by Tom Philpott
Howard Buffett—son of billionaire investor Warren—is a fascinating character. He is the hands-on owner and operator of a large-scale industrial corn farm in the Midwest and has been nominated by his father to take over chairmanship of insurance giant Berkshire Hathaway upon the aging magnate's eventual retirement. He has also emerged as a leading philanthropist on the topic of agriculture in the Global South.
As a gift-giver, Buffett the younger has come into conflict with Bill Gates, whose well-heeled Gates Foundation makes him the leading philanthropist on the topic of agriculture in the Global South. Gates, too, has a strong tie to Warren Buffet. He is said to be like a son to the the famed investor; and when Warren Buffett decided to give away the great bulk of his fortune, he handed a cool $31 billion to Gates' foundation.
But in a riveting segment of last week's 60 Minutes, Howard Buffett delivered a blunt critique of Gates' high-tech approach to improving food security in the Global South. He said that the Gates Foundation was essentially trying to recreate US-style industrial agriculture in Africa, an approach that he himself had tried early in his philanthropic career. "I don't think it worked," he said. "We need to quit thinking about trying to do it like we do it in America," Buffett added.
Earlier in the segment, he championed low-tech, inexpensive methods for increasing farm productivity—a stark contrast to the high-tech seeds and pricey synthetic fertilizers favored by Gates. Buffett emphasizes that Gates' efforts in African ag aren't "all wrong" and adds that Gates is the "smartest guy in the world, next to my dad." But his disagreement with the Microsoft founder over agriculture is clear.
The emerging Gates/Howard Buffett rift on agricultural development has a special resonance for me. I'm a long-time critic of the Gates approach; and back in August, I wrote a post about Howard Buffett, with a headline that screamed, "Warren Buffett's Son Is Super-Wrong About Africa."
My argument was actually more subtle than that (I didn't write the headline). I acknowledged that Buffett fils was sincere and knowledgeable about improving the lot of African farmers, but I questioned his contention—laid out on Huffington Post—that Africa would achieve food security when its farmers scaled up enough to "sell to companies that operate in their country, like ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Maseca [the Mexican corn flour giant part-owned by ADM], or Tiger brands."
Not so fast, I argued. Such a path would likely lead to the pauperization of most African farmers. I stand by my argument. But I no longer think Buffett's remark about ADM and Cargill really represents his work.
One reason I've changed my mind is that Howard Buffett himself emailed me to tell me he thought I had mischaracterized his views. Another reason is that three stalwarts of the US organic ag movement—Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist of the Organic Center, Sam Fromartz, author of Organic Inc., and Tim Lasalle, former executive director of the Rodale Institute—all wrote comments under my post defending Buffett.
"He clearly understands that fertilizers and GMO's are not affordable, available, or appropriate for these farmers. His experience in Africa and his writing and speaking about development is one of building soils, cover crops, no till, composts, manure (all biological and regenerative)," Lasalle wrote.
In the wake of my post, Howard Buffett and I agreed to have a public back-and-forth on the topic, but we have not been able to find a mutually agreeable time. I'll try again to link up with him in the new year. I doubt we'll agree on everything; it's hard to imagine perfect harmony developing in a conversation between me and a member of Coca-Cola's board of directors. But I'm sure it will be an interesting chat.
December 16, 2011
by Tom Philpott
December 10, 2011
by Matt Ridley
Genetic modification has had a huge impact on agriculture worldwide. More than 15 million farmers now plant GM crops on almost 370 million acres, boosting yields by 10% to 25%. Despite opponents' fears that the technology would poison people, spread superweeds and entrench corporate monopolies, it's now clear that the new crops have reduced not only hunger but pesticide use, carbon emissions, collateral damage to biodiversity and rain-forest destruction.
Yet, while much of North and South America, Australia and Asia are expanding the use of GM crops, only three African countries have adopted them (a further four are conducting trials). Mr. Juma argues that Africa is the place that most needs a boost from biotech: Many of the continent's farmers cannot afford to buy pesticides, so corn and cotton that are genetically insect-resistant could make a big difference there. Over the past five decades, while Asian yields have quadrupled, African yields have barely budged.
Yet political squeamishness abounds. In an article this week for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), John Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, argued that "Africa's agriculture has been cut off from the scientific advances which have transformed yields in many other parts of the globe"—but he did not mention GM crops. AGRA, whose chairman is former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says that the group "does not fund the development of GM crops."
Africa grows a diverse range of crops as staple foods: not just corn, rice and wheat but cassava, yams, black-eyed peas and bananas. Genetic modification has so far focused mainly on the big commercial crops. Ironically, this is because of immensely complex biosafety regulations demanded by environmental pressure groups in the West, which don't apply to crop varieties produced by other means, including mutation by irradiation.
Only big firms can afford this ordeal by red tape, and only for big crops. The pioneering Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus, who has watched his not-for-profit invention of vitamin-enhanced "golden rice" tied up for 13 years by regulatory procrastination, is no longer in the mood to mince words. He recently wrote that he holds "the regulation of genetic engineering responsible for the death and blindness of thousands of children and young mothers."
Biotechnology's potential in Africa is illustrated by the case of the black-eyed pea, a crop that is attacked by an insect called the Maruca pod borer, which causes $300 million in annual losses to small-scale farmers there and can be controlled only with expensive pesticides that many cannot afford. A university in Nigeria has developed an insect-resistant GM black-eyed pea, but Nigeria does not allow the commercial use of GM crops.
In Uganda, where people often eat three times their body weight in bananas a year, a GM banana that is resistant to a bacterial wilt disease, which causes $500 million in annual losses and cannot be treated with pesticides, is being tested behind high security fences. The fences are there not to keep out anti-GM protesters, as in the West, but to keep out local farmers keen to grow the new crop.
"By creating institutions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity that seek to smother biotechnology at birth," Calestous Juma tells me, "sections of the U.N. are no more than the Pontius Pilate of innovation."
Wall Street Journal
December 09, 2011
by Hu Yinan
China on December 8 said it is not responsible for imposing "actually existing" neo-colonialism on Africa, dismissing earlier reports by certain Western media outlets.
"China has always insisted upon a policy of self-sufficiency in grain. Instead of purchasing piles of land in Africa, it has, to the best of its ability, offered aid in agricultural technology to African countries and helped their agricultural production, as well as boosted the indigenous exploitation of their own natural resources and the capacity to cope with climate change and food security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
There is a broad consensus among African nations that China is not pursuing a neo-colonial strategy in Africa, Hong said.
He cited South African President Jacob Zuma's earlier statement that Beijing is not colonizing the continent, but rather is a strategic partner and vast contributor to improving livelihoods in his country.
"Africa is victimized by agricultural neo-colonialism. It is the common responsibility of the global community to facilitate the sustainable development of African agriculture," Hong said. "China urges countries that have taken up and exploited vast amounts of land in Africa to make concrete moves so as to contribute to resolving the issue of food security in Africa," he added.
China is Africa's top trading partner, with bilateral trade growing more than 1,000 percent between 2000 and 2010.
During her visit to Zambia in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indirectly accused China of imposing "new colonialism" in Africa.
The West "seems unwilling, or unable, to respond" to changes in Africa, Francis Njubi Nesbitt, a professor at San Diego State University, wrote in an analysis for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online website on December 7.
"The United States and Europe seem stuck in neocolonial perspectives that continue to paint Africa as an impoverished backwater that at most deserves sympathy and at worst contempt," Nesbitt wrote.
"China has also funded infrastructure and industrialization projects that the West has refused to fund since the days of colonialism. It is to be hoped that these projects will finally help Africa modernize - a dream that seems attainable for the first time since independence."
In a related development, China's Special Envoy for African Affairs Liu Guijin is visiting Sudan and South Sudan to promote talks between the two countries on their dispute regarding oil.
Oil-rich South Sudan became an independent country in July, but is still locked in a series of negotiations with its northern neighbor.
Last week, Sudan said South Sudan owes it $727 million for four shipments of oil released and transferred through oil installations in the north since the latter's independence.
South Sudan, in response, warned it would stop producing oil if Sudan continued to make these demands.
Oil is primarily produced in the south and is exported through a pipeline and harbors in the north.
Beijing has said it is concerned that the negotiations had stalled. Earlier this week, Hong said Beijing expects "both sides to exercise calm and restraint, resolve disputes through consultations and negotiations and safeguard peace between north and south Sudan".
Luo Xiaoguang, China's ambassador to Sudan, last week said there was no reason to stop the oil exports as long as negotiations were ongoing between the two countries.
by Sean Christie
Agriculture is a big issue for the Africa Group at COP17, with many African delegates sporting "No Agriculture, No Deal" badges and many a speech ending with the same slogan. In week two of the conference the Africa Group's push for a separate set of negotiations on agriculture, a "work programme for agriculture" in the parlance of the conference, appears to be breaking up under the strain of both external and internal differences.
