Posts Tagged: Global Food Initiative
Did you know that a banana tree is not really a tree? It's a giant perennial bulb that grows to maturity in less than a year, producing one flower that becomes one huge bunch of bananas. I learned this fact last month from banana growers while visiting the home of organic bananas, the Dominican Republic.
I was invited by a US AID Farmer-to-Farmer project to spend a couple of weeks as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, primarily to work with the Banelino Banana Cooperative. Banelino is a banana production and exporting company comprised of approximately 320 mostly small-scale banana producers in the northwest section of the country, near the border with Haiti. All producers are certified, or seeking, organic, fair trade, or Global Gap certifications.
Eighty percent of the bananas grown by Banelino are certified organic, and most of them are fair trade certified. The primary export destination for Dominican Republic organic bananas is Europe.
The growers have been impacted by climate change problems, including strong winds, more frequent and intense droughts and record high temperatures. My assignment, based on my work as UC Cooperative Extension Agritourism Coordinator, was to help Banelino assess the potential for successful agritourism development to diversify their income and carry them through hard times.
Like farmers all over the world, the Banelino banana growers have a story to share with visitors. Part of the story is the fascinating revelation of the annual growth cycle of the banana plant; the other part of the story is about the community. I learned the true meaning for the words "fair trade." With the premium, or the added income, that Banelino receives by selling in the fair trade program, the company is able to provide schools, clinics and other social programs for the banana grower and banana worker families. We visited schools and talked with teachers, seeing primary grades classes smaller than most California classes, with children engaged in learning. We visited a school for special needs students, paid for through the Banelino fair trade income, that was so modern and well-equipped it would be the envy of most California special education teachers. It had a colorful art room and a fully equipped, small-scale bakery with mixers and ovens for a training program for the older youth.
Also, like other farmers around the world, Banelino growers have a challenge developing a program to attract paying visitors to tour the farms and learn their stories. They will need to create signs and brochures in multiple languages for their visitors. They will need to work with a local marketing professional to develop a website and social media marketing campaign. They will have to analyze their costs and price their tour so that they don't lose money in the efforts. They will need to connect with the local tourism community and get included in visitor guides and tourism maps. They will need to offer familiarization tours to travel agents, tour leaders and hotel staff to entice them to refer tourists from the all-inclusive beach resorts three hours' drive away. They will have to work with their local hotel association to create an attractive itinerary for visitors to the region - enough attractions to keep guests overnight in hotels - to justify the three-hour drive.
Like farmers everywhere who are considering agritourism, the Banelino banana growers will soon be part of the hospitality industry. They have a wonderful story to share of a hard-working and warm-hearted community. Please look them up if you visit the Dominican Republic.
Dedicated growers and research support from the University of California have made avocados a California success story. As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, which is channeling UC resources toward sustainably feeding the world's growing population, the California avocado experience can help alleviate food insecurity and poverty overseas.
Two UC Cooperative Extension specialists found a way to do that in Tanzania, Africa, where 69 percent of the population live below the poverty line and 16 percent of children under 5 are malnourished. In March 2017, UCCE biocontrol specialist Mark Hoddle and UCCE subtropical crops specialist Mary Lu Arpaia traveled to the east African nation to help growers there with their fledgling avocado industry.
In the late 19th Century, German missionaries introduced avocados to Tanzania when it was colonized by this European nation. Germany lost influence over the African country following World War I, but huge non-commercial avocado trees still thrive in the landscape.
Recently, attempts at commercial production growing the popular Hass variety are gaining momentum.
With proximity to a European market hungry for fresh avocados, Rungwe Avocado Company planted 250 acres of the Hass variety in the southern highlands around Mbeya near Lake Malawi, which establishes the border of south western Tanzania with Zambia and Malawi. In order to grow production to a level that would make the export to Europe practical and to support rural residents with a viable business option, approximately 3,700 small landholder farmers, known as outgrowers, were recruited to grow avocados. They manage small plots with as few as 20 trees to larger acreage with more than 200 trees, with participating farms ranging in elevation from 1,200 to nearly 6,000 feet.
