Aligning needs with solutions: Data-driven agricultural innovation for Vietnam’s farmers

 by  | Jul 27, 2018

 

In many ways, technology, including information and communication technology (ICT), has made our lives easier and helped solve many of society’s challenges. But how do we make sure that ICT lends itself as well to help those who grow our food?

To help Vietnam’s technology innovators rest assured that their ICT for agriculture (ICT4Ag) solutions do in fact adequately respond to Vietnamese farmers’ current and important challenges, they, together with farmers, convened at a workshop in which both parties gained a deeper appreciation of the challenges in the field on the one hand and existing technology solutions on the other.

Photo by Timm Walker/GIZ

 

Photo by Nguyen Ngoc Son/GIZ   

 

Held at Can Tho University on July 13th, 2018, the workshop titled “Aligning needs with solutions: Data-driven innovation for Vietnam’s agriculture sector” attracted more than 120 farmers, technology providers, researchers, and government representatives from all over Vietnam.

“Having technology developers and farmers in one place is extremely beneficial to both parties,” Ole Henriksen, Senior Technical Advisor for the GIZ-Integrated Coastal Management Programme, said. “For researchers, it provided an opportunity to learn what other challenges farmers face that aren’t currently being addressed by available technologies and that knowledge is the impetus for innovation.”

With officials from some of Vietnam’s key agricultural institutions, such as the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) present, workshop participants also identified ways on how supportive policy could foster a vibrant environment for technology innovation and adoption.

“It was important to involve policymakers and decisionmakers in the very beginning as they will ultimately spell out regulation for the sector. Enhancing individual and institutional capacity and knowledge had been a prime interest in preparing for and conducting this workshop,” Henriksen added.

One of the biggest concerns raised is the affordability of technology solutions, which participants felt, could be addressed if adoption increased and brought down costs due to economies of scale. An enabling policy environment could help increase the adoption of technology solutions by farmers.

At the workshop, participating farmers learned of available, useful technologies, for example, nutrient managers and site-specific agronomic advice delivered through mobile phones, that they never knew existed in Vietnam.

“The technology users – the farmers – are central to technology development,” Dharani Dhar Burra, data scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), said. “In order for us to be able to harness insights from big data, and later develop effective solutions based upon those insights, we first have to consistently know every minutest detail of what goes on in the field. This is where farmers come in.”

 From farmers’ data to climate-smart agronomic information

In a parallel initiative by GRET through the Agro-Ecology Learning Alliance in South East Asia (AliSEA)program, and participated in by CIAT, RT Analytics, and An Giang University-Research Center for Rural Development, rice farmers in Cho Moi upload, through a mobile application, data on their farming activities and management practices in a standardized manner. These data include farm location, and those pertaining to the farm’s production processes such as amount of water used, amount of chemicals used, and others. Data coming from each farm will be entered as a quick response – QR – product code, which can relay to consumers, at point-of-sale, some information regarding the product’s environmental footprint.

Photo grabbed from the Agro-Ecology Learning Alliance Facebook page

“Farmers hate writing the most. The mobile app liberates them from the paper-based farm diary, and that is why they love it,” Le Dang Trung, Chief Scientist at RT Analytics, said. “The data which they enter into the app is then used to help them optimize their farm operations, as well as provide buyers with full traceability.”

Piloted among 20 rice farmers in Cho Moi, the data entry mobile application is seen to expand among more Vietnamese farmers. In fact, maize farmer groups in upland Lai Chau in northern Vietnam will also start using the mobile application this season, with technical support from CIAT, RT Analytics, and Consultative Institute for Socio-Economic Development of Rural and Mountainous Areas (CISDOMA).

According to Trung, beginning next year, RT Analytics will focus on adding artificial intelligence (AI) to the app, to help, for example, diagnose what disease the crop is exposed to after farmers upload a photo into the app. And depending on consumer demand for more information, it can later host more types of data that will contribute to further enhancing the agricultural product’s traceability, and in some cases, the farm’s reputation for food quality and safety.

But that is just the beginning. As farmers become accustomed to uploading all sorts of data – farming schedule, water use, weather observations, pesticide use, crop or yield observations – into the mobile application, researchers receiving all these data will be able to combine these with other data such as satellite weather data and soil data, to develop automated, timely agronomic advice based on each site’s specific conditions.

“It is a give and take situation,” Burra said. “The more data the farmers give and input into the app, the better the quality of information and advice they receive in return. And the better all these data could later inform policy, for example, related to the impact of chemical use at the landscape level.”