Speaking on condition of anonymity a negotiator for a West African nation said the Africa Group -- given the fact that "two-thirds of Africans are dependent on agriculture and are thus extremely vulnerable to climate change" -- had agreed before the Durban conference that agriculture should be "dealt with as an adaptation issue" rather than a mitigation issue, "which we have always feared would lead to developing nations forcing carbon markets on Africa, thereby avoiding putting money up for adaptation".
However, the situation changed on Wednesday when the high-level negotiations began with "Canada, the United States and Australia suddenly insisting that there would be no deal on agriculture unless it was also dealt with as a mitigation issue. It has been disappointing to hear some members of the Africa Group suddenly talking as if discussing agriculture as a mitigation issue is now acceptable," said the negotiator.
While decisions are made behind closed doors at COP17, we visit communities with local water project Umphilo WaManzi, which is helping people adapt to changing weather patterns and educating them on how to be conscious of and protect their water supply.
The source did not say which African countries were amenable to discussing agriculture as a mitigation issue, which involves the development of soil carbon markets, but South Africa's role in building African consensus around the concept of "climate-smart agriculture", which has soil carbon capture as one of several ways to help farmers respond to climate change, has been sharply criticised by some non-governmental organisations.
"It's a textbook case of the developed world using an influential regional power to manufacture consensus around a strategy that suits the developed world but is not in the best interests of Africa's small-scale farmers," said Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation, adding that South African Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson "suddenly started advocating climate-smart agriculture at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's conference in Rome in June and, by September, she had organised, with World Bank funds, a meeting with African's environmental ministers in Johannesburg at which they supported the concept. Not all the African negotiators are happy with the pace at which all of this happened," said Anderson.
Senyi Nafo, spokesperson for the Africa Group, said there had been "intense discussion" about the suitability of climate-smart agriculture to Africa's climate change problems.
"I personally don't believe there is any such thing as climate-smart agriculture -- I believe in developmental agriculture and any concept which allows the negotiation focus to fall on mitigation rather than adaptation."
Africa Group chairperson Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said carbon markets would not work for Africa because the majority of African farmers farmed on fewer than two hectares of land, "which is not enough to sequester an amount of carbon that it would be meaningful to sell. We're very suspicious that offset schemes will lead to the perversion of African agriculture, with farmers farming what is incentivised and giving up traditional crops."
Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International said that farmers with fewer than two hectares would only be able to make $3 a year at the present rate for carbon. He said he did not doubt the intentions of South Africa in "pushing for climate-smart agriculture as the answer to agriculture's problems" but added that "climate-smart agriculture could benefit South Africa a lot because your farmers are large-scale and carbon markets work for agriculture on the industrial scale".
Even South African Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, who co-chairs the Green Climate Fund, weighed in on the issue at a COP17 side event, saying "one hears all this talk of carbon markets but Africa only produces 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and South Africa produces half that amount, so tell me, where is this market, for what carbon?"
Ghana, Mali and Tanzania are said to be prominent among the Africa Group's carbon-smart agriculture naysayers and apparently held up the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment's September declaration in support of the drive for an agriculture work programme at the COP17 conference.
According to the Mail & Guardian's source, "they insisted that agriculture be dealt with as an adaptation issue under the Cancun Adaptation Framework and expressed concern that an endorsement of climate-smart agriculture would open the door for agriculture to be discussed as a mitigation issue. In the end, they endorsed the concept, but their fears have been realised at COP17, with developed nations insisting on carbon markets.
"The time is coming when these African nations will simply say, 'enough, we're being tricked'."
Mail and Guardian
Categories climate change
by David Ralph
Long regarded as one of Africa’s most stable countries, Tanzania celebrates 50 years of independence from colonial rule. But as huge tracts of the country’s land are leased to foreign investors, unrest is spreading as some see in these deals the return of colonialism.
“Zuia uporaji wa ardhi,” reads the Swahili headline of a poster on the wall of the community building in Mhaga, a densely populated village in Kisarawe, a district 100km (62 miles) southwest of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital. It means “prevent land grabbing” and the image beneath depicts a demonic-looking white man hovering in mid-air above a Tanzanian village, poised to snatch the ground from under the villagers’ feet.
“This poster teaches us many lessons,” says Hakuin Hussein, Mhaga’s village chairman. “It tells us everything about investors.”
The investors are Sun Biofuels, a British company that leased 8,000 hectares of land in Kisarawe in 2006 to grow jatropha, a non-edible plant that can be converted to biofuel and exported for sale in petrol forecourts across Europe and the US.
In return for the villagers’ land, Sun Biofuels promised to pay 100,000 Tanzanian shillings (€50) an acre, as well as provide the village with badly needed roads, electricity, school materials and a dispensary. “Some people got compensated for one or two acres, nothing more. The social services never came,” says Hussein. “They broke all their promises.”
Sun Biofuels closed the Kisarawe operation recently, and has now refused to transfer the land back to its original owners, stating they signed a 99-year freehold lease in 2006.
With support from Oxfam, locals have given the company until early December to vacate the land. Beyond this date, Hussein warns their grievance may not stay peaceful. “So far we have not challenged the security at the plantation. But we are getting tired; that land is ours.”
Scenes like this are not confined to Kisarawe but are playing out across Tanzania’s countryside, where 80 per cent of the country’s 40 million population still lives.
Unrest has erupted in several districts in recent months, says Reginald Martin of the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam, with displaced smallholders accusing foreign investors of bypassing proper land titling procedures. “These,” Martin says, nodding at stacks of manila folders piled high on his desk, “are all land disputes.”
Land is the key productive asset in subsistence agriculture, which remains the backbone of Tanzania’s economy. Despite this, many smallholders now find themselves in direct competition for land with foreign investors, with the government aggressively promoting large-scale agricultural projects as “win-win” deals for Tanzania.
Since 2006, the government, which is promised jobs, enhanced food security and a boost to state coffers, has leased some 600,000 hectares of farmland – an area roughly the size of Munster – to Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, US and European companies.
Critics say the idea that foreign investments represent “win-win” scenarios for host countries is a myth. In an analysis of more than 400 land contracts from across Africa, Oxfam’s 2011 Land and Power: The growing scandal surrounding the new wave of investments in land report found that the clear beneficiaries were investors.
Deals were struck only when major tax concessions, vague job-creation agreements and unrestricted export clauses were written into contracts, the report found, while the most vulnerable populations were often “evicted from their land with little or no recourse to justice”.
In Tanzania’s case, part of the reason locals can be summarily evicted from their land, Martin believes, rests with poor implementation of the country’s somewhat unusual land laws.
At independence in 1961, Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, created a socialist republic, abolishing private property and becoming sole custodian of all lands.
Since 1985 the country has gone over to a more open market economy, and the 1999 Village Land Act has significantly strengthened villagers’ land rights. The two main land types today are village land and general land, with only general land reserved for use by investors.
“But the problem,” says Martin, “is the best land is village land, which is what investors want. The government still has the Nyerere mentality of controlling everything, so they just seize land for investors.”
The way the government has handled some recent land transactions with its foreign suitors has disappointed Marc Wegerif, economic justice campaigner with Oxfam in Dar es Salaam. “It is ironic for a country about to celebrate 50 years of independence from colonial rule,” says Wegerif, who has closely monitored the stand-off with Sun Biofuels in Kisarawe, “that it is signing off on 99-year leases for huge tracts of land.”
Some 500km (311 miles) west of Kisarawe, the mood is lighter in Mkungugu, a village high up in the Great Rift Valley in the Iringa district. In a simple corrugated structure serving as the village pub, locals are gossiping about rumoured land grabs in nearby villages.
Mkungugu borders Ruaha National Park, and the adjacent land is in high demand. Ruaha’s safari tourism is booming and tour operators, many of which are foreign-owned, are keen to develop tourist resorts along the park’s boundaries.
Yet Mkungugu’s residents are unfazed by this outside threat. And the reason: they have just had their land officially surveyed and registered with the land registry in Iringa, receiving a certificate of customary right of occupancy in the process. Similar in legal standing to a deed, such certificates guarantee villagers’ tenure on their demarcated plots.
“For me, it’s about security, knowing this land will go to my children when I die,” says Danisia Mikomgoni, a widow with five children, of her certificate.
“Grabbing will not be a problem here,” her eldest son, Ali, adds. “Nobody will tamper with our land.”
Measures like these are a vital defence against land grabs, says James Davey, Tanzanian country director with Concern Worldwide. “What they are doing is building the confidence of people to say, ‘This is my land.’ Because a deed for your land is the basis of a secure economy.”
Nyerere’s legacy is that “most Tanzanians don’t see land as a commodity, even today”, says Davey. “I heard of one farmer giving away the deeds of his land for a few beers. Land had no intrinsic value to him, so ownership of it was pointless.”
