The floods in February in March have subsided leaving roads, farmland and irrigation systems in ruins in some parts of the country. It has been estimated that between 10-15 per cent of the country's agricultural production has been affected by the storm damage and that it will take months to restore the infrastructure upon which successful commercial agriculture depends. First estimates of flood damage and related costs currently stand at US$1 billion. The agriculture minister has called for donor assistance to support Mozambique's own efforts to repair the damage done.
The heavy rains that devastated Mozambique and Madagascar in February and March also caused extensive, if less widely reported, damage on the other side of Southern Africa, in Namibia. Accustomed to near total aridity, the south of Namibia was hit by the heaviest rainfall in 30 years. The regional city of Mariental was inundated twice within days and extensive flooding of the surrounding farmland, an important area for maize and the centre of the country's nascent ostrich industry, caused serious losses. In places the maize crop was almost totally destroyed while ostrich farmers lost thousands of eggs and chicks. This is expected to cut production by some 20%. Ostrich Production Namibia has invested in excess of Namibian $70 million (US$11.2) in developing the ostrich industry and had anticipated slaughtering about 25,000 birds in the coming season.
The world's biggest producer of vanilla, Madagascar, is counting the cost of Hurricane Hudah, which has ruined not only the vines in the north-eastern coastal region of the island but also many of the warehouses containing stored vanilla. Flooding, road damage and broken telephone lines have exacerbated a situation that was already difficult following previous storm damage, which had disrupted regular transport of the crop. Madagascan growers produce top quality vanilla with a high vanillin content and it may be some years before they can re-establish full production.
News of a possible breakthrough in the production of vanillin by other means is, however, unlikely to be of concern. The Institute of Food Research in Britain has identified the genetic strain in a soil bacterium, which results in the production of vanillin as it feeds on waste plant material. This discovery may have an impact on the synthetic vanillin industry but growers in Madagascar and elsewhere can be confident that nothing is likely to replace demand for the natural product of the vanilla orchid with its exquisite, impossible-to-reproduce, blend of some two hundred separate components.
Livestock and crop farmers owe a great debt to the scientist who proved it was possible to eradicate a major insect pest without recourse to pesticides. The time was the 1930s, the man an American scientist at the start of his career, Edward Knipling. It was he who first suggested that screwworm, a devastating pest of livestock at the time in the southern US, could be controlled if a way could be found for sterilising and releasing males into wild populations. It was not until the 50s that the radiation biologist E J Muller demonstrated that X-rays could sterilise fruit flies without otherwise affecting them but once Knipling's concept and Muller's technique were allied, a campaign could be mounted to rid first Florida and then the whole of the southern states of screwworm. At the time the screwworm was costing Florida livestock farmers US$20 million every year; eradication cost US$10 million.
Since then the technique has also been used successfully on eradicating cotton bollworm, the Mediterranean fruit fly and tsetse fly from significant areas. Knipling died in March aged 90.
A pioneering mushroom farmer in Africa is using water hyacinth as the substrate for the establishment of mushroom farming in Zimbabwe. With the support of UNDP, the project has also expanded to Malawi and, in March 2000, Mr Khaya Nqula, chief executive officer of the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, pledged 5 million Rand (US$800,00) to undertake indigenous mushroom development along the lines that Mrs Margaret Tagwira has implemented in Zimbabwe.
Based at the Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Mrs Tagwira has also
succeeded in domesticating a local variety of Ganoderma lucidu,
a prime medicinal mushroom that has been used in China for thousands of
years. She plans to make the domesticated mushroom available for commercial
farming for the HIV orphans in the region, who will grow the domesticated
mushroom in an effort to enhance their own immune systems. Mrs Tagwira's
efforts are also evident in El Choco, Colombia where a edible mushroom
Auricularia auricula (Jew's ear fungus) has been domesticated following
training given in October 1999. The substrate for growing the mushroom
will be wood dust from saw mills, which is a major source of river pollution
in the region.
