Once in a while, I encounter the opinion that concern for the environment is a “full stomach phenomenon”: that only people who have enough to eat can afford to care about the natural world, and In some instances it’s true. For example, I’ve seen evidence of people illegally using mosquito nets for fishing: if you’re hungry, it’s a way to obtain a meal… but the use of such a fine mesh means that you’re taking not just the mature fish, but everything. In effect, you’re borrowing against the future food supply, and that never ends well.
At some point, I’ll have to do a post about ecologist Garret Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. The idea of sustainability as a “full stomach phenomenon” really is a tragedy, because the people most at risk from environmental degradation due to pollution, over-fishing, climate change and the like… are inevitably the poor.
An article that appeared recently in the Face of Malawi was very encouraging: not describing some top-down initiative from policymakers, but progress achieved through the Farm Radio Trust. (I’ve written before about the importance of radio for isolated communities…) Radio listener clubs were established, such that family farmers could be informed about climate change, mitigation strategies and the use of compost manure. Radio station staff were trained on climate-smart agriculture, and throughout the radio series, feedback was sought from listeners, in the form of SMS messages and participation in opinion polls. An integrated solution involving outreach workers, broadcast radio and the communities themselves has resulted in a considerable uptake of improved farming practices, shaped by the people who know the local situation best. This is the way it has to be, if initiatives are to be sustained in the long-term.
The premise of the article is that an anticipated human population of nine billion by 2050 will require that food production increases by 70%. Without action of the kind described, even maintaining existing levels of production will be difficult, due to ongoing environmental degradation, but the Face of Malawi article describes an affordable and above all practical way to integrate ten millennia of accumulated agricultural knowledge, a century of radio, and somewhat less than a decade of cellphones in the remoter parts of Malawi – with considerable effect.
The Farm Radio Trust is involved in a whole range of initiatives, such as ‘Integrated Soil Fertility Management’, and ‘Radio for Farmer Value Chain Development’, the latter seeking to enhance farmers’ understanding of the value chain in which they operate, particularly for groundnuts, such that improved communication will make the whole more effective. I’d expect to see a greater share of the value-add for growers, in the future.