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Good news August 2012

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DRC Farmers Reaping Rewards of New Methods

Farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are embracing a new variety of cassava which, in combination with improved agricultural techniques, easily outperforms yields from other popular types of this important crop.

Cassava is a staple food in many parts of DRC, and farmers disappointed with harvests of the popular F100 variety, which has proved vulnerable to a plant disease called mosaic, have turned to a newer strain with great success.

"We produced 58 tonnes of TME 419 cassava from a two hectare field in 2011," said 27-year-old Romain Twarita. "That’s a yield of 29 tonnes per hectare, compared to the 10 or 12 tonnes per hectare of F100 that we harvested in 2010."

Twarita, the coordinator of Action Jeunes Pour le Développement de Nkara (AJDN), an association of 22 young farmers at Nkara, 90 kilometres from Kikwit, the capital of the southwestern DRC province of Bandundu, says the 2011 crop brought in more than 25,000 dollars for AJDN, against 10,000 dollars the year before, and just 3,000 dollars in 2009, the year the association was established.

He said AJDN has also adopted "binage", a new method of hoeing which maximises the benefits of irrigation –"worth two waterings", as Twarita put it. Binage calls for the surface of the soil to be broken up, to allow more rain to soak into it. The young farmers also use compost and manure to enrich the soil with organic and mineral matter.

"The big problem is a shortage of farm implements, and the lack of understanding from landowners who ask so much money for a plot – 40 or 50 dollars for half a hectare, depending on location," he told IPS.

"The cassava is bought from farms here by traders, then sent to the capital, Kinshasa, where it sells fast," said Jacques Mitini, president of the provincial network of small farmers’ organisations in Bandundu, which includes 255 smallholder associations, nearly a third of these representing young farmers between the ages of 21 and 33.

In the west of DRC, in Bas-Congo province, the Comité de Développement de Kakongo (CDK) is planting trees to create windbreaks and maintain soil moisture, boosting production of other crops on a three-hectare plot.

"We are using intercropping, that’s why there are these wind-breaks of moringa trees which also fertilise the earth without us needing to use chemical fertilisers. Irrigation is also important," said Espérance Nzuzi, president of Force Paysanne du Bas-Congo, a network of 264 smallholder farmers associations, including 87 created by youth.

"The 84 tonnes of TME 419 cassava harvested last year earned us 39,960 dollars, compared to just 6,160 dollars from 14 tonnes of F100 in 2010," said Nzuzi.

On two hectares on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, another youth association, Jeunes Dynamiques de Malulku (JDM), has also found success with the adoption of new techniques.

"We’ve only been practicing binage since we started this venture in 2010. We produced 15 tonnes of TME 419 from a single hectare that year, but in 2011 we harvested 28 tonnes from a hectare and a half, applying a little bit of chemical fertiliser," said Anne Mburabata, 32, president of the association.

"Before we started popularising TME 419 cassava, we tested it carefully," said Didier Mboma, who heads the technical innovation service at the Impresa Servizi Coordinati (ISCO), an Italian NGO which is making free cuttings of the new cassava variety available to farmers.

"Since the tests in 2008, we have planted 3,000 cuttings, and we have harvested 30,000."

Mboma said that young farmers are strongly establishing themselves as productive farmers, while contributing to the country’s food security.

"Young farmers must move towards professionalisation, and take control of the entire value chain from production, to processing, to marketing," said Dr. Christophe Arthur Mampuya, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Livestock.

"The TME 419 variety is a high-yielding one. It’s also among the best varieties being promoted," he said.

Mampuya said emerging young farmers must also plant woodlots, as adoption of the new cassava variety is scaled up.

"TME 419 is more popular in the west of DRC than in the east, but step by step, the variety could spread across the country," said Paluku Mivimba, president of the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of Congo.

By Badylon Kawanda Bakiman

Source: IPS News

Farmers in Mauritius Take to Fair Trade

In finding a way to survive a 36 percent cut in sugar prices, Mauritian farmers are not only exporting a variety of fruit and vegetables to the European Union, but they have also begun farming in a more environmentally sustainable way.

This is because a large number of farmers here on this Indian Ocean island have become fair trade certified. Fair trade is a social movement that promotes just terms for farmers and workers and encourages sustainability in the developing world. Fair trade certified products also usually command a higher price than regular ones because of the high standards and ethics involved in producing them.

