The New Agriculturist - Reporting Agriculture for the 21st Century

News brief

African Swine Fever hits Georgia

Although African Swine Fever poses no danger to human health, it has serious consequences for commercial or small holder production
Although African Swine Fever poses no danger to human health, it has serious consequences for commercial or small holder production
credit: WRENmedia

The highly contagious viral pig disease African Swine Fever (ASF) has been detected in ten regions of Georgia in what the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) has called "a dramatic development" in the international distribution of the disease. The disease, which causes high pig mortality and until now has been almost entirely confined to sub-Saharan Africa, has resulted in the death of over 30,000 pigs and the slaughter of a further 20,000 animals.

Although the disease poses no danger to human health, it has serious consequences for commercial or smallholder production and potentially crippling socio-economic consequences for rural livelihoods. Georgia is reported to have around 500,000 pigs, kept mostly in backyards and small farms. The FAO's Senior Animal Health Officer Jan Slingenbergh has emphasised that delayed detection of the virus has increased the risk of it spreading to neighbouring countries; Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are on high alert. The virus, which may have entered Georgia through imported frozen meat or from contaminated waste from ships, can remain active for long periods in infected pig tissue, meat and processed products.

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Pakistan, India and Yemen at risk from locusts

The governments of India and Pakistan are mobilising field teams along parts of the Indo-Pakistan border, in preparation for a possible locust invasion. Swarms are expected to cross the Indian Ocean on monsoon winds from Ethiopia and Somalia in early July. Recent heavy rainfall in Pakistan and western India has created ideal breeding conditions for the insects, a situation which is expected to continue until October. As a result, coastal areas of western Pakistan are facing a locust threat for the first time in many years.

In Yemen, FAO is organising a $5 million emergency aerial control campaign to tackle what could be the worst locust outbreak in 15 years. The insects have infested a large area in the remote interior of the country, and second generation breeding threatens to dramatically increase their numbers. The aerial spray campaign is expected to take at least a month, and if unsuccessful, there is a strong risk that swarms will grow and invade countries bordering the Red Sea.

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Bird flu: concerns in West Africa and Europe

Import and export of poultry products have been banned in Togo following the latest outbreak of bird flu
Import and export of poultry products have been banned in Togo following the latest outbreak of bird flu
credit: WRENmedia

The first official cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu have been confirmed in Togo, where several thousand birds have died. The majority of cases were recorded in the last week of June on one farm in Sigbehoue, 45km east of the capital Lomé. The agriculture ministry has taken measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus, notably the slaughter and disposal of infected poultry. Since October last year Togo has banned the import of live poultry and poultry products from countries affected by the virus. Neighbouring Ghana last month recorded its third outbreak of H5N1 in Aflao, a town on the border with Togo.

The French agriculture ministry is currently testing three young swans found dead in a pond in eastern France. Fears that bird flu will spread through western Europe have increased after authorities confirmed that a wild bird found dead in eastern Germany tested positive for the virus. In June, several wild birds in neighbouring Bavaria and Saxony tested positive for H5N1 and the Czech Republic reported the virus at two poultry farms and in a dead wild swan. Germany's top state veterinary laboratory recently announced that the strains of the virus from the various outbreaks were similar and were likely to come from the same origin.

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Bird flu: protecting the poor

A new study focuses on the impact of avian flu on the world's poorest poultry farmers
A new study focuses on the impact of avian flu on the world's poorest poultry farmers
credit: WRENmedia

A major new US$7.8 million study, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is focusing on the impact of avian flu on the livelihoods of the world's poorest poultry farmers. The subject has, until now, been largely ignored, with global control efforts concentrating on eradication of the virus from poultry and preparing for a possible human pandemic.

The study will be conducted in both Africa and Asia, with the African component being led by researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Speaking at the study's launch, the then International Development Secretary Hilary Benn noted, "This pioneering research will help find ways of helping the poor while also ensuring appropriate control measures are followed, so that farmers do not hide, slaughter or eat infected birds." According to Clare Narrod, an IFPRI research fellow, "Our goal is to help developing-country governments, civil society, and aid agencies make informed decisions so that the costs of controlling avian flu do not fall disproportionately on the rural poor."
ILRI, IFPRI

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Poppy cultivation out of control in Afghanistan?

Opium production in Afghanistan is soaring out of control, warns the UN in the latest drug report published by the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Helmand province alone cultivates almost all of the world's illicit opium, producing more than Myanmar, Morocco and Colombia combined. While the report reveals that worldwide the amount of land planted to opium poppies fell by 10 per cent between 2000-6, global opium production rose dramatically by 43 per cent between 2005-6. Much of the increase has come from the productive areas of Afghanistan which last year produced 92 per cent of the world's opium.