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Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIAT and retrieved on 08/16/2018 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM, Inc. accordingly.

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More cassava for less time

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Aeroponics involves growing the cassava with its roots suspended in air and automatically sprayed with a special solution. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT


By  | Apr 5, 2018


Cassava has a relatively long growth cycle compared to other important crops. It takes an average of 10-12 months — sometimes up to 24 months! — for farmers to harvest the roots; maize, rice, and potato’s growth cycles span less than a third of that.

In other words, farmers can grow cassava at most once a year, or, in some cases, every two years. Dr. Michael Gomez Selvaraj, a CIAT crop physiologist, is working to change that.

There is very little understanding of how and why few roots in cassava turn into organs that store starch, the part of the crop most valued by rural communities and industry.

Together with his colleagues at the CIAT Phenomics Platform, Selvaraj is developing a method that will lead to identifying the genes and factors that cause early bulking of roots. This will help them establish how to shorten the growth cycle of cassava to as little as seven months.

In addition, the technique will help identify the genes and factors that can increase the number of storage roots, so farmers can sell more of these in the market.

A novel technique

The method being tested by Selvaraj and his team involves growing the cassava with its roots suspended in air and automatically sprayed with a special solution.

Known as aeroponics, it offers a controlled environment for breeders to identify the genes that trigger early bulking of roots and the conversion of fibrous roots — which are all what the cassava initially has — to storage roots.

In the past, breeders would need to dig up the root from the soil to study the genetic traits of cassava. But it was difficult to isolate genes as the plant interacted with numerous elements in and around the soil, such as insects, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

With aeroponics, breeders can see how and when some roots start to swell and become starch storage organs. Root swelling is the crucial step toward cassava yield. As such, if breeders can learn to manipulate the genes that induce this swelling, they can manipulate cassava yield.

Apart from locating which gene triggers early root bulking, Selvaraj and his team want to know at which point such a gene does this and why the plant selects certain fibrous roots to become storage roots. Temperature and certain types of hormones could be factors, Selvaraj suggested.

With that, breeders will be able to trigger the process of bulking of roots at the earliest possible time and of increasing the number of storage roots the plant develops.

In the future as such, a cassava variety whose roots start bulking at the fourth month and that only has at most 10 storage roots might have roots that would begin bulking from the second month and have 20 storage roots.

“If we can double the storage roots, farmers will have an equivalent of two harvests in one growing season,” said Selvaraj.

Next steps

Selvaraj aims to follow up his experiment with trials to test how the cassava would perform in the field. And he plans to do this again without having to dig up the root from the soil.

One part of the trials will involve the use of the so-called ground-penetrating radar technology or GPR.

GPR can detect objects underneath the surface. It has numerous applications in several fields such as engineering, military, and archeology.

“But this is the first time that the technology will be used on plants,” according to Selvaraj.

GPR can validate whether the roots of cassava are bulking as early as expected. A study found it to be a suitable technology to predict and estimate storage root growth of cassava.

Another part of the future trials will entail using drones to see how the crop is performing depending on the type of soil and level of nutrients. Knowledge of the proper timing for fertilizing cassava is still limited, and drones can provide valuable information on this.

For instance, if the amount of nitrogen is low, the plant will likely be short. But with the right amount of nutrients, the plant will likely grow tall.

For farmers, the taller the cassava plant, the better. This means they have more planting materials for the next growing season, as farmers only need stem cuttings to propagate the crop.

“With the combination of all these innovative technologies, we are hopeful that one day farmers can produce more cassava in less time,” Michael Selvaraj said. “More importantly, this allows them to earn more and have more to feed their families.”

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Additional information:

The project titled “Low-cost 3D Phenotyping of Cassava Roots” is funded by the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and is a partnership between CIAT and the University of Nottingham’s Computer Vision Laboratory.

The use of GPR by the Phenomics Platform is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and forms part of the partnership between CIAT, Texas A&M University, and IDS North America Ltd.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIAT and retrieved on 04/09/2018 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM, Inc. accordingly.


 

FAO and OECD call for responsible investment in agriculture

16 February 2018, Paris – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a pilot project in Paris today to kick-start the practical application of the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains with 30 leading enterprises. 

The project aims to improve the implementation of the Guidance and internationally-agreed standards on responsible production, sourcing and supply chain management in the agricultural sector.