Mauritius is one of Africa’s largest sugar exporters to Europe, and most of its refined sugar is exported to the EU. But when the sugar price fell over a period of three years by a total of 36 percent at the end of 2010, small farmers here realised that they could still earn a good income and do so in a way that would protect the small island’s environment from harmful fertilisers and chemicals.

"Our income was dwindling. So it was better to be fair trade certified to earn some more money," said farmer Keshoe Parsad Chattoo.

Products labelled fair trade generally sell well in Europe and the United States because they meet agreed international environmental, labour and developmental standards. There are some 3,000 products that fall under the label, including sugar, coffee, spices, vanilla and bananas. Consumers willingly pay more for fair trade products, a premium of 585 dollars per tonne in the case of sugar, above the normal price of about 525 dollars per tonne.

Jean-Philippe Zanavelo, Fair Trade International’s representative for Mauritius, said that producers are at the heart of the fair trade concept.

"Consumers are willing to pay more for good-quality products, and this extra money goes directly to producers. They get good markets and attain sustainable development," he told IPS.

As a result many local farmers are joining the movement here.

"We are now producing and exporting good-quality food free of chemicals that trouble our health and our environment, and earning additional income," said Kishan Fangooa, a farmer and secretary of the Long Mountain Pineapple and Allied Growers Cooperative Society Ltd. The society has almost five hectares of land under pineapple cultivation in Long Mountain, northern Mauritius.

The fair trade movement began here in 2011, with 4,500 farmers from 32 cooperative societies. That year they earned 701,000 dollars in income, compared to 492,000 dollars in 2010, when fewer farmers were members.

Becoming fair trade certified is an exacting and difficult process, some farmers told IPS. But many feel it is worth the effort.

"The criteria may be constricting, but it helps improve the quality of our produce and we are determined to earn an increased income," Fangooa told IPS.

Producers have to be audited by the standard-setting body, Fair Trade International, and an independent certification body to ensure that the agreed standards are met. In agreeing to fair trade, producers have to abide by criteria that include democracy, transparency, good governance and the protection of the environment.

Narain Phagoo, a fair trade certified farmer, said that the products are routinely monitored.

"Apart from regular audits and inspection of the fields, I understand there are laboratories in Europe that keep checks on the quality of our produce that we export. They’ll know if we use prohibited products and they’ll reject our exports," he told IPS.

"We better observe the regulations and get our increased income," he added.

Rajen Hemoo, secretary of the Victoria Cooperative Society, said that the fair trade concept was good for small producers and the requirements were not difficult to comply with.

"It’s a new model of operation, a disciplined way of producing. It’s an old concept but we discovered it only recently," he said.

"There are both direct and indirect benefits to this concept. Our inputs are subsidised, we obtain cash grants and loans at low interest rates. We also get involved in the community in our region," he said from his sugar cane field in Congomah, northern Mauritius.

Farmers are required to share some of their proceeds with their local communities by funding social activities or aiding in the development of villages. There is, however, no prescribed amount of how much they should donate.

But not everyone is keen to be fair trade certified here. In the south of the island, members of the Southern Planters Association (SPA) are reluctant to join the movement.

"We produce the canes and the sugar. Yet, the communities get the extra money and manage it for themselves. We thought the extra money obtained from fair trade would go into the pockets of small producers directly to help them manage the rising costs of production," SPA president Gassen Modely said of the requirement for producers to give back some of their profits to the community.

Modely does not believe farmers will benefit from the fair trade concept after they pay audit fees of between 1,000 to 3,500 dollars annually per cooperative society in order to remain certified. Currently these fees have been subsidised by government. "This is very high," Modely told IPS.

Inder Rajcoomarsingh, a member of the Sebastopol Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, agreed.

"Such high audit fees and to get peanuts in return. Many people do not know that the government has supported us to pay the audit fees for fair trade. That’s how we make extra money. Had we incurred the expenses ourselves, we would not have seen any profit in this concept," he told IPS.

He said that he finds that the criteria are rigid and interferes with the way things have always been done here.

"A chairman’s mandate under the cooperative legislation is three years but nobody abides by it. Many chairmen have been here for the past 20 years. Now, Fair Trade International is insisting that it be only a three-year mandate. Cooperative members are not happy."

Business and Cooperatives Minister Jim Seetaram said that they want small producers to have the choice between traditional farming and farming with fair trade policies, which brings about sustainable development. He believes Mauritian farmers can also export litchis, flowers, fruits, lemon and honey under the fair trade label.