Mongolia has suffered one of the worst winters on record with the feared 'zud' (a combination of blizzard and bitter cold, preceded by drought) killing a reported 1.5 million animals. Not since the winter of 1944 when almost 7.5 million livestock were lost, have conditions been so bad. Entire regions have been devastated and families have either lost all their animals or most of their assets in buying fodder to keep those that have survived, so far, alive. At present 171 counties in 13 provinces of Mongolia are in the disaster-stricken zone. These are the territories where almost one-fifth of the country's population resides and where, for most, the raising of cattle is the main source of income.
The government of Mongolia has appealed for international assistance
and some aid is now being received. For example, VETAID, a UK-based NGO,
has received funding to run an emergency project to co-ordinate the purchase
of fodder and its distribution to the worst affected and most remote regions.
However it is likely to be many years before the livestock industry recovers
and a proper balance is achieved between livestock numbers and the carrying
capacity of the land.
Nigerian President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has called for countries in sub-Saharan Africa to collaborate and legislate on the control of biodiversity exploitation with a view to safeguarding the health and environment of the continent. The President was speaking at the opening (March 2nd) of an international course on biodiversity, biotechnology and law, which was held at The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan. The President emphasized that, with an annual population growth of 3.1%, the poor in the sub-region have become increasingly vulnerable. He warned that "poverty, underscored by food insecurity and socio-economic under development, may escalate if our diverse plant and animal resources are not effectively harnessed and maximally utilised."
IITA Director General, Dr Lukas Brader, described the training course as important in helping West African countries make better and safer use of biotechnology through appropriate legislation and establishment of regulatory mechanisms. He added that it was essential for every country to have bio-safety guidelines and explained that IITA had assisted with the development of Nigeria's bio-safety guidelines, which provided a model for many other countries in Africa.
Farmer field schools in Indonesia are being used to develop and adapt
the local 'sisipan' practice of interplanting new rubber seedlings into
gaps in existing stands, as an alternative to clearing and burning large
areas of secondary forest. ICRAF is stimulating farmers, through the field
school approach, to experiment with direct grafting of clonal rubber onto
seedlings established using the sisipan method, to improve the productivity
of the system. A collaborative project involving the University of Wales,
Bangor funded by the DFID Forestry Research Programme is exploring what
influences farmers to adopt sisipan. But it is already apparent that this
'farmer discovered technology' has the potential to combine significant
environmental benefits with improvement in the livelihoods of poor farmers.
Prospects for the current agricultural season are grim, say FAO, and food aid requirements are estimated at about 2 million tonnes, the highest for fifteen years. Cereal production has been in decline for several years, mainly due to adverse weather conditions. Persistent drought and poor rainfall, coupled with the effects of armed conflicts and insecurity, have devastated crops and livestock and eroded food stocks in the region. According to FAO, the food crisis affects not only Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia but also Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. (http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/faoinfo)
According to WFP, crop production prospects are poor in those regions of Ethiopia which received late, and poor, rains in March. Farmers must harvest before the main rainy season in June/July because crops left in the ground will otherwise become waterlogged and spoil. Where a second crop can be grown, it is feared that it will not be possible to harvest the belated crop in time to prepare the land for the second sowing. (http://www.wfp.org/ereport/2000/000414.htm)
A strain of genetically modified rice, capable of 30% greater yield than current varieties, was announced at an international conference on rice biotechnology in March, hosted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila. Maurice Ku of Washington State University, who developed the strain with colleagues from the National Institute of Agrobiological Resources and Nagoya University in Japan, presented the results of their work. Dr Ku stressed that the rice cultivars used in the research were developed specifically for the Hokkaido area of Japan and that it may be many years before the trait is introduced to the principal commercial varieties.
The increased productivity of this GM rice has been achieved by inserting genes from maize, a photosynthesis efficient C4 species. These have produced a wider opening of the stomata allowing the plant to fix more carbon dioxide and they also stop oxygen from blocking sugar production. The rice has been tested in China, Korea and Chile and offers the added benefit that the extra carbon dioxide absorbed by the rice may even help to reduce levels in the atmosphere.
Sniffer dogs are the latest recruit in the battle against the Red Palm Weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier). This difficult-to-detect pest lays its eggs on the bark of the date, coconut, oil, sago and other palms. When hatched, the grubs bore into the trunk and eat the tree from the inside out, causing irreparable damage before any sign is apparent to the human eye. Plantations across Egypt, in the Middle East, and in some parts of Asia, have been severely affected. Traps can indicate whether the weevils are present in the area but not in which tree.