With so many “land-hungry” countries sizing up investments, the danger as Davey sees it is that Tanzanian smallholders will get a raw deal in this latest land rush. “Investors feed on the ignorance of villagers about their land rights. So what we’re trying to do is sensitise people about these rights.”
Beyond Iringa, the threat of land grabs remains. Sizya Lugae, a land-use expert with Irish Aid in Dar es Salaam, worries that more land will fall into the hands of investors, with just 4 per cent of the total stock of village land having “clean” deeds. “There is a big potential for grabbing if the government is not careful,” he says. “What they are doing in Iringa is very progressive, but Iringa is a small dot in a big hungry mouth.”
by Thobile Hans
The Botswana government has vehemently embraced the Africa Group and the G77+China positions at the Durban COP17 climate change negotiations.
Speaking at the high-level plenary, Botswana Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism Onkokame Mokaila said they were “highly optimistic that we can collectively reaffirm our commitment and common interest to the UN Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan as guiding principles and a road map to sustainable development”.
Since discussions started under the UNFCCC, emissions “have not reduced”
“The negative impacts of climate change have continued to erode our development effort as developing countries,” he said.
Botswana expected the Durban conference to take decisions on the second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and to fully operationalise the Cancun Agreement, including the establishment and capitalization of the Green Climate Fund to provide necessary initial start-up.
Botswana was semi-arid and landlocked and vulnerable to climate change.
“The effects of climate change have manifested themselves in frequent and severe droughts, floods, storms and heat waves. Botswana has. of late, been experiencing unprecedented temperatures of 41 degrees Celsius. ”
He painted a damning picture.
“A 30 percent reduction in yield of cereal crop comprising maize and sorghum was attributed to extreme temperatures. Cereal crop occupies approximately 75% of land under arable agriculture. This has exacerbated our food security problem and remains a threat to our poverty eradication efforts. The demand on our disaster preparedness and response is increasingly placing a heavy burden on our limited resources.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted with “over 80 percent certainty” that Botswana was facing water scarcity.
“It is against this backdrop that we have taken adaptation as a priority in order to attain resilience to climate change.
Reporting Development Network
December 08, 2011
The government of Côte d’Ivoire has announced the establishment of a ‘state-controlled cocoa body’. This will bring under one body the functions of four current organisations, and will include international marketing of the cocoa crop. Marketing activities are likely to commence in early 2012. By engaging in forward selling, the new cocoa body ‘aims to encourage certainty and stability in the country's cocoa industry, and help enhance the prosperity of growers’. However this could serve to flood global markets, given the scale of Ivorian cocoa production.
Analysts suggest that buyers may be wary of concluding forward contracts with an organisation without an established track record, in a country newly emerged from civil war and where political instability still threatens. It is maintained that the new body cannot simply replicate the experience of the Ghanaian state cocoa authority (Cocobod), given the well-established market presence of the latter.
With the establishment of an Ivorian state-controlled cocoa body, potentially scope exists for closer collaboration between the two major West African cocoa producers. This could include the area of marketing, with the experience of the Ghanaian authority being deployed to provide assistance to the newly established Ivorian body, in order to prevent its operations from undermining established markets. Such collaboration could also offer scope for coordinating policies on producer prices, thereby reducing cross-border smuggling of cocoa.
The impact of this decision on the short term (i.e. in 2012), could be a drop in world cocoa prices, as Côte d’Ivoire will be putting two crops on the market: the current 2011/12 crop, to be sold more or less on spot markets, and the forthcoming 2012/13 crop to be sold on the futures market. According to certain traders, this could lead to a drop on London futures markets to £ 1,400 a tonne.
Looking further on, if Côte d’Ivoire does want to compete on world markets and keep the lead, a reform is not only necessary but vital. However, the success of this reform depends on the pace of its implementation, which could be quite slow given what is at stake. One of the aims of the reform is to reduce the number of intermediaries between farm and export of cocoa beans (currently there may be up to eight) in order to reduce the costs and increase the overall efficiency of the cocoa supply chain, thereby allowing producers to capture a higher percentage of the sale price.
Small scale cocoa farmers face additional challenges such as replacing ageing trees, an issue that should be taken into account in the government’s wider efforts to reorganise the sector. This could build on recent initiatives such as the memorandum of understanding signed by Cargill and ANADER, Cote d'Ivoire's national rural development agency. This involves support to farmer training and farmer organisation and the distribution of 600,000 cocoa tree seedlings to help improve and renew existing cocoa farms. Such public–private sector partnerships could be multiplied to embrace a sector-wide rehabilitation programme.
Foreign countries which buy African farmland in order to gain food security are guilty of a "new form of colonisation," South African Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on December 7.
She blasted foreign acquisition of African farmland and forests at a side event at the UN climate talks in Durban.
"You will find that some other country, or government in another continent, buys up land. If the land is forest land, they will kill it and they will grow food for that country. The host African country suffers.
"A new form of colonisation is happening to Africa. Many people don't like us telling this," she said to applause from delegates.
In an interview, Joemat-Pettersson gave the example of the new country of South Sudan, where she said "close to 40% of its land surface has already been sold" to foreign interests.
"They bring in their own labour, they bring in their own equipment, soil, seeds, they use the soil of the host country and then they move off. They leave very little behind or they may leave depleted land."
She added: "People will basically do anything to alleviate poverty. And what you see in the continent is countries selling off prime agricultural, prime forestry, to alleviate their own poverty."
Joemat-Pettersson declined to name the foreign countries that were doing this, but said in response to a question: "I don't think China is the only one. There are other examples as well."
South Africa has launched an initiative with the African Union to get all countries to draw up a register of land management use.
"This way, they can evaluate what has happened to their rain forest or their forest and what has happened to prime agricultural land," she said.
"The register also allows us also to see how much prime agricultural land or forest land has been sold to foreigners, meaning people from another country, and what impact this has on the host country.
The minister said she did not expect the register to be completed by next year, but said "the African Union heads of state are being absolutely phenomenal about this. We are driving it and I think momentum is gathering, because people are realising that we are losing security of tenure and we are losing control over our own natural resources."
In 2009, a report by two NGOs and the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said nearly 2.5 million hectares (6.2m acres) of farmland in just five sub-Saharan countries had been bought or leased in the previous five years.
China, but also India, South Korea, oil-rich Gulf countries and western companies were involved in the practice, which was driven by the desire for food security and biofuels but also by an improved investment climate in Africa, it said.
In March this year, the aid agency Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) reported that over a million hectares (2.47m acres) of land in South Sudan had been leased to foreign companies in Unity state.
In July, Germany's Africa policy co-ordinator, Guenter Nooke, said China's "large-scale land purchases" had contributed to the devastating drought affecting the Horn of Africa.
The accusation was dismissed by the foreign ministry in Beijing as "completely unfounded and [with] ulterior motives."
The government of Kenya has received permission from COMESA to maintain in place the country’s current sugar safeguard measures for a further 2 years. However this has been made conditional upon an intensification of efforts to privatise and modernise the sugar sector, which has been making only slow progress since the initial activation of safeguard arrangements.
The Kenyan government has recently ‘published new laws allowing strategic investors to take up at least a 51 per cent stake in the five government run sugar companies that are scheduled for sale’, and a government spokesperson maintains that the privatisation process could be completed within 6 months. However, bottle-necks related to parliamentary procedures could delay progress.
Press reports noted that the conditionalities agreed by the COMESA Council were similar to earlier conditionalities linked to the previous extension of the safeguard measures.
Efforts are also under way to both improve the sector’s productivity and diversify the product range. Sugar sector operators are being required to ‘deepen research on high sucrose and early maturing cane varieties, while the Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) and the Kenya Sugar Research Foundation (Kesref) should spearhead adoption of research findings by cane growers’.
Press reports also indicate that investment is under way at Mumias Sugars to produce both beverage-grade alcohol and ethanol alongside sugar.
In September, meanwhile, it was announced that Mauritian sugar company Omnicane is planning to invest US$180 million in a sugar plant in the coastal region of Kenya. The project is to include ‘the establishment of an 18-megawatt bagasse power facility and a 30,000-litre ethanol production plant’, and Omnicane’s investment ‘is expected to boost the sugar production in the country, which presently is dominated by Mumias Sugar’. This is reportedly ‘one of the biggest foreign direct investments in Kenyan agro industry’.
Omnicane is expected to use its experience of modernising the sugar sector in Mauritius in the Kenyan context. Sugar production is to make use of irrigated land, based on a ‘nucleus system’ which ‘allows for planning and steady supply of uniform quality cane’.
With climate change posing a threat to food production around the world, scientists are developing a form of virtual time travel that can offer farmers in many countries a glimpse of their future by identifying regions where growing conditions today match those that will exist 20 years from now, according to a new report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
"Climate Analogues: Finding Tomorrow's Agriculture Today" is an effort by CCAFS to make climate change adaptation a more tangible endeavor by encouraging the exchange of knowledge between communities around the world regarding current agriculture practices that can help farmers maintain productivity in the future, despite potentially dramatic shifts in growing conditions.
