A tech innovation by a young Jordanian helps farmers increase crop yields 

“In the future I’ll be measuring instead of guessing” – A tech innovation by a young Jordanian helps farmers increase crop yields

Sager Marayha, 28, developed a device he hopes will boost the most important trade in his birthplace –  farming. FCA supports the young agricultural engineer with a grant to start production.

THE AIR FEELS thick and there are flies buzzing around. In early November, Jordan is preparing for winter; but in the sheltered Jordan Valley, west of the country, summery conditions continue.

The greenhouses are brimming with foliage. Between them, cucumbers are loaded onto a truck that’ll soon begin its journey to the capital Amman. There, the cucumbers will be pickled and then sold to be served in local restaurants.

Sager Marayha, 28, stands in the scorching sun and fiddles with a tiny plastic bag. Inside it, there’s something that can reduce farmers’ workload and improve crops in the future.

“This is the prototype, like a small computer with several sensors,” Marahaya says, digging into his bag.

“This sensor measures soil temperature, this one assesses humidity, this one acidity and salinity.”

Portrait of Sager Marayha’s device which he developed to support farmers in Jordan. Sager received a grant from FCA which would help him to develop a prototype to support farmers in Jordan. Photo: Sherbel Dissi

Marayha demonstrates how the innovation works. First, it’s thrusted into the soil, and soon, the farmer will receive information regarding the properties of the soil on a smartphone app. A new result will appear on the screen every five seconds.

“The farmers in the Jordan Valley use fertilisers and water without knowing exactly what the farmland actually needs. It’s possible that the soil is so rich in nutrients already that it’s impossible to grow anything anymore. The device will help reduce the unnecessary use of fertilisers and watering just in case.”

As a teenager, Marayha  already worked in the fields and greenhouses. The community encouraged him to continue his studies at a university. Marayha became the first in his family to have a higher education. 

During his studies, Marayha got to know different kinds of agricultural measuring instruments and wondered why they all seemed so complex and clumsy. Could a small and easy-to-use alternative provide all that information in one go?

A scenic fiew on a field in Jordan Valley. There are greenhouses and mountains in the horizon.

Northern Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley is an area in West Jordan which is known for its agricultural opportunities and crops that benefit the whole country. Photo: Sherbel Dissi

A cucumber farmer is ready to invest in smart tech

The practical experience from the field and the knowledge from university helped Marayha get started with developing the device. Soon the technology began to garner the interest of not only farmers and the media but also researchers.

“The problem is that Jordanian agriculture doesn’t really attract investors,” Marayha points out.

The young agricultural engineer was given support from a joint project of Finn Church Aid and the foreign ministry of the Netherlands. The project trains young agricultural professionals to ensure the industry continues to attract future workforce. After proving his commitment and willingness to develop, Marayha was given a grant he can use to begin the production of the devices and selling them to farmers.

Abu Muhammad is a 45-year-old farmer from Jordan Valley. Photo: Sherbel Dissi

There are plenty of potential buyers. Cucumber farmer Abu Muhammad has a total of a hundred cucumber tunnels in Jordan, and in three months, a single tunnel produces 7000 to 7500 kilos of crop.

According to Marayha, a 500-square metre tunnel can be covered with three devices. Manufacturing one device costs approximately 65 euros, but it hasn’t got a market price yet. Even so, the farmer is ready to invest in the innovation.

“The price doesn’t concern me, and I don’t care about it. I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the price,” Abu Muhammad says.

He’s confident that the device will be particularly useful during sowing.

“Sometimes I fertilise wrong and end up losing both the money spent on fertilisers and the crop. In the future my farming will be based on scientific measuring instead of guessing.”

Making a living as a farmer isn’t easy. The biggest reason, Abu Muhammad says, is that there’s no fixed market price for crops in Jordan.

“As we’re farming, we don’t know for what price we’ll be able to sell. Many have quit, and most people have started to cultivate various plant species to mitigate the risk. I’m taking a significant risk with all these tons of cucumber. I get along, because I have a contract for getting them pickled. If all my cucumbers were sold in the fresh market, the profit would be uncertain.”

Farming is badly lacking young professionals

The situation in the rest of the world also poses a challenge for Jordan’s farmers. The crops no longer travel to dinner tables around the world like they used to.

“We used to farm a lot to meet the needs in Syria, and through Syria, our products would go to Turkey and from there to Russia. Because of the war in our neighbouring country, the trade route has been closed. Previously we also sold to the Gulf countries, but now they have their own farms,” says Abu Muhammad.

Workers at Abu Muhammad’s farm in Jordan Valley shipping the harvested cucumbers to Amman. Photo: Sherbel Dissi

Abu Muhammad says he’s constantly on a razor’s edge due to the fluctuating markets.

“I only have to fail once. If I can’t sell my next crop, I’ll give up farming.”

At worst, the consequences to food production can be dramatic. If one farmer after another quits their profession and the young aren’t drawn to it, Jordan might have to start importing more food in the future. The cucumber farmer has faith in young professionals who otherwise have no work opportunities in the region.

“It’s great that Marayha and other young people are developing agriculture. Everyone wins: the farmers benefit from the innovations and the young get more work opportunities. Marayha has a university degree, and the studies have cost a fortune, and currently he hasn’t got anything else to do for work. It’s up to us farmers to encourage the young to make a living for themselves,” Abu Muhammad ponders.

Marayha says that his education as well as the grant he received improve the financial situation of his family. The young man wishes that with the help of his future income, his hard-working mother could finally get some rest.

“I dream about my future every day. I have already received inquiries from people who could help me sell the device abroad. My dream is to see the device in use specifically in Jordan, so it could benefit the people in my own region.”

The Cool-Ya project is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project is seeking to attract more youth to the agriculture sector by making it more appealing and interesting for the young people.


Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen
Translation: Anne Salomäki
Photos: Sherbel Dissi

10+1 things about the future of food production 

10+1 things about the future of food production

Some of us have enough food to waste, others have hardly any; and many do have food, but it isn’t sufficiently nutritious. We made a list of 10+1 things that affect the future of our food production. 

1. There is plenty of food – in theory. 

There is both hunger and overabundance in the world. Currently, the food that is produced globally would be enough for everyone, if only it were evenly distributed. Although there are immense differences between regions when it comes to resources for food production, in the grand scheme of things the problem lies not in insufficient food production but our dysfunctional and unfair food system. 

2. Climate change forces us to rethink food production. 

Climate change has led to extended droughts, longer and more intense storms, and other types of extreme weather, all of which affect farming and crops. Hence, both emission reduction and climate change adaptation are imperative. The food system in itself is a significant source of emissions, so we need to think carefully about the ways in which we can cut emissions in farming and logistics as well as food waste. 

3. Conflicts lead to empty farms and plates. 

The war in Ukraine has proven how many developing countries are dependent on the affordable grain produced in Ukraine and Russia. However, conflicts disrupt food production, deliveries and sales all over the world. When violence forces people to flee their homes, they often leave behind their farms and their means of livelihood. Climate change reduces resources, which will cause further conflicts in the future.

4. Unbalanced production is a threat to biodiversity. 

Approximately two thirds of the world’s farmland are used to cultivate only nine plant species, although there are thousands of options to choose from. Intensive production depletes the soil and increases the risk of plant diseases and pests. A much better way is to vary between different strains and follow the principles of agroecology and sustainable development in food production. 

5. Rising proces and inflation hit the middle classes. 

The price of food and inflation have risen so high that, together with energy price rises, even the middle classes end up counting coins. The situation is a downright disaster for the poor, who were already living from hand to mouth. However, food corporations and their owners are getting richer. Some think that the situation should be changed through political means, for example by taxing extreme wealth and the immense profits of corporations; but this isn’t as straightforward as it might sound, as many food giants are multinational. 

6. Food is supposed to nourish. 

A key issue in the future of food production and the functionality of the food system is nutritional content: food must be healthy and nourishing. It makes zero sense to produce immense amounts of food items that are by no measure the best when it comes to nutrition. At the moment, unhealthy food is often cheaper than healthy alternatives. A better diet would not only make us healthier but it would also help reduce emissions. 

7. Towards a plant-based diet? 

Particularly in the industrialised world, people consume far too much meat and other animal products. Transitioning to a plant-based diet would help solve health problems, reduce emissions, and diversify the use of soil. However, vegetarian food might not be a suitable option in all situations. For nomads, for example, animal products might be the only source of protein. 

8. We must end food waste. 

According to the UN, almost half of fruit and vegetables produced globally end up in waste, as does approximately a third of all food. The amount of food waste and refuse equals hundreds of billions of euros every year. Although we’ll never do away with all food waste entirely, even small acts can help reduce it significantly from its current levels. 

9. Support your local. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shown the dangers of being overly dependent on global value chains. Diverse and smaller-scale food production could improve food security for local populations, bring about opportunities to safeguard biodiversity, as well as offer local communities ways to make a living. 

10. Innovations and technologies exist already. 

To respond to the challenges in food production we don’t need disruptive technologies or entirely new methods, as a wide range of practical measures is already at our disposal. Instead of future technologies, we can look at the past and learn from the ways previous generations used in cultivating land. An agroecological approach helps improve the resilience of communities and supports local farmers. 

+1: FCA Supporst livelihoods with cash allowances. 

In many places there is food available, but the prices have risen beyond what the poorest can afford. Finn Church Aid helps those struggling with food security by, for example, offering cash allowances that families can use to purchase food. FCA also supports education and independent livelihoods with entrepreneurship training. 


Interviewees and sources: human advocacy advisor Merja Färm at Finn Church Aid, research manager and senior scientist Mila Sell at Natural Resources Institute Finland, FAO reports Thinking about the future of food safety and The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, Oxfam report Fixing Our Food: Debunking 10 myths about the global food system and what drives hunger, and Global Food Policy -reports by CGIAR. 


Text: Anne Salomäki 
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Tired feet tell a story of hunger and despair in drought-affected Somalia

Tired feet tell a story of hunger and despair in drought-affected Somalia

The Baidoa internally displaced people’s camp in the South-Central of Somalia is over-crowded. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months.

THOSE FEET. Those now muddy, and no doubt tired, feet haunt me even days after visiting the Baidoa internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in the South-Central Somalia. Some of the people I met early November have travelled up to 120 kilometers by foot to escape drought and conflict affected areas to seek safety and simply find food. Somalia is on the brink of famine with half of the population facing extreme and even life-threatening food shortage

The aim of my visit was to understand the current situation in Somalia’s IDP camps and the impact of drought on their lives, as well as to be able to compare the situation now to how the situation was in June during my last visit to Baidoa. 

Frankly, it’s worse, and it is getting worse each week. It is now November, and it should be the rainy season. There have been some rains since Spring 2020, but that doesn’t mean the situation improves. On the contrary, limited rain can worsen conditions in IDP camps due to the potential contamination of water sources and the spread of disease like malaria. The situation has been unbearable for months now. However, the international funding has a major gap when it comes to humanitarian assistance to drought-affected Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. There simply isn’t enough international will for funding now. 

Additionally, the price of aid is rising as global inflation affects markets together with cuts to grain imports affected by the war in Ukraine. Somalia has been dependent on the Black Sea grain imports of about 90 per cent of grain used in the country. Prices have increased as much as 50 per cent in Baidoa. A lady running a small shop in the camp told me that now 500 g pasta is USD 0,60, 3 litres of cooking oil USD 7, a biscuit USD 0,10, potatoes one dollar per kilo. Transportation cost to town USD 2. We are all worried about inflation, even in Finland. The prices might not sound that bad, but we need to keep in mind: nearly 7 of 10 Somalis live in poverty, making Somalia one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

People, photograpghed from behind, walking in a refugee camp in Somalia. There are tents and more people behind.

