The United States has invited bids for a contract to redevelop agriculture in Iraq. USAID reports that war, drought and repression, combined with high levels of risk, exorbitant transaction costs and UN sanctions, have caused production to decline sharply in recent years. The intention is to achieve a 20% rise in agricultural production, $50m increase in sales and 100% gain in average productivity for 30,000 farming families within one year. This will be a severe challenge because Iraqi consumers, some 60% currently dependent upon food aid, are unused to paying realistic prices for food.
FAO reports the urgent need for spare parts (and fuel) for machinery, and support for reviving cereal marketing and distribution facilities. Early assessment of the Spring grain crop is that at least one-third has remained unscathed from the conflict but that the Euphrates valley crop, which depends on irrigation, which in turn relies on electricity and fuel supply, remains uncertain.
West and Central African farmers produce cotton without subsidies and at half the price of their competitors from developed countries. Speaking for the region at the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee in Geneva in June, (www.wto.org) Blaise Campaore, President of Burkina Faso, pointed out that in 2001, rich countries provided subsidies to their farmers which amounted to six times the amount of their development aid. Mali, for example, received US$37m in aid but lost US$43m due to lower export revenues as a consequence of other producer countries' cotton subsidies. Burkina Faso received FCFA20bn under the HIPC Initiative but its positive effect is practically annihilated as a consequence of cotton subsidies. The WTO should invite northern hemisphere countries to follow more coherent trade and development policies, he said.
President Campaore called for a mechanism to be set up at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun, September, for progressive reduction in support for cotton production and export with a view to fully suppressing all cotton subsidies at a defined deadline.
The United States has launched a challenge through the WTO to the EU to lift its moratorium on the approval of new GM products. It is not only the US which is losing patience with the EU over this issue. Speakers at the CropLife International conference in June deplored the continuing EU ban arguing that developing nations are influenced by the EU's resistance to GM technology. The issue is likely to become even more contentious if the Cartagena Protocol becomes legally binding. This international agreement on biosafety, which needs ratification by just two more countries to bring it into force, gives governments strong powers to ban the import of certain GM crops. The agreement, which has not been signed by the US, forces exporters to provide detailed information about the contents and potential environmental risks of any GM shipments before a destination country is required to accept it. This will allow governments to block imports under its "precautionary principle". However the protocol's provisions conflict with WTO rules and a clash may be unavoidable.
Meanwhile, USAID has promised $14.8 million to help developing countries set up biosafety systems. The Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) will work initially with Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and in East and West Africa. The Program, led by ISNAR www.isnar.org - comprises US and Canada-based institutes and universities with partners including national and international agricultural research centres.
Kenya is considering making a change to its crop protection legislation that would help its horticulture exports and workers in the industry. Currently, the Pest Control Act covers only chemical pesticides and treats biopesticides as similar products thereby inhibiting their commercialisation and use. However, at a workshop held in May and attended by national and international experts, a framework was developed for the registration of naturally occurring pest control products.
To reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, KARI (Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute), PCPB (Pesticides Control Products Board) and Researchers funded by DFID's Crop Protection Programme (www.cpp.uk.com), as well as other partners, have developed a range of naturally occurring pest control products. These include: natural enemies of pests (macrobials); fungi, bacteria and viruses which attack crop pests (microbials); and botanical products such as neem and pyrethrum. It is hoped that with legislation in place for their safe use in domestic and export horticulture, the trend towards home farm production by exporters will be reversed, and that production will go back to outgrowers. The draft framework is now in the hands of the PCPB as the first step towards Ministry approval and legislation.
Further information: New Agriculturist 03-3 Focus On: Exacting standards
Cattle movement restrictions have been imposed in the Lower Shire Valley in southern Malawi in an attempt to control an outbreak of food and mouth disease. Sale of all meat from the region has been banned and neighbouring countries alerted. The last outbreak in the area was recorded in 1976. It is believed that the source of the infection was through contact with game buffalo from the nearby Lengwe National Park that had broken through a fence and were grazing and intermingling with the local cattle population. South Africa is sending a team to help Malawi to control the outbreak.
