Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy

The purpose of the Institute for Food and Development Policy - Food First - is to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger. We believe a world free of hunger is possible if farmers and communities take back control of the food systems presently dominated by transnational agri-foods industries. We are committed to dismantling racism in the food system and believe in people's right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems-at home and abroad.
Jun 26, 2014

What does it take to attract pollinators?

Bee in Tlascala
Bee in Tlascala

The Pollinator Restoration Campaign

“Look, there she is!”

Emiliano Juarez is whispering, pointing a finger at a tiny bee busily rummaging around in a squash flower. He notes down the letters “a.n.” in a spiral pad, “She is one of ours—una abeja nativa (native bee). She doesn’t sting, but she can bite! Ever since we put up the nesting gourds, their population has been increasing. It’s a good pollinator for my squash crop.”

It was a crisp Tlaxcala morning on the Meseta Central of Mexico and we were squatting, evenly spaced, along with two other campesino farmers, in the very middle of Emiliano’s “milpa” the two-hectare corn-beans-squash polyculture that feeds his family. Each of us had a spiral pad. We had just five minutes to observe, classify and count the pollinators buzzing in the field. Fifty yards away, four more campesinos were also counting pollinators in the middle of the neighbor’s field.

The two fields could not have looked more different. Emiliano’s milpa seemed a bit weedy and disorganized, but was full of edible tomatillos, purslane and leafy quelites. The land was divided lengthwise along the contour by two long conservation ditches for water catchment. The bunds above the ditches and the borders of his field were lined with thick hedgerows of trees, broom, maguey, a few aromatic herbs and native flowering plants, and plenty of weeds.
The neighbor’s field looked to be recently cultivated and sported clean rows of uniform corn plants… just corn plants. Not much grew around the perimeter except for a few magueys. It looked like the farmer had been careful to keep the weeds down.

“OK, time’s up!” calls Emiliano, “Lets see what we found.”

We all meet up to tally our observations and compare the results between the two fields.
Emiliano’s field has twenty-three pollinators: six native honey bees, two bumble bees (abejorros), four wasps, and eleven ants. (A discussion ensued regarding whether or not the wasps were actually pollinating. We decided they were.)

“OK, how about my neighbor,” Emiliano asks.

People in the other group shrug a little uncomfortably. They claim two native bees and six ants.
“So, why the big difference?”

For the next twenty minutes we discuss the basic differences in farming styles, habitat, niches, pesticide use, organic matter… the conversation was lively and wide ranging.

This gives your a glimpse into the field-based learning process that campesinos have been developing for over 30 years in Mexico. As they say "the proof is in the pudding," or in this case "the proof is in the number of pollinators."

The loss of natural pollinators in central Mexico is a reflection of a larger, ecosystems breakdown that began in the late 1960s with the Green Revolution.

This year over 150 farming families will improve their yields, strengthen ecosystem resiliency and restore pollinator habitat on more than 300 acres of farmland in dozens of Mexican watersheds. Using the time-tested Campesino a Campesino methodology, they’ll also share their knowledge with more than 400 other farmers in nearby villages. The Farmer-to-Farmer Pollinator Restoration Project is the latest development in a decades-long struggle for farmer-led sustainable agriculture in Mesoamerica.

For our partners in Mexico, RICDA (The Indigenous Farmers Agroecology Network of Mexico) conserving natural pollinators is part and parcel of a larger campaign for peasant livelihoods based on agroecology, indigenous knowledge and food sovereignty: the democratic control over their food system. Aware of the importance of building alliances, RICDA organizes in the tianguis (farmers markets), giving workshops, informational materials and selling “pollinator friendly” products to a growing base of loyal consumers. RICDA members are active in the “Sin Maiz no Hay Pais” (Without Corn there is no Country) campaign and coordinate with the international peasant federation Via Campesina to lobby for agrarian reforms that protect smallholders and native seeds.

This pollinator work is just one piece of the continual farmer-to-farmer education which has been taking place in Mexico for the past 35 years.

The farmers of RICDA know that to conserve pollinators they need to be environmentally and economically sustainable. They also need to exercise political power to defend their livelihoods from a global food regime determined to push them off the land and out of the market. The farmers resist, in part because they wish to maintain their livelihoods, their culture and their way of life. They also resist because there is nowhere else for them to go. There are no jobs in the countryside or the cities. The costs and dangers of migrating to “El Norte” (US and Canada) for work are too great.
“We have to stay on the land,” says Manuel “Manolo” Moran of the Tonantlal farmers group in San Luis Coyotzingo, Puebla, “It is the only way to survive. But we need to make a better living, too, for our children—and for our land—to have a future. We can save the pollinators, but who is going to save us? We can’t do it all alone.”

Bee hive on a tree in Tlascala
Bee hive on a tree in Tlascala
May 7, 2014

Your Donations - Year one report, Seeds & Pumps for Gao, Mali

Women's garden in Gao, Mali 2013

Since January of 2013, the people of the Gao region of Mali and the Circle of Gao, have been victims of terrorist attacks that have created an acute food crisis. These attacks are occurring on top of the already short supply of food in the region caused by a multi-year drought.

Last summer Food First’s Global Giving donors contributed to Food First’s Global Giving campaign to fund a farming/gardening project, Seeds and Pumps for Gao, Mali, administered by our Mali partner, BERADA.

The 2013 funding provided:

• 150 bags of paddy rice seeds for 30 Gao, Mali villages; and
• 5 Chiwara pumps in 5 women’s vegetable gardens plus seeds for those gardens.

