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News brief

Africa off track for MDGs FAO launches crisis management centre
'Gloomy' verdict for family farming in Latin America Ethiopia's coffee trademark dispute
Cocoa boom despite disease Diagnosing plant disease - a network solution
Keeping deserts at bay Empowering the rural women of India
El Niño spares crops Aloe vera: Kenya greets a new opportunity
Conflict countries face hunger Deadly horse disease under spotlight

Africa off track for MDGs

Annual GDP in Africa needs to increase to 7 per cent in order to halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015
credit: FAO/J. Cendon

At least 40 per cent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are either "off-track" or "seriously off-track" on reaching each millennium development goal, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF regional economic outlook for Africa said that countries "well positioned" to meet the income poverty goal include Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland.

Sanjeev Gupta, assistant director at the IMF, told IRIN News that "the critical thing for the economic poverty goal is growth. There is no substitute for higher rates of growth to reduce poverty and achieve all the (millennium development goals) in the long-run." Gutpa continued, Africa needs more external resources and aid in accordance with the Gleneagles commitments, but "so far that has not really occurred." Due to statistical weakness, the IMF said that progress cannot be measured in up to one third of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. to headlines

'Gloomy' verdict for family farming in Latin America

Delegates at a conference organised by the UN's FAO regional office in Chile delivered a "gloomy verdict" on the fulfilment of the three main criteria for the future of family farming in Latin America, said Martine Dirven, head of agriculture at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). According to FAO regional spokesman, Jose Graziano Da Silva, the future of family farming depends on three factors: the role of the state, the capacity of small farmer organisations to come together to influence public policy, and the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.

It is estimated that 63 percent of total farmland in Latin America is operated by small scale family farms. But, "Large buyers (supermarkets, agro-industries, exporters) prefer to buy from medium to large farms because of productivity, quality and reliance. Also strongly because of transaction costs due to size and location," Dirven said. Experts gathered at the conference on October 4 th entitled 'Proposals to Face the Future of Small Scale Family Farming', concluded that measures to counterbalance this trend are not moving fast enough, and urged policy makers to develop niche markets and incentives to strengthen farmer associations.
http://www.eclac.orgback to headlines

Cocoa boom despite disease

Cocoa trees on a test plot at the Cocoa Research Institute in GhanaCocoa farmers in Ghana have been praised by President John Ageykum Kufuor for producing a record harvest of over 740,000 tonnes of cocoa during the 2005-2006 crop season. Cocoa farmers in Ghana are receiving almost double what they collected five years ago, in stark contrast to their neighbours in Côte d'Ivoire, where farmers have been demonstrating against low cocoa prices. The strike follows warnings over the spread of Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV), which defoliates and eventually kills cocoa trees. Klebe Boubacar of Côte d'Ivoire's National Research Centre said the disease has led to many farmers in the country abandoning their fields.

The virus is spreading and measures, such as introducing barrier crops to separate infected and uninfected farm areas, are often neglected. However, according to research entomologist Joseph Sarfo at the Cocoa Research Institute in Ghana, the disease is not as threatening in Ghana as it appears in Côte d'Ivoire. "The virus is not new in Ghana. We have not been able to eradicate it but we have measures to prevent its spread - even if with limited success." The Institute is presently working to introduce mild strains of CSSV to immunise plants from infection by the severe strain of the virus.back to headlines

Keeping deserts at bay

250,000 hectares of severely degraded land has been rehabilitated over the past two decades in NigerAgricultural researchers claim that 250,000 hectares of severely degraded land has been rehabilitated over the past two decades in Niger. This success is being echoed by other countries in Africa, according to researchers gathered at the Desertification Symposium in September 2006 held in Niamey. Using a variety of techniques to nurture natural vegetation growth and conserve soil and water, dryland farmers have played an active role in regenerating degraded land.