However, this fledgling industry is experiencing production challenges, prompting the company to contact UC Cooperative Extension. UC faculty, specialists and advisors have conducted research on Hass avocados for decades in California and worked closely with growers to extend information that has supported the development of an industry with high-yielding trees producing premium fruit valued at more than $400 million per year.
“One of the aims of the Global Food Initiative is to deploy UC's best research and extension practices to address the key challenge of improving food production,” Arpaia said. “That's why we went to Tanzania.”
Hoddle and Arpaia visited growers, extension technicians, packing house managers and logistics experts. They identified production, pest management and fruit handling challenges faced by the avocado industry.
“The situation in Tanzania is quite different than California, and also different compared to Central and South America, where we have also worked on avocado production issues,” Hoddle said. “But we identified familiar issues that affect management for which there are solutions.”
Hoddle examined the Tanzanian avocado trees and fruit, and collected insect specimens. He said the insect damage was minimal at the time of the week long visit.
“That surprised me because of the insect biodiversity in Africa,” he said. “There was little evidence of heavy leaf feeding. There was some evidence of fruit damage caused by insect feeding on the skin, but they don't seem to have fruit boring weevils or caterpillars that we commonly see in parts of Mexico, Central and South America.”
A critical issue is extending entomological information to the outlying farmers to improve their ability to identify and manage beneficial insects and crop pests.
“They don't have the magnifying loops, collecting vials and insect boxes that we regularly use for insect identification,” Hoddle said. “I showed them my Leatherman tool, which can be used to open up fruit and look for damage. They need these basic tools.”
A post-harvest expert, Arpaia was able to identify ways to improve picking, handling, storage and shipping practices that would result in top quality fruit arrival in Europe.
The two scientists produced a report, which emphasized the need to provide outlying growers with basic equipment and agronomic information.
“We want to help them be better avocado farmers so the crop can be a greater contributor to the country's economy,” Arpaia said. “Boosting this industry will also give people all over Tanzania the opportunity to add nutritious avocados to their diets.”
UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside County is bringing together students, agencies, nutrition educators and gardening experts to work alongside families to grow produce in garden plots at a community facility.
“Many people don't know how to get started gardening,” said Chutima Ganthavorn, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UCCE and manager of its local UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. “Gardening takes space, water, resources like seeds and transplants, plus guidance and support. Our group is going the extra mile in Riverside County to help people grow and eat healthy food.”
This year, the local coalition received $10,000 in support from the Kaiser Permanente Heal Zone project to expand a vegetable garden at the Community Settlement Association (CSA), a center where community members gather for UC CalFresh nutrition classes, weekly food distributions and other services.
“A few years ago, the garden plots at the Community Settlement Association were neglected and weedy, while families struggled to get healthy food,” Ganthavorn said. “UC CalFresh teamed up with UCCE Master Gardeners and CSA staff to turn them into bountiful and beautiful edible gardens. Now our coalition is growing to include UCR Community Garden and Heal Zone members, including folks from City of Riverside Parks and Rec and Riverside Community Health Foundation.”
In 2014, UC Master Gardener volunteers, nutrition educators and members of the community planted vegetables in five existing garden boxes at Community Settlement Association, 4366 Bermuda Ave. in Riverside.
For planting day, neighborhood families – many who had taken part in UC CalFresh nutrition classes at the CSA – tilled the ground and planted seeds and transplants to grow tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squash, lettuce, green beans and Swiss chard.
“We're fixing up a garden for the children,” said Gonzalo Rodriguez, who joined planting day with his family. “We're planting chili and tomato transplants and seeds, food that will provide vegetables and give the children the joy of caring for the plants.”
In 2015, UC CalFresh arranged a $500 grant from Wood Streets Green Team, a local group that promotes sustainable living, to purchase fruit trees. Master Gardeners led volunteers to plant blackberry bushes, and peach, pluot, nectarine, plum, fuji apple and mini mandarin trees. They also planted quince, pomegranate, lemon and lime trees donated by a Master Gardener.
With the Heal Zone funds and support from UC Riverside student Claudia Villegas, the recipient of a Global Food Initiative Fellowship from the UC Office of the President, an extended garden began to take shape.