By Nasseem Ackbarally

Source: IPS News

Nigeria Gets Its First Porsche Luxury Car Dealership

Ultra-luxury cars gleam through walls of glass at Porsche’s new dealership, in Lagos, Nigeria.

This is only the second dealership in West Africa for the high-end brand, which sells some models for around $200,000.

Michael Wagner, brand manager for the Lagos branch, says Porsche is a good fit for one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

"Nigeria, as the biggest country in Africa with a population of 150 million and the sixth largest oil producing country, certainly has the earning potential to support - and has an affinity for - luxury brands," said Wagner.

Protests rocked Nigeria in January after the government announced it was ending a fuel subsidy that kept gas prices under 40 cents a gallon – one of the only ways poor Nigerians benefit from the nation’s vast oil wealth. The demonstrations grew into a movement also focused on the ever-widening gap between Nigeria’s rich and poor.

But the showroom, which opened in mid-March, has gotten a good reception from the public, Wagner said.

"I think if you look at the brands that are driven, Nigeria appreciates top quality brands, considering Nigeria’s one of the largest consumers of the most expensive Champagne and really have a taste for these finer goods, we’re really catering for the market that is already there," said Wagner.

According to the United Nations, despite Nigeria’s fast-growing economy, 71 percent of the population still live on less than a dollar a day.

The new dealership employs 13 people, though not all of them are Nigerian. Wagner said the Nigerian nationals they have hired are offered an extensive training program and earn salaries that are competitive with what other local companies pay.

"Obviously the history of Nigeria and the unions dictate salary, which is a national issue and is not particular to any particular company," he added.

Wagner said the dealership’s customers come mostly from the private sector.

"The type of people and customers we’re dealing with are all mainly in private enterprise. They all have their own companies," he said. "So I think that’s very much different to … some countries where politicians are assumed to be driving expensive motor cars."

January’s fuel subsidy protests eventually ended after President Goodluck Jonathan agreed to reinstate the subsidy, though at a lower level.

By Ricci Shyrock

Source: VOA News

Mobile Phones are Getting Smarter in Rural Africa

Imagine you are in Yokadouma, a rural community in eastern Cameroonwith little electricity and inaccessible roads. You have an old, inexpensive mobile phone with which you can only make and receive calls. The good news is that it is now possible for that phone to be smarter — to send and receive e-mails, check a Facebook account and chat online, even without internet access.

ForgetMeNot Africa, owned by Lon-Zim and ForgetMeNot Software, developed the Message Optimizer (MO) service in March 2009 to enable telecommunications operators to provide messaging services to customers at no extra cost, without any new applications or phone upgrades. Popular chat services such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Windows Live and Gtalk are all incorporated into the MO.

"Message Optimizer turns every mobile phone into a mobile computing and mobile authentication device," states ForgetMeNot Africa. The MO allows "more and more of our subscribers to get access to the internet without having to purchase expensive smartphones," according to Douglas Mboweni, the chief executive officer of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a mobile network.

How does the MO deliver messages without the internet or a personal computer? First, a mobile phone subscriber sends an SMS to a given short code. The message is received in the mobile company’s message centre, which then forwards to ForgetMeNot Africa’s internet servers. The servers process, route and deliver the message to the subscriber, who can then respond.

Many factors account for why ForgetMeNot Africa’s MO is spreading speedily, especially in rural areas. Africa has about 1 billion people. Some 72 per cent of them live in the countryside, while internet penetration overall is just 11 per cent, largely in urban areas.

Yet mobile phone use is increasing at a fast pace. In Nigeria, for instance, there are about 90 million mobile phone users, while only 12 million people are connected to the internet. By providing low-cost access to people in rural areas, ForgetMeNot Africa aims to capture the huge market of mobile phone users.

The company currently has around 48 million users, having made inroads into east, west, southern and Central Africa. In late 2011, it started targeting 23 million Portuguese-speaking Africans, beginning with 100,000 Cape Verdeans, following collaboration with T-Mais, a mobile company in Cape Verde.

Jeremy George, the chief operating officer of ForgetMeNot Africa, says that the company "can now serve the vast majority of people across the continent, no matter whether they speak English, French or Portuguese."

On their success so far, Mr. George adds that the company has been able to offer "a new revenue stream from their [mobile companies’] existing subscriber base, while offering customers a unique service." With every phone becoming smart,Africa’s rural dwellers can proudly now hold aloft their inexpensive phones.

By Kingsley Ighobor

Source: African Renewal


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