So, the looming famine is a sum of many crises. People are fleeing to IDP camps like the one in Baidoa due to the conflict and drought. The group of ladies that I spoke with told me they do not expect to go back to their homes due to their livelihood as pastoralists disappearing, due to lack of rain and often their land being taken over by terrorist groups. It would be impossible to go back right now even if a proper rain was received. 

The Baidoa camp is overcrowded, too. The influx of IDPs into Baidoa camp is about 30 000–40 000 people a month. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months. Officials are worried about both security and health related issues. With so many people living in the overcrowded camp with a lack of proper hygiene, epidemics like cholera, chickenpox and measles are prone to spread uncontrollably.  

Finally, the drought is dramatically affecting children. Children are in the most vulnerable position when it comes to acute malnutrition. It is children who are most likely to die during – and even now, before – the famine. A malnourished child is more likely to die because of cholera, malaria, diarrhoea – even a common cold – than a healthy, well fed child. I had an opportunity to observe ongoing treatments, including vaccinations, health assessment of children, and counselling, in the camp health center. I was told that malnutrition is an increasing problem and the clinic provides weekly observation and nutritional supplements. The clinic has already 500 patients per day (the population in the camp being 200 000). 

The current crisis is not only one of immediate effect. It’s a crisis affecting the future, too. According to the Somalia education cluster, 70 per cent of the children in Somalia are currently out of school because of the drought. 250 schools are closed, and 720 000 school-aged children (45 per cent of them girls) are at risk of dropping out of school for good. Half of children in the IDP camps have no access to education. The schools inside IDP camps are overcrowded, too. My home country Finland is world famous for its education system, but how would a school in Finland survive if suddenly a school built for 400 students had an influx of 200 students on top of the 1000 students it had yesterday? 

It’s not yet too late. We can still help. FCA has already been able, as one of the few NGOs in the Baidoa camp, to aid 700 households with emergency cash distributions. In the coming months we are helping 900 more, since we start also implementing our project in the drought affected region in Somaliland.  

10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis

10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis

The climate crisis is real and happening now. The people we support are often at the frontline of the climate emergency. The effects of climate change impact on their access to education and increases conflict over disappearing natural resources. Here are 10+1 ways we’re acting on the climate crisis by taking responsibility to mitigate, adapt and transform.

1. Measure our impact.

The first step is to take a long hard look at ourselves. What is our own environmental impact, for example in terms of emissions caused by travel? What stress are we causing to land, communities and nature in general by developing new projects? What about the resources we use – are our procurement chains sustainable?   
 
We are committing to a thorough analysis of our operations, identifying ways we can make better and more sustainable use of our resources. At the same time, we are mainstreaming environmental impact into our project development, as well as finding ways to adapt to the climate crisis. 

2. Reduce land use change.

Building a new school is something everyone can get onboard with, right? But we need to be careful when we’re erecting new structures to be sure we’re not building in an area of natural importance. Similarly, when developing agricultural projects, we need to be aware of the land’s biodiversity and its function in the ecosystem before changing that equation.   
 
That’s why we try to rehabilitate schools before building new ones. And when we do build new, we make a detailed assessment of the impact on the environment, and identifying ways to reduce pollution in air, soil and water.

3. Mitigate.

We’re actively designing projects that break the cycle of consumption and waste, helping to address the root causes of the climate crisis. One way is to develop circular economy projects, which aim to decouple economic growth from the use of finite resources by designing waste out of the system.   
 
Developed with our sister organisation, Women’s Bank, our innovative BUZZ project in Nepal trains women farmers to cultivate larvae from the black soldier fly as animal feed, biofuel and compost. The larvae themselves feed on waste, both from animals and humans making it a self-sustainable, no-waste product.

4. Integrate climate with other rights work.

Climate action should not stand apart from other development interventions. In fact, it should be considered a central part of all rights-based work. As part of our Right to Livelihood work, we’ve partnered with Taka Taka Solutions, a waste management company in Kenya. Funded by Women’s Bank, the project aims at improving the livelihoods of women by creating jobs with the company, while also providing them a package of employment benefits, medical cover and childcare. So far 261 women have been supported through the scheme.  
 
Taka Taka Solutions estimates that its work saves about 100 tons of greenhouse emissions per month by reducing landfill waste. Landfills are currently the largest source of methane, which is 23 times more potent than CO2. The company are also looking to switch to solar power in the longterm.  

5. Consider all environmental pressures, not just the hot topics.

The climate emergency has a high profile, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean we should deprioritise other environmental pressures, like pollution, biodiversity loss or nitrogen loading.  

In fact, while we can arguably adapt to climate change within a certain limit, environmental damage like ocean acidification or extinction events are irreversible and with the potential to cause catastrophic consequences. That’s why we consider all environmental pressures when we look at our development projects.

6. Localise.

Sustainability means different things not just to different people, but in different places. We listen to the local community and invite local expertise when we develop projects. Our country staff are 90 per cent local, so they can properly understand and engage.  
 
Too often, western research into environmental impact is prioritised and western solutions proposed. While, we have a responsibility to share technology and resources, we also have a lot to learn from local ways of living and doing.

7. Listen and learn from those at the frontline.

The climate crisis is happening now and many of the world’s most vulnerable people are seeing the effects in real time, although they are the least responsible for the problem. We must make space for those at the frontlines to be heard. They are the people who are best placed to guide our climate policies and inform our actions.  
 
In Kenya and Somalia, the worst drought in decades is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods. The cause is manmade climate change, made worse by manmade conflicts. We are acting on the everyday experiences of our staff and beneficiaries in these areas, changing our strategies to make sure we can adapt to the new reality on the ground.  