Villegas recruited students from Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Phi Chi Theta fraternities to transform a lawn at the community center with cinderblock raised beds. She is coordinating training sessions and encouraging local families to visit.
“I want the community to feel comfortable coming to the garden,” said Villegas, a senior psychology major. “I want them to just come in and hang out and interact and talk about gardening problems.”
The raised-bed plots have been assigned to families in the community.
“They feel ownership and maintain the gardens,” Ganthavorn said. “They can keep the produce they grow, and any extra produce goes to the weekly food distribution program at CSA.”
A gardening club now meets from 9 to 10 a.m. the first Thursday of each month at the community garden. UC Cooperative Extension coordinates gardening workshops with UC Master Gardener volunteers and nutrition and cooking sessions with UC CalFresh educators.
A 4-H club for children in the community is also being developed at the CSA site by Claudia Diaz Carrasco, UCCE 4-H Youth Development advisor. The purpose of 4-H clubs is to help diverse young people discover and develop their potential and grow into competent, contributing, and caring citizens.
“We believe that CSA children will benefit a lot by participating in 4-H learn-by-doing activities within the club,” Diaz said. 4-H clubs usually meet in the evenings or on weekends and offer self-chosen multiple learning experiences.
That is just a taste of the work underway as faculty, students and staff from across the 10-campus UC system focus their collective power on food issues.
The Global Food Initiative has been a galvanizing force for bringing people together in new collaborative efforts, said UCLA's Wendy Slusser, who serves on one of the initiative's two dozen systemwide subcommittees.
“It's been a lightning bolt of energy that helps pull people together,” she said.
UC President Janet Napolitano first launched the Global Food Initiative on July 1, 2014. She spanned the state that day, meeting with Alice Waters at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and UCLA students and campus leaders at their community garden in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
The announcement was met with enthusiasm – and a bit of wonder at the audacity of the undertaking – as Napolitano and UC's 10 chancellors declared that UC would harness its people and power to put the university, state and world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves.
A year later, the initiative is off to a fast start. All 10 UC campuses, UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have pitched in, building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations to develop, demonstrate and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability.
Strength in numbers
“The strength of the Global Food Initiative is its capacity to harness the resources and talents and energy around each of the UC campuses related to food in its broadest sense,” said Slusser, associate vice provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative. “The structure has allowed each campus to identify what it wanted to do, build on its strengths and learn from what the other campuses are doing.”
Napolitano has welcomed campus ideas, Slusser said. GFI is helping sponsor a UCLA food studies and food justice course/internship this summer for 20 undergraduate students. The course, which had a waiting list, will be offered again in the fall and next summer and could become a pilot for other UC campuses.
Slusser also praised the UC President's Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program. She will attend a July 20 symposium for GFI and Carbon Neutrality Initiative student fellows, noting that two UCLA fellows told her they now want careers in food. “They had never even considered it before,” Slusser said.
Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor of health policy and lead investigator on the UCSF-led SugarScience initiative, serves on a GFI subcommittee that is organizing a workshop July 20 on leveraging research for food and agriculture policy change. The workshop will provide training on tools and ways that faculty members can interact with policy issues and policymakers.
“We have so much knowledge about health locked up in the ivory tower,” Schmidt said. “My role is to get information from scientific researchers into the hands of decision-makers and people who can move the dial on health. When the Global Food Initiative came along, it was, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of this.' The president is trying to get science out into the real world so it can have a positive impact on health.”
By providing policymakers with evidence-based information, UC researchers can help them address such problems as obesity and other chronic diseases, said Schmidt, who worked with supervisors on San Francisco's first-in-nation warning labels on sugary beverages. UC also can lead by example, she said, citing UCSF's new Healthy Beverage Initiative that phases out the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages at UCSF.
The Global Food Initiative's challenge is how to build on its momentum and create the infrastructure so that it sticks, she said.
“The food initiative spans agriculture, the environment and human health. That is really important. These issues intersect and overlap in powerful ways,” Schmidt said. “I think it was brilliant to bring this together.”
Here are some highlights of the Global Food Initiative's top accomplishments in its first year:
- Formed more than 20 systemwide working groups that are developing toolkits and best practices that can be shared with other UC campuses and beyond.