According to Dr Musa Mbenga, Executive Secretary of the Permanent Inter-State Committee to Combat Desertification in the Sahel (CILSS), "desertification is not a fatality but a state of mind." He emphasised that it is perspectives and policies which need to change to support rural communities. In Ethiopia, productive vegetation cover was reduced to almost one per cent, but in ten years farmers have replanted 45,000 hectares of low-lying land with a variety of high value trees, including olive trees. But scientists say that these successes should be replicated on a larger scale, and that economic analysis of investment in dryland areas need to be revised to consider wider ecological impacts beyond crop yields.back to headlines

El Niño spares crops

El Niño, the warming of water in the Pacific, usually occurs around the end of the calendar year. It is three years since the last El Niño event. Indications of El Niño have been evident since September but weather officials have predicted that this year the impact of El Niño is expected to be weak. M. Rajeevan, a senior official at the India Meteorological Department told Reuters News Agency that the event would have a positive impact in India and Sri Lanka, bringing plentiful rains. "It will have a good impact on the rice crop in the region", he said. However, according to the US government's Climate Prediction Center, the event is still likely to trigger dry weather in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. The worst El Niño recorded struck Asia in 1997 killing more than 2,000 people and severely affecting farmers in the region. In Indonesia, cocoa output fell 30 per cent and in Vietnam, the coffee yield was reduced by more than five per cent. back to headlines

Conflict countries face hunger

Nine out of 12 countries in the world with the highest level of hunger have been affected by civil war or violent conflict, states a recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The 'Global Hunger Index', released to coincide with UN World Food Day, measures hunger and nutrition levels based on three indicators: child malnutrition, child mortality and the estimated proportion of calorie deficient people. According to Doris Wiesmann who developed the Index, "Each indicator has limitations. But put together, they give us a much more complete picture of the state of hunger around the world."

Ten of the countries that scored the worst are in sub-Saharan Africa, though South East Asia is also a 'hotspot' of undernutrition. The report also highlights that in countries such as Liberia and Burundi, hunger has increased in the last two decades as a result of long lasting conflict and instability. Wiesmann stressed that the lack of political will among leaders and the lack of political power among the poor have hindered practices to combat hunger and malnutrition. IFPRI director Joachim von Braun emphasised that "both governments and civil society need to focus investments on meeting basic needs in sectors such as agriculture, food, health and education."back to headlines

FAO launches crisis management centre

The Crisis Management Centre will enable veterinary experts to respond to avian flu outbreaks
credit: FAO/A. Ariadi

A Crisis Management Centre (CMC), which will respond to avian flu and other major animal health or food-related incidents around the world, has been launched by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Up to 15 specialists and veterinarians will staff the response unit around the clock seven days a week. Staff will monitor and update information about diseases globally, and will be able to dispatch experts within 48 hours of any suspected outbreaks.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said that three years into the avian influenza crisis, the international community can draw some relief from the progress made to contain "a most deadly menace to the health of animals and humans across the globe." But Diouf stressed that while the situation has improved, it remains a threat in Eastern Europe, Africa and Indonesia, and he warned that a constant guard needs to be maintained. The CMC, he said, "represents a significant leap forward in FAO's ability to help Member Nations prevent and cope with disease outbreaks."
For more information visit: to headlines

Ethiopia's coffee trademark dispute

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has denied Ethiopia's request to trademark three types of their most famous coffee one year after the application was submitted, reported Oxfam. Starbucks, the major international coffee retailers, is reported to have intervened in the USPTO decision by prompting the National Coffee Association of the USA to oppose the trademarks. Securing the right to the names of Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe would allow Ethiopian farmers to control their use on the market, and could have potentially increased coffee export earnings by 25 per cent.

Phil Bloomer, Director of Policy at Oxfam, said that Starbucks - which made profits of approximately USD$4 billion last year - has made some progress towards helping poor farmers in recent years. But, he said, "their behaviour on this occasion is a huge step backwards, and questions their commitment to the welfare of their suppliers." The Ethiopian government has drawn up a voluntary licensing agreement, which asks coffee companies to recognise the country's rights to the three coffee names regardless of the trademark being granted. The agreement would enhance Ethiopia's trading strategy and allow small-scale farmers to receive a fairer price for their coffee. Oxfam has called for Starbucks to show leadership to other coffee companies by signing the agreement but it is yet to respond affirmatively.