"Climate change will significantly alter growing conditions, but in most places the new farming environment will not be novel in the global context," said Julian Ramirez, a scientist based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia and a lead author of the study. "Rather, the situation in the future will closely resemble conditions that already exist in other parts of the world. Making these links might offer clues about practical, proven approaches that could enable poor people dependent on agriculture to adapt their farming to changes in temperature and precipitation."
For example, according to CCAFS analysis, by 2030, maize producers around Durban, South Africa—which is hosting the current round of international climate change negotiations—could face a one degree increase in temperature during the maize growing season. Studies by Stanford University and others indicate that such an increase would reduce yields by about 20% in the absence of adaptive measures. But maize farmers in Argentina and Uruguay are growing maize successfully today under average temperatures that are three degrees higher.
Similarly, soybean farmers in Argentina as well as in the central and southern United States are already managing conditions similar to the ones that soybean growers around Shanghai, China, will experience within about 20 years.
"If Chinese farmers want to continue growing soybean, they need to look at the kinds of farming practices and crop varieties that farmers in northern Argentina and other analogue regions are growing," said Andy Jarvis, who is leading the project at CIAT and is also a research theme leader for the CCAFS.
CCAFS researchers note that the climate analogues tool currently compares locations based on similarities in precipitation and temperature. It is also designed to identify analogues based on other features-data on soil type and even social and economic conditions are incorporated into the tool.
The tool can also be used in the reverse—looking at one particular location to identify where similar climates might be in 2030. To illustrate the concept, an analogue of present-day Los Angeles, California shows that the southern parts of United States' eastern seaboard and France, northern Germany, and the Netherlands might experience Hollywood's traditionally mild winter months (December to February) by 2030.
In 2012, the research team will pilot a series of farmer exchanges between sites in East and West Africa and South Asia to help farmers see for themselves the changes in store and learn about adaptation strategies that could be applied back home. The farmer-to-farmer exchanges will also help researchers understand whether successful adaptation options in one place are indeed transferable to another.
"The analogues tool is rooted in the basic notion that for centuries farmers have been innovating and adapting in response to shifting conditions, providing a rich source of information on how agricultural systems can adapt to climate change," said Jarvis. "Our goal is to develop an inventory of local knowledge from around the world while linking regions that face similar challenges. We are in many ways turning the world into a laboratory for climate change adaptation."
"The climate analogues approach to adaption reinforces the broader message that maintaining food security in a world of dramatic and accelerated climate shifts will require new commitment to global cooperation," said Jarvis.
"As ministers, heads of state and thousands of delegates gather in Durban to negotiate a future climate deal, agriculture is making its way up the agenda, but it is still not getting the attention it deserves," said Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Climate Program.
"Food security is the bedrock of global stability and with climate change having such a profound effect on food production, farming must figure prominently in the Durban negotiations," Campbell said. "The research community is developing some exciting ways to deal with both agricultural adaptation and climate change mitigation, but we need countries to create the right mix of policies and incentives to help move this work forward."
Categories climate change
December 07, 2011
by Kanya D'Almeida
While the United Nations climate talks in Durban continue their political feet-dragging, researchers and peasants around the world are busy connecting the dots between so- called "green climate solutions," industrialised agriculture and chronic hunger.
New research released by the U.S.-based Oakland Institute (OI) reveals the nexus between "false" fuel alternatives such as the development of agrofuels and agroforests and the massive land grab underway in Africa that is stripping thousands of peasants of their land and means of subsistence.
The research cites the hypocrisy of major industrialised actors like the U.S. and the European Union, as well the World Bank Group (WBG) and other development agencies for pouring money into assisting victims of famine and natural disasters, all the while making massive investments in schemes that heat the earth and stifle local development.
Industrialised agricultural practices currently produce 13.5 percent of all green house gas emissions, mostly methane and nitrous oxide. The latter is emitted in huge doses through the spraying of fertiliser, which is used 800 times more frequently today than it was 100 years ago.
The production of fertilisers themselves requires the burning up of fossil fuels, emitting up to 41 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
On top of this, heavy farm machinery spits about 158 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, while the water needed for industrial-style irrigation is pumped using fossil fuels that release another 369 million tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere.
And yet, powerful governments like the U.S. and various players from the eurozone, together with the WBG, continue to advocate for the proliferation of agrofuels, which employ the same dirty, large-scale farming techniques described above, as a "green solution" to the climate crisis.
In fact, the production of mono crop agrofuels guzzle thousands of gallons of freshwater, are processed into biodiesels – the very products that have overheated the planet to begin with – and create long, oil-thirsty transport chains to carry the product. The OI report estimates that the "conversion of rainforests and native grasslands into fields to produce agrofuel crops will release between 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be reduced following the replacement of fossil fuels with agrofuels. The increase in agrofuel use may release between 44 and 73 million additional tons of CO2 equivalent per year."
The U.S. alone has vowed to increase its use of agrofuels by 30 percent in the coming years.
According to OI's research, five million hectares of land throughout sub-Saharan Africa are currently under cultivation for agrofuel crops like palm trees and eucalyptus, in a multibillion dollar scheme that profits major transnational corporations and their government allies.
The Chinese government now owns eight million hectares of land in the Democratic Republic of Congo for palm oil production, while Crest Global Green, a British bioenergy giant, holds deeds to 900,000 hectares combined in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal.
"We were also shocked to find, during our research, several Scandinavian churches making land investments in countries like Mozambique, in schemes that involved thousands of hectares of illegally acquired land," Frederic Mousseau, the policy director of OI, told IPS.
"We have come to expect this from hedge funds, but not from churches," he added.
"The emergence of carbon trading and carbon markets has also been a major factor in the land grab, with carbon credits being touted as a green solution to the problem of carbon emissions," Mousseau added.
In fact, "the trade in carbon credits involves corporations and governments buying and selling credits in one part of the world in order to continue polluting domestically. Carbon trading not only assigns rights to developed countries and corporations to pollute, but also represents what some are calling "global climate malgovernance"," according to the report.
"Since this is a relatively new phenomenon, we have not yet seen all possible manifestations of the problem," Moussa told IPS. "All we know for sure are the immediate negative consequences of this practice such as investors planting non-native crops which destroy the local environment, replacing rich grasslands with mono crops and denying indigenous groups their rights to land and their traditional practices that respect biodiversity."
David Deng, research director of the South Sudan Law Society, told IPS, "In South Sudan, government officials rarely know what biofuels are, much less carbon credits. As a result, they are often willing to give away these rights for free."
"For the time being, the uncertainty of the transitional context has prevented companies from beginning operations but if these "green" deals (carbon credits and agrofuel projects) in the newly established South Sudan move forward, we will see a massive transfer of wealth from landowning communities in South Sudan to transnational companies in the global North," he added.
Meanwhile Green Resources Ltd, a Norwegian timber company, has embarked on a plan to replace nearly 7,000 hectares of natural Tanzanian grasslands with monocultures of pine and eucalyptus, destroying the local biodiversity, displacing smallholders and burying jobs.
The loss of local employment has been a particularly thorny issue in Sierra Leone, where investments by the Socfin Agricultural Company in the Pujenhun district have marginalized workers in the area.
"Older people who have lost their land are not employed and women have to leave their homes as early as 4:30am to queue for daily wage jobs, which they seldom get," Joseph Rahall, the director of Green Scenery in Sierra Leone, told IPS.
"Vast tracks of land are now being cleared to make way for oil palm monocultures, which cannot be compared to a biodiverse flora. Families from the upland farms used to grow multiple crops capable of absorbing the shocks of food scarcity but many of these families have stopped planting for fear that multinationals will occupy their land," he said.
"Community members who were peacefully protesting the illegal occupation of their land were arrested and are now facing trials in court. The Northern countries' preference for biofuels has deprived countries like ours of basic human security," he added.
The forests in Africa absorb over 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon annually. With these diverse and natural forests, grasslands and prairie lands disappearing under investment schemes and the development of monoculture plantations for supposed "green" energy alternatives like agrofuels, not much else remains to absorb the shocks of hunger and climate change.
"Whether they are for energy or for exports on global markets, monocropping schemes are really testing the limits of the ecosystems," Olivier De Schutter, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right to food, told IPS. "They are thirsty in water, fail to regenerate the soils and often result in an overuse of pesticides because the natural defences of nature (thanks to the diversity of plants) are missing."
"Raising food production 70 percent by 2050 is a figure habitually wheeled out," he added.
"Fertiliser and pesticide-driven yield increases, coupled with the ploughing up of rainforests and other remaining carbon sinks, could just about squeeze the extra tonnage of food out of the earth before the self-sustaining capacities of ecosystems are fully saturated."
Any approach of this nature is a race against time that will eventually be lost, and through which we will only accelerate the onset of climate change and its potential to devastate harvests," he said.