8. Be realistic.

We must not lose sight of our main aim: to help people. In an emergency, of course, we must settle for the option that delivers the most positives for people in the short term. For example, if we receive a donation of plastic water bottles in a humanitarian crisis, we can recognise that both the water and the bottles will be used and not reject them.  

But at the same time, we can identify how we can improve over time, changing our emergency responses and policies to benefit both people and the environment. Part of acting on the climate crisis is learning as organisation and as a sector to improve our practices.

9. Build resilience, adapt and transform.

Every time a disaster happens, we can learn from it and be better prepared for next time. In the jargon, it’s called resilience. We believe we can do better than that – we can adapt and transform, so that we are not just ready to brace for the next disaster, we can actively prevent it or develop new ways of living so that it hardly impacts at all.  
 
That’s why we are constantly assessing how we can diversify people’s livelihoods and develop flexible ways to access education or the employment market.

10. Look into the future.

We know what’s coming. Over the next few years, we will see more extreme weather events, more water scarcity and more conflict over natural resources. That will lead to more forced migration, inflation and food shortages.  
 
Our climate strategy is constantly evolving with the realities on the ground. We’re acting on the climate crisis today while looking at the future to better prepare for tomorrow.

+1 Our secret weapon: education

Education is not only our greatest passion, but also a great tool to mitigate climate change and create more sustainable societies. We can offer resources, support and technology, but ultimately, it’s people in their communities that can make changes. Providing them access to quality education will give the springboard to make those changes.

Text: Aly Cabrera and Ruth Owen
Photo: Hugh Rutherford

In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers

In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers

Former bonded labourers in Nepal’s Far Western Region earn a modest living by raising pigs and growing vegetables. FCA offers support to local people to help them earn a living, but in the most impoverished villages severe drought and all-engulfing fires make life extremely challenging.

IN A NORMAL summer, the Mohana River floods across the flat terrain all the way to the village of Bipatpur. Taking vegetables across the river to India would require a boat and a skipper.

In Nepal’s Far West, the annual monsoon season usually starts in early June, but this year the rains were weeks late. For local women, crossing the border from Nepal to India seems fairly easy; all they have to do is lift up their saris, roll up their trouser legs and wade across the river. It has been scorching hot for nearly two weeks now, with temperature rising above 40 degrees.

The ground is parched, and plants and people are desperate for water. Some of the wells in the village have dried up and there is no point in looking for new ones because finding groundwater is too uncertain and the costs of digging too high.

This has been an exceptional year in more ways than one. This spring, following a disaster in April that destroyed the harvest and stores, the women of Bipatpur had nothing to sell to the Indian vegetable markets across the river.

Women walking in water in Nepal.

During a normal summer the water in the Mohana river is much higher by June. The women of Bipatpur village cross the river to sell their vegetables on the Indian side. Photo: Uma Bista

“Only people were saved”

Burning crop residue on the fields to release nutrients is an annual tradition in Bipatpur. This year, an unpredictable and exceptionally strong wind caused the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals.

Villagers cleared away the charred tree trunks, but the sad and disheartened feelings remain.

“Only people were saved,” the women say.

The fire also engulfed a large chunk of the village cooperative’s savings, which were kept in a box. Belmati Devi Chaudhary, 42, looks at the charred remains of her house.

“Everything is gone. All we have is emergency aid.”

A man and an older woman walking in a village in Nepal.
Belmati Devi Chaudhary and her son Sanjay Chaudhary outside of their temporary house at Bipadpur in Kailari Rural Municipality-7, Kailali district. They lost all their pigs on fire in April. FCA Nepal provided support to the Chaudhary family to rebuild their house. Photo: Uma Bista

A sow the family had bought with financial support from Finn Church Aid died in the fire. Without a mother to care for them, five piglets died, too. This was a huge loss for the Chaudhary family.

The money Belmati Devi Chaudhary had earned from pig farming helped her to pay for her children’s schooling. Standing next to his mother, the family’s eldest son Sanjay Chaudhary, 23, looks helpless.

“I may have to go to Kathmandu to find work. It’s difficult to get a paid job here,” he says.

For many years, scores of young Nepalese men have left for the capital city or for India in search of odd jobs, but Belmati doesn’t want her son to follow in their footsteps.

Like many others in Bipatpur and in the surrounding Kailali District, the Chaudhary family are former bonded labourers. Although Nepal’s 200-year-old Haliya and Kamayia bonded labour systems were abolished in the early 2000s, many former bonded labourers and their descendants are still very vulnerable.

People are standing behind a collapsed house.

Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another in April in the village of Bipatpur, Far West region of Nepal. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals. Photo: Uma Bista

Sustainable livelihood with pig farming

Jumani Chaudhary, 50, is one of 29 women in a group supported by FCA. These women run a pig farm in the municipality of Gauriganga. They have learned how to make porridge for pigs from corn and wheat milling byproducts.

“By feeding pigs porridge, we save on feeding costs, and the pigs are healthier and grow faster,” Jumani Chaudhary says.

The women plan to start selling their pig feed to other pig farmers. To safeguard feed production, they would like to set up their own mill.

An older woman is petting her two pigs in Nepal.

Gaumati Sunuwar, 56, has received support from FCA on pig farming in Amargadhi, Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista

In a pig pen, three different-coloured pigs oink and jostle for food. Sows are less than a year old when they produce their first litter. Typically they can produce two litters a year, around ten piglets each time. With the right care and nutrition, pigs grow quickly.

“A full-grown boar is worth up to 30,000 rupees,” says Bishni Chaudhary, 43.