The UN estimates the total export value of the country's opium harvest is over US$3 billion, accounting for almost half of gross domestic product (GDP). A recent US proposal to eradicate the poppy crop by spraying was vetoed by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Other officials and ministry commanders working in the country agree that to eradicate the crop without providing alternative livelihoods will aggravate hostility and instability in the region. It is estimated that more than 10 per cent of Afghanistan's population of 23 million is involved in opium poppy cultivation.

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Desert voices: Panos launches desertification initiative

More than a billion people are at risk from the effects of desertification
More than a billion people are at risk from the effects of desertification
credit: Abdel Rahim in El Ihemrat, Northern Kordofan, Sudan

The Panos Institute has launched the 'Desert Voices' initiative to highlight the challenges faced by communities affected by desertification in Ethiopia and Sudan. The personal accounts, published on the Institute's website, highlight the wide-ranging consequences of desertification, from migration for work and conflict over resources, to changes in traditions and women's roles.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that desertification currently affects up to 30 per cent of the world's land surface area, putting roughly 1.2 billion people at risk from its effects. The rate of the global phenomenon, which causes annual losses in productivity of over US$42 billion, is increasing according to the UN University. A recent policy study states that up to 50 million people could be displaced by advancing deserts within the next ten years and stresses that governments should be encouraged to adopt a more co-ordinated approach to address desertification issues.
Desert Voices

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Severe drought in southern Africa

Extreme water shortages in Lesotho are causing widespread crop failure
Extreme water shortages in Lesotho are causing widespread crop failure
credit: WRENmedia

Southern Africa is struggling with one the worst droughts in 30 years, according to a report released by the FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). Severe water shortages have resulted in crop failures and dramatically driven up the price of cereal crops. In Lesotho, one-fifth of the population is predicted to face food shortages and will need assistance by the early part of 2008. According to official figures, the country's national cereal production has fallen by 42 per cent in the last year. In Swaziland and Zimbabwe, the fall in production may be even more severe. Poor harvests compounded by the country's unprecedented economic decline could leave four million people in Zimbabwe in need of food assistance by the end of the year.

Senior UN officials have advised that Lesotho declare a state of emergency to allow aid agencies and donors to move resources more efficiently. The Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) has reported that the drought has been exacerbated by climate change, which has increased the frequency of El Niño events in the region. HIV/AIDS is also having a devastating impact on the region's agricultural workforce.
Special FAO/WFP report

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Kofi Annan leads Africa's new 'Green Revolution'

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been appointed the first chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The position, he has said, will allow him to drive forward the progress of African development. In a speech at the recent World Economic Forum in South Africa, Annan lamented that Africa is the only region in the world where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating. However, he emphasised that AGRA "will reverse this trend by working to create an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution."

The Alliance, established with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was created in response to calls from African leaders for urgent progress in the continent's prosperity and agricultural development. In the past 15 years the number of people in African living below the poverty line has increased by 50 per cent. The Alliance seeks to support and encourage the growth of small-scale farmers, by developing a partnership between farmers, scientists, national governments and other organisations. It strongly endorses the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks to increase annual food production by six per cent by 2015.
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

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DFID launches Research into Use programme...

DFID's Strategy for Research on Sustainable Agriculture focuses on turning existing knowledge into practice
DFID's Strategy for Research on Sustainable Agriculture focuses on turning existing knowledge into practice
credit: Stevie Mann

A multi-million pound DFID-funded programme aiming to maximise the poverty-reducing impact of existing research on natural resources has been launched at the recent FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa) General Assembly and Africa Agricultural Science Week in Johannesburg. Ministers from the UK, South Africa and Sierra Leone gave their support to the pioneering Research into Use (RIU) initiative, which will ultimately work in 10 to 15 focus countries in Africa and South Asia. Opportunities for intervention in six initial countries (Bangladesh, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania) have been assessed during 2006-7.

DFID's Strategy for Research on Sustainable Agriculture focuses on turning existing knowledge into practice, enabling greater numbers of the poor to benefit from its research. The RIU aims to reinforce existing national or regional programmes, processes and other development initiatives in order to increase agricultural production, add value and create new products and services.

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...and global consultation for DFID’s research strategy

A global consultation process has been introduced to provide opportunities for a wide range of stakeholder groups to shape DFID's new five-year research strategy, which comes into effect in April 2008 and ends in 2013. At the recent launch of RIU (see above), Gareth Thomas, Under-Secretary of State for International Development emphasised DFID's support to this process. He said: "The path to agricultural and economic growth is long and hard, but the UK is committed to doubling our spending for agriculture, fisheries and forestry research in poor countries to £80 million (US$40m) per year by 2010." DFID is set to become the world's largest provider of development research funding with its overall research budget doubling to £220 million within the next four years.

