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Mercoledì, 04 Novembre 2015 02:00

Climate services for farmers

In the context of changing, and thus growingly unpredictable, climate, the access to appropriate information becomes crucial for implementation of the effective adaptation strategies in agriculture. Consequently, one of the key challenges is delivering climate information and advisory services to millions of female and male farmers around the world, in particular in the global South countries, in order to help them adapt to increasingly serious consequences of climate change.

Climate information services can be a powerful tool in the adaptation of agriculture to the changing climate conditions. They play a very important role especially in protecting farms from droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. Reliable climate and weather information allows also for a more effective use of favorable conditions and helps farmers better manage their crops and increase yields.

Farmers can receive different type of information and with varied frequency. The most typical form are daily weather forecasts informing about the predicted temperatures and rainfall in the coming days. Particularly important are also warnings and alerts about the possible occurrence of extreme weather events or the spread of pests and diseases. All this information, depending on the local circumstances, might be delivered through radio, television, mobile phones or internet. Thanks to this type of information farmers can make better decisions concerning the time of crop planting and harvesting as well as the application of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. Putting in place an early warning system, on the other hand, can help farmers protect themselves, their families and their property from the consequences of extreme weather events.

Female and male farmers may also receive information on climate variability between months and years. Using historical data and numerous climate variables this information tells about probabilities for seasonal temperatures and rainfall as well as other climate conditions important from the point of view of agricultural activities (e.g. dry spells or rainy season start date). This type of knowledge can assist farmers in, among other things, selecting appropriate crops, plant varieties or livestock feeding strategies, applying fertilizers and pesticides, making decisions regarding diversification of crops or income sources etc. In other words, farmers are able to better manage the risks connected with climate. This kind of information might be delivered to farmers in particular during workshops with experts or meetings with suppliers of various agricultural services.

Finally, farmers need also information on climate change and its consequences, especially the ones predicted for the coming years or decades. This information is usually based on historical trends and future projections regarding rainfall patterns and average temperatures as well as historical changes in the frequency of extreme weather events. The knowledge of the forecasted climate change, which can be provided to farmers by experts during specially organized workshops, should help farmers in making long-term decisions concerning investments on their farms, changes in farming methods or diversification of their livelihood strategies.

Learn more about climate information services and their role in assisting farmers in both short- and long-term managing of their farms from the infographic presented below (click to enlarge) and the short video available here (click to watch).

Infographic

Source: CCAFS

Photo credit: Francesco Fiondella / CGIAR Climate (Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Venerdì, 26 Giugno 2015 02:00

Alternative food systems: food cooperatives

During ClimATE Change project events organized by PGN, the participants from Polish cities often want to know how they can support the environment- and climate-friendly agriculture in their everyday life. One of the directions we usually point them to is building alternative food systems based on local and more sustainable food production and consumption. In one of the recent articles we wrote about community supported agriculture. Today we take a closer look at food cooperatives.

Why food cooperatives?

Imagine a city in which small food cooperatives operate in every district or even in each neighbourhood. They organize group food purchases but also animate local community life. Anyone can become their member. They serve as a platform for intergenerational and social cooperation, a school of direct democracy and resourcefulness. Food bought through them is fresh, organic and affordable. This is the vision which inspires the fledgling food cooperatives movement in Poland.

Food coops usually operate informally and not for profit. This differentiates them from other more typical agricultural cooperatives. Despite the fact that group food purchases constitute the main part of their activity, their goal is to initiate a type of a social change. This is why starting a food cooperative can be seen as having the socio-political meaning.

The operational logic of food coops is entirely different from typical business initiatives. It is not about generating profit but creating opportunities for people to satisfy their everyday food needs in a way that contributes to building more just and sustainable world. Cooperatives strive to shorten the distance between consumers and farmers by eliminating unnecessary intermediaries and base their activity on the mutual respect between all participating parties.

Working together

Theoretically, anyone can start a food cooperative and shape it according to the needs and organizational capacity of its members. But food coops are based on the idea that one never acts alone, thus they always entail building a community. Only the common effort of all members guarantees the initiative's success. Carrying out different tasks brings the group together and successes give more joy if they can be shared with others. Even though cooperatives usually start with practical challenges, they achieve a lot more by building relationships between their members. Being in a community is also a chance to create new projects. The experience shows that food coops often lead to other similar initiatives such as community supported agriculture.

How does it work?

Food cooperatives have various ways of operating. Usually, food purchases are made during one chosen day once a week or every two weeks. In the morning, designated people go to buy food products which were earlier ordered by the coop members. The orders are most often made using web-based ordering system. After the shopping is finished, the food is brought to the meeting place of the cooperative, where it is weighed and packed for each member. At the agreed time, the members arrive to pay and receive their orders. Sometimes the payment might include extra 10% for the coop's common fund. This money can be used, for example, to buy necessary equipment (such as scales) or to finance the purchases for cooperative members who might be temporarily in need.

During the shopping day, cooperatives often have also the organizational meeting for their participants. This is the time to evaluate the current round of purchases, plan the next one and decide together about possible improvements of the whole process. In cooperatives all members are equal, there are no bosses, and everyone can express their opinion. At the end of the day, designated members clean the room where the food was distributed.

Until the next shopping round the cooperative participants usually communicate with each other only through Internet. Some of the members work additionally in various task groups. In one of the cooperatives in Warsaw, for example, there is a group whose task is to find new suppliers and another one which deals with the issues connected to the web-based ordering system. Sometimes cooperatives organize also various cultural events.

Organic or cheap?

Access to certified organic food in Poland is not a big problem anymore. However, taking into account the price of products sold in organic shops, organic food is still not affordable on the regular basis for the majority of the Polish society. The solution to this problem is still to be found and constitutes also the biggest challenge for the food cooperatives movement in Poland. Creating a way to supply city inhabitants with affordable healthy food might be a key element to making food cooperatives a practical and functioning model.

At the moment, there are still too few organic farmers in Poland willing to engage in this type of pilot and, for now, not very profitable initiatives. Those producers who are ready usually offer relatively high prices. It is understandable as the price must reflect high production cost and include a fair remuneration for hard work on farms. Food coops do not want to pressure farmers to sell their produce at cost. Food prices should be fair but at the same time acceptable to less affluent consumers. This could be achieved by increasing the size of purchases, which means going in the direction of the wholesale buying. This requires, however, greater number of ordering parties, which means building bigger cooperatives or creating networks of coops operating in one district or city and making purchases together.

Organizational challenges

The very first food cooperative in Poland was started a few years ago in Warsaw. Soon it was followed by groups in other cities. Currently, there are food coops operating also in Krakow, Łódź, Gdańsk, Poznań, Lublin, Białystok and other places.

Food cooperatives face many organizational challenges. On one hand, they want to work in the democratic manner, but at the same time they need to make sure that the responsibility for carrying out various tasks does not become diluted. What is the best way to take decisions? Through voting or by trying to reach a consensus? If a coop chooses the latter, how can it make sure that everyone is able to voice their opinions? There is also the issue of members' commitment. How to make sure that the workload in a cooperative is divided more less equally? Even the biggest enthusiasm can quickly fade away when the whole work is carried out by just a few people.

The future

Food cooperatives are still a relatively new phenomenon in Poland and thus have not lost their novelty appeal. Moreover, people can engage in them without any specialist knowledge or skills. The interest in the food coops movement in Poland is undoubtedly growing so the are good prospects of its further development.

The above article was written on the basis of the excerpt from the action guide "Time for change. Choose locality! How to support environment- and people-friendly agriculture?" published in Polish by PGN.

Photo credit: Meagan Perosha / USDA (Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Notes from the lecture delivered by Dione Caruana from the MCAST Agribusiness Institute during free course for farmers held in Malta on the 14th of April 2015, as part of the ClimATE Change project.

To download it, click on the link on your left.

One of the presentations delivered by Daniel Grech from the MCAST Agribusiness Institute during free course for farmers held in Malta on the 23rd of April 2015, as part of the ClimATE Change project.

To download it, click on the link on your left.

Martedì, 02 Giugno 2015 02:00

Reducing water demand – Irrigation methods

One of the presentations used by Daniel Grech from the MCAST Agribusiness Institute during free course for farmers held in Malta on the 23rd of April 2015, as part of the ClimATE Change project.

To download it, click on the link on your left.

One of the ways to mitigate the negative impact of agriculture on climate, which PGN tries to promote through our campaign, is building alternative food systems based on sustainable local food production, distribution and consumption. This type of food systems, by using more ecological farming methods and shortening the distance between farmers and consumers, help, among other things, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve natural resource protection. Among various alternative models of food production and distribution increasingly popular is the so-called community supported agriculture (CSA).

Food from the farmer you know

The beginnings of the CSA model, which is based on the close cooperation between farmers and a group of people interested in eating healthy local food, go back to the 1960s. First initiatives of this kind were started in Germany, Switzerland and Japan as a response to the wave of urbanization and the deterioration of conditions of food production in the countryside. Creating a relationship between consumers and farmers characterised by partnership is a building block of this type of cooperation. Consumers who want to receive healthy and sustainably produced food pay up front the producers for the whole season of deliveries. In this way consumers secure the supply of food and farmers the sale of their products.

What is CSA really about?

CSA focuses on the production of high quality food for a local community. The production very often uses organic, biodynamic or permaculture farming methods. The key elements are close cooperation and trust between participating farmers and consumers. A group of consumers provides the farmers with money by paying in advance for the whole season of supplies of jointly agreed types of products (usually vegetables and fruits). As a result the participating farms do not need to search for new markets for their produce and can focus solely on growing food for their supporting community.

The consumers and producers jointly agree on the budget. Usually, it is farmers who carry out the necessary calculation of the production costs (seeds, machinery, transport, labour and so on). Naturally, the system might have numerous variations. The main differences concern the construction of the budget and the ways of delivering food. In order to reduce their ecological footprint, communities usually try to initiate cooperation with farms close to the cities in which they live. The distribution of food among the participating consumers can take various forms. Most often it is based on the system of packages or baskets - each participant receives regularly a package with the ordered products which is delivered directly to their household or picked up individually from the agreed place.

In many CSA initiatives the consumers engage in the work on farms. Depending on the agreement with the farmers, it could be either regular work, allowing to reduce the costs, or work of a more educational character - the consumers visit the farms where they can learn more about the ways of producing food.

Sharing risk

CSA creates a favourable environment for small-scale farms. The relationship between farmers and consumers, usually mediated by the market where the main goal is profit, changes into a personal and trust-based contact in which respect and cooperation replace the market logic. An essential element of this model is the sharing risk concept which is usually absent from traditional market transactions. In CSA consumers pay farmers in advance and thus accept the possibility of unexpected circumstances which may prevent the crops from achieving planned yields.

Global and local context

In the wider context, the goal of CSA is turning around the current tendency of replacing small-scale farms with industrial food production as well as preserving biological and cultural diversity in the countryside. In Poland, for example, this trend is quite visible - the number of farms has significantly diminished and their size has grown. CSA as well as other similar initiatives, such as food cooperatives, have a chance to become a real alternative to industrial food production, which is ineffective and harmful for the environment and climate.

Probably the first CSA initiative in Poland was started in spring 2012 in the Mazovia region between a group of consumers in Warsaw and the farmers in the village called Świerże Panki. Since then the interest in this model of agriculture has grown in the Polish society and new initiatives have been started in various parts of Poland.

Benefits for farmers and consumers

In conclusion, CSA brings many benefits for both farmers and consumers. Farmers, among other things: save time and energy needed to find recipients for their products; receive payment in the beginning of the season which secures their liquidity and allows for necessary investments; become independent from commercial loans; have an opportunity to meet people who buy their food; can get help from consumers in the work on farms. Consumers, on the other hand: buy fresh, healthy and seasonal products; learn how their food is produced and thus the consumed products stop being anonymous; know in advance time of the deliveries and can save time spent on traditional shopping; become a part of the community; have an opportunity to gain knowledge about growing food and working on farms. Both groups contribute to the protection of environment and to lessening the negative impact of agriculture and food production on climate.

The above article was written on the basis of the excerpt from the action guide "Time for change. Choose locality! How to support environment- and people-friendly agriculture?" published in Polish by PGN.

Photo credit: Suzie's Farm (Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)