Sunday 14 September 2014

Community Supported Agriculture in Brazil

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a new approach to agriculture that is growing fast in Europe and other parts of the world. In a nutshell, a typical CSA works as follows: a group of consumers and a producer form an association. In the beginning of the farming season, the members of the association share the costs of production (including seeds, other agricultural inputs and the farmer's wage). In the course of the farming season, all the produce that's harvested is shared between all members. Usually, they receive a box of vegetables each week. In contrast to a conventional agricultural setting, in a CSA the agricultural produce doesn't have a price and the risks (such as losses to bad weather etc.) as well as the benefits (such as a great harvest) are shared between all members. Consumers thus receive fresh produce from a person they know and trust and farmers can work in dignity without being exposed to market pressures.

For more information on CSA, have a look at the website of Urgenci:

 In Brazil, CSA is little known although a few pioneers have been setting up associations in the last few years:

After talking with some of our Brazilian friends about CSAs in Europe, Fabiana organized an event at the University of Brasília during which we gave a presentation about CSA. After that, we discussed with the >50 highly interested and motivated persons present (among others 7 producers) of how a CSA can work in the setting of Brasília.

We hope that soon, the first CSA will take off in the Brazilian capital!

Impressions from Brazil

From July to September, we travelled in Brazil. Here's a few impressions of our time there:

On a farm in the tropical state of Bahia.

Party time during the first world cup match of Brazil. (I don't have pictures of the semifinal but the mood was definitely more subdued. What struck me after that fatefull match was that I never got any negative reactions from Brazilian football fans when I told them I'm from Germany!)

3-year-old agroforestry system that our friend Juã installed close to Brasília at 1200m altitude in an area where the natural vegetation (called Cerrado) does not even look half as lush as this! Beside bananas, coffee and a range of vegetables and fruit, he grows both apple and cocoa trees at his sitio semente ( That's a combination I've never seen anywhere else!

One of Brasília's weird buildings, the Digital TV Tower.

In the Chapada dos Veadeiros

Mutirão (common work) in our friend Fabiana's agroforestry system.

Wednesday 24 July 2013


"Die Kuh ist eines der einzigen Tiere, dass - entschuldigen Sie - scheißen und fressen kann am selben Ort und der Boden wird besser."

Interessantes und Philosophisches von Martin Ott, dem Autor des sehr empfehlenswerten Buchs "Kühe verstehen" gibt es in diesem 10-minütigen Film:

Schönes Schwizer(hoch)dütsch, wunderbare Bilder, Musik, und hinterher klingt die Aussage, dass in 100 Jahren in jedem schweizer Schulhaus eine Kuh stehen könnte, gar nicht mehr so abgefahren...

Friday 25 January 2013

Two quotes about forests

In 1902, Professor Bernhard Fernow, who was later called the "father of professional forestry in the United States" had the follwing to say about forests:

„The first and foremost purpose of a forest growth is to supply us with wood material; it is the substance of the trees itself, not their fruits, their beauty, their shade, their shelter, that constitutes the primary object.“

About 2300 years earlier, the Buddha had made this statement:

"The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demand for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who would destroy it."

Many thanks to Ranil Senanayake in whose once again beautifully written online article Forests: BeyondThe Wood I I first came across these two quotes.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Sustainability in practice: news from the chocolate industry

Much is said and written about SUSTAINABILITY these days. The term features prominently on the web pages of many big companies. Here's an example from the world's biggest chocolate company Mondelēz (formerly Kraft):

Making a Sustainable Difference in Our World

Sustainability is about preserving our world - land, air, water and people.  At Mondelēz International, our sustainability journey has put us on a path that is making a real difference. 
But, we can’t do everything. So we’re focusing on those areas where we can have the greatest impact and that means the most to our business performance. (1)


Number two of the world's chocolate companies, Mars, has even made a promise:
"Mars has pledged to certify 100% of its cocoa as sustainably produced by 2020." (2)

Other big chocolate companies like Ferrero (3) and Hershey (4) have now pledged the same.

That sounds good! But what does sustainable mean for these companies? Will the sustainability labelling be genuine or an attempt to mislead consumers (5)?