Enterprises involved in the agricultural sector are critical for the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals – playing a key role in generating much-needed investment, decent employment, developing productivity and supply chains that benefit producers and consumers. At the same time, business activities in this sector can undermine this potential when their operations or supply chains negatively impact workers, human rights, the environment, food security/nutrition, and tenure rights.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprisesfirst adopted in 1976, and the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems of the Committee on World Food Security,endorsed by governments and representatives of the private sector and civil society in 2014, are prominent international instruments for responsible business conduct.

Building on these instruments, the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains was developed with the support of a multi-stakeholder group representing governments, business, workers and civil society. It provides a practical tool to help enterprises observe these and other standards of responsible business conduct.

The launch of this pilot project will strengthen the ability of companies to avoid contributing to adverse impacts on people, the environment and society while meeting global sustainability challenges.

The Guidance targets domestic and international, small, medium and large enterprises across the entire agricultural supply chain, from the farm to the consumer. Since its adoption in 2016, it has been endorsed by multiple governments, including G7 Agricultural Ministers.

This work is carried out within the OECD’s sectoral work on due diligence for responsible business conduct and FAO’s Umbrella Programme which supports sustainable and responsible investment in agriculture and food systems across the globe.


Article Disclaimer


This article originally appeared on FAO and was retrieved on 02/19/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.

Judging the beans in the Guatemalan heights


By Alexandra Popescu |CCAFS |February 13, 2018 |


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Stepping up participatory practices in the Climate-Smart Village of Olopa. The narrow path to the fields doesn’t cut us any slack. It goes up and up, treacherous at times as last night’s rain bit into the ground.

We pass the coffee bushes bursting with red; sitting on low chairs, a few men handle the leafy branches, looking for the deep, brightly colored cherries. The coffee harvest is on in the La Prensa community, part of Olopa, the Climate-Smart Village (CSV) in eastern Guatemala, close to the Honduran border.

We finally emerge from the shadows into the scorching morning sun. There must be about fifteen women, all brightly dressed, tending to the field under our eyes. We’re here to see the beans. It’s an experimental field, where the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Latin America, together with its partners, has helped farmers grow beans with improved characteristics, so that the community would diversify their diet and become more resilient in the face of climate variability.

The women walk through the rows of plants checking the leaves, as they have done many times before since this initiative started, as part of implementing climate-smart agricultural practices in Olopa, one of the three CSVs in Central America.

Farmers in the La Prensa community of Olopa CSV are evaluating the performance of bean varieties. Photo: Alexandra Popescu (CCAFS)

Armando, the technician that works with the community and Jose Gabriel, from the Tropical Agricultura Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) give out the evaluation forms that will show how the beans have fared. The participatory element of climate-smart agriculture is critical, as it provides data rooted in local farmers’ perceptions and it increases their understanding and acceptance of new crops and practices.

The forms look at a few basic characteristics for each of the six bean varieties present in the field: plant’s upright position, pests and diseases, with farmers needing to choose from a scale that goes from “very bad” to “very good”. The results are mixed, with some varieties faring better than others. Closing the communication gap between researchers, technicians and the farmers involves reaching a common vocabulary on how we look at plants and their characteristics, and continue to strengthen and build it. Follow-up on plant variety behavior also involves respecting and following the preferences of farmers who interpret the signs of the weather and of the earth based on their experiences.

Where are all the men? I ask. “Con el café”, the women smile at me. This is the time when work splits up the village. So the women take us next on a tour of the practices they are using to build up their food security and self-sufficiency. Under the canopy it’s cool enough to breathe. It’s under this shadow that six or seven logs follow each other in a staircase-like structure to produce a vertical garden. From each log thin sprouts shoot up from the dirt placed inside, announcing a future generation of vegetables.

Vertical garden, a climate-smart agricultural practice used in Olopa CSV, Guatemala. Photo: Alexandra Popescu (CCAFS)

We head up the hill again to the community’s vegetable garden that has been revived and diversified within the CSA project in La Prensa. The water tank fed by rainwater is looking over the sloping garden where the villagers grow yucca, aloe vera, bananas, moringa, rosemary, basil and other herbs. It’s a lush basket of nutritious crops feeding the community and supplying their revenues outside the coffee season. Local farmers have gradually embraced CSA practices that improve their livelihoods and that improve communicating with researchers and experts working locally.