In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council back in 2010, De Schutter presented comprehensive data on the need for agroecology: traditional practices that enhance soil productivity and use beneficial trees, plants, animals and insects to ward off pests rather than relying on fertiliser.
"To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80 percent in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116 percent for all African projects," De Schutter said. "Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields over a period of three to 10 years."
"The tragedy of rushing headlong into a second 'green revolution', where industrial solutions are sought on a global scale, is that other solutions are literally right within our grasp," he told IPS.
Very little capital would be required to promote agroecological practices, but the land grab in Africa, fueled by the rush for carbon reducing alternatives, has been coupled with blanket tax holidays for the multinationals buying up the continents' land, effectively robbing many impoverished states of desperately needed domestic revenues that could be invested in local development schemes, critics say.
For example, the U.S.-based Oakland Institute found that the government of Mozambique is offering generous fiscal incentives to a firm called EmVest Asset Management, which is on the verge of swallowing 2,000 hectares of the country's land for crop and livestock production.
The company's exemption from income tax obligations between 2010 and 2015 represents a loss of public revenue amounting to a million dollars.
In a similar project, the company AgriSol negotiated tax breaks with the government of Tanzania for income earned on a 325,000 hectare plot, for which the agro-giant will likely net an annual profit of 275 million dollars. This sum surpasses the Tanzanian ministry of agriculture's total yearly budget.
A report by the East African NGO Uwazi estimates that "2009/10 tax exemptions in Tanzania amounted to 425 million dollars. That money could have financed 40 percent more resources for education or 72 percent more resources for health between 2009-2010."
Henry Saragih, the general coordinator of the international peasants' network La Via Campesina, which represents 200 million peasants and farmers worldwide, told IPS, "If we look back to the past, we see that one of the primary objectives of colonisation was to find and absorb from the colony all the resources needed by the coloniser. Oil, gas and mining came later. It was first land and food that was stolen."
"Not just in Africa, but also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Honduras and numerous other countries the peasantry and indigenous and local communities are fighting to take back their land and territory," he added.
Comparing the cost of land in Africa with its developed counterparts paints a picture of colonial acquisition. While the U.S. leases its land for 16,000 dollars per hectare for just one year, Ethiopia leased 10,000 hectares of land to the Saudi Star for free over a 60- year period, while Mali leased 100,000 hectares for free over a similar time period.
"Our research found that actors like the World Bank Group (WBG) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) not only push governments to privatise land but also work to change local legal systems of land tenure," Frederic Mousseau, the policy director of the Oakland Institute, told IPS.
In numerous African countries, WBG officials work closely with national governments to quietly overturn the few flimsy laws that peasants and farmers had hitherto held as the only protection of their basic land rights.
Back in 2007, Susan Hume, the country manager for Mozambique, urged the government to reconsider its property rights, speed up VAT refunds for private firms and adopt a "guillotine" on land licenses, adding, "The World Bank would be pleased to assist the government in this process, through Technical Assistance and with help from the Foreign Investment Advisory Service."
"By publishing this research on the relationship between the land grab, climate change, energy policies and investment practices, we're trying to break the "silo" approach to development that looks at each issue independently of the other," Mousseau told IPS.
"We feel it's important to challenge the development paradigm that is 'marketing' and privatising land and we hope this research promotes the return to communally owned land," he said.
Activists echoing these sentiments have teamed up with grassroots networks and coalitions in Durban to draw together these ideas under the banner of ecosocialism, a nascent global movement that is agitating for economic transformation with earth rights as a central guiding principle.
Joel Kovel, co-founder of the U.S.-based Ecosocialist Horizons, told a convergence of hundreds of peasants and farm workers in Durban last week that capitalism began with the enclosure of the commons.
"Examples like the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. is people's attempt to reclaim these commons and reassert control over the means of production," Kovel told IPS. "Capitalism cannot be reformed, nor can it be voted out of power. It can only be defeated by the creation and proliferation of autonomous zones of eco- socialist transformation and production, which have earth rights at their centre."
"This is what we need to build now. This is what we're building in the U.S. and South Africa, while the U.N. gambles away our collective future," he added.
"People on the streets of South Africa are calling the U.N. talks 'genocidal'," Quincy Saul, author of "Reflections of Crisis: The Great Depression in the 21st Century", told IPS.
Quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Saul added, "By delaying a binding agreement on global warming to 2020, the U.N. is effectively condemning 100 million Africans to death by the end of the century."
"To the majority of people on this continent, the U.N. is no different from Wall Street: it is the one percent," he said.
by Dora Tesha
Flour from genetically-modified maize is on sale around the country, a research by the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) has disclosed, with the government saying the maize meal causes no health problems.
GM foods refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biotechnology where plants are modified to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content.
According to the Permanent Secretary in the Vice President’s Office, Mr Sazi Salula, the established DNA type has been confirmed as not having any health side effect.
The research findings have raised questions as to the quality and standard of imported food stuffs.
Mr Salula was speaking as a guest of honour at a stakeholder’s workshop on the Safety Use of Modern Biotechnology in Dar es Salaam. The workshop was aimed at increasing knowledge on the safe management of the modern biotechnology usage.
According to Mr Salula, the effects of the GMOs could be allergy, occurrence of chronic weeds, cancer, drug resistance in treatment of diseases, farmer’s dependence on the sold seeds and other effects which were yet to be established.
He said there was a great need to educate the community on the safe use of modern biotechnology as it was difficult for the country to avoid the impact caused by the states’ interference caused by globalization and illegal importations of such products.
”There is a great need for the community to understand the safety application of the modern biotechnology to avoid its impacts – the results of the research is a wakeup call for each one of us to play their part,” he stressed.
Tanzania Daily News
by Zwanai Sithole
Crocodile farming is one of Zimbabwe's highest animal export earners, alongside ostrich rearing. One of the black farmers running a successful crocodile rearing project at his farm in Binga is Owen Ndlovu. The farm, which is located on the shore of the Zambezi River, produces about 70 tonnes of meat and skins annually which are exported to Asian markets, particularly China.
“I started crocodile farming in 2009 after successfully applying for a permit from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. I started with a small number of crocodiles, but now I have got more than 10 000,” said Ndlovu.
This season, which ended in September, the company recorded 2000 hatchlings. “We have also 200 breeders which we bought from a leading commercial farmer in Kariba. The farmer is also assisting us in running the project,” he said. His company also sources eggs from the local people who find them on the shore of the river.
“We are buying a lot of eggs from the local people. Next year we aim to be self-sufficient in terms of eggs because we are hoping to secure more breeders” he said.
Ndlovu complained about the high cost of crocodile feed which his company sources from South Africa. “We are buying our crocodile feed in South Africa at a very high rate. Meat for the breeders has also gone up. We need five beasts every month to feed the crocodiles,” he said.
Crocodile products are in high demand in Asia and Europe where they are used for a variety of purposes such as leisurewear and medicine. Crocodile is also a very popular delicacy in restaurants.
It is estimated that the country earns more than $100 million a year through the export of meat and skins to countries such as Japan, Singapore, the United States and Australia. The country’s varied terrain and hospitable climate provide an ideal habitat for crocodiles.
New, small scale irrigation systems are being installed in the districts of Gorongosa, Buzi and Nhamatanda, in the central Mozambican province of Sofala, by the Ministry of Agriculture in order to increase food production.
The Sofala Provincial Director of Agriculture, Miguel Coimbra, said the new irrigation systems will bring water to an area of about ten hectares in each of the regions of Move, Chitunga, Bebeto and Lamego.
These small irrigation schemes, aimed at peasant farmers, are part of a series of Ministry of Agriculture projects covering 130 hectares of food crops in Buzi, Marromeu, Dondo and Chemba districts.
The projects also cover include control of the lethal yellowing disease that is severely damaging Mozambique’s coconut palms, and controlling the fruit fly infestation in Caia, Dondo and Nhamatanda districts and in Beira city.
Meanwhile, the Beira Economic Activities Services have distributed 110 tons of rice seeds at subsidised prices to producers in the green belt around the city to enhance rice production.
The head of the Economic Activities Services in the city, Fabiao Simhane, said that the improved seeds benefited some 3,000 rice farmers – almost twice as many peasants as the 1,600 cultivating rice around Beira in the previous season.
In addition to the seeds the farmers also benefited from fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs, as well as fruit trees to improve the diet of Beira citizens.
More than 100 acres of crops estimated at over Sh5 million have been destroyed by floods in Kiboi Irrigation Scheme after River Yeptos in Baringo County (Kenya) burst its banks.
About 200 farmers who had crops at the scheme feared food security may be threatened as a result of the floods.
The scheme chairman, Julius Aengwo, said farmers expected a bumper harvest this season but their hopes have been dashed by the raging floods.
“Since we experienced adequate rainfall this season, we had anticipated enough food for our families and surplus for sale but for the past two weeks, the entire crop has been flooded and we have incurred huge losses,” said Mr Aengwo.