This BERADA report provides the results of that first planting and growing season of 2013-14.

What was the impact on the people of Gao who benefitted from these 150 bags of rice paddy seeds; 5 water hoses installed in the rice fields and 5 Chiwara pumps in the gardens of women's associations?

Each of the 150 bags of rice seed (70 Kgs/bag) seeded 1 hectare of rice paddy. Each cultivated hectare was conservatively estimated to yield approximately 1,000 Kgs of rice, for a total estimate of 150,000 Kgs of paddy rice distributed to the beneficiary villages.

Five of those l hectare fields had two water hoses installed on each hectare. Irrigating the fields with water from the water hoses increased the yield in those fields by 30%. The BERADA survey showed that each water hose installed in a field increased the yield beyond the expected 1,000 kgs per hectare to as high as 1,500 Kgs per hectare for the 5 hectares that had access to this water. This added irrigation allowed the rice farmers to provide an additional 15,000 Kgs of rice to the families of Gao.

The Chiwara pumps that were purchased with our donations increased the yield of vegetables by 50%. Each of the five gardens were planted on one hectare of land. The yield on a one hectare garden is expected to be approximately 1,000 Kgs of vegetables per year depending on seed varieties. The water pumps helped increase the annual harvest up to 1,500 kg in each of the five gardens for a total harvest of 7,500 kg of vegetables for the families of Gao.

Additional outcomes and benefits of this project include:

• Increasing the awareness of farmers and beneficiaries;
• Improving the internal organization and exchange of experiences;
• Quantifiying the payoff of the investment of resources and infrastructure;
• Improving training and information retrieval.


This project initiated and implemented by the NGO BERADA and our partner FOOD FIRST, provided an important contribution to the people in the rural communes of Sonni Ali Ber and Gounzoureye located in the Circle of Gao in the Gao region in Mali (West Africa).

BERADA’s investigators also identified the need to supplement the diet of these communities through fishing, which is actually a complementary activity of these villages supported by this project.

Key lessons for Year Two include:

• A harvest that yielded 150,000 Kgs of paddy rice as a result of 10,500 kg of seeds distributed is significantly lower than an anticipated harvest of 850,000 kgs of rice. This was, in part, due the lack of fertilizer to improve the yield per hectare.

• While the 10 water hoses in the rice fields on 5 hectares increased the production by 50%, it is expected that fertilizer combined with closer supervision could double the production of those 5 hectares.

• It is projected that the associations of women’s gardens could also double their yield with access to more seeds at regular intervals combined with fertilizer.

The farmers and the families of the Gao region of Mali experienced less hunger and benefitted greatly from our donations. A really important and heartwarming outcome of this first year of the seeds and pumps project is that the women’s gardens allowed children—especially girls—to have both the time and the energy to attend school. With additional funding in 2014, we can buy more pumps and seeds to feed more families and get them on more solid economic and social footing.


Continue this project intervention by:

• -Providing more water pumps;
• -Providing a solar pump as a pilot project;
• Providing fishing nets for the fisherman. This will allow them to catch fish to provide needed protein in the diet and, at the same time, use the fish waste fertilizer to improve the performance for each hectare of rice and vegetables;
• Providing enhanced training activities, information and awareness for the beneficiary villages; and
• Supporting exchanges of experience with other projects of this kind at the national level.

Gao rice field 2013
Gao rice field 2013
Gao river rice 2013
Gao river rice 2013
Gao tomatoe harvest 2013
Gao tomatoe harvest 2013
Apr 9, 2014

Honeybee colony collapse crisis

Bee pollination
Bee pollination

There is an urgent need to set aside sections of land for pollinator habitat all across North and Central America. One third of our farm crops require pollinators (bees, birds, butterflies and bats) to cross pollinate fruits and vegetables.

Every year since 2006 annual honeybee colony losses in the United States have averaged 30 percent. Some veteran beekeepers are now losing all of their bee hives year after year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that honeybee colony survival rates are now too low to meet pollination demands of U.S. agricultural crops.

This loss reduces crop yields, puts farmworkers out of work and farmers out of business, and most importantly, raises the cost of food and reduces the range of foods available.

The urgency of doing something to save bees has reached the halls of the U.S. Congress where Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Rep. Earl Blumenauer have introduced a bill to impose a two-year ban on the use of insecticides suspected of contributing to the death of bees. In addition to banning the use of these insecticides, it is equally important to set aside and restore habitat to nurture pollinators.

The bee crisis is also hitting Mexico. Food First's project in Mexico is working to restore 300 acres of pollinator habitat. This will increase the amount of basic grains and vegetables grown on smallholder farms in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tlaxcala and Puebla. These states have been selected because the Campesino a Campesino (Farmer-to-Farmer) Movement is most active there.

Farmers are already working together in local farmer-to-farmer teams to set up habitat reserves on 300 acres of peasant farmland on 150 farms, as well as working to improve the ecosystems of dozens of watersheds. Campesino a Campesino field demonstrations are already allowing these farmers to show more than 400 other farmers in nearby villages how to set aside their own restoration areas.  Once these pollinator restoration practices are established within the Campesino a Campesino movement, they will spread throughout Central America with farmers continuing to teach other farmers.

Our campaign funding progress has been steady. As we move into spring planting season, your donation now will help us with our goal of having at least one farmer to farmer field demonstration in each of the four states we are working in during the coming month.

Please consider a donation now.  You can also help by sharing information with your facebook and twitter networks using the links at the bottom of the donation page.

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