The community garden in La Prensa, Olopa CSV, has been diversified and improved using climate-smart agriculture practices. Photo: Alexandra Popescu (CCAFS)

Building food security in Guatemala, where a combination of poverty, climate variability and extreme weather events undermine food safety nets, is ongoing work. CCAFS and its partners in the region are strengthening the community of Olopa to further create momentum for scaling climate-smart agriculture at regional and national level, while fine tuning practices and knowledge exchanges with the farmers.


Article Disclaimer


This article originally appeared on CGIAR-CCAFS and was retrieved on 02/19/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.

 

Community nursery offers means for economic empowerment of women farmers

By SUGANDHA MUNSHI | Specialist on Gender Issues | IRRI


 

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Source: IRRI 2017

Women-focused intervention plays a pivotal role in IRRI’s work with farmers. With the climate changing, innovation that results in better management practices for farmers is essential. This becomes more crucial, though, when it comes to smallholder marginal women farmers in rice production.

Under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project, a focused intervention has been taking place in Bihar, India, under four themes: identity, knowledge bank, leadership, and economic benefits.

At Muzzafarpur District in Bihar, Kisan Sakhi’, or a group of women farmers, is the identity with which hundreds of women farmers associate themselves.

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Community nursery women/

At the grassroots level, in the districts of the Muzzafarpur block, we found the women in agriculture to be smallholder and marginal farmers. Working with a women’s self-help group as well as with individual farmers, we observed a shift in their perception, attitude, and behavior, in varying degrees.

Majorly at the grassroots of India, a woman is generally recognized as the wife of a certain farmer rather than as a farmer herself. In a society deeply entrenched in social and structural barriers that decide the role of a woman in defined often ‘watertight’ compartments, women like Sumitra Devi, Guddi Devi, and other members of the farmer self-help group we worked with have planted the seeds of a paradigm shift in grassroots agriculture in India.

A community nursery set up by Sumitra and Guddi with other women farmers from the villages in Bandra created an environment where smallholder women farmers are slowly but continually moving ahead toward becoming progressive farmers. The opportunity to sell seedlings to fellow farmers in the village also upsets in a positive way a domain traditionally run by males.

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Kisan Sakhiwith her rice nursery./IRRI

“Having learned techniques for developing a good-quality nursery, I have been able to contribute to the income of my household. Being a woman able to do that makes me feel good, “said Sumitra. “In 2015, after learning and applying community nursery management practices, I made a profit of Rs 4,000 from selling healthy seedlings. It was a new initiative for me at a small scale and, in 2016, I plan to do this again in a more organized way.”

She added that she has reached this level from a point where her knowledge and awareness about community nursery farming was nil. She acknowledged CSISA for the training and knowledge that helped her become an informed farmer.

Sumitra’s case is an example of the benefits that participatory extension and research impart for women farmers, providing them opportunities for exposure to improved practices, thus increasing their confidence and opening up for them, in Sumitra’s words, “a new world to explore.”

It is important to note that it is not easy for women like Sumitra to become part of such initiatives in which she has to learn, make decisions on, and practice new technology. But with her increased knowledge on better-bet agricultural practices came development of her self-esteem and confidence—something foreign to her experience, until now.

Development of the community nursery and practices learned in nursery management reduced drudgery in her work, and improved nursery management increased opportunities for her to generate income.

Teaching a woman nursery management increases the chances of learned better practices getting passed on to the next generation. The skills they learn not only add value to their ‘knowledge bank’ in agriculture but also increase the scope for income generation, as in the case of Sumitra.

Guddi, for her part, describes how her own situation went for better: “When our group developed the community nursery in the village, my plot became the most talked about in the area. Hundreds of fellow villagers came and saw it, and many of them were surprised to see how it had shaped up! I received many praises, which made me feel happy and confident.”

For a smallholder woman farmer like Guddi, the task seemed more challenging, as she had to fight for a chance for exposure to such capacity building programs. Being part of the self-help group and of the Jyoti Mahila Samkhya federation helped her greatly in making decisions.

Woman exploring the opportunity for income generation through nursery management and quality nursery had been unheard of in the area.

Development of the nursery by the women farmers also had the effect of spreading awareness among farmers on the importance of having such a nursery, and managing it properly, said Pankaj Kumar, CSISA scientist.

Sunita Devi, a member of the federation, acknowledged how the community nursery has enabled women farmers to start new enterprises at the village level. “Women-focused intervention in agriculture is increasing their ‘knowledge bank’ and capacity, with on-field training. It is a new beginning for women farmers, learning new techniques and being able to explore an added source of income through the community nursery.”

