting project in Africa, but that “planting trees is always good”.

Finally, and as mentioned above, the thesis illustrates how a lot of responsibility for solving the problem of climate change is put on the individual consumers. Planting trees in Uganda has enabled MAX to communicate that climate change will be solved by its customers, that choose to eat at the Swedish fast-food restaurant chain instead of somewhere else, in spite of the company’s yearly increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Department of Urban and Rural Development at SLU, there is an ongoing project that explores how Swedish companies and consumers perceive carbon offsetting through tree planting projects. I am part of this project as a research assistant and currently work on an academic article that partly is based on my thesis. If you are interested in or want to know more about carbon offsetting, you can find out more about the project here and you are also most welcome to read my thesis, which is available online.

Pandemic adapted Swedish-Ugandan training on livestock raising with low use of antibiotics

Written by Kristina Osbjer and Ulf Magnusson at the Department of Clinical Sciences, SLU

Photo: Justine Alinaitwe

The coronavirus pandemic is changing how we work and is providing us with an opportunity to rethink the way we conduct education, sustain research and maintain collaborations. A recent field-training experience in Uganda, combining video recordings, zoom lectures and discussions with local facilitation, has paved the way forward for us within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock to conduct interactive training in responsible antibiotic use in Ugandan livestock farming communities amidst travel restrictions.

Antimicrobial resistance – the silent pandemic

While the world is preoccupied with fighting COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance is continuing to spread, with serious consequences for health and economies (World Bank, 2017). Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the ability of microbes to persist and grow in the presence of drugs designed to inhibit or kill them, is accelerated by the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in humans, animals and crops (FAO, 2020). Low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are predicted to account for most of the increase in antimicrobial use and to carry the largest burden of AMR, but the action and research agenda on AMR has so far been largely driven by the OECD countries (O’Neill J, 2016).

More attention to the conditions of antimicrobial use and resistance in LMICs will be required and was also the focus in a recent webinar arranged by the Livestock Antimicrobial Partnership (LAMP), hosted by SLU Global, where the divergent challenges in curbing AMR in high-income countries as compared to LMICs were discussed (LAMP webinar, 2020).

Sweden as a model to curb Antimicrobial Resistance
Sweden has a long-term experience in producing healthy and productive animals with low antibiotic use. Our unique expertise and lessons learned are internationally recognised and disseminated through online courses (Future learn, 2020) and guidelines (FAO/SLU, 2019 and FAO/SLU, 2020).

A bottom-up approach to influence antimicrobial stewardship in livestock within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock

SLU is leading the Animal Health Flagship within the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock (CGIAR, 2020). The programme focuses on supporting the development of small-scale livestock farming with the goal ‘more meat, milk and eggs by and for the poor’ primarily targeting Uganda, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Tanzania. SLU contributes to the programme with expertise in herd health and matters related to antibiotic resistance. Such expertise was used also in the training on productive livestock with low use of antibiotics in Uganda. The first round of training was carried out 25-27 November 2020 in Masaka district in collaboration between SLU and colleagues from Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries, Makerere University, and local authorities in Masaka. The SLU moderators participated online, whereas the Ugandan facilitators and training participants gathered in Uganda, following the COVID-19 safety measures imposed by the Uganda Government. A mix of veterinarians from the government and the private sector as well as para-veterinarians and some farmers participated in the training that aimed for a two-way learning process to identify feasible measures to reduce the need for antibiotics and use it only when needed in a medically rational way. The local context was emphasised by taking stock of knowledge and current practices in maintaining healthy animals, the role of animal health professionals and farmers in securing animal health and the prevailing application of good animal husbandry, biosecurity and antimicrobial use. This was followed by pre-recorded and online presentations and discussion on the Swedish model and how alternative practices may be adopted in Uganda.  

Sharing ideas helped us learn from each other

The training participants praised the participatory training approach and the opportunity to learn from each other, realising that among themselves they already had much of the knowledge required to become antibiotic-smart. The combined online and onsite training format was successful, yet, required a venue with stable internet connection. Participating farmers and veterinarians concluded that they were equally responsible to limit the prevailing irresponsible use of antibiotics and proposed more sensitisation campaigns, using highly influential people and practical real-life examples to raise the general awareness of AMR. They also asked for follow-up trainings to enable sustainable change of practices. As facilitators, we gained new insights on how antimicrobials are used and accessed in Uganda and tips on how to improve future hybrid and follow-up trainings. We hope that our experience can inspire others to design and implement pandemic-adapted training.

