The New Agriculturist - Reporting Agriculture for the 21st Century

News brief

African Swine Fever spreads to Armenia

'Backyard herds' roam freely in many parts of Georgia.
'Backyard herds' roam freely in many parts of Georgia.
credit: FAO/M. Kramer

The African Swine Fever (ASF) epidemic sweeping across Georgia has hit neighbouring Armenia. More than 68,000 pigs have been killed or culled in Georgia since the outbreak was confirmed in June 2007, the first time ASF has been found in the Caucasus region. The rapid spread of the disease in Georgia has been attributed to the 500,000-or-so pigs in "backyard herds" that roam freely in many parts of the country.

Armenia's backyard herds are believed to number one million. In a recent joint mission to Armenia of the European Community, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), warned that "all pig units must be regarded as being at risk." The FAO, which is to support governments in Georgia and Armenia to implement national control strategies, has called for controls on animal movements and improved biosecurity on farms.
FAO

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Millennium Development Goal leaves millions hungry

Over 600 million people may still go hungry even if the UN's first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is met, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Figures outlined at the organisation's 2020 Conference in Beijing in October, showed that even if the international community manages to halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015, millions will still live below the poverty line.

Joachim von Braun, Director General of IFPRI emphasised in his keynote address that despite overall reductions in global poverty, progress has been uneven and has stagnated in Sub-Saharan Africa. Participants at the conference "Taking Action for the World's Poor and Hungry People", outlined key priorities including increases in crop productivity and agricultural research, an expansion in environmental services for the poor and better recognition of complex policy challenges. The need to accelerate investment in health, infrastructure and nutrition programmes, and improve access to markets and credit was also highlighted.

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Potato fever goes global

Potatoes are the world's number four food crop.
Potatoes are the world's number four food crop.

The International Year of the Potato (IYP) has been officially launched at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. The humble tuber will come under the spotlight in 2008 when the initiative aims to increase awareness of the importance of potatoes in providing food security and alleviating poverty in developing countries. The UN will also promote research and development of potato-based systems to aid progress towards its Millennium Development Goals.

Consumed for around 8,000 years, potatoes are the world's number four food crop, with over 300 million tonnes produced annually. They provide nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop.
International Year of the Potato

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Biofuels could increase greenhouse emissions...

Production of biofuel feedstock could raise greenhouse gas emissions
Production of biofuel feedstock could raise greenhouse gas emissions
credit: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Nitrogen fertiliser used in the production of biofuel feedstock could increase greenhouse gas emissions, a new report has warned. Research by a team including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, has found that micro-organisms in the soil convert up to five per cent of the nitrate used in growing the crops into nitrous oxide (NO2), a greenhouse gas which can be up to 300-times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change previously estimated the level to be much lower - around one per cent.

The report claims that the net effect of growing and rapeseed and maize for biofuel negated the environmental benefits of a corresponding reduction in fossil fuel use. Only sugar cane, which requires less fertiliser, had a net benefit to greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Mexican president Felipe Calderon has vetoed a proposal to ramp up the country's biofuel production due to its focus on maize and sugarcane. Calderon rejected the bioenergy law on the grounds that it omits new technologies involving seaweed, bacteria, enzyme and cellulose biofuels.
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

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...and fuel before food a 'crime against humanity'

A UN expert has slammed the use of crops such as maize and sugarcane for biofuel feedstock, calling for a five-year worldwide ban on the practice. Speaking at a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York, Jean Ziegler, the organisation's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, described it as a "crime against humanity" to turn food into fuel at a time when over 850 million people are suffering from chronic hunger.

According to Ziegler, technological improvements made over the duration of the hypothetical ban would enable the use of agricultural waste as a fuel source, negating the need to divert land away from food production.

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Gore shares Nobel Prize with IPCC...

Al Gore, Former US vice president and self-styled climate campaigner.
Al Gore, Former US vice president and self-styled climate campaigner.

Former US vice president and self-styled climate campaigner Al Gore has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He shares the accolade with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in recognition of their efforts to raise awareness about manmade climate change. Gore, who won an Oscar for his 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth", will donate half of the US$1.5m prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection. The Norwegian Nobel Committee described Gore as "probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted" to tackle global warming.

It is only the second time that the Prize has been awarded for work on environmental issues. In 2004, Kenya's Wangari Maathai received the award "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace" reflecting the growing importance of "green" issues on the international agenda (see news 04-6).
Nobel prize

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Soil Association gives green light to air freight

The Soil Association continues to approve organic certification of air-freighted food.
The Soil Association continues to approve organic certification of air-freighted food.
credit: WRENmedia

The Soil Association will continue to approve organic certification of air-freighted food provided it delivers genuine benefits to farmers in developing countries. Following a four-month public consultation the organisation has decided that air-freighted organic food will have to meet its Ethical Trade standards or those of the Fairtrade Foundation. These include importing businesses helping to develop local infrastructure, from road-building to the provision of electricity or clean water.

