Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

POGA President Speaks to Canadian Senate

Last Wednesday, POGA President Art Enns spoke to the Canadian Senate regarding Bill C-30, or the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act. The Bill is the Canadian Government’s attempt to address the commodity transportation crisis in Canada, and Art spoke about how grain producers – particularly oat growers – are being harmed by their inability to get their product to market. As always, Art was an excellent representative for both POGA and for farmers at large. We are extremely happy to be working with him.

The Bill was to be expedited through Parliament, but ran into an issue in the House of Commons, when an independent member raised a point of order regarding an amendment, stalling its progress temporarily. The Globe and Mail wrote about the Bill’s delays here.

You can read Art’s speech here.

I wrote about his earlier testimony in front of the House of Commons here.

Canadian Seed Sector Makes a Difference in Africa

The seed industry is supporting a project to provide education and agricultural training to Zambian children.

Imagine living on less than a dollar a day and needing to find tuition money for your child to start Grade One. Imagine a child skinning his knee, with no mother to clean the wound and no bandage to cover it. Imagine having to learn how to earn a living on your family farm, when you are 14 and your parents are gone.

In a remote corner of northwestern Zambia, there are two schools providing orphans and vulnerable children with an education that they would otherwise miss. The schools are part of the Manyinga Community Resource Centre, a project started in 2008 that teaches more than 400 students a year.

In Zambia, 85 per cent of the population are farmers, and children generally learn how to farm from their parents. The schools’ agriculture program is aimed at teaching orphans and vulnerable children essential agricultural skills. In this region, where diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are commonplace, these children represent a significant portion of a population who could easily fall into poverty if they lack an education or the ability to farm for a living.

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The Manyinga Community Resource Centre offers students essential lessons in agriculture as well as traditional curriculum.

Located in the Zambian communities of Chinema and Samafunda, the Manyinga schools welcome orphans and vulnerable children at no cost from Grades 1 to 7. The schools have three primary goals:

• To train children to become viable commercial farmers and successful gardeners

• To provide a free education where students can qualify for state exams at the end of Grade 7

• To generate income to support a portion of the school operating costs

The agricultural program teaches students about orchards, gardens, field crops and livestock. In 2011, about 32 acres of maize, sweet potatoes and beans were planted, with yields increasing 200 to 300 per cent over the previous year through the use of fertilizer and better seed. In addition, the schools plant and harvest banana, guava, orange and tangerine, and there’s also a small herd of goats. Part of each year’s crop is used to help feed the students, while the rest is sold and the proceeds reinvested in the schools.

Recently, a special campaign spearheaded by Dorothy Murrell and Brenda Trask, communications manager with SeCan aimed to fill one of the school’s needs. Joan’s House is a project to open a teachers’ house at each of the Manyinga schools. In rural areas, teachers sometimes need to travel miles to get to their students. In many Zambian schools, accommodation is provided for the teachers on-site, so they don’t have to travel each day.

The project’s namesake is Joan Anderson, a lifelong advocate for education who passed away in 2013. Joan’s influence also reached into the ag world, where her husband Bob Anderson is a long-time Manitoba seed grower and her children, Robynne and Chris, continue to be huge contributors to the agriculture industry. Robynne is also one of the volunteers who helped found the school. The project aims to raise $4,000 for each school, and local labour will be used to build the houses, meaning the money will be injected into the local economy.

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The Anderson Family at the Canadian Seed Trade Association Annual Meeting.

The students are taught a regular state curriculum, with the agricultural program being a supplementary part of their education at Manyinga. They are taught once a week by an agriculturalist. In the lower grades, students focus on gardening, and move into field crops in the higher grades. Older students are also taught marketing and entrepreneurial skills, which are incorporated into their math class.

The school isn’t just about agriculture, as evidenced by the fact that Manyinga students regularly pass the state-wide exams for entrance into Grade 8 at higher rates than other schools in the area. Some of the students from the first class of the schools have now graduated. Those students are working towards futures in teaching, medicine and computers. They attended the school when there was no buildings, water well, or even latrines.

“The program has had some remarkable successes as a result of the students’ determination. Some travel more than an hour each way to attend class,” says Robynne Anderson. One student, who had lost the use of his legs to polio, dragged himself on a sledge for more than an hour to attend class each day until a specialized cart with hand pedals could be purchased for him. With the free tuition offered at the school, he passed his Grade 8 entrance exams and is now sponsored to continue his education in the state system. He hopes to work with computers after graduating.

“The Canadian working committee, which includes a team from Suckerpunch Creative, Dr. Allan Ronald, Myrna Ronald, and Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, continues to do important work, particularly with the agricultural program,” says Robynne Anderon. As the school has grown, however, more and more of the governance is being done by the community. With the headmaster/headmistress in place as well as the formation of a local parent-teacher board for the Zambian schools, the Canadian committee is shifting towards a support role.

All of this is made possible by family friend, Marian Ronald, a nurse who was raised on a farm in Portage la Prairie, Man., who has made her home in this remote corner of Zambia for 40 years.