Indian schoolchildren may soon be eating potatoes containing a gene from the protein-rich amaranth plant. Scientists at the Jawaharial Nehru University in New Delhi have developed the potato which, it is hoped, will go some way to improving childhood nutrition. If the potato passes all its safety tests, the plan is to include it in school meals, potatoes being a cheaper option than pulses or legumes.
A breed of sheep, known as "Fiji Fantastic Sheep", may soon be grazing on Samoa if plans to introduce the breed for meat go ahead. Assistant Director of Livestock, Tiatia Faleupolu, is confident that the breed will do well in the Samoan climate. Not only is the meat of top quality but the animals can be safely left to graze amongst coconut trees, bananas, taro and nonu without causing any damage. Indeed they should help to control plantation weeds. A local sheep industry on Samoa would go some way towards reducing imports of lamb from New Zealand.
A user-friendly, accurate and inexpensive field virus test kit is being developed by scientists at IITA (www.iita.org) to help farmers grow disease-free yams. With a prototype expected at the end of the year, the kit will include a tool for extracting sap from yam leaves, test strips, and a user guide with colour sketches to identify whether viral disease is present. Yams are propagated vegetatively and disease is therefore easily transferred from one generation to another. The scientists hope that once they have developed the portable system to identify one virus in yam, it can be refined to identify a range of viruses in yams and other crops.
Indian scientists have filed an international patent for a bullock-powered desalination device that can convert brackish water into drinking water. The process, developed by the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Gujurat (www.csmcri.org/), works by the standard desalination process of reverse osmosis. Instead of being powered by an electric pump, engineers have developed a gearbox to harness the energy of animal power. The unit, when powered by two bullocks for 6-8 hours, can purify 3,000 litres of water a day, enough for the needs of a small village. Because the greatest demand for water is the time of least demand for ploughing, the units are not expected to disrupt crop cultivation. Bullocks are more suited to pulling in a straight line than in circles and will have to be rested at frequent intervals when driving the pump.
The conservation organisation, Rainforest Alliance (www.ra.org/news/), has signed an agreement with two major coffee brokers, Neumann Kaffee Gruppe and Volcafe Group. The intention is to forge rigorous standards for environmentally and socially sustainable coffee production around the world. Traders bridge the gap between producers and roasters who in turn sell to supermarkets, coffee shops and consumers. Coffee prices have fallen by almost 50% in the past 3 years to a 30-year low. Farmers are getting a price that is below the cost of production whereas the profit margins of the coffee-processing companies are exceptionally high.
In a report published late last year, OXFAM International (www.oxfam.org) calls for a Rescue Plan under the auspices of the International Coffee Organisation to ensure that roaster companies pay a fair price to farmers, reduce supply and stocks of coffee on the market, and create a fund to help poor farmers shift to alternative livelihoods. Paul Moeller, CEO of Volcafe Group, says that conservation of the coffee belt's biodiversity and business are perfectly compatible.
Côte d'Ivoire is forecasting a bumper cocoa harvest despite the internal fighting earlier this year that affected some cocoa-growing regions. The increase is due to good rains and better care of the plantations, said a government official. Farmers, it seems, have taken more care of their trees, using more pesticides and fertilisers. Why? Because of high prices for cocoa last year that rose in response to the civil unrest.
The EU Common Agricultural Policy is to be reformed. Agreement was finally reached by agriculture ministers of the member countries on 26 June. The reforms are intended to separate subsidies from production ('de-coupling'), which should encourage farmers to make decisions according to the market, rather than how much subsidy they can earn from what they produce. This will help to bring the CAP more in line with WTO rules, even though a degree of flexibility and choice ('partial de-coupling') has been negotiated by those countries not willing to transfer immediately to the new system. CAP reform is expected to lead to a general decline in EU agricultural market prices as CAP reform is rolled out to all sectors. This will have important consequences both for the value of preferences (for those countries to which they apply) and for the price competitiveness of EU exports.
1st July 2003