A Nepalese woman is standing in a room holding her young child in her arms.
Sheela Chaudhary, 22, with her son Ronim Chaudhary at Gauriganga, Kailali district 2. FCA Nepal provides nutrition packages to Sheela’s son. Photo: Uma Bista

Sanu Chaudhary, 27, who lives next door and is also a member of the women’s group, says she recently sold seven pigs for 50,000 rupees. Converted to euros, the sums seem somewhat modest: a thousand rupees equals roughly seven euros. But in the Far Western Region of Nepal, this money goes a long way. You can buy a school uniform for your child, meals for the entire school year, a water bottle and school supplies.

“Pig farming is easier and requires less work than buffalo farming. Buffaloes only produce milk part of the year, when they nurse their calves,” Jumani Chaudhary explains.

When buffaloes don’t produce milk, they produce nothing, but cost ten times the price of a pig.

“Before, we had to beg for food”

The road further west to the Dadeldhura district twists and turns along the lush green hills. Compared to the flat terrains of Kailali, Dadeldhura is topographically much more uneven. The winding road barely fits our car, giving the scenic drive an extra twist. Finally, we arrive in the village of Ganyapdhura.

We can see hints of green on the terraced farms even though the rains are late. The Dalit community living here grows cauliflower, potatoes and zucchini. Growing vegetables is more than a livelihood; it has given the community a sense of value.

“Before, we had to beg for food, but now we grow vegetables for sale,” says Gita Devi Sarki, 38.

In 2019, Finn Church Aid helped the community further improve its farming efficiency by supporting the Sarki family and 24 other local farmers in the introduction of tunnel farming. The plastic cover of the tunnel protects the vegetables from the elements and retains moisture. The community also received a walk-behind tractor, which makes plowing much easier. Gita Devi Sarki is the only woman who knows how to operate the machine – and even she needs her husband’s help to start it.

A woman is holding a hand tracktor. A man is walking next to the woman.

Gita Devi Sarki plows a field using a hand tractor to plant vegetables at Kholibasti, Ganyapdhura Rural municipality in Dadeldhura. The couple is now working together and hoping to expand their vegetable farming with the support they receive from FCA. Photo: Uma Bista

“Before, our farm was just big enough to produce corn and wheat for our own family. Now we can save 410 rupees each month by selling some of the vegetables we grow,” she says.

Most importantly, having a more secure livelihood meant that Gita’s husband Padam Bahadur Sarki, 42, was able to return home from India, where he worked for twenty years. The couple have been together for 22 years and have four children. Almost all this time, Gita Devi Sarki was in charge of the family’s day-to-day life, alone.

“I returned to Nepal due to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he says.

“It’s a good thing you came back,” Gita Devi Sarki says, with a grin.

“Yeah, it’s been OK,” her husband replies, causing the group of women sitting around him to burst into laughter.

Having her husband back has reduced Gita Devi Sarki’s workload in the farms. The family plans to expand their business to raising goats and small-scale fish farming in a small pond in the valley.

A family is sitting on the porch of their home. A cow is peeking from one of the doorways.

Bahadur Damai, 52, (centre) with his family at Ganyapdhura Rural Municipality in Dadeldhura district received support from FCA for chicken farming. In the spring of 2022, Bahadur Damai was elected as a ward member in the local government. Photo: Uma Bista

From bonded labourer to a member of a local government

A pretty little house has a downstairs door open, and a wide-eyed cow peeks through the door. Bahadur Damai, 52, beckons to visitors to join him in the shade under a canopy. Back in the early 2000s, before the abolition of the Haliya system, he was a bonded labourer, mending other people’s clothing. Today, he smiles happily as he talks to us about his chickens and a small tailor’s shop he has opened in a nearby village centre.

Money has given his family a more stable livelihood, allowing him to buy things like a television. He has also been able to pay for the weddings of his two adult daughters, something that clearly makes him very proud.

One of his greatest achievements, however, was being elected a member of the local government in May.

A man is kneeling down inside a chicken pen.
Bahadur Damai, 52, used to make an inadequate living by sewing people’s clothes. Now he has a steady income raising chickens on his own farm in Ganyapdhura in Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista

“It’s all thanks to FCA that I am where I am now. I received support for vegetable and chicken farming, and I’ve been able to build relationships that won me votes in the election.”
He pauses mid-sentence when a gust of wind tries to rip off the chicken coop’s corrugated iron roof. Bahadur Damai gestures at his son, telling him to put big stones on the roof to keep it in place.

“A new chicken coop would be nice,” he says. Suddenly he becomes serious.

“You know, my wife and I only have one significant difference: she has aged faster.”

The look on his face says this is not a joke.

“Women age faster here because their lives are so much harder that men’s. It is a local tradition that women eat after everyone else, whatever is left. Pregnancies, childbirths, hard physical labour…As an elected member of the local government, I intend to raise awareness of the problems women have in our communities, such as the disproportionate burden of domestic work and domestic violence,” Bahadur Damai says.

But that’s not the only thing he wants to draw attention to. In this district, former bonded labourers are still not eligible for the Nepali government rehabilitation programme, which promises them land ownership, education for children, and employment opportunities for young people.

Charred trees on a dry field.

Charred trees are a reminder of the fire that brought the small village of Bipatpur to its knees in April. Photo: Uma Bista

Bank accounts secure the future

In Bipatpur, the village women have gathered together under a canopy. In fact, this used to be a house, one of the women points out. The charred roof beams have been removed and replaced with new ones. At noon, the sun is beating down, and the temperature in the shade is approaching forty degrees. It turns out that the name of the village, Bipatpur, means disaster in the local language. This village has certainly had its fair share of disasters, from floods to fires.

