July 18, 2013

Food Transformation Technologies: A Bottom-Up Approach to Addressing Food Insecurity


By Courtney Clark
Peace Corps Volunteer, Guinea, West Africa

Fatoumata Binta Sow is rather lucky, as far as African female farmers go. She lives in Guinea, a West African country with some of the richest soils and highest agricultural production rates in the region. She even lives in the Fouta region of Guinea, whose climate and soil allows farmers to produce a great diversity of crops including mangoes, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and rice. The source of her village’s food insecurity is not linked to their levels of food production but to the way in which they use the food they have.  Peace Corps Guinea volunteers work with the understanding that all three pillars of food security – availability, access, and utilization – must be in place for our host communities to be food secure. Our biggest challenge lies in helping Guineans change the way they utilize their food.


I live in Tountouroun, a rural village in the mountainous Fouta region of Guinea. Fatoumata Binta is my host sister and leads a female agricultural cooperative. We recently traveled to a food transformation training session where we learned how to jam mangoes, pickle cucumbers, can potatoes and carrots, and build solar food dryers. Food transformation presents an affordable and sustainable method of preserving excess food for leaner times and offering innovative farmers a way to add value to their crops and increase their income. We left the session training eager to share and implement our new skills; we both know that Tountouroun’s main cause of food insecurity is poor food conservation. The rains and the abundant harvests they bring are starting. In a month, micro-nutrient rich mangoes and tomatoes will rot on the ground before anyone can eat them. The rainy season surplus will dramatically drive down market prices and hurt the incomes of smallholder farmers.  But this year, Tountouroun and Peace Corps host villages across Guinea will be prepared to balance the seasons of hunger and abundance by canning, jamming, and drying their food surpluses.

The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium brought together multiple stakeholders to inspire cross-sectoralsectorial debate and to learning about how to make our world more food secure. We heard from policymakers, development and aid experts, scientists, and CEOs, each with their own perspective and passions related to agricultural development.
We were also fittingly reminded that while each of these players is vital, we ultimately need to “bring it back to the farmer.”

As critical and fruitful as these discussions are, they mean nothing if we do not take the ideas of the symposium back to the farmers, particularly smallholder farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia. The key lies in training smallholder farmers, especially female farmers, to adopt and spread these technologies, such as canning and drying. International donors can make much more of an impact by training Guineans to preserve the food they do have than by flooding local markets with imported flour and rice. Let us not forget the end goal: helping food insecure communities help themselves.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

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Video Notes - Ruth K. Oniang'o on the importance of empowering women farmers

Ruth K. Oniang'o, Founder and Editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, as well as the Founder and CEO of Rural Outreach Africa, addresses gender mainstreaming in agriculture and how empowering women farmers can improve nutrition and health.


Photo of the Week

A farmer in Rwanda shells her maize after harvesting.