Sustainable Agriculture in Practice: Cultivating the land, alleviating poverty

wisp1.jpg Okay, I missed Blog Action Day’s Alleviating Poverty drive this past week, but I figure a little journalistic license is in order given the nature of the cause. Fortuitously, this gives me the opportunity to report on how efforts to alleviate poverty and foster ecologically and economically sustainable agricultural practices can work hand in hand.
The IUCN’s World Initiative on Sustainable Pastoralism is championing a cause, and people, that have traditionally been neglected, and exploited. According to a recently released WISP report, “pastoralism provides direct and indirect benefits to the environment in dryland areas and deserves more recognition of this contribution.”
Working side by side with Save the Children’s “Africa Region Pastoral Initiative” WISP also aims to help realize related United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals by working to alleviate poverty among pastoralists worldwide, particularly children. “Historically marginalized, pastoralists across sub-Saharan Africa are asking for change for their children and themselves,” states the group in its July 2008 “Children on the Move” report.

Sustainable environment, sustainable livelihoods
wisp2.jpg Spanning geographies and cultures as diverse as those of Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgzstan, Mali, Peru and Spain, pastoralists the world over are struggling under a “wealth of misconceptions,” according to WISP.
“This traditional form of raising livestock produces tangible benefits such as meat, wool and milk but it also has indirect value by providing wider environmental services such as safeguarding biodiversity or promoting tourism in rural areas. The study has even demonstrated a link between pastoralism and preventing soil erosion for the first time.”
Moreover, according to the WISP report, healthy grasslands are integral not only to the ability of soil to retain water but carbon dioxide as well. These areas currently store around 34 percent of the global stock of CO2 and tropical savannas may have an impressive capacity to store carbon underground.”
Working for WISP in Spain, lead researcher Pablo Manzano of the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation, found that pastoralism not only helps rural populations help themselves but that “a flock of livestock grazing in the undergrowth can be up to ten times as efficient at fire prevention than a team of people.”
The Spanish team also found that pastoralism helps prevent soil erosion, findings with applicability in dryland areas the world over. “We found there is a close link between the rate of erosion and the amount of manure deposited per hectare,” Dr Manzano said. “There is also the plus that free-ranging livestock will distribute this fertilizer equally with no need for transport to do so.”
Saving pastoralism and children
Alleviating poverty among traditional pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa is the focus Save the Children’s recently established “African Region Pastoral Initiative.”
A team of three has set up its operations centers in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to “champion change for pastoral children in Africa with a special focus on improving access to basic services – health and education – and driving a new Drought Risk Management agenda,” according to the organization.
The team will draw on support from Save the Children’s in-house education, health and nutrition, and livelihoods experts in Africa, Westport and Washington, other Save the Children Alliance organizations and partner organizations, including Tufts University.
I don’t think I can state the case any better than the Save the Children project’s team leader Mulu Chekol, so I won’t.
“It is unacceptable in the 21st century that children, simply because they are pastoralists, have
inadequate access to health care, education and appropriate service support for family herds which provide pastoralists with more than 50% of their food (milk and meat) and cash.
“Despite the economic contribution to national economies in Africa, we are still a long way from region-wide animal health care, recognized and protected communal land tenure systems and equitable access to markets.
“Despite the investment of vast sums of money by the donor community in early warning systems, responses continue to lag behind, with the result that children are unnecessarily exposed to risk. I however see that since 10 years ago ideas have moved on and there is considerably more interest in pastoralism, and I am delighted that Save the Children has agreed to support this initiative”.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

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