However, dogs have been found to provide a solution. As the weevil grubs
feed, the tree exudes a foul odour. Humans can eventually detect this
smell but not soon enough to save the tree, which can be done, if caught
in time, with an injection of insecticide. Now, in a joint Israeli-Arab
project by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, researchers are using Golden
Retriever dogs, with their acute sense of smell, to detect the presence
of the grubs in the early stages of infestation. The only drawback to
using retrievers is that they cannot stand too much heat. The trainers
have therefore devised a rotation system in which three dogs wait in an
air-conditioned van while a fourth works for twenty minutes searching
a quota of 40 trees. Using this system it is only the handler who suffers
from the heat.
The main focus of a collaborative research project, led by University
of Portsmouth Business School and funded by DFID, is
the peaceful resolution of conflict within fisheries and fishing communities.
There is growing awareness that fisheries are experiencing rapid change
and that this is putting increased pressure on management systems and
resources. The Conflict Project contributes to DFID's objective of promoting
sustainable livelihoods through the focussing
of research on the interactions of people with their local environment
and examining how those interactions affect people's access to and use
of natural resources. Over the course of three years the project will
build on pilot studies carried out in Bangladesh, Ghana and the Turks
and Caicos Islands. Those working in related fields are invited to contact
the project team. (see In Print
00-2 'Cultivating Peace')
Delegates from Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines will shortly
arrive in the UK to campaign for a more sustainable shrimp industry in
their countries. Tropical shrimp are produced either by industrial trawling
in the wild or by intensive aquaculture. The Industrial Shrimp Action
Network claims that neither method of producing shrimp has proved sustainable
and that damaged coral reefs, degraded mangrove forests, conversion of
agricultural lands, overfishing and threats to the livelihood of millions
of people are left in the wake of the high yield aims of the shrimp industry.
Campaigners want consumers to understand what their apparent insatiable
demand for tropical shrimps is doing to the environment in the producing
Bilharzia, or schistosomiasis, affects an estimated 200-300 million people in the topics and sub tropics. Carried by snails, it has spread with the development of irrigated agriculture. Purchased moluscicides and medicines are too expensive for most rural people exposed to risk and yet Ethiopians have known of a naturally occuring climbing plant, endod (Phytolacca dodecandra) that can be used to kill snails. The berries of endod were long used as a soap to wash clothing in streams and this resulted in reduced snail populations within those river systems and reduced disease.
Endod grows throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of Latin America.
A report in Agroforestry Today, suggests how the plant could
be cultivated, and its berries harvested, processed by drying and grinding
the berries and then used in solution to treat snail infested bodies of
water. Treatment is necessary three or four times a year but, since harvesting,
processing and application can be done on a community basis, it should
The annual departmental report for the UK Department for International
Development (DFID) was published in April. Available in pdf format on
the DFID website or in print, the
report outlines the achievements and key developments of 1999/2000 and
the Department's plans for the next two years. The report shows how development
aid has responded to changing circumstances, including the strong lead
taken in response to the recent floods in Mozambique and in other regions
during 1999 where humanitarian crises have resulted from natural disasters
or conflict. DFID continues to address the issues of global poverty eradication
through promotion of policies and action which promote sustainable livelihoods.
Case studies are used throughout the report to illustrate achievements
whilst future challenges are also identified.
Coffee growers from South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia have recently formed the Southern African Coffee Producers Organization although membership is open to all coffee-producing countries in southern Africa. Much of the coffee produced in the region is by small-scale farmers with extremely limited resources so SACPO's major benefit will be in advances made in coffee research which will conform to international standards and provide economic value for money. Coffee is the third biggest commodity in Zimbabwe after maize and tobacco, while production in Zambia (see Country Profile 00-2) is expected to double within the next two years. In contrast, the industry in South Africa and Malawi is currently facing difficulties and production is expected to shrink. Initial research at SACPO will be financed by a levy on direct sales but the group hopes to approach the International Coffee Organisation for support for funds from the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), as well as the EU.