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OWA 2010: A Closer View At Biovision

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The fact that we all live in one world inspired Joseph Wilhelm, German organic pioneer and Managing Director of Rapunzel, to establish this international award. With the IFOAM, the global umbrella organization of organic agriculture, the One World Award has found an ideal partner and patron. The coordinator of the OWA initiative is Bernward Geier (COLABORA – lets work together) who served as IFOAM Director for 18 years. The OWA honors people and their projects that make the world a better place; OWA laureates are dedicated people who give positive and innovative examples of globalization - people who make the future worth living. (Picture: All winners of the One World Award 2010)The world that OWA laureate Hans Rudolf Herren (picture) thrives in is as complex and integrated as Nature itself. He is a scientist and a farmer, a discoverer and a learner. He infl uences governments and public policy, he touches single lives in villages in East Africa. He is patient and indignant, native Swiss and transplanted African. Hans Herren’s achievements validate the conviction that a world without hunger is a realistic goal when innovative science is pursued in balance with nature’s ecosystem.

His professional story begins with graduation from the ETH in Zurich, where he had studied agricultural science. Hans Herren’s career choices took him to Nigeria and
confronted him with the threat of a food crisis for 200 million people due to the Cassava mealy bug ravaging this staple crop on the African continent. As Director of the Biological Control Program at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), he built up an international coalition to discover an effective, ecological way to fight the mealy bug, without resorting to pesticides, and execute it on a large scale. In recognition, he was awarded the World Food Prize. During his subsequent tenure as the director general of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya, Dr. Herren’s vision of an agro-ecosystem evolved into a new 4-H paradigm of human, animal, plant and environmental health.

Today Dr. Herren’s respect for holistic scientific research, his international coalition building ability, and his personal ties to rural communities in Africa continue to expand through the Zurich-based NGO Biovision Foundation, which he founded and is the president of, through the World Agriculture Report (IAASTD), which he
co-chaired, and through the Millennium Institute (MI), which he leads. IAASTD, published in 2008 and initiated by the World Bank and UN, brought together 400 experts in 59 countries who concluded that the defi nition of sustainable agriculture had to change to recognize other local to global concerns, such as biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate change, and water availability. Advocating the implementation of the IAASTD recommendations has now become one of the goals of the Biovision Foundation.

The OWA laureate Rachel Agola (picture) is a 38-year-old farmer, married and a mother of 5 children, living in Yenga village in Western Kenya. And she is an innovator in her district. Rachel Agola was among the fi rst to adopt the Push-Pull farming method to improve maize cultivation on her ¾ acre farm, on which she also grows various vegetables and keeps a dairy cow and a few sheep. The Push-Pull organic method, presented below under the Biovision-supported projects, resulted from local research undertaken by icipe.

Previously, Rachel Agola’s maize crop was only 35 kg because her farm – typical of smallholder farms in Kenya -- was decimated by the parasitic striga weed and stemborer insects and suffered from very poor soil fertility. After learning about the method from icipe, she planted her first Push-Pull plot in 2007. Now her yield from the small plot of land has increased to 350 kgs (equivalent to 2.83 t/ha.). She does not use chemical fertilizer, but applies farmyard manure.

Besides increased maize yields, Rachel Agola derives other far-reaching benefits from Push-Pull, such as greater soil fertility and increased income from the sale of surplus milk and of Napier grass as fodder. Her life has changed: more food security, more money from milk sales to send her children to school, and more self-confidence motivating her to be involved in community activities. She is treasurer of the Yenga Push-Pull Farmers Selfhelp group, where she learns new agricultural technologies and trains other farmers.

Hans Herren invested money he had received from awards to seed a new foundation that would embody his conviction, as a scientist and citizen of the world, that nature could be a powerful ally to science and technology for alleviating poverty. The Biovision Foundation focuses on ecological strategies in the development projects it supports in Kenya and other African countries, such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda. Cost-effective scalability is integral to the foundation’s tactical aim of leveraging the achievements of its ground-breaking projects so that governments and other NGOs can adopt and profit from the technologies and approaches on a broad scope on the African continent and beyond.

Maize is a staple crop for millions of Africans and a shortage of corn would be disastrous for the whole continent. The stem borer and the striga weed are the main threats to maize in East Africa and can destroy up to 90 % of farmers‘ harvests. Local research undertaken by icipe revealed a sustainable way to fight these pests and increase yields – an organic method called Push-Pull.

Biovision has attained a quintuplication of harvests in its Push-Pull projects, a stunning result. The method has been taught to thousands of farmers and has been adopted by more than 30,000 of them in East Africa.

Indeed Push-Pull is one of the components the Royal Society identified as a technology that can be immediately applied for achieving the massive increase in food crop production in Africa that will be required by 2050 to meet the continent’s food demands without damaging the environment and without cultivation of more land. Women farmers, many who are HIV widows and struggling to survive, have especially been receptive to adopting the successful Push-Pull organic method.

