David Crane is currently in the middle of riding the Tour d’Afrique, often cited as the world’s longest and toughest bike race. The four-month race, which began in Khartoum, Sudan and will end in Cape Town, South Africa, is 11,693 kilometers (7,266 miles) long.
Because of his passion for conservation, David is racing in part to raise money and awareness for CI. A version of this post was originally published on his blog, where you can read more posts and consider making a donation to support David and protect vulnerable ecosystems through CI’s work.
Ethiopia is a land of farmers.
As we bike through Ethiopia we’ve seen a lot of small villages and thousands of Ethiopian farmers. Even the kids are in the fields working (although they all come sprinting to the roads when the “farangi” or “white people” come biking by).
Around 81% of the population works in agriculture, and agriculture accounts for nearly 42% of GDP, as well as about 85% of exports (including their globally famous coffee). Yet Ethiopia is still thought of as a zone of food insecurity.
This view stems from the 1984 famine that caused around 1 million deaths. It is reinforced today, as despite some improvements, studies show that Ethiopia remains one of the most food insecure countries in the world.
You can still see it in the people: we haven’t seen anyone starving, but everyone is very thin (we’ve only seen one slightly chubby boy in the whole country). While the country does have significant potential for increased agriculture, only about 25% of its arable land is cultivated, and rain-fed farming leaves farmers very vulnerable to changes in weather.
Yet overcoming these challenges is very possible. In fact, work at the intersection of conservation and agriculture is providing some of the earliest solutions.
One way CI is currently working to address food security issues in Africa is with Vital Signs, a monitoring system that collects and analyzes data on agriculture, ecosystems and human well-being.
Vital Signs was launched with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in early 2012, after a successful pilot project in Tanzania demonstrated how healthy ecosystems provide farmers with important benefits like protein sources, wood for fuel, soil nutrients and clean drinking water.
Vital Signs works through local partners in African countries and has field teams collecting data on agricultural yields, biodiversity, farmer surveys, and much more in Tanzania and Ghana. This data is provided to policymakers to assist them in making agricultural development decisions that are sustainable.
The monitoring system is launching in Uganda this year, and Vital Signs has held stakeholder meetings and a workshop in Ethiopia to gather input from decision-makers.