Tag Archive | agriculture

Kindling knowledge exchange without bandwidth: An interview with Peace Corps volunteer Ryan King

I enjoyed the opportunity to practice my on-camera interview skills for the latest entry in the Agrilinks “KM Insights” video series. (Two lessons learned: curb the instinct to blink, and don’t wear orange pants!) Watch the video below to get the scoop on Peace Corps Ethiopia’s strategies for supplying its volunteers with the information they need to run agricultural projects.

This post is cross-posted from Agrilinks.

Most agricultural development practitioners—certainly, those based in major cities—rely on the Internet for daily knowledge exchange. There is no faster way to obtain new technical reports, join training webinars and conduct research than to use your favorite browser and a trusty broadband connection. But what about project implementers who are stationed in remote locations for more than a week or two? For example, many Peace Corps volunteers serve in small villages without reliable electricity or Internet bandwidth. How can they obtain the information they need to do their jobs well?

Ryan King, a Peace Corps volunteer leader serving in Ethiopia, and I discussed these challenges and honed in on a few good practices in a recent Agrilinks “KM Insights” interview, which you can watch above. He manages projects that support Feed the Future’s objectives, such as volunteer efforts to build productive household gardens, alleviate environmental degradation and educate communities about nutrition. To succeed in these projects, Peace Corps volunteers need to be able to access the best available information on low-cost technologies that can be employed at a household scale. However, as Ryan noted, getting information to volunteers is a constant struggle due to lack of connectivity.

As a step toward simpler information distribution, Peace Corps Ethiopia has equipped many of its volunteers with basic Amazon Kindle e-readers, which are refreshed with updated reports and briefs when volunteers return to post. Ryan explained that volunteers used to be sent to their sites with “a suitcase full of books” for reference, but now, nearly all of those volumes can be stored on a single hand-held device with a long battery life.

Ryan and I also discussed the value of video as a training medium for smallholder farmers, and the need for alternatives to online streaming in low-bandwidth areas. Open-access videos are preferable because volunteers can transfer them to DVD and give copies to their communities. In addition, audio transcripts are useful complements to video products, especially when translated into local languages.

Watch the full video for more of Ryan’s insights, and please share your experiences with low-bandwidth knowledge sharing in the comments section below.

Bringing technologies to scale in Nepal to increase farmer incomes: An interview with Bill Collis of KISAN

This post is cross-posted from Agrilinks.

A farmer’s cooperative in Nepal is reaping real financial benefits from producing high-value vegetables in the off-season. Cucumbers and bitter gourd are grown in low tunnels covered in plastic, which creates a greenhouse effect, reduces temperature fluctuations, and protects the crops from weather damage. This relatively simple practice can produce significant boosts in income, due to the timing of the harvest. The farmer’s cooperative received training on this practice through Feed the Future’s Knowledge-based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN) project, a five-year activity that runs from 2013-18 and is led by Winrock International. While the training is one of the successful highlights from KISAN, on a broader scale the activity aims to put established knowledge into action in order to improve agro-inputs, extension, market access, and farmer livelihoods in twenty districts in Nepal. In addition to KISAN, USAID-Nepal also has awards with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, which both conduct research at local test sites to provide technologies and best practices that KISAN can bring to scale.

In March 2014, a group of USAID staff and partners (myself included) embarked on a two-day field trip to the Banke and Surkhet districts in western Nepal, where we visited field sites for the aforementioned USAID-funded activities. This trip was an addendum to the annual Feed the Future Innovation Lab Council Partners Workshop, which took place in Kathmandu. [Check out these blog post recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 of the field trip.]

I borrowed KISAN Chief of Party, Bill Collis, at one of the project’s vegetable sites for a brief interview about KISAN’s work on tunnel vegetable production. We also touched up the project’s model of collaboration with the Government of Nepal and with other Feed the Future implementing partners for spreading knowledge to farmers. Check out the video below!

Antibiotics in animal agriculture – what’s the latest?

Back in my days working with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), I was highly tuned in to the issue of antibiotic use in animal agriculture. In short, the majority of antibiotics produced in the United States are used for livestock, and not just as a treatment for sick animals, but as a low-dose feed additive to help them gain weight. In 2007, I helped organize two Hill briefings on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which sought to ban non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in raising animals for food. PAMTA was reintroduced by Louise Slaughter (the resident microbiologist in Congress) in May 2013 and holds the support of over 450 organizations, including the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the National Academy of Sciences. Basically, everyone in the medical field agrees that antibiotic resistance is a major public health issue and that overuse of key antibiotics in livestock contributes to a loss of effectiveness for human use.

I haven’t kept very close track of the issue in recent years, but I was happy to see it gaining traction in the latter half of 2013. Even moreso, I was thrilled that my friend and Tufts Friedman School classmate Dawn Undurraga had the opportunity to appear in an “Animal Antibiotic Debate” on the daytime talk show The Doctors. Dawn also co-authored an Environmental Working Group report titled Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets, which demonstrates unsettling levels of antibiotic-resistance bacteria in supermarket meat.


While watching the video of this debate, I was surprised to hear Dawn’s opponent, Dr. Scott Hurd, say that the “growth promotion” use of antibiotics on the farm will “soon disappear.” That would certainly be a good thing – except that his statement was most likely based on the voluntary industry guidance that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released on December 11, covering the use of antibiotics in livestock feed and water. The guidance document asks pharmaceutical companies to remove growth promotion indications – such as “increased rate of weight gain” or “improved feed efficiency” – as allowable uses on the labels of animal drugs. However, it also contains this disclaimer up front:

FDA’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities. Instead, guidances describe the FDA’s current thinking on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations, unless specific regulatory or statutory requirements are cited.

In other words, the livestock and pharmaceutical industries have no legal incentive to comply (although many companies have already indicated that they will take the voluntary measures). Some groups are worried that FDA’s guidance document will ultimately make the situation worse, as it will serve as a diversion from PAMTA and other legal action on the issue. It may also encourage a shift in the way antibiotic use is tracked – low-dose feed additives previously used for growth promotion might get reported as being used for illness prevention instead. I am doubtful that FDA’s guidance will result in a significant decrease in antibiotic use on livestock farms. Industry doesn’t seem worried about this guidance, but I believe that we would see vast industry push-back if a binding law was passed to truly limit low-dose antibiotics in animal feed/water.

Antibiotic resistance is very scary and needs to be addressed head-on. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report in September that clearly implicated animal antibiotic use as a main driver in the spread of resistance. See this infographic from the report:

CDC couldn’t put it more plainly: Antibiotics should only be used to treat infections. Constant, low-dose administration for growth promotion or disease prevention in animals needs to cease. How will the stakeholders proceed in 2014?

Further reading: