Going the extra mile

Sustainability check of our tsetse project in Ethiopia

After our successful campaign against the tsetse fly in Gibe Valley in Ethiopia from 2005 to 2008 with the newly developed fly-traps, we have now launched a project to test just how sustainable our efforts were.

As our project manager, Dr Sam Ledermann reported after his visit to the area in January, scientists from the international institute for African insect science ICIPE have set up 80 new traps 500 metres apart. They are now measuring how far the tsetse fly has progressed away from the river towards the pastures above. In addition, they are taking blood samples from the livestock on the pastures to establish whether they have again become carriers of the parasite that causes sleeping sickness.

During the first campaign, tsetse flies were eliminated from all pastures right down close to the river Gibe. But as the cattle is taken down to the river occasionally, it takes close monitoring to ensure that the tsetse fly and the deadly sleeping sickness are not being spread again.

The aim is a scientific confirmation of the sustainability of the first campaign and learning new lessons for similar projects. Before the initial campaign, the livestock of the inhabitants of Gibe Valley had been decimated by the sleeping sickness and the very livelihood of the people was threatened. With the successful fight against the tsetse fly and the additional dissemination of knowledge about organic agriculture, food security and quality of life in the region could be significantly improved.

The results of the sustainability check should be available in two to three months.


Don’t let ideological battles hurt the hungry

The IAASTD report published in 2008 offers a credible solution for combatting hunger and poverty and enabling a fair and socially, economically and ecologically sustainable development of our world. But the decision-makers are finding it difficult to implement the findings – not least because the discussion threatens to deteriorate into an ideological battle.

The report’s proponents are partly to blame with their insistence to limit the findings of hundreds of scientists over six years to the principles of organic farming. These limitations would significantly narrow the scope of options to meet the large regional differences of the challenges we face. That is why the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) favours an agro-ecological approach that provides a much wider framework than organic farming and even sees cases in which Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods can be deployed. On the other hand, the IAASTD states clearly that industrial farming methods with monocultures of genetically modified plants still can’t deliver the results that were hoped for. And this is still the case today, almost five years after publication of the report.

The agri-business on the other hand regards any ecological approach as outdated and, for obvious reasons, opposes any solutions that might involve giving more autonomy to smallholders. Such solutions would not fit with the business model of agri-business: to sell those farmers genetically modified or hybrid seeds year after year, along with the corresponding fertilisers and pesticides.

In the battle between these two camps, we should not lose sight of the main goal of the IAASTD: To nourish all people of this world; today, but also after the world’s population has risen to 9 billion by 2050.

The pragmatic, agro-ecological approach of the IAASTD is very promising, if we are to eliminate hunger on our planet. Due to its relative openness, many solutions adapted to special local circumstances can be adopted. It includes many agricultural methods based on traditional practices. But agro-forestry, no-till methods and various organic farming methods are also part of the options available.

But the approach of the IAASTD is very knowledge-intensive. Only with substantiated knowledge can we avoid that pragmatic solutions do not deteriorate into random and opportunistic loopholes. And this knowledge has to be passed on to the grass-root level in order to be effectively implemented and then developed further in a participatory process. And that is a crucial problem: Who is willing to invest in research that cannot be patented and therefore will not yield massive monetary returns? Instead, further investment is required in order to disseminate the findings to a target group that is poor. But global food security can only be achieved if smallholders are closely involved in the process and are given their rightful position in society.

The scientific approach is key for the global acceptance of the proposed way forward. If the direction proposed by the IAASTD is reduced to ideology, then the report’s numerous opponents will find it much easier to stop it in its tracks. That’s why any proposed solution should not be rejected out of hand for ideological reasons, but only if a rigorous investigation shows it not meeting the requirements. Of course science is not completely free of ideology and society’s preference for technological solutions stands in stark contrast to many of the IAASTD’s recommendations for a return to simple sustainable methods derived from processes seen in nature. This inherent conflict can only be overcome, if our search for solutions remains focused on the main goal: Healthy food for all, naturally!