- Created the UC President's Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program with a first class of 54 fellows, who are addressing issues ranging from community gardens and food pantries to urban agriculture and food waste. In April, fellows toured Masumoto Family Farm near Fresno with Napolitano, who announced that she was extending the program for two years.
- Provided $75,000 per campus to support student food security and access. Each campus is forming a food security working group.
- Hosted Food Day events. As part of Food Day, Oct. 24, UC campuses, medical centers and other locations participated in a number of events that day and throughout the week, including lectures, discussions, film screenings, farmers markets, food demonstrations and special dining menus.
- Hosted other events, including the California Higher Education Food Summit and Food From the Sea Summit at UC Santa Barbara, a food and agricultural literacy symposium at UC Davis, and two lecture series on food equity and on healthy students/campuses/communities. Also, GFI helped present UC Berkeley's Edible Education 101 course and Napolitano participated in events such as a Brookings Institution-UC Davis event on the economic costs of obesity and the Childhood Obesity Conference.
- Launched UC Food Observer, a daily blog highlighting must-read national and international food news; produced California Matters, a video series with New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman that spotlights UC food research around the state; and launched a webpage that aggregates UC news and events about the initiative.
- Sponsored food-related student innovation contests involving Big Ideas@Berkeley and the CITRIS Mobile App Challenge at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Merced. The new Food System Innovations category at Big Ideas received 41 applications representing 125 students from nine UC campuses. The CITRIS Mobile App Challenge included seven food-related teams. Also, a UC Davis student won the GFI logo design contest.
- Other accomplishments: Campuses launched food-related institutes (UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health, UC Riverside California Agriculture and Food Enterprise) and initiatives (UC San Francisco SugarScience and Healthy Beverage Initiative), helped start the Genetic Expert News Service (UC Davis), and expanded access to food by opening food pantries (UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego). They also engaged in and influenced a range of projects such as ANR providing nutrition education, UCLA's Healthy Campus Initiative inspiring a national health and wellness program, UC Santa Cruz expanding its farm, and UC San Diego helping transform a vacant urban lot into a thriving community garden.
For more campus information, visit these sites: UC ANR, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UCSF/SugarScience, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley Lab.
In 2008 and 2012, NPI researchers conducted a survey of more than 400 randomly selected California licensed childcare facilities to look at beverages in childcare before and after California's Healthy Beverages in Child Care Act (AB 2084) took effect in January 2012. Under this law, only fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) unsweetened, plain milk for children two years of age or older is allowed, and no more than one serving per day of 100 percent juice. No sugary drinks are allowed at all. Also, drinking water must be readily available throughout the day, including at all meal, snack and play times.
NPI Director Lorrene Ritchie presented NPI's research findings on June 30 at the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego. The NPI study found that the policy was effective at improving the beverage environment in California childcare. Provision of whole milk dropped from nearly 30 percent of childcare facilities in 2008 to less than 9 percent of facilities 2012. The provision of other beverages also improved. In 2008, 27 percent of facilities offered juice more than once a day, compared to just 20 percent in 2012. Facilities offering any sugar-sweetened beverages dropped from 7.6 percent in 2008 to 6.9 percent in 2012.
“We know the beverages children consume can put a child at risk for overweight and obesity,” said Ritchie. “The good news is that the healthy beverage standards did improve the beverage environment in California childcare. This law impacts potentially a million young children in our state.”
Despite the improved beverage environment, NPI found that only 60 percent of childcare facilities were aware of the law, and only 23 percent were in full compliance with all provisions.
The NPI study also looked at the effects of serving water at the table with meals and snacks. While this was not a provision of the California law, it is a best practice for teaching children to reach for water first for thirst. Putting water on the table did not have an impact on children's intake of milk and other foods, which was a common concern of providers caring for young children. However, the study found the law didn't make much of a difference in increasing children's water intake either.
“Simply serving water at the table with meals and snacks is not likely to interfere with intake of other healthy things,” said Ritchie. “But we don't know what would happen if water were provided in such a way as to substantively increase water intake.”
The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.