Around 80 per cent of the 700 million people experiencing hunger are farmers, fisherfolk, herders and landless farm labourers who produce food. Factors like climate change and unfair trade are severely affecting their livelihoods. Oxfam works with farmers in poor countries to develop communities, promote local agriculture and economic development, improve disaster preparedness and resilience so that communities can enjoy greater food security and develop sustainably.
Tanzania - The Plant That’s Changing Small Farmer’s Lives
Caption: In the past, monsoon season would water Suzanne’s cotton – one of Tanzania’s major exports – and sorghum. With climate change though, Oxfam began working with partner organisation Katani to implement a project that encourages participants to grow sisal, a drought tolerant plant. (Photo: Sunsun Leung / Oxfam)
Suzanne Jinyange is a smallholder farmer and a cheerful mother of six who lives in Nhoborvillage in Kishapu. Just outside her house is a plot of land where she grows sisal, and to the side, a sisal processing machine. Because of climate change, everything she used to grow here withered: ‘I was farming cotton and sorghum but not getting enough income to sustain my family.’ Life here is just a microcosm of the challenges many smallholder farmers around the world face.
Rain nowadays is unpredictable in the area. In the past, monsoon season would start in November and last until April; during this period, the rain would water Suzanne’s cotton – one of Tanzania’s major exports – and sorghum. With climate change though, it’s been difficult to grow these crops, which has impacted smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.
With the lack of rainfall and infrastructure like water pipes, there’s been a serious shortage of water in the local area. Farmers have no choice now but to fetch water from the well or public tap in the village. For Tanzania, a country where 60 per cent of its 53 million people rely on raising livestock and farming for a living, water scarcity has become a widespread problem.
In 2009, Oxfam began working with partner organisation Katani to implement a project that encourages participants to grow sisal, a drought tolerant plant. Suzanne joined the project in 2013, received training and obtained a small sisal processor that helps extract sisal fibre, which is more valuable than the entire plant. Suzanne sells around 10 tons of sisal fibre a year and earns about HK$35,000 per year.
This has been life-changing for Suzanne. Now, she can afford better treatment in the city for her daughter who has bone cancer. Speaking about her daughter, Suzanne smiled and said, ‘She’s stable now and I’m relieved. The income I earn from growing sisal is also helping me put my other children through school.’
Aside from Kishapu, this project has also been implemented in Meatu and has enabled nearly 1,000 farmers to boost their production. Oxfam and partners have also established processing and buying centres, and are encouraging farmers to form market associations to increase collective bargaining by improving the economic value of sisal. Farmers are also encouraged to establish mutual aid associations to lobby district councils to make sisal a priority in the district’s development plans, and ensure that all taxes levied on farmers will not affect their livelihoods.
While many parts of Africa are still poor, the hope these sisal farmers have for the future is apparent in their confidence, enthusiasm and smiles.
NepaL - Food on the table turns dreams into reality
Caption: When most of your family’s income goes towards basic living expenses like rent, food and transportation, what do you do with the little you have left? Spend it on daily necessities? Your family members’ doctor’s visits? Your children’s education? These are questions many smallholder farmers who live in developing countries ask themselves every day. (Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam)
Imagine: You live in Nepal and rely on a small plot of land to grow crops for your family. You have three kids to feed, but climate change has made it increasingly hard to predict the weather. Your kids – still too young to understand your plight – tell you all about their magnificent dreams for the future over dinner. As you listen, you can’t shake the heavy feeling in your heart as you wonder whether you’ll ever be able to afford the education they need to make their dreams come true.
This situation is perhaps all too familiar for many families in rural Nepal. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, smallholder farmer households in Nepal spend 60 per cent of their monthly income on food, and roughly 30 per cent on housing and other living expenses. On average, they’re only able to spend 2 per cent on their children’s education.
Mira, 16, lives in a village in Nepal’s Arghakhanchi region, and has loved school since she was a child; she’s always dreamed of teaching Nepalese. Climate change threatened to rob this dream from her though. Despite knowing how much this dream meant to her, Mira’s mum couldn’t do much because she had three mouths to feed. Instead, Mira had to help out in the fields to try to boost the family’s income.
Thankfully, things started to turn around after Mira’s mum joined a women’s cooperative that Oxfam supports. It provides interest-free loans so members can buy drought-resistant seeds and farming equipment. Since 2005, Oxfam has also been implementing livelihood projects all over Nepal to enable women to learn more efficient agricultural techniques that will help them better adapt to climate change.
Mira’s mum has since seen her family’s income increase and not only no longer worries about their next meal, but is also sending her children to school. Mira is now studying hard to turn her dream into reality.
Ethiopia - A buzzing Business
Caption: With the rest of my profit, I have bought an ox, two sheep and one proper bed [we used to sleep in a traditional bed made on the floor with mud].’ (Photo: Tigist Gebru / Oxfam)
The majority of Ethiopia’s population (85 per cent) relies on rainfed agriculture. With climate change hitting the country hard though, rain has become unpredictable, which has greatly affected countless people’s livelihoods.
Seeing great opportunity in beekeeping as an alternative and sustainable livelihood, Oxfam and its partners have been implementing a five-year honey value chain development project in three districts in Amhara Regional State: Dangila, Mecha and Guangua. In this project, smallholder beekeepers receive everything from inputs to access to microfinance loans to training, and are connected to bigger cooperatives that buy honey from producers.
With this support, women like Sewasew Aemro, 28, have seen improvement in their lives. The young mother of three said: ‘I was promised for marriage when I was four years old. I became a wife to my husband at the age of 14. I did not have an opportunity to go to school … Back in the early days, after I joined the self-help group, I took a 3,600 birr (HK$1,224*) loan. I used 2,000 birr (HK$680*) to buy a bee colony and the rest to buy a modern beehive. Now I have all types of hives … a few seasons later, I believe I could harvest much more honey from the modern hives … In two years I have sold 300 kg of honey and was able to save 750 birr (HK$255*). With the rest of my profit, I have bought an ox, two sheep and one proper bed [we used to sleep in a traditional bed made on the floor with mud].’
*According to the exchange rate at the time this was written