With the experiences of these women farmers, in the kharif season of 2016, other members of the self-help group in the area are now ready to take the lead to develop the community nursery further and generate income through its sale of seedlings.

Women farmers are on the lookout for opportunities as well as better-quality seeds and training on better management practices. They are keen on exploring new opportunities for generating income, such as through community nursery as described above, and perhaps even become entrepreneurs someday. It is a difficult task, but it has begun, and in the grassroots of Bihar, India, CSISA plays catalyst in this noble goal with partner organizations and farmer groups.


The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) promotes durable change at scale in South Asia’s cereal-based cropping systems. Operating in rural ‘innovation hubs’ in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, CSISA works to increase the adoption of various resource-conserving and climate-resilient technologies, and improve farmers’ access to market information and enterprise development. CSISA supports women farmers by improving their access and exposure to modern and improved technological innovations, knowledge, and entrepreneurial skills. By continuing to work in synergy with regional and national efforts, collaborating with myriad public, civil society, and private-sector partners, CSISA aims to benefit more than 8 million farmers by the end of 2020.


Article Disclaimer

This article originally appeared on IRRI and was retrieved on 02/06/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.


Ethiopian farmers made a desert bloom again

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Georgina Smith / CIAT

Ethiopia is in the middle of the worst drought in 50 years. It’s the sort of shock to the system we are likely to see more of with climate change. But Ethiopia is also home to a successful experiment to make the land more resilient to drought. If we are going to adapt to our changing world, it’s experiments like these that will show us the way.

In the steep fields of Ethiopia’s highlands, when rain falls on the parched, overworked land it runs downhill, carrying soil with it. Farmers commonly lose 130 tons of soil per hectare a year, comparable to the worst erosion documented on U.S. farms in recent history. Then, because the water has all rushed downhill, instead of seeping underground, wells go dry. Without water, crops wither, and that exposes bare soil to further erosion.

This cycle turned a watershed in Tigray, Ethiopia, into a near desert, prompting the government to consider moving the farmers. Instead, they decided to try to rescue the land. And they succeeded. Instead of leaving their homes, the farmers are staying put. As one local official put it, what was once a desert is now a forest.

Inspired by this success, farmers are trying the same thing in Adisghe County, Ethiopia. With the help of an international project called Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) and the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture, they began building dams, terraces, and recharge ponds. They planted trees on hilltops and planted cover crops on degraded areas.

CIAT researcher Tesfaye Tesfamichael demonstrating the installation of check dams to prevent soil loss on the slopes.
CIAT researcher Tesfaye Tesfamichael demonstrating the installation of check dams to prevent soil loss on the slopes.
Georgina Smith / CIAT

All of these methods had the same goal: Slow down the water. So, for instance, the farmers built check dams across gullies to stop the headlong flow, catch the eroding earth, and create a pool that would percolate into the ground.

The results were astounding, as you can see in this video (shot by Henry Tenenbaum and produced by Georgina Smith at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture).

Thanks to increased water reliability, agricultural training, and precise use of fertilizer (synthetic and manure) farmers have doubled their production since the project started.

This wasn’t easy. Lulseged Desta, a soil scientist and landscape ecologist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture working with Africa RISING, told me that farmers must set aside up to two months a year for building dams and planting trees. What’s the value of all that work? When organizers calculated how much it would have cost if they had hired laborers to do all that work, it added up to $2,200 for one project of about four square miles. That’s a lot of money in Ethiopia, but it’s certainly less than the cost of resettling families.

Community member shows how returning leafy matter to the soil improves soil health
Community member shows how returning leafy matter to the soil improves soil health
Georgina Smith / CIAT

This project was never meant as a silver bullet to solve the drought. The lowlands are still suffering. But it is part of the larger solution: This sort of transformation, writ large, can cushion climate crises. It helps to have these farmers at home producing food rather than facing migration. And, Desta said, these kinds of soil restoration efforts are now spreading around the country.

Climate change hits poorest places the hardest. One reason is that they simply can’t afford a lot of common-sense environmental protections. This Ethiopian test case shows us that, with a little investment and a lot of hard work, the most vulnerable places can become dramatically more resilient.

Correction: The original story conflated facts from Tigray and Adisghe. Farmers in Abraha wa Atsbeha, Tigray, nearly abandoned the land as a result of desert-like conditions, while in Adisghe the fields were severely degraded but not desertified. The writer’s water ration has been cut in half as punishment.


Article Disclaimer

This article originally appeared on Grist and was retrieved on 02/06/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.


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