Women sit on the ground.
People from Bipatpur gathered to receive cash support from FCA Nepal in order to rebuild houses which were destroyed by the fire in April at Kailari Rural Municipality. The village was also provided support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Uma Bista

But perhaps today things will take a turn for the better. Representatives of the local government and the bank will be visiting the village. With support from FCA, every family that lost their house in the spring fire will receive a humanitarian cash transfer. For those whose homes were damaged to some degree, 13,500 rupees, or about 106 euros, will be offered for reconstruction, and those who suffered the greatest losses will receive 34,500 rupees, or 270 euros. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, families and the elderly will receive an additional 500 rupees.

For the first time, cash transfers will be paid to women’s own bank accounts. This ensures that their money is safe, and that even if another disaster strikes the village, not all of their possessions will be gone.


Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Uma Bista
Translation: Leni Vapaavuori


Finn Church Aid has had a country office in Nepal since 2013. Our work focuses on providing income opportunities for former bonded labourers, on ensuring the realisation of their rights, and on improving women’s livelihoods. After the earthquake in 2015, we built safe school facilities for 44,000 children, trained teachers and supported mental recovery. In 2021, we took action to alleviate the food insecurity affecting nearly 18,000 people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A baby is sleeping on the ground in Nepal. Women sit around the baby.

Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista

Up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia

FCA granted 400,000 euros to assist East Africa suffering from a food shortage — Up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia

The worst drought in four decades along with inflation and problems with the availability of imported cereals (accelerated by the war in Ukraine) are causing the food shortage in the Horn of Africa. Within a short time, the price of a grocery shopping basket has risen by 36% in Somalia.

EAST AFRICA has been hit by the worst drought in four decades. The extreme weather caused by climate change has impacted Somalia, the eastern parts of Ethiopia and northern Kenya in particular. These regions have not seen normal seasonal rain for almost two years.

According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to a quarter (approximately 4.1 million) of the Somali population need urgent humanitarian food aid. By some NGO estimates, this figure is over six million people. In Kenya, more than two million people need food aid. According to estimates by experts, up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia. As the drought continues, the humanitarian disaster is expected to grow and spread.

somalinaiset istuvat maassa. Taustalla näkyy teltta.
PHOTO: Mohamed Abdihakim/FCA

Drought is not the only factor affecting the food shortage in Somalia and Kenya; rather, what is at stake is a multiple crisis which has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well. As much as 90 per cent of the cereals consumed in Somalia are imported from Ukraine and Russia. Since February, the price of wheat has risen in Somalia by as much as 300 per cent.

In April, Finn Church Aid (FCA) granted 400,000 euros for a humanitarian relief operation in Kenya and Somalia. Now we have started our operation.

Food prices sky-rocketed after the war broke out in Ukraine

Ikali Karvinen is the country Director of FCA Somalia. He has been following very closely the dramatic impact of inflation on the price of food and the effects of drought on the food crisis.

“Because of inflation, the price of food has gone up by 30 per cent,” he says. “The same goes for the price of fuel.”

The price of essential foods like cooking oil, maize, millet, sesame seeds, peas and beans has even doubled in places. Approximately 70 per cent of the Somali population lives below the poverty line, meaning people live on less than two euros a day. As the value of money falls due to inflation, the little money will buy even less of anything: for example, food. Indeed, inflation combined with drought has been estimated to impact the lives of up to six million people in Somalia.

“While the climate crisis is greatly impacting especially East Africa, this particular spring the war in Ukraine is impacting food and energy inflation possibly the most,” says Director Karvinen. “So, here we now have two major crises overlapping each other.”

Somalinainen pitää sylissään vauvaa. Kuvassa myös toinen lapsi.
Food crisis is affecting more than a quarter of Somalia’s population. The children under the age of five are among those most affected. PHOTO: Mohamed Abdihakim/FCA

He continues by saying the nomadic shepherd population in Somalia is currently in a very dire situation. The drought is killing the cattle and along with their cattle, families are losing their livelihoods. The threat for Somalia is that a situation like the 2011 famine will repeat itself.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, FCA began distributing cash aid. This is a fast and humane way of helping which saves on the cost of logistics.

“Cash aid works as long as there are markets, be they shops or marketplaces, where people can buy food and other basic supplies and where money has some value,” Director Karvinen explains.

Great part of Somali people depend on their animals and agriculture. They are in a very vulnerable position in the times of drought. PHOTO: Mohamed Abdihakim/FCA

The falling value of money can become a problem for cash aid distributions, however.

“If inflation continues to rise at this rate, we will face some serious questions,” Director Karvinen continues. “Will it make sense to continue with cash aid or will we be forced to start distributing food at some point?”

Lapsi katsoo äitinsä sylistä Somaliassa. Lapsen ympärillä on äidin vaatetta.
In Somalia, food and cash distributions have been hindered by the security situation. PHOTO: Mohamed Abdihakim/FCA

Food distributions demand logistics

Food distribution demands logistics. In Somalia, the process can be hindered by the security situation which is currently extremely bad according to Director Karvinen. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is also continuing to spread in East Africa.

By mid-summer, the humanitarian operation of FCA will seek to distribute cash aid to the areas most affected by the food shortage; this will include 700 Somali and 600 Kenyan households. The operation aims to reach especially those families who have had to leave their homes due to the disaster and those most threatened by malnutrition. Households that rely on widowed women or children for their subsistence are at the very heart of FCA relief work.

Contact information:

Ikali Karvinen, Country Director for Somalia, ikali.karvinen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, WhatsApp +358 40 509 8050, tel. +252 617 234 597.

Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts cause hunger for millions in East Africa 

Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts cause hunger for millions in East Africa

The worst drought in forty years is hitting East Africa, pushing many in the region to the brink of famine. Despite the situation, governments across the Europe, including Finland, are cutting funding from development budgets and reallocating it to Ukraine. Tackling one crisis at the cost of another is not a sustainable solution.