Diagnosing plant disease - a network solution

West African Diagnostic networkThe establishment of the West African Diagnostic Network (WADN) in September this year should bring a more coherent approach to plant health in the region. Members of the network include regional experts responsible for research, extension, university teaching, policy and phytosanitary regulation. Through regional collaboration and support from international plant health facilities and networks*, the WADN will increase the speed and accuracy of plant disease diagnosis in West Africa, enabling farmers to better target pest and disease control strategies and reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides. In time, this will reduce production costs and potentially open up export markets, many of which are currently inaccessible because produce has high pesticide residues or is of poor quality due to disease. Internet based communication systems will be developed and linked to a database to enable diagnoses of diseased plant samples and pathogens. Should rapid diagnoses not be possible, samples will be sent to specialised laboratories at IITA, Benin or the Global Plant Clinic in the UK for identification. The database will map the distribution of diseases, describe symptoms and document the success of control options.
*International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Plant Diagnostic Network (IPDN), Global Plant Clinic
For further information: Dr Fen Beed, coordinator of WADN, and IPDN coordinator: Dr Sally Miller,
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Empowering the rural women of India

More than one million women in India are expected to benefit from the 'Tejaswini Rural Women's Empowerment Programme', which aims to broaden the role of women beyond domestic and agricultural support work so they can improve their own well-being and that of their households. The eight-year 'empowerment financing' programme, with funding of over US$200 million, will involve more than 74,000 self-help groups to support poor women in the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Important areas of focus will include market links, value addition and cost reducing technologies. The programme will build on lessons learnt from previous projects funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which have shown that women's self-help groups have proved to be an effective means of improving the living conditions of poor households. It has also been demonstrated that to be effective, targeting needs to be flexible and to respond to local conditions. to headlines

Aloe vera: Kenya greets a new opportunity

Following success in high value vegetables and cut flowers, Kenya is ready to become a major global supplier of Aloe vera products, with the establishment of a new processing plant in Baringo district. Aloe and aloe-type species are found in arid and semi-arid parts of KenyaCurrently hundreds of tons of aloe gum leave Kenya's borders illegally each year, mostly harvested by nomadic groups who sell it for a pittance to unscrupulous traders. Under a joint project between a private finance company, Landmawe Ltd, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and local communities in Baringo, and with funding from the European Commission, the processing factory has been built, farmers trained and plantations established. Further European money over the next four years will fund a conservation programme to protect aloe species, through capacity building of Kenya's National Environment Management Agency, and training of local communities in the implementation of environmental action plans.

The processing plant, which has been licensed under the Kenya Wildlife Services, is expected to produce crude aloe gum at first, for sale to the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Value added products will follow, exploiting the properties of a range of aloe-type species found in arid and semi-arid parts of the country. These will compete with products from South Africa, which currently account for 60% of the aloe products sold on world markets. KEFRI is supporting the project through research on aloe species, artificial propagation and the development of guidelines on sustainable exploitation. Kavaka Watai, head of aloe research at KEFRI, has challenged Kenya's authorities to fast-track establishment of a legal framework to formalise the industry. Several export contracts between Baringo and buyers in Britain and China have already been lost because regulation and legal guidelines have not been completed.back to headlines

Deadly horse disease under spotlight

Zebra can carry horse diseases without showing any symptomsA research project launched in South Africa is to explore the issues and challenges associated with African horse sickness. A viral disease, it kills up to 95% of unprotected horses. While nearly all horses in the formal sector are vaccinated against the disease, very few in the informal sector are protected and donkeys and zebra carry the virus without showing any symptom. Whilst a major constraint to the potentially lucrative export of high-value horses, this disease also kills large numbers of working horses in former townships and puts at risk thousands of horse-dependent jobs and businesses. A stakeholders' workshop, hosted by the University of Pretoria's Equine Research Centre in early October 2006, initiated an in-depth impact assessment study which it is hoped will help to design more effective control strategies, such as subsidised vaccination for those least able to afford to protect their animals.
For more information contact:
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1st November 2006