A series of consultation meetings will be held in Africa (Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda) and Asia (India and Bangladesh) starting in August 2007, with additional meetings to be held in the UK, South Africa and China later in the year. An electronic consultation process will also be launched. DFID is keen to seek views on the key challenges for development and how its research can make the most impact.
For dates, deadlines and further information on the consultation process see www.research4development.info

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Ecosystems and poverty: Kenya maps the links

The cover of the report, Nature's benefits in Kenya: An atlas of ecosystems and well-being
The cover of the report, Nature's benefits in Kenya: An atlas of ecosystems and well-being

A new mapping system, combining population and poverty statistics with spatial data on ecosystems and their services, graphically illustrates the relationship between land, people and prosperity in Kenya. Nature's benefits in Kenya: An atlas of ecosystems and well-being consists of 96 maps and is the result of collaboration between the Kenyan Central Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Remote Surveys and Remote Sensing, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI). By providing information and analysis on the complex interconnections between environmental resources, human well-being and economic expansion, the authors hope to help policymakers improve the health and prosperity of Kenyans whilst safeguarding the environment.

The atlas promises to be especially useful in a country where the vast majority of people rely on environmental resources for their livelihoods and 56 per cent of the rural population lives below the poverty line. The information can be used, for example, in developing poverty reduction programmes and in designing better policies for water resources management, agricultural production and biodiversity preservation. In the foreword to the atlas, Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai writes: "As a result of this type of work we will never be able to claim that we did not know. Rather, using this knowledge, we can move forward to protect our environment, provide economic opportunity for everyone, and build a strong democracy."
ILRI

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Concerns over biofuels

The United Nations (UN) has released a report calling for the creation of an international bio-energy certification scheme to ensure that products meet environmental standards. The report entitled Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers, released by UN-Energy, warns that energy crops could have negative environmental consequences if they replace primary forest, or divert land, water and other resources away from crop production. The report also warns that the biofuel industry risks raising the price of food; prices of maize have already risen between 2006 and 2007.

According to UN figures, global production of biofuels has doubled in the past five years, and is likely to double again in the next four years, raising concern that environmental or social damage could outweigh the benefits. In the US alone, the production of ethanol is set to double, reaching more than 12 billion gallons a year by the end of this decade. The report recommends that new policies are implemented to steer energy production in a sustainable direction, protecting land and social security. The FAO's Senior energy co-ordinator Gustavo Best said that the guidelines were required because the industry is "so fast, so disorganised and so misinformed."
UN Reports

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Hanoi to modernise urban agriculture

Produce for sale at a busy market stall in Hanoi
Produce for sale at a busy market stall in Hanoi
credit: WRENmedia

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Hanoi, Vietnam, is urging development officials in the capital to boost socio-economic growth in outlying peri-urban and rural districts as part of the rural modernisation plans for 2006-2010. Party Committee Secretary, Pham Quang Nghi, emphasised the need to provide farmers with support and new technologies, and added that there was a need for reforestation and cleaner water in the city

Eighty per cent of the city's total area, including five outlying districts, is dedicated to agriculture. Although city developers in Hanoi have outlined plans to produce safer and higher quality farm produce, the agriculture sector has fallen behind in applying advanced technologies. In response, the department has earmarked land for agricultural production projects to boost quality production of vegetables, fruit trees, flowers and aquaculture.

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EurepGAP ambassador for Africa

An ambassador for smallholder farmers, supported by DFID and GTZ*, has been appointed to the EurepGAP Sector Committees. In the newly-created post as Observer for Africa, Dr Johannes Kern's role will involve providing technical support to EurepGAP members in developing countries. Kern will be involved in establishing new frameworks for best practice in smallholder certification, making the system more cost-effective by developing a group certification model and working with smallholder schemes operating in Latin America and Asia.

After two years of stakeholder discussions involving feedback from nearly 10 years of working with its standards, EurepGAP has published its third version of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) standards. The new version harmonises criteria for food safety, and environmental and worker protection, providing one GAP standard.
* Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit

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International recognition for Mexican plant geneticist

Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, of the National Laboratory for Genomics of Biodiversity and the Centre of Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico
Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, of the National Laboratory for Genomics of Biodiversity and the Centre of Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico
credit: Cinvestav Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica

An eminent scientist from Mexico has been honoured for his pioneering contributions in plant science. Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, director of the National Laboratory for Genomics of Biodiversity and professor of plant genetic engineering at the Centre of Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico, was awarded the 2007 Trieste Science Prize for his pioneering efforts in the field of plant molecular biology and genetic engineering. Herrera-Estrella's work has largely focused on crop species of economic importance to Latin America, including asparagus, maize and papaya. Herrera-Estrella is now working to understand how plants adapt to nutrient-deficient soils, such as the 500 million hectares of phosphorus-poor farmland in Latin America.

The Trieste Science Prize, now in its third year, honours outstanding scientists from developing countries who have not yet been awarded other international prizes for scientific achievement to highlight the impact that scientists from the developing world are having on international science. The prize, financed by coffee company illycaffè and administered by the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), includes a US$50,000 cash award.

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July 2007
WRENmedia www.wrenmedia.co.uk