IN KENYA, an assessment conducted by Finn Church Aid (FCA) revealed that some main water sources – rivers, boreholes, water pans and shallow wells – have insufficient water for both humans and livestock. Many boreholes are already dry, forcing people to travel over seven kilometers to collect water. Almost one million head of livestock have died in Garissa county in Kenya. 

In Somalia, armed clashes, terrorist attacks, growing prices of food commodities are increasing the hardship caused by the drought.

“Aid actors are afraid that violence is making access to hard-to-reach communities even more limited, even to assess what the needs are, and we fear the worst,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA Country Director, Somalia. 

Climate change is a man-made crisis

FCA is assisting people in Kenya and Somalia with cash transfers, particularly to families without adult members or those headed by pregnant or lactating mothers, which will allow these people to buy food until the rainy season. However, the World Food Programme reports that 13 million people are facing acute food insecurity and severe water shortages in East Africa.

“This is another man-made crisis, just like Ukraine, except that the cause of the drought is climate change,” said Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA. “Those of us who still remember the famine in Ethiopia in the ‘80s are haunted by it. This is a similar event across a larger scale, but we have the means to prevent the suffering that the ‘80s famine caused.” 

“I have eight children. This drought has affected my family greatly. There are days we go without eating. Life is tough here. Sometimes the food we get here is rice and beans”, said Fatuma Garane, a widow from Balambala, Garissa County, in Kenya. PHOTO: BRIAN OTIENO/FINN CHURCH AID

While climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of weather events, the funding needed to aid those who suffer is decreasing. Simultaneously, governments in Europe are reallocating funding to Ukraine. In 2017, 10% of development funding from Finland was spent on humanitarian programmes. In 2022, it is anticipated to be only 7% with the Finnish government planning to further slash aid levels for 2023.

Tackling one crisis while increasing instability somewhere else is not a sustainable solution. Concurrently these decisions seriously harm the relations created with developing countries. 

“Developed countries, those who are largely responsible for climate change, must take responsibility for this. We must help those who are suffering because of it,” said Hemberg. 

Contact information:


Executive Director, Mr. Jouni Hemberg, jouni.hemberg[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +358 50 325 9579


FCA’s Somalia Country Director, Mr. Ikali Karvinen, ikali.karvinen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +252 617 234 597, WhatsApp +358 40 509 8050

Crises may pave the way to a brighter future

Crises may pave the way to a brighter future

As I am writing this, the Covid-19 pandemic is dominating the news and daily politics for the second year running. In fact, this topic has overshadowed other news to such an extent that it is hard to remember what went on in the world before Covid-19 testing, vaccines and coronavirus variants. Climate change, protracted conflicts, swarms of locusts destroying crops – does any of that ring a bell?

The work carried out by Finn Church Aid focuses on providing education, securing livelihoods and building peace. The objective of long-term development cooperation is to help entire communities become stable and self-sufficient.  

We also respond to more urgent needs. After a massive explosion in the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut in August 2020, we delivered emergency assistance to those affected. When Covid-19 stopped trade and food deliveries at state borders in several parts of the world, we continued to provide emergency food assistance.  

Some of the areas where we promote development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and peace do naturally overlap, just as global crises are inextricably intertwined. Many of our programme countries faced profound challenges even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes in climate and protracted conflicts have caused food crises, health crises and displacement of millions of people. 

In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, devastating floods have left two thirds of the country’s 11 million inhabitants in need of some form of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition. 

Syria also has a disastrous decade of suffering behind it. This conflict-ridden country has spiralled into an economic crisis that, for Syrian people, translates into a shortage of food and lost income opportunities. An entire generation of children has gone to school in emergency conditions. 

Poika kirjoittaa vihkoon luokassa.
Muhammad Abdo Hijzai from East Ghouta is a 13-year-old boy who participated in remedial education in, for example, mathematics, supported by Finn Church Aid. Photo: Abu Talib Al-Buhaya.

The global pandemic has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses of many countries. In Nepal, more than 25 per cent of the country’s GDP has in recent years consisted of remittances by Nepalese working abroad. With the pandemic forcing migrant workers to return home, families have struggled for more than a year, trying to cope without an adequate income to guarantee a decent living. 

But the pandemic has not brought all progress to a halt, even if we sometimes feel like it. In a number of projects, the situation has forced us to take a big leap forward in technology. For instance, in Kenya we distributed radios to enable women to participate in peace dialogues. Our objective in such projects was to make communities better equipped to resolve conflicts involving natural resources. 

Without a doubt, we will face more challenges in the future. Our climate is becoming increasingly harsh, and in these changing conditions, it is likely that more epidemics will circulate in the population. Natural disasters will force people to leave their homes in growing numbers. According to forecasts, a high population growth rate in Africa will result in massive migration within the continent.  

But the good news is that resilient societies are able to take better precautions and prepare for disasters. In time, the Covid-19 crisis will pass, and this is when Finn Church Aid’s efforts to improve education, support livelihoods and forge peace will bear fruit and produce even more tangible results. Those who have participated in our projects have been building a stronger foundation for their lives, enabling them to pursue a brighter future. 

Ulriikka Myöhänen, Communications Specialist.

This text twas originally published in our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?

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Emerging stronger after Covid-19

Why the coronavirus pandemic should not put all other crises on hold

The coronavirus pandemic does not mean that other crises are less urgent but it has rapidly restricted work with development cooperation, humanitarian aid, peacebuilding and climate change. We now have to fight many battles at the same time.

When the severity of the coronavirus dawned upon the world, I was in a remote location in South Sudan. In New Fangak’s swamp, movement is possible either by foot or boat. There are no roads or cars, and the isolation is sealed with only one flight a week.

New Fangak was severely hit by the conflict that broke out in South Sudan in 2013. The ruins of a hospital serve as a reminder of the crisis – and of its vulnerability to yet another one.