Wild food as a safety net: Food and nutrition security during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This blogpost is written by Divya Gupta, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, India; Suchita Shrestha, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal and Harry Fischer, SLU. This article was first published by SIANI.

Andheri Village in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important part of the diet for rural populations around the world, primarily in developing countries. They are also an important safety net and contribute to resilience by enabling people to cope with food insecurity in times of rural distress. This has become particularly apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have conducted research on food security during the COVID-19 pandemic in the mid-Himalayan region of rural India and Nepal, where nationwide lockdowns were imposed starting last the week of March and continued for several months. The lockdown led to movement of all kinds being sharply constrained, which disrupted the food supply chain and created uncertainty in accessibility, availability and affordability of food. Working with local research assistants, we have been able to continue our data collection and conduct interviews (while following strict government guidelines) thereby providing an in-depth understanding of how the effects of the lockdown unfolded in the areas.

Wild mushrooms harvested by a household in Himachal Pradesh, India. Source: Subodh Kumar (Research Assistant)

Over the past few decades, a large proportion of the populations in our study sites have transitioned to cultivating cash crops. While these trends may have increased household incomes overall, they have led to reduced production of food for household’s own consumption and increased dependence on markets for both food and income. The lockdown constrained farmers’ ability to sell their harvest due to transport restrictions to the market, leaving many of them to face huge financial losses. This compromised the purchasing power of the people and increased their reliance on wild foods such as leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruits, mushrooms that they can collect from their communal resources, including forests, grasslands, and water bodies.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

Edible wild foods have been an important coping strategy for households to deal with food shortages following the lockdown, especially for landless households and wageworkers who depend on off-farm employment. The lockdown has had a profound effect on the employment and income of such households. There were families that could not afford adequate food and reported consuming less food than before.

Rasnalu Village in Ramechhap, Nepal. Source: Divya Gupta

A woman from a landless household with eight family members in a remote village in Nepal told us, “my husband is a construction worker, and he lost his job immediately after the lockdown was imposed. This constrained our ability to buy food to adequately feed our family. I was constantly stressed out about this and often resorted to foraging edible wild foods that I was able to find in our forests”. Another smallholder farmer in India shared, “we did not have enough food left in our reserve when the lockdown was imposed, unfortunately it was also a bad season for our crops as we lost most of our harvest to pest infestation. The wild foods that we were able to gather from our forest was a huge respite and we were extremely grateful for that”.  In addition, wild foods were also a convenient option as some households preferred foraging as opposed to spending money buying vegetables from the market, as an interviewee from a small-landholding household from our site in Rasnalu Village in Nepal shared.

“We occasionally collect vegetables growing in the wild. However, during the lockdown owing to the shortage in supply of fresh vegetables and a consequent rise in their price, we relied more on foraging”.

Wild foods in our sites were also perceived to be safe from contamination. Although not based on scientific fact, many households feared consuming produce bought from the market. “We were scared to buy vegetables from the market because we feared they might carry the infection, so we substituted vegetables with wild foods that we would find in our forests”, said a farmer in our study site in India. He further added:

“Once when I had got vegetables from the market, my mother panicked and immediately threw them away. Market bought vegetables were strictly banned in our household”.

In addition, cooking wild foods was also perceived as a way of continuing traditional recipes. For example, in our sites in Nepal, households procured greens such as stinging nettle, fiddlehead fern, and others that are used as an alternate to market-bought/ cultivated vegetables. “These foods are a part of our traditional recipes that we have been cooking for generations”, shared a female respondent.

Fiddlehead ferns. Source: Rakshya Timalsina (Research Assistant)

It is important to note that under normal circumstances, a lot of the households in our study areas use diverse food sources to fulfill the dietary needs of their family, including farms/kitchen gardens, markets, and communal land and water resources. We observed that at the time of the lockdown, wild foods were particularly important for households that lacked adequate income and/or did not have the option of a kitchen garden. Thus, wild foods have been an important component of the food basket for our sample population during the pandemic

Observation from our research highlights the importance of wild foods as carriers of important cultural values and also their roles in helping households cope with food insecurity in the context of shocks and uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Often overlooked as a resilience strategy, wild foods are a vital resource that demands more attention in ensuring mechanisms for managing and safeguarding habitats for their long-term sustenance.

This research was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) research project 2018-05875 and a FORMAS Urgent grant 2020-02781.