And where on earth do they want to get all this sustainably produced cocoa from? At the moment, the share of the organic and fair trade cocoa markets each stand at 0.5% of the total cocoa market, according to the International Cocoa Organization (6). A cocoa tree that is planted now will start bearing fruit in about 3-4 years, so there's not much time until 2020.

Millions of dollars are now pumped into sustainability projects. It's becoming a big market.

And the cocoa farmers? They get projects like being taught how to measure their farms using GPS devices (7) ... I am sure that they would prefer to get better prices for their cocoa. Even fair trade and organic cocoa beans are traded on the world market for as little as 1750 $ per ton (6). Of this money, the farmers get only a part with the remainder going to intermediate traders. So what would a typical cocoa farmer's income look like?

Two rough calculations

90% of the world's cocoa producers are small farmers (8). In Africa, a typical farm covers 2 to 5 hectares (8) and produces 300-400 kg of cocoa per hectare and year (9). Thus, a typical small farmer will produce 600-2000 kg, worth 1050-3500 $. Assuming that farmers get 50% of the world market price (with traders etc. getting the rest), each of them will receive 525-1750 $ per year or 44 - 146 $ per month. From this money, they have to spend a lot on farming (agricultural inputs, transport, etc.). So there's not much that remains to support a family, let alone to send the kids to school. Remember, this calculation is a fair trade scenario!

Like many of you, I love chocolate. For a great product like chocolate, I am willing to pay a higher price for the small farmers who produce the main ingredient of chocolate, cocoa. So let me calculate how much more a hundred grams of milk chocolate would cost me if we'd double the price of cocoa from 1.75 $ per kg to 3.5 $ per kg:

A typical milk chocolate has a cocoa content of about 30%. This means that with one kilogram of cocoa, 3 kilos of milk chocolate can be produced. A kilo of fair trade cocoa, which at the moment costs 1.75 $ per kg, can be used to produce 30 100g-bars of milk chocolate. Thus, only approximately 6 Cents of the price of a chocolate bar are for the cocoa. Doubling this would put another 6 Cents on top of the price of a 100g chocolate bar. No big difference for us consumers but a big difference for the farmer!


(5) For one big certifyer, the Rainforest Alliance, defending itself, see

Sunday 14 October 2012

Salam aleikum (peace be with you)!

As I am writing this entry, a young girl in Pakistan is fighting for her life. She was shot in the head by somebody who objected to her speaking out against the (Pakistani) Taliban.

While Malala is in critical condition and being treated in a military hospital, a storm has started in the media including the following contributions:

Using this sad case as an occasion to criticise one's old enemies or for a striptease...?!

I don't think that there's much need for another criticism of this act of violence. Instead, I would like to recommend you to have a look at the diary that Malala published in 2009. It gives a child's perspective on the situation in the Swat Valley in 2009 and includes some surprising statements about school from a young schoolgirl:

Tuesday 4 September 2012


In the last months, I have had the opportunity to travel in some very biodiverse parts of the world. In fact, I have read the superlative "one of the most biodiverse places on earth" so often that I felt it is used quite inflationary. However, I am also aware of the fact that trying to measure the biodiversity of a specific place is a daunting task*. And of the fact that many people who care about biodiversity are at pains to point out what it means if biodiversity declines.

In this context, I have read (and listened into) the following article with great interest.

I find the approach of listening to biodiversity quite inspiring. A few hours after reading the article, I tried to listen to how the city sounds from the flat of my host. And later today, when I walk in New York, I want to try to pay attention to the different soundscapes of different places.

* Just think about the challenges involved in defining and demarcating a specific 'place' (one square metre? one square kilometre? the whole ecosystem?).
And then you haven't even begun to think of the definition of 'biodiversity' etc. And once you have your definitions clear, imagine going out there on a really steep slope which is densely vegetated and try to find every single living organism (beside animals and plants not forgetting the bacteria and fungi above, on and below the ground). Really, it cannot be done! That is why researchers studying biodiversity have to use indicator species etc. which again gives rise to all kinds of uncertainties and further questions...