The schools have seen much growth since they began, but the biggest challenge facing the Manyinga program is paying the salaries of its teachers, who on average receive $1,500 per year. The dedication of Manyinga’s teachers is a huge part of why the project has been a success. In the past, when sources of funding have run dry, they have continued to work without pay until funding could resume again.

Paying teachers’ salaries needs to be done through the program, until the Zambian government assumes the responsibility. Though the Manyinga program aims to become self-sufficient, it needs help with its financial responsibilities until it can achieve this goal.

For less than a third of one Canadian teacher’s salary, it is possible to send more than 500 children to school, provide a living for their teachers, and improve the prospects for many Zambian orphans and vulnerable youth for a fruitful and viable life on the farm.

 

JOAN’S LEGACY

Many thanks on behalf of the Manyinga Community Resource Centre to those in the seed sector who have supported Joan’s House and the Manyinga project in general.

In addition to numerous anonymous contributors, Joan’s House donors include:

Erin Armstrong, Manitoba

Shawn Brook, Manitoba

Art Enns, Manitoba

Wayne Gale, Ontario

Peter Hannam, Ontario

Doug Knight and Brenda Frank, Saskatchewan

Bill Leask, Ontario

Kim McConnell, Alberta

Patti McNabb, Manitoba

Monsanto Canada

Dorothy Murrell, Saskatchewan

David and Anne Sippell, Minnesota

Brenda Trask, Ontario

John Zuelzer & Son, British Columbia

To contribute to Joan’s House, visit manyinga.org.

 

International Year of Pulses

 

CICILS, the international pulse trade and industry confederation, met in South Africa May 3-9.  Emerging is very pleased to be acting as the project management office for CICILS celebrations of the International Year of Pulses. Here are a few of the highlights:

–      600 registrants talked about the upcoming year

–      Over 60 great ideas were provided for activities to promote the International Year of Pulses

–      43 people from 24 countries joined the national committees meeting to talk about how to get ready for the Year in their countries

–      $1.74 million has been committed to a combination of the CICILS’ budget for International Year of Pulses and the Members Fund, including Saskatchewan Pulse Growers commitment of $250,000 to CICILS work to co-ordinate activities on the International Year

–      www.iyop.net was launched

–      In total, there were 27 hours of meetings on the international year, over the course of five days.  That is a lot of dedication

 

Climate Change Impact on Agriculture – Hard to Overcome

Every 6 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a three part assessment report on climate change.  The second part of the fifth of these reports was released on March 31st, and its focus is on the effect of climate change on ecosystems, economy and human society in general. Chapter 7, which the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has condensed into a brief analysis paper, is focused on impacts on food and agriculture.

The big take-home message is that climate change depresses yields. Even moderate climate change, anticipated in the next few decades, is associated with yield losses. By the second half of the century two-thirds of simulations project yield decreases of more than 10%. The previous IPCC report thought that warmer climates should mean longer growing seasons, and more carbon should mean an increased rate of photosynthesis. This updated report confirms that tropical cereals are experiencing a decline in yields, and that increased carbon dioxide has had no effect on the rate of photo synthesis. The news continues to be bad for tropical zone crops and the projections look more bleak in temperate zones where improved technology may only keep up with climate change effects, which leaves big gaps.To quote CCAFS, for which Emerging has done several projects:  “Maize yields in the USA increased 600% over the 20th century. Looking forward, scientists argue that yield increases of 45-70% are possible for most crops through improved nutrient management and increased use of irrigation. Climate change may exert a drag on yield growth, but perhaps technology and careful use of resources can more than compensate.

The report suggests unfortunately that technology may not be able to keep up, with a great hit to tropical agriculture. “Simulations for the 2040s and 2050s that include on-farm adaptations – changes in planting date, fertilizer, irrigation, cultivar or other agronomic practices – give a yield benefit of 14% for temperate crops, but no discernible benefit for tropical crops,” summarizes CCAFS.

The report can be found here. The Economist’s coverage of the report can be found here.

The synthesis, also published independently as A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation, by Andy Challinor, James Watson, David Lobell, Mark Howden, Daniel Smith and Netra Chhetri, distills the consensus among modellers on future yields of the major food security crops – rice, wheat and maize – that provide half the food we consume.

POGA President Speaks to House of Commons

A week ago, the Canadian government introduced legislation to put into law the Order in Council measures taken earlier in March. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture asked the President of the Prairie Oat Growers Association(POGA), Art Enns, to testify about the legislation (Bill C-30, or Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act). He was also representing the Grain Growers of Canada, in a rather expedited committee stage. He spoke effectively about the need for both short term assistance for farmers who cannot move their grain to market, and long term reform to fix the system that created this situation. In particular, he requested that the legislation include some corridor specific considerations, as setting general minimum requirements may not help oat farmers enough. I’m hopeful that the government will have heard his requests, and put them into this legislation.

You can read the the Brief submitted with his testimony here.