He said several acres of crops such as beans, butternuts, watermelons, maize, cassava and sweet potatoes were submerged and had began to rot.
Aengwo urged the Government to consider the farmers’ plight and provide them with seeds to start planting afresh after the heavy rains subside since they had invested all they had on the farms.
According to Baringo North district crop officer Wesley Chemjor, almost half of the crops in the irrigation scheme have been extensively damaged.
“We had projected farmers would earn about Sh10 million from maize, beans, watermelons and other fruits such as mangoes and bananas but it’s regrettable almost the entire crop was destroyed,” Mr Chemjor said.
Area District Agricultural Officer Kibett Maina reiterated that farmers at the scheme had suffered greatly as result of the floods.
He urged farmers in Kiboi and Barwessa irrigation schemes to embrace soil conservation measures to prevent more losses.
“For now, farmers should make water canals, plant trees along their farms and make use of the water divisional boxes to prevent over spilling and avert more flooding in the future,” said Mr Maina.
He said last year, the Government and the World Food Programme (WFP), had rehabilitated the irrigation scheme and anticipated to benefit more farmers and boost food security in the semi-arid area.
“The Government together with WFP had injected about Sh8 million for construction of water divisional boxes, construction of a night water storage tank and construction of canals,” said Maina.
About 100 families have been displaced in Nyatike District, Migori County. 90 victims have sought refuge at Nyora Primary School where they were taken by the Red Cross officials after their houses were submerged after River Kuja burst its banks.
In 2 East Africa
December 06, 2011
Climate change affects agriculture in Africa more than in the rest of the world and that can cause hunger in various countries there. But it is possible for governments to fight the problem, delegates at the climate change conference, COP 17, in Durban heard.
An example is the West African country of Mali, which ranks as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate-related hunger, even though the country's carbon emissions are minimal. However, instead of waiting for disaster to strike, the government there is taking steps to adapt.
The government of Mali shared the lessons they learnt in agriculture and climate at a session at COP 17.
Souleymane Cissé, from the Malian environment ministry, commented: "The paradox is although Mali isn't producing carbon emissions, we are the first victim of climate change. We could not stand by and do nothing."
Dr Alamin Sinna Toure, from the Environment and Sanitation Agency in Mali, gave an overview of the challenges facing Mali and the steps taken to meet them.
The bulk of Mali's economy is based on agriculture and fishing, with 80 percent of the population working in agriculture.
"Agriculture is the motor of the Malian economy", said Toure.
Lack of rainfall is one problem. Mali's rainfall fell by 20 percent between 1971 and 2000, and things could get worse. The forecasts are alarming, with a further 11 percent reduction expected by 2025. As the rains dry up, the temperature rises. There could be an increase of between four and 4.5°C.
"The result", said Toure, "is 68 percent of the population will be exposed to food insecurity.
Reviving old agricultural methods may help, according to Adama Kouyaté, from Mali's ministry of agriculture. "We are trying not to rely on rain, by reviving old agricultural techniques. We are reviving old seeds which were used long ago, replanting them and reviving those crops", he explained.
Uncertain rainfall translates into uncertain harvest times. With the seasons based on rainfall, farmers can no longer be sure when the season starts.
"A drought can take place at any cycle of plant growth - all this has repercussions on the reproductive cycle, and affects yield", said Toure. "If we have a year of drought like in 1983/1984, the production system will be hugely affected", he added.
To safeguard its future, Mali has developed a national initiative on climate change and an action plan. The national plan of climatic adaptation has invested in projects which help farmers adapt to climate change.
"The big policy lines involve capacity building in various sectors so each can know their role, promote and develop use of different types of land", explained Toure. "We can thus use more suitable varieties for different areas."
An important aspect is to enable farmers to limit methane emissions especially in irrigator zones.
Two projects in particular provide solutions to problems faced by farmers. The objectives of the Integration of Resilience in Agricultural Production for Food Security are capacity building, standing up to climate change and integrating various strategies in agricultural development projects.
The first component of this project was to change operations on the ground.
"We were trying to multiply the number of varieties of seeds that tolerate stress, and then distribute these seeds", said Toure.
Integrated management of ground fertility, and participative knowledge allowed farmers to adopt better management practice, which resulted in better crops. Hands-on field schools were set up to educate farmers on climate change, and management. To date, 600 centres have been established.
The outcome met expectations. Thirty percent of cultivated areas improved due to implemented strategies.
The ministry of agriculture's project to improve adaptive capacity to climate change included capacity-building for the most vulnerable - the rural population. Targeted communities received agriculture assistance.
Toure stressed this project was dependent on community participation. "Together with the help of the community, the government could help its population. Complete holistic actions are needed to deal with climate change."
Cissé elaborated on the strategic framework. "In July 2010 we developed an agency for sustainable development, and a national council for environment including stakeholders from all sectors-private and public. We also have a fund, Climate Mali, to have necessary investments to adapt or fight off climate change. We've invested in a green economy."
Optimistic of Mali's future, Toure announced an ambition to be an agricultural powerhouse. "We have the ambition and potential, but we lack the funds", he said. The nation supposedly has big potential in terms of agricultural land. "Thirty million hectares of arable land are available for agriculture or herding", claimed Toure.
Despite this potential, Mali remains a poor country with a precarious food supply situation.
by Andrea M. Besley
Pests and diseases that attack the Matoke banana, one of Uganda's primary food staples, is the focus of a $7.07 million grant awarded to Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The grant, which is managed by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Project (ABSPII) in Cornell's Office of International Programs, will run through October 2016.
"The project will allow us to focus on developing the resistance of the East African Highland banana, locally known as matoke, to pests like nematodes and major diseases like Black Sigatoka, fusarium and bacterial wilt," said Frank Shotkoski, Cornell ABSPII director.
The Cornell-led ABSPII program has been working with Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to improve Uganda's ability to conduct agricultural biotechnology research and develop disease-resistant varieties of matoke since 2005, when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni launched an initiative to research, develop and add value to the local banana industry.
"Together, we have strengthened molecular, transformation and tissue culture laboratories at the Kawanda Agricultural Biotechnology Center, built a Level II biosafety greenhouse, several screenhouses and confined field trial facilities," said Shotkoski.
"This project increases national capacity in plant breeding and builds on NARO's successful collaboration with USAID and Cornell," said Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, team leader, National Banana Research Programme. "Matoke is a primary staple crop for Uganda and a top priority for NARO. Along with improving varieties of rice and cassava, improving banana is central to food security and income generation in Uganda."
East African Highland bananas feed more than 65 percent of the population in Uganda and are a major source of cash for most farmers. High in potassium and dietary fiber and lower in sugar than desert bananas, they are usually eaten cooked.
Cornell and Ugandan scientists are working to reverse the drastic drop in production of matoke in the traditional banana growing areas of central and southwestern Uganda as a result of diseases and pests.
Most matoke varieties are sterile and produce no seeds. Hence, genetic improvement using traditional cross-pollination techniques is a prolonged and difficult process. Using the tools of agricultural biotechnology, banana varieties can be improved without changing other important traits.
"As a result of USAID/Uganda's sustained and comprehensive support of Uganda's agricultural biotechnology development, Uganda is now the region's most advanced in terms of agricultural biotechnology research, technology transfer and product testing," said Tilahun Zeweldu, ABSPII's East Africa country coordinator. He added that the transgenic crops currently being field tested in Uganda include banana, cassava, corn and cotton.
by Duncan Alfreds
Agriculture in Africa should be transformed to facilitate food security, but the legacy of colonialism looms large, an activist organisation has said.
"The transformation of agriculture in Africa is an extended version of what happened under colonialism," said Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa.
Under colonialism, African farmers were required to grow cash crops for export at the expense of subsistence farming and this has had an impact in the current food crisis on the continent, he said.
"They [African farmers] became dependant on selling their crop, rather than growing their own. I think that was the first disconnect in African food production."
As climate change has an impact on poor countries with harsher droughts and major flood events, researchers are working to identify ways that food security could be improved. According to the UN millennium development goal monitor, countries in West Africa particularly struggle with extreme poverty with up to 70% of the population in Nigeria living on less than $1 per day.
Negotiators at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban are inching toward a settlement that may include a further period of commitments for a cap on global carbon emissions, but hopes are slim as top economies like the US and China disagree.
Earthlife Africa said that international trade rules and poor governance limited what developing countries could do to increase food crops for local consumption.
"Given the World Trade Organisation's set of rules for trade, countries have to have a balance of payments story going on, so they need foreign exchange. So they become more dependent on these cash crops to satisfy other needs - often indeed food - which seems quite silly," Lakhani said.
The World Watch Institute blamed part of the problem on governments encouraging monoculture crops and legislation prohibiting urban farming.
"When farmers diversify, they're more resilient to price shocks and they struggle to grow anything on soil that has degraded," said senior researcher Danielle Nierenberg.