Biovision first started two Stop Malaria projects in Kenya in 2004 (Nyabondo) and 2005 (Malindi) and after the initial success of the Kenyan projects expanded to Ethiopia in 2007. Local communities learn about the deadly link between mosquitoes and help malaria and are trained to protect themselves. Mosquito scouts from the local villages are instructed how to identify breeding grounds and eradicate the sites – using measures such as building ditches through community work or disposing of tires – or eliminate the larvae themselves with environmentally friendly bacteria called Bti.

With relatively small expenditures – around US$ 270,000 for all three projects in 2008 – and by implementing the projects through icipe and local NGOs and parastatal organizations, dramatic relief from this scourge is being sustained. The prevalence of malaria cases effectively dropped by up to 62 % in the last year alone (Nyabondo) and the number of mosquito larvae has shriveled between 50 % (Malindi) and 80 % (Nyabondo) in the last two years alone. As the Stop Malaria sites are geographically distinct – Malindi is a tourist port city while Nyabondo is a poor rural area characterized by local brick making – they can serve perfectly as pilot projects for a national health initiative. Biovision aims to convince governmental bodies to adopt this sustainable method to fi ght malaria rather than regressing to the use of substances (i.e. DDT), which are dangerous for people, future generations, and the land.

Biovision has built an information network to let knowledge fl ow out to as many small farmers and people in Africa as possible. There is the monthly magazine called The Organic Farmer, a weekly radio program on sustainable farming called TOF Radio, and the comprehensive, online information platform. Together, these communication channels merge knowledge from local and international research as well as the knowhow
gained through Biovision’s on-the-ground experience into user-friendly formats. The Organic Farmer Magazine was established as a Biovision project in 2005 and has increased its circulation to 19,000 reaching altogether more than 100,000 small-scale farmers, while the radio program reaches more than 3 million listeners. The information platform is open free of charge to all users of the worldwide web and has been used by about 70,000 Internet users in 2009 alone. Especially the Internet platform
boasts an enormous potential for the future of sustainable farming as Internet usage in Africa is ever growing,
and Internet cafés are mushrooming all over Kenya. The demand for practice-oriented and locally adapted techniques in the agricultural sector is huge and in light of climate change, up-to date and locally relevant advice on pests and diseases becomes ever more essential.

Create income - save the forests” is the slogan of villagers living next to the Kakamega Forest in western Kenya. Many farming families are driven to overly use wood, plants, and grass from protected forests in order to survive. Biovision and its partner icipe, knowing that new sources of income were critical to sustain all life in the region, support local cooperatives whose members plant aromatic and medicinal plants on their farms using organic methods. These groups work closely with icipe to monitor cultivation, secure a stable selling price, and process the raw materials at environmentally friendly distillation facilities. A valuable plant extract is made into that are currently marketed locally and nationally under the Nature Rub trademark. The interest of farmers to join the enterprise is great. Plans are being worked on to receive organic certifi cation via the internal control system for small producers and fair trade labeling, thus positioning the products to enter international markets.

OWA Laureates Hans Rudolf Herren and Rachel Agola share a world of challenges and potentialities. Together their success stories exemplify how scientific innovation and individual initiative can preserve this one world and give, as the Biovision Foundation’s dictum says, a future for all life, naturally.

The jury was very impressed by the holistic nature and high impact of the work of the Biovision Foundation “on the ground“. The projects in Africa are each and by themselves promising and hope-giving success stories. Many experiences made in the projects are ready for major, if not massive role out - not only in Africa. The jury appreciated very much the bridge building role of the foundation being a voice of Africa in the North and opening windows to Africa of the North“. Behind all this is the personality of Hans Herren who as founder of the Biovision Foundation not only had the vision for the Foundation, but also stays “at the helm“ as president. Apart from the remarkable achievements that have been realized over decades, the central role that Hans Herren played in the IAASTD World Agriculture Report was yet another important reason for the jury to choose him as OWA laureate. With this award the jury sends a clear message of support and encouragement to give not only much more attention to the report, but also to start making use of the fi ndings and conclusions of the report for concrete steps towards the needed paradigm shift from an environment-destroying, dependency-creating and resource-consuming, conventional form of agriculture towards a sustainable and ecological way of producing our food all over the world. The unanimously elected OWA laureates also send a clear message with regard to the highly potential solutions that Africa can offer for solving major problems - even beyond Africa. Out of this and with respect for the fundamental role African people play in the various projects, the jury had decided to honor on behalf of all these encouraging “future makers“ one of the pioneering push and pull women farmers as an additional laureate. Rachel Agola is an inspiring example of women power and the leading role that women play in farming worldwide. A visionary scientist, a dedicated woman farmer and an outstanding foundation together have not only deserved the One World Award 2010, but will take the wings of “Lady OWA“ to continue providing a highly substantial range of sustainable solutions for the protection of another earth, our environment and for fair livelihoods.

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