Overcoming the crisis step by step – Tsetse control and ecological farming

Peter-Lüthi_Biovision_IMG_2911After a journey across bone-dry plains in the shimmering heat, Usman Bashir’s plantation feels like the garden of Eden. The 47 year-old farmer kneels by the irrigation channel and sends the elixir of life on its way towards his vegetables. “Before, I only planted maize and sweet potatoes, in quite a muddled sort of way. As a result, my yields were low“, he reports. Today, however, Mr Baschir uses a precise system that includes soil preparation and improvement, targeted irrigation, professional planting and sowing, and also weeding and harvesting. “My wide range of vegetables is a joy to behold”, he says with a smile, proudly showing us his magnificent cabbages, carrots, Beet -root, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. The former livestock breeder from Afa Megele in Ethiopia, a small village near Assosa close to the border with Sudan, has been through some very difficult times. During recent years, he lost nearly all his cattle after tsetse flies infected them with deadly nagana (sleeping sickness). This was a downright disaster for him and his family.

”Everything takes time”

In 2011, he was given the opportunity to participate in a six-day intensive course on ecological cultivation methods on the Biofarm training centre for sustainable agriculture in Assosa. This centre was established in 2009 by “BioEconomy Africa” with the support of Biovision. By the summer of 2012, it had already trained 550 farmers in sustainable crop farming methods, animal husbandry and human health, and taught them how to manage organic traps in which to catch tsetse flies. These coloured, odour-baited traps can control insect populations, and therefore also the spread of nagana, in an environmentally-friendly way.
Usman Baschir looks back over the past year with satisfaction: “Since I attended the courses on the Biofarm, things have been improving step by step”, he reports confidently, “but everything takes time.” He sees his greatest challenge for the future as accessing the market in order to sell his produce.


A farmer helps fight poverty – The Organic Farmer, November 2012

TOF_WawireThe success of Wawire, in Kimilili, demonstrates how income generating activities can free farmers from poverty. Patrick Wawire used to be like any other farmer in Kenya: Producing just enough to feed his family and struggling to pay his childrens’ school fees. This was until early 2011 when he learnt about the i-TOF centre and its farmers’ training programme in Western Kenya. Soon, he realized that this was what he needed to improve his situation and that of other farmers. Together, they formed a farmers’ group and named it Agricultural Development Improved Centre (ADIC). The local i-TOF worker Alfred Amusibwa started training them in organic farming. Patrick did not only adopt sustainable agriculture, but also started a range of new income generating activities.

He wanted to do beekeeping, but did not have enough capital to purchase modern ones. This situation prompted him to make his own beehives using locally available material. Advised and encouraged by Amusibwa, he tried out a jua kali (informal) design and constructed simple wooden boxes, which he covered with a black polyethylene sheet at the top. Within a short period, each of the boxes was occupied by a colony. At the end of the season he harvested more than 80 kg of honey, which he sold at a good price in Nairobi. He ploughed back the profits into more investments.

He also tried a range of other activities, such as the keeping of geese, chickens and rabbits. The most successful of his projects was aquaculture. After an i-TOF training on fish farming and management, Wawire, together with other farmers, renovated online casino fishponds which they had earlier abandoned. Now Wawire can harvest as many as 10,000 pieces of tilapia every season per pond. He reinvested his earnings by building more ponds and today owns 15 of them, up from the two he initially had. That’s how Wawire turned from a small-scale farmer into a successful entrepreneur, within only one year.

Most people in his situation would have squandered their earnings on luxury items. Not so for Wawire. He invested most of his profit in helping his community. He has set up a kindergarten, paying teachers to hold classes in the local church during the week. And currently a small communal dispensary is under construction, also thanks to his funding. Asked what motivated him to help the community, he explains that he enjoys engaging in community work. “I want to free this community from poverty and my fellow farmers to be role models to others,” he says. And already several of them have improved and expanded from aquaculture into bee or poultry keeping. Through their merry-go-rounds savings and lending scheme, they have been able to raise enough money to buy sheep for every member. “And now we plan to start savings to buy dairy goats and cows for our members, for us poverty will be a thing of the past,” says one of the members with confidence.

The Organic Farmer, November 2012 (Article on page 6)

Award for Biovision honeybee project

A Biovision Foundation honeybee project has been awarded third prize at the international honey and bee fair “ApiExpo Africa” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Entrants from Africa, Canada and Europe competed for the coveted awards.

“Our efforts have been rewarded! We were presented with a certificate by the Minister of Trade and Industry. To be presented with this award in front of a thousand domestic and international professionals was a very exciting moment for us,” said Dr. Shifa Ballo, who is in charge of the project in Tolay, Ethiopia, together with Lulseged Belayhun, who was also present at the ceremony.


Biovision and the Nairobi-based insect research institute icepe are training farmers in Tolay in modern ecological honey production and professional marketing. The honey business does not just improve the food security of these farmers, but also offers an additional sustainable source of income in rural Ethiopia.

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