She said that global food production chains linked to giant corporations had a devastating impact in poor countries.
"You must remember that the transnational corporations that own a lot of these production facilities wish to trade and they don’t really have an interest in food security. We certainly need to do more urban agriculture and we certainly need to move away from toxins in food."
Some analysts have said that the world is overpopulated and this impacts negatively on food production and distribution, but Lakhani rejected this, saying that the problem of food was one of over consumption.
"The fact of the matter is that 25% of the global population consume 80% of the resources. So what we have is a preponderance of over consumption by the wealthy. Some calculations, globally anyway, show that we will be able to support, sustainably, a population of up to 16 billion people."
"Do the calculation yourself: 75% of the planet live on 20% of the resources. That means 75 times five would be the total number of the population we could easily support - if there was equitable distribution," he said.
The debt crisis plaguing the developed economies may be an indicator of the need for a new system as it exposes the shortcomings inherent in the current capitalist system, Lakhani said.
"The system is indeed creaking at the seems - and that is exactly what is needed to transform the planet."
Categories food security
An email claiming that certain bananas from South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province have been poisoned with a flesh-eating bacterium has been clarified as a hoax email by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
In the email, members of the public are warned not to buy or eat the bananas as they will be infected by a flesh-eating bacterium. It further advises recipients to seek medical attention if they develop a fever after eating the bananas.
The Department of Agriculture's Acting Chief Director for Stakeholder Relations and Communications, Steve Galane, said Monday: "The information we received from the Department of Health is that the banana scare email is a hoax, and any claims regarding poor food safety will be investigated. The department said in its report that at this stage, they don't see any need to do so as they deem this claim to be a hoax."
The hoax email advises those who may have been infected by the "bacterium" to burn their skin around the infection to prevent it from spreading.
Galane said the department strongly advises against burning of the skin. "Deliberately burning your skin could lead to serious injury and permanent damage," he said.
by Peter Guest
As policymakers head to Durban for another round of high-level sparring on emissions reduction, it is unlikely there will be much talk of yams or sorghum, or of soil acidity and tillage.
Finding a way to meld the macro-level diplomacy of the Conference of the Parties summit with the practical, micro-level solutions needed to protect agricultural communities and their crops from the effects of climate change is, many experts say, crucial to translating consensus and goodwill into meaningful action.
Farmers face new and extreme climatic conditions, and must adapt their practices and crops to allow for sudden, temporary shifts in weather patterns.
This needs a focus on the crops themselves, experts say, and action in the near term to make sure that, whether mitigation efforts curtail the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change or not, there are plant varieties capable of withstanding the shifting weather.
As Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, says: "I don't think that people have begun to grapple with the enormity of the problem… agricultural crop adaptation really isn't even on the agenda. All our efforts at the macro-level are clearly going to fail as the crops die in the field."
Mari Tefre/ Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the
Arctic island of Spitsbergen
Mr. Fowler is the architect of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an underground facility on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, funded by the Norwegian government. The vault is designed to house a gene bank, containing seed samples from around the world, to prevent the diversity of crop types from being lost.
These different varieties could contain traits that will be critical to solving many of the challenging new conditions that farmers face. Breeding useful characteristics—such as drought or flood tolerance—into crops is an ancient science, but it takes time.
Without sufficient focus on these micro-level issues, however, there is a danger, Mr. Fowler believes, that real crops in real fields don't get adapted. "I'm sorry to say but we're really going to have to get our hands dirty," he says. "This is getting us out of the realm of policy and big intergovernmental meetings, we're going to have to… figure out what it's going to take to help the crops adapt."
The entire pipeline, from finding and indexing traits, to storing them, making them available to researchers and getting them into the breeding system needs to be developed. "I guess what we find alarming is the assumption that that's just going to happen by itself, without planning and without investment," Mr. Fowler says. "That doesn't happen overnight. It's a 10-year process."
The 20th-century heralded the transformative effects of new varieties and is a century often hailed as an exemplar for development actors looking to boost Africa's agricultural output. The Green Revolution in South Asia in the 1970s, for example, was in part driven by a major investment in new, high-yielding varieties of rice, developed with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation—as well as through significant expenditure on infrastructure and fertilizers.
Hailed in some quarters as a 21st-century iteration of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research into crop science innovations that could simultaneously improve productivity and protect against climatic shifts. Lawrence Kent, who heads the foundation's research and development program on agricultural development, says that he must first establish what crops are most important to people. "That leads us towards the staple crops, like maize and sorghum, cassava, rice, even some of the tubers and legumes. We try to focus our research on those crops," he says.
The practical challenges are not dissimilar from the perennial question of how to improve food security in the developing world. There has always been a pipeline of improvements that could be made. What has changed today is the urgency with which that pipeline has to flow. "Now, because of climate change and the additional, accelerated levels of threats that are coming on the abiotic side—things like drought and flooding and higher levels of heat—it becomes even more important to accelerate the crop improvement process," Mr. Kent says.
The Gates Foundation's programs have already led to innovations that may have profound affects. The Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia, or Strasa project, which works on developing rice that can resist droughts, prolonged flooding and mineral contamination has been adopted by large numbers of farmers in India, and should be rolled out to Africa over the next few years.
A program at the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo in Mexico, has led to the development of more than 80 drought-tolerant varieties of maize, which could allow farmers to boost harvests by 30% in drought conditions.
However, experts warn that time is short. Bruce Campbell, a veteran South African climate and agricultural expert who now heads the climate change, agriculture and food security program at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, doubts that any one innovation will emerge. It will take hard graft and a lot of ground-level research.
"If you think about African agricultural systems, they are so diverse that even a fantastic rice breakthrough is not going to do anything for the granite sands of Zimbabwe," he says. "I think there have to be lots of breakthroughs, but it's not going to be this big silver bullet that takes off everywhere."
Even so, Mr. Campbell remains optimistic. "I think if you put all of [the developments] together, in two decades time we could be seeing an entirely different scenario in Africa, potentially."
Wall Street Journal
by Nickolaus Bauer
South Africa's yellow maize deficit is not necessarily all that bad according to agricultural bodies, who believe it is a sign of a burgeoning industry.
In November it was reported South Africa would be experiencing a shortage of maize due to increased exports of up to 1.2-million tonnes to new markets such as Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan in the latter part of 2011.
This resulted in the country's maize surplus running dry and export demand cutting into supplies usually destined for the local market.
"By and large this is a good thing for South Africa as it shows we can export, import and grow in other markets. Hopefully it will lead to a point where farmers can stabilise the market so that the sector will grow and we can create more jobs. We will always prefer a surplus but if it is a small deficit that's also ok," Johannes Mller, Agri-SA president said.
Contrary to media reports, the deficit relates to only yellow maize which is primarily used for agricultural purposes such as the feeding of livestock, while white maize -- of which there is still a surplus -- is consumed by humans.
The maize was exported to these new markets at roughly R1400 per tonne, while local prices are pegged at around at R2900 per tonne.
"Everyone in South Africa had an opportunity to buy grain at decreased prices, but the consumers can't expect it to lie in the silos and wait for them. The agricultural sector began exporting so as to prepare for the next harvest and not waste any leftovers," Mller said.
According to AgriSA, the deficit will only be experienced for a few months, while supply and demand channels stabilise.
Mller's sentiments are echoed by the South African government, who were largely blamed for the deficit as they facilitated the setting up of exports to these new markets.
"Government can open the way for export but at the end of the day its normal market forces that dictate supply and demand and it's the agricultural companies who sold the excess. But it is a little blown out of proportion to be honest -- at the end of the day, it's good for business as farmers will end up producing more, selling more and hopefully employ more people," Deputy Minister for Agriculture Pieter Mulder said.
Mulder said that while government sympathises with consumers feeling the pinch due to rising grain prices, it is important to make sure imports rise.
"If we can get these export countries to be permanent, it will go a long way to ensure the demand for our supplies is met. We used have a lot of our exports taken by African countries like Zambia and Malawi but our neighbours are producing enough for themselves. If we are not careful our African neighbours will out-produce us and take away a share of these new markets as weather conditions and markets are sometimes more favourable," said Mulder.
Mail and Guardian
by Hicks Sikazwe
After exporting almost 500,000 metric tonnes of maize to other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and in East Africa, Zambia is still saddled with more than one million metric tonnes of the grain.
In the period between November last year and October this year, the country, through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), exported maize to Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Botswana, Burundi and South Africa.
However, FRA says much of the surplus is still stuck in outlaying provinces. The Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) and the Railway Systems of Zambia (RSZ) have been engaged to expedite the movement of the harvest. RSZ would haul 15,000 metric tonnes, and Tazara will transport 12,000 tonnes. In the last export Zambia earned a total of $86 million (P626.9 million) from the almost 500,000 tonnes.