For the time being, New Fangak’s inaccessibility might keep it safe from the coronavirus. The people are currently concerned about the severe lack of food. Unprecedented floods had wiped out crops and drowned cattle. Many survive on porridge made from tree leaves.

Imagine being at the brink of famine, at the frontlines of climate change and on top of that facing the threat of a deadly global pandemic.

The pandemic poses a severe risk to work against climate change

The battle against the coronavirus has put the world in a difficult position with respect to its most vulnerable people.

People in countries with existing humanitarian crises are particularly exposed to the coronavirus, especially the world’s 65 million refugees and internally displaced people. Development and humanitarian aid operations have to adapt to tackle the virus.

At the same time, organisations are forced to scale back their operations and call home international staff. Education projects are halted when governments close schools, peace efforts are delayed with bans on gatherings, and humanitarian aid workers avoid travelling to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus to remote locations with no healthcare.

Some of the restrictions designed for tackling the pandemic might look like they would serve the battle against climate change. The coronavirus has rapidly restricted global travel and consumption, far more abruptly and efficiently than the anti-climate change movement. But it is not an achievement. The pandemic actually poses severe risks for work against climate change as prosperity declines and suffering economies urgently need stimulation. Emissions can even increase when industries are back in business.

The political will for financial commitments to tackling climate change might decrease as a result of the cost of fighting the coronavirus. The same risk is evident for any other crisis as major donors fear a global recession might hit them at home.

But the economic decline will have more severe effects on low-income countries, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of families live from hand to mouth. A woman working at any local market usually spends her daily income to feed her family in the evening. When she is forced to close her business her family suffers the consequences the very next day.

A prolonged crisis with societal lockdowns risks exacerbating poverty and cause discontent.

People in fragile countries like South Sudan are facing multiple crises but governments and organisations are forced to restrict development cooperation and humanitarian work to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

We have to respond to many crises at the same time

It is clear that we need to fight the coronavirus today. The need for health care support, dissemination of information, thorough hygiene practices and social distancing is acute.

But we cannot afford to forget everything else. At the other end of the urgency-scale are much-needed systemic changes to battle the climate crisis. We cannot give up on the need to rethink transport, infrastructure, food and energy production and much more. We also need to continue peacebuilding efforts and respond to food crises that are key for stability.

While the battle against the coronavirus is a hundred-meter sprint – and the race is well underway – the battle against climate change is a marathon, and all other crises fall in between. We just have to run all races at the same time.

Because all crises are bound together by the need for global cooperation and resilient societies.

Erik Nyström is Finn Church Aid’s Manager of International Communications.

Uganda: More support needed to fight environmental degradation around refugee settlements

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, 16 non-governmental organisations call for urgent action to prevent and mitigate the impact of environmental degradation around refugee settlements in Uganda.

Uganda currently hosts more than 1.25 million refugees, most of whom rely on natural resources in and around refugee settlements for domestic fuel, construction and livelihoods. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda’s refugees consume at least 1.1 million tonnes of firewood every year, as fuel wood is the primary source of energy security. Each individual in the refugee community is estimated to consume up to 1.6 kg firewood per day, compared with host community members who consume up to 2.1 kg per day. This puts a strain on the availability of wood, grass and other resources in refugee-hosting districts.

The impact is not only environmental – it also fuels increased competition over natural resources between refugees and the Ugandan host community. While the latter continue to show considerable generosity in hosting refugees, they rely on the same trees, grass and water sources as refugees. As scarcity increases, so do tensions over access to, and management of, natural resources. Violent incidents affecting both refugees and Ugandans have already occurred, as documented in research done in Lamwo, Adjumani and Arua by International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI).

Scarcity of resources has an acute impact on women and girls who are responsible for the day-to-day collection of firewood and grass for thatched roofs. They can spend 12-24 hours collecting firewood which they have to seek further from their homes, putting them at risk of sexual violence. Refugees and Ugandans living around the refugee settlements also rely on the same natural resources to make a living. Sustainable management of natural resources is therefore key to enable Uganda’s promoted policy of self-reliance and inclusion of refugees, especially as humanitarian assistance suffers from insufficient funding.

National and international actors responding to the refugee situation in Uganda, including signatories to this statement, are investing in alternative sources of energy and efforts to mitigate environmental damage. Environmental protection has been identified as a key priority for Uganda’s refugee response. The Ugandan government is developing a water and environment response plan to address environmental degradation in refugee-hosting areas, under the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and supported by the humanitarian response led by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and UNHCR.

But more concrete action has to be undertaken on the ground. Tree planting in and around the refugee sites has been significant, but remains insufficient. The government of Uganda, UNHCR and its partners should increase reforestation efforts, and ensure follow-up. As less than half of the refugee population and 20% of the host community use energy-saving stoves, the same actors should increase their distribution and the efficiency of their use. Community dialogues and sensitisation have yielded results, but need to be scaled up to allow refugee and host community leaders to adequately detect, prevent and address tensions around natural resources.

To do so, we call on international partners to direct resources towards programmes that address environmental degradation and promote peaceful co-existence among communities affected by displacement. International commitments to share responsibility with major refugee-hosting countries like Uganda have to be translated into real action and, crucially, financial support.

More refugees continue to arrive, and large-scale returns to their country of origin remain untenable in the short time, given the protracted situations in Uganda’s neighbouring countries. Without a significant increase in investment, environmental degradation in refugee-hosting districts will have serious consequences for many years to come.

World Refugee Day takes place each year on 20 June. This year’s global theme is #StepWithRefugees — Take A Step on World Refugee Day

Signed:

  1. ACT Alliance
  2. Action Against Hunger
  3. BRAC
  4. Care International
  5. Danish Church Aid (DCA)
  6. Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
  7. Finn Church Aid
  8. International Justice Mission (IJM)
  9. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  10. International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  11. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
  12. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
  13. Oxfam International
  14. Plan International
  15. Save the Children
  16. World Vision