NICE starts to get a feel for its farmers

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The Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE) project started recently in Bangladesh, Kenya, and Rwanda. Its overall goals are to improve urban nutrition and health and to reduce poverty. Surveys are now shedding light on local food production.

The NICE partners aim to strengthen the supply and demand for local, agroecological-produced nutritious foods in six secondary cities. “Getting both sides of the equation right is really important”, emphasizes Marnie Pannatier, our Foundation’s Program Manager for NICE. “Value chain improvements conventionally focus on better incomes for producers, and that’s a topic close to our heart. But they also offer opportunities to gear food systems more toward healthy nutrition. That means ensuring that consumers have access to a wide range of safe and nutritious foods.”

To help understand the local farming system better, a NICE team recently surveyed 156 farmers around the city of Busia in western Kenya. This pilot survey was based largely on the FAO’s Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience of farmers and Pastoralists (SHARP). Similar surveys are now running near the other five cities. Dominique Barjolle, Sophie van den Berg and further colleagues from the NICE partner university ETH Zürich (see below*) played leading roles in setting up the survey.

“In each case, the questions go to farmers who supply important foodstuffs for local consumers”, explains Marnie. “For Busia, we chose farmers mostly producing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, African leafy vegetables, indigenous poultry and fish, all in a radius of about 50 km.” The survey results provide a baseline for comparisons during and after the NICE program. “Our particular aim for smallholders is that they improve their sustainable land management, production practices, and food value addition, as well as getting better access to urban markets.”

Plenty of scope for improvement

What did the survey reveal? Charles Nwokoro works for ETH Zürich and our Foundation. He lists some key findings: “Fewer than one in three of the surveyed households currently practices agroecological farming. In those that do, older women tend to be the driving force, rather than the next generation of farmers. None of the surveyed smallholders yet have land under certified production.” Related to that, the survey also found that value addition is low. It additionally highlighted the scope for strengthening farm resilience: most of the average scores for various aspects of resilience were between 4 and 7 out of 10. NICE seeks to tackle a number of these challenges.

The interview answers also provided a helpful profile of the local farming structure. “Almost all the households raise both crops and animals, but only a quarter of them keep any records”, comments Charles. “About 60% also engage in non-agricultural activities. That’s mainly because their farming is not particularly profitable.”

The Busia pilot highlighted the need to add some questions to the other assessments. “In the remaining five surveys we’ll additionally be investigating, for example, how knowledgeable farmers are about diverse diets and agroecological produced foods”, Charles notes. “For a more precise view, we’ll break the answers down by gender and age group.”

The overall three-country report is due out in a few months’ time. 

The Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE) project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). It is implemented and co-financed by a public-private Swiss consortium comprising the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), ETH Zürich (Sustainable Agroecosystems Group & Laboratory of Sustainable Food Processing and World Food Systems Centre), Sight and Life, and our Foundation.