According to FRA 21 percent of the export went to Zimbabwe, 16 percent to DRC, eight percent to Kenya and the remaining five percent was shared by Botswana, Burundi and South Africa.
In the recent years the country has been enjoying maize bumper harvests. The two-month old government of president Michael Sata has also initiated a reduction in the price of mealie-meal.
About: Two Short Term Training Programmes on "Upgradation of Food Testing Skills of Food Processing Professionals" under "India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS)-II; announcement asking for participants
Goal: Building Capability in the area of Food Safety in different countries of Africa.
Where: Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, Dehli, India
When: January 09-23, 2012 and during February 01-15, 2012
Cost: These programmes would be completely funded by the Government of India under the aegis of India Technical Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) as a part of India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS)-II. The funding includes economy airfare (most economical route), lodging, boarding (accommodation and food) and training fee. The participants will also be given some subsistence allowance for the period.
Shriram Institute for Industrial Research has been given the responsibility of organizing these training programmes at their center in Delhi, India so that it can transfer the know-how regarding different aspects of determining the level of toxic contaminants in different food products for ensuring the safety of food products.
The objective of these programmes is to upgrade the skills of scientists involved in assessment and certification of various food products for their quality and safety in different countries of Africa.
Institutes are invited to nominate their scientists for these programmes. The number of seats for each programme is limited to 25. There will be a selection criteria to fill the seats and therefore, there can be more than one nomination from one organization for the programme.
The nominees should be meeting following criteria:-
- Age:25-40 years
- Qualifications & Experiences: Graduate/Post Graduate in Sciences/ Food Technology/Microbiology/Chemistry, preferably with 1-2 years experience working in research/quality certification/inspection /regulatory affairs of food safety in the area of food, agriculture and water.
Further queries related to the subject matter may be forwarded to the following contact persons.
Mr. Virendra Seth + 91 9818360623 (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com)
Dr. Manjeet Aggarwal +91 9811239472 (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Sanjay Rajput +91 9868144455 (Email: email@example.com)
More Information: http://www.shriraminstitute.org/
by Hennie Duvenhage
South Africa's commercial farmers' income has hardly been great, especially for those planting crops. Stock farmers have suffered heavily from stock theft and job opportunities dried up.
Gross farm income in the year to end-February last year amounted to R121.766bn, 2.2% more than the previous year. Current revenue was 3.1% up at R89.286bn, according to the latest figures from Statistics South Africa (SSA).
Revenue from crops fell 4.3%, but the other branches of farming computed by SSA grew, even if in some instances very little.
Income from animal products rose 4.4%, that from horticultural products 2.1% and that from animals 1.2%. The contribution of crops to total gross farm revenue declined from 23.4% to 21.9%.
Horticultural products still make up 24.5% of the total, animals 40.4% and animal products 11.5%.
Electricity costs shot up – from R2.1bn to R2.8bn. There was also a considerable increase in expenditure on maintenance and repairs (from R6.5bn to R7.4bn).
But the cost of fertiliser was down (R7.8bn compared with R8.3bn).
Capital expenditure on new assets was lower, but more was spent on land and construction.
The agricultural sector suffered significantly larger losses – R316.5m compared with the previous year's R206.9m.
A farmer's most valued possessions are his land and buildings. Their combined value is estimated at R81bn. The book value of agricultural assets in 2009 was R118.3bn. In 2010 there was a reduction in the book value of vehicles and tractors, in particular, as well as that of other assets. Almost half of farmers' R64bn debt is short term. Of this, 44.4% is owed to commercial banks, 32% to private individuals and only 2.9% to the Land Bank.
Although the number of jobs in the agricultural sector fell from 874,877 to 866,417, the wages account rose from R13.5bn to R15.2bn.
1 South African Rand = 0.124584 U.S. dollars (Dec 7 2011)
December 01, 2011
Former goat-herder Samba Ba proudly points to a row of metre-high acacia trees growing amid the fine
grasses that are the only other vegetation in this part of northern Senegal's arid savannah. "Planting trees is a blessing - trees mean life. We call this the Nile River of the Sahel."
Ba hopes that in time the trees will bear black fruits that can be used as goat-feed. He and his fellow villagers are also planting the Sahel acacia, which produces a gum with medicinal properties, the tamarind, which has edible bitter-sweet fruit, and the desert date or "sump" tree, which bears small fruits whose oil can be used in cooking. These are all thorny trees with small leaves, the only kind that can survive in the arid conditions.
Sedentary and semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen are planting five hectares of vegetable and fruit crops and approximately 1,000 trees as part of the Great Green Wall project ("La Grande Muraille Verte"), an ambitious pan-African environmental programme designed to combat desertification along the southern edge of the Sahara and provide nomadic populations with extra livelihoods while enhancing their food security.
The scheme falls within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which aims to decrease poverty and improve food sources, and is being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Donors have pledged US$3 billion to the 11 participating countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
The governments of these 11 Sahelian states intend that 20 years from now, a giant hedge, 15km wide and 7,000km long, spreading across two million hectares, will help slow the advancing desert and impede the hot winds that increase erosion.
"The wall is just the final result. What we're looking for... is to protect and improve the eco-systems of these Sahel regions, and [through this] to improve the diets, health, lifestyle and environment of the Savannah people," said Matar Cissé, director general of the national agency implementing the project, in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
Chronic drought has made it increasingly difficult for Fulani nomads to make a traditional living as pastoralists. Ba, 42, a Fulani who has settled in the village of Mbar Toubab, 100km south of where the Sahara desert starts in neighbouring Mauritania, says herdsmen would consider settling in such villages if they could earn a living by growing and selling fruit and vegetables.
Cissé said, "We are, we hope, developing a system that will help these people help themselves to stay in one place, create jobs and raise their own incomes. For the nomadic peoples, this could fundamentally change the way they live."
Villagers are taught how to plant market gardens and use drip irrigation by connecting a small elevated water tank to perforated pipes that deliver small amounts of water to each plant. "We travel great distances in search of pasture and water. If this project is successful... this area won't be hopeless any more," Ba said. "To have water and food to feed ourselves and our animals on our doorstep can only be beneficial."
A Niger government study found that pastoralists with small herds had lost 90 percent of their livestock in successive droughts.
So far, the 133 women participating in the scheme in Mbar Toubab have produced lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, okra, aubergines, watermelons, carrots, cabbages and turnips. Their mango and orange trees have yet to bear fruit, said Kumba Ka, President of the Gardening association, who walks six km every day to work in her garden
Many villagers thought something like this would never be possible. "We're growing so many different types of vegetables that normally only grow where water is deep," Ka said.
Such a project must be based on market research that identifies who will be able to buy the vegetables, where, and at what prices, if it is to support livelihoods and food security, said Peter Gubbels, West Africa coordinator of NGO Groundswell International and author of the Sahel Working Group's recent report, Escaping the Hunger Cycle: Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel.
The Great Green Wall could play an important role in environmental management and supporting nomadic livelihoods, but it must not be seen as "the solution" to food security, Gubbels said. The project risks being too ambitious by taking on desertification as well as food security, which are separate issues, requiring separate solutions.
Food insecurity in the Sahel is largely due to a growing gap between rich and poor, with an "underclass of the bottom 30 percent" living in chronic poverty, he said. Solutions include subsidized prices, social protection schemes, and disaster reduction, among many others.
Desertification is what forces people to migrate. "In the popular imagination desertification is about billowing sand dunes advancing at a rate of two kilometres a year, but... [it] is the overuse of natural resources, over-grazing, intensive farming and the subsequent erosion of land-pockets that become completely denuded and then join together," Gubbels said.
Tree-planting projects to combat desertification work best when the trees are owned by the farmers themselves, said Chris Reij, coordinator of the African Regreening Initiative.
Gubbels noted that "Usually only 20 percent of newly planted trees will survive... so there is a high risk to tree-planting... unless we mobilize millions of [farmers] to invest in trees as well as manage them themselves, the battle against desertification cannot be won."
The most innovative projects to improve the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists are being developed by the pastoralists themselves, with the help of NGOs, said Reij. In Niger they have established settlement sites where they plant trees and market gardens alongside health and education services. Pastoralists then migrate from these points.
Rather than using such schemes to encourage the nomads to settle - which often leads to tension with sedentary communities - a combination of mobility and agriculture is the most risk-averse survival strategy. "[Partial] mobility...is a much better and less risky strategy than staying in one place... [which] leads to over-grazing," and if the area does not get much rainfall that year, "you are much more vulnerable," Gubbels pointed out.
In a worst-case scenario, "[Without] sufficient technical guidance and support... [for the Great Green Wall], in a few years you'll see a broken-down tractor, a scattering of a few small trees in the village plantation, a few families benefiting from the market gardening, and little positive overall change, with the poorest families as chronically vulnerable as before," Gubbels said.
However, if the ambitious project is seen as a framework for funding and a platform for sharing information across the 11 Sahelian states, he said, it could positively impact the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists.