Diversifying Agriculture for Better Lives

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18 January 2013 4 Comments


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The Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK invites applications for the DFID Graduate Recruitment Scheme 2013.

Successful applicants will enroll in a paid 50 week development placement, where they will work with experienced professionals on specific projects – contributing to evaluating where, when and how DFID delivers the UK’s aid programme. The deadline for applications is 12 March 2013.

Please visit the official website of DFID Graduate Recruitment Scheme 2013 for more information or direct your enquiries to email hidden; JavaScript is required.

16 January 2013 Add Comments

I am delighted by this opportunity to write about Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum) for the Crops for the Future website. Maya nut is an exemplary “Crop for the Future”. It is a nutritious and delicious neotropical rainforest tree seed and its commercialisation and consumption can reduce deforestation, malnutrition and rural poverty. It was a staple food for the ancient Maya and other Pre-Columbian cultures that cherished and cultivated it in “food forests”.

Our primary goal with Maya nut is to restore it to the local daily diet. We accomplish this only rarely, unfortunately, because Maya nut, as many traditional foods, is stigmatised as food for forest animals and the landless poor. “When we saw families eating Maya nut we realised their situation had gotten really bad. They must have had no corn and no money to buy any”.

Salvadoran children with Maya Nut school lunches (drink and cookies). Photo by Nidia Lara, AGAPE, El Salvador.

Salvadoran children with Maya Nut school lunches (drink and cookies). Photo by Nidia Lara, AGAPE, El Salvador.

We have managed to overcome this stigma in certain communities/regions where we have been able to find funding for our “Healthy Kids, Healthy Forestsprogramme, which is a Maya nut school-lunch programme for rural schools. We have found that children are less judgmental about the social aspects of Maya nut; and because it tastes good to them, they eat it delightedly and clamour for it when we arrive with Maya nut for their noontime meal. A primary component of the programme is that participating schools agree to reforest at least 2 hectares of land, or at least 2,000 Maya nut trees, for future harvests. This is how we ensure sustainability for the programme. Unfortunately, it has been extremely difficult to find funding for Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests. Apparently children’s health is not a true priority for donors, or maybe they feel that “the bases are covered” in terms of school lunches and that other development projects are more important to fund.

Our experience with Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests shows that the programme results in positive short-term outcomes and guaranteed long-term outcomes. In the short term, children come to love Maya nut because it tastes good. In communities with nearby Maya nut forests, children will harvest nuts and ask their parents to cook it at home. Through their children, mothers learn to cook and appreciate Maya nut and are more interested in reforestation and forest conservation than before. In many communities where we have implemented Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests, mothers stop buying and using Maya nut firewood (which is often the only use for Maya nut in those communities). In the long term, the food forests established in participating communities will produce 30,000lb of Maya nut for community consumption and/or sale within 15 years. This contributes directly to food security in an increasingly insecure agroeconomic climate. These forests will also provide valuable ecosystem services, including protection of soils, water and biodiversity and provision of fuelwood and fodder for livestock for 150-200 years.

Guatemalan kids in Maya Nut tree nursery, Lachua, Guatemala. Photo by Heather Finnecy.

Guatemalan kids in Maya Nut tree nursery, Lachua, Guatemala. Photo by Heather Finnecy.

Agronomically, Maya nut outperforms other crops. It is one of the most drought-resistant trees in Latin America, thriving where other species cannot. Historically, thousands of communities have survived drought and famine eating Maya nut when their crops failed due to drought, war or pests. Because of its extensive root system and unique physiology, Maya nut remains evergreen and produces food and fodder even in years when other crops fail due to lack of rain. It is also exceptionally resistant to hurricanes and flooding. It is a dominant species in gallery forest, where it stabilises riverbanks and prevents erosion, even during severe floods. With expected increases in duration and severity of drought and frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tropical depressions due to climate change, it is likely that Maya nut will again be an important source of food for people and wildlife in the near future.

I am grateful for this opportunity to share our strategy for restoring one “crop for the future” to the daily menu in the communities where we work and look forward to hearing from you, comments and criticisms are welcome!


Erika Vohman
Founder, Executive Director
Maya Nut Institute
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31 December 2012 Add Comments
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biotrade-wiki.net Logo

In collaboration with UNCTAD, GIZ and other partners, CFF has recently completed this wikibook on biotrade. Biotrade concerns the local, national and international trade in physical goods derived from native biodiversity, including agricultural species. The wikibook covers concepts relevant to biotrade, explores the benefits and risks associated with it, as well as the frameworks and factors enabling it.

What surprised us in putting together the wikibook is the complexity and enormous economic importance of biotrade, which is under-reported because of biotrade’s multi-faceted, dispersed and oftentimes informal nature. Compiled data suggest that global biotrade is a multi-billion US$ industry, probably in the middle double-digits.

Another issue that caught our attention is the growing share of agriculturally produced biotrade materials, in particular from the farming of wild-type species, as described in the wikibook. There is no shortage of standards and guidelines for the sustainable extraction of biotrade materials from natural habitats, but typically the combined effect of relentless market demand, unscrupulous traders and poor gatherers and hunters, depletes the resource base. Thus, many herbal and other plant and animal materials are becoming scarce from the wild and need to be farmed.

24 December 2012 2 Comments

The Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, is offering a number of PhD scholarships in the area of food security (crop science, biodiversity, conservation) to outstanding candidates from Africa, Asia and South America. The scholarships are funded by the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and cover tuition fees as well as living expenses for a total period of three years.

Application deadline for this round is 18 January 2013, and the final closing round will be on 08 March 2013. Full details of the scholarships and the graduate training programme can be found at: www.plants.ox.ac.uk/plants/students/postgraduates/Louis-Dreyfus.aspx

24 December 2012 2 Comments

The International Foundation for Science (IFS) is inviting early-career scientists in IFS eligible developing countries to apply for its Individual Research Grants to do research on the themes of:

  1. Food Production, Food Security and Nutrition
    Including but not limited to: Research on Food Production; Animal Production and Veterinary Medicine; Crop Science including Underutilised Crops; Food Science and Nutrition, and Food Security issues.
  2. Sustainable Natural Resources Management
    Including but not limited to: Biodiversity, Forestry, Natural Products, Renewable Energy and Climate Change.
  3. Water and Aquatic Resources
    Including but not limited to: Water Resources Research; Research on all aspects of freshwater, brackish and marine aquatic organisms and their environments.

Individual Research grants are awarded on merit in amounts up to USD 12,000 for one to three years.

Deadline for application is 27 January 2013. The full guidelines, eligibility criteria, and instructions to apply are available here: http://www.ifs.se/IFS/Documents/Calls/IFS_Call_for_Individual_Applications_Dec2012.pdf