The organisation has been under increasing pressure from environmentalists to withdraw certification due to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by air freight, while farmers in developing countries feared such a move would threaten wages and jobs. Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association's Standards Board, said that ultimately the organisation "will be doing all it can to encourage farmers in developing countries to create and build organic markets that do not depend on air freight." The new guidelines will begin to take effect from January 2009.
Soil Association

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Ban challenges 'unacceptable' levels of world hunger

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has described current levels of world hunger as "unacceptable". In a message to mark World Food Day on October 16th, he stressed that the right to food - the theme for this year's event - is enshrined in the organisation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said: "The world has the resources, the knowledge and the tools to make the right to food a reality for all."

Around six million people died from hunger last year, more than the combined death toll for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. There are currently 854 million chronically hungry people in the world, with sub-Saharan Africa one of the worst affected areas. Ban said: "In a world of plenty, this situation is unacceptable." He called for more to be done to encourage participation and empowerment, accountability and transparency, human dignity and the rule of law in order to move towards eradicating hunger.

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Bluetongue hits UK

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has extended its mandatory Control Zones in an attempt to contain the recent outbreak of bluetongue, the insect-borne viral disease of ruminants. A total of 50 cases have been reported since the initial outbreak in cattle on a farm in East Anglia in September, with further cases confirmed in South East England.

Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg said the non-contagious disease is most likely to have been caused by virus-carrying midges from Northern Europe. During October 2007, the European Commission lifted export bans in many parts of the UK deemed to be at low risk of bluetongue, but the ban remains in place in several parts of South East England and East Anglia.
Defra

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Organic farming on the rise in China

China's organic market, though small, is growing rapidly
China's organic market, though small, is growing rapidly
credit: FAO/22259/A. Proto

China's small but nascent organic market is enjoying high rates of growth. Official figures show that in 2006 domestic sales of organic produce were up 50 per cent, and exports increased from US$150m to US$350m during 2004-5. With around 5.7 million hectares of certified organic farmland, the country is the third largest organic food producer in the world, behind Australia and Argentina.

While the majority of Chinese people are unable to afford organic produce, the domestic market is being driven by growing demand in wealthier urban areas, particularly in the wake of recent food scares. Trade with export partners such as Japan and Taiwan is also increasing. Dr Eva Sternfeld of the China Environment and Sustainable Development Research Centre believes that although the country's organic market is around 20 years behind many developed countries, it could catch up within the next five to 10 years.
BBC News

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Elephants in a flap over buzzing bees

The sound of buzzing bees could be an effective deterrent to elephants attacking crops, researchers from the UK's Oxford University have found. The plucky trumpeters regularly plunder Kenya's maize plantations around harvest time. But playing a recording of the sound of angry bees through a loudspeaker has been shown to make them "buzz off".

Within 80 seconds of hearing the buzzing, 94 per cent of elephant families had run away, compared to only 27 per cent that fled in a control experiment using white noise. But the researchers are cautious about their findings, warning that the elephants will soon learn that despite the buzzing, if they are not on the receiving end of painful bee stings, they will figure out that the hive is just a hoax.
Oxford University

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Costa Rica's renewable fuel

Wood pellets are to be manufactured and sold as a renewable energy source.
Wood pellets are to be manufactured and sold as a renewable energy source.
credit: I. Rodriguez

Costa Rica is piloting a groundbreaking project to convert wood waste from the country's timber industry into combustible fuel pellets. Stockpiles of sawdust and other residues from sawmills emit the greenhouse gas methane as they decay. But the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is working with the government to process the waste into pellets which will be sold as a renewable energy source.

The project, which is based on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, could see Costa Rica trade its resulting emission reductions in the same way as carbon.
FAO

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World Bank report 2008

Agriculture is a vital development tool for achieving the first development goal according to the World Bank's World Development Report 2008. The report is intended to provide "guidance to governments and the international community on designing and implementing agriculture-for-development agendas," writes Robert Zoellick, the President of the World Bank Group in the foreword.

The potential for agriculture to cut across other sectors to produce faster growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability inducing 'multiplier effects', is highlighted throughout the report. It also outlines trade policy advocating liberalisation but with caution, and concludes that recognition of agriculture as a prominent part of the development agenda "will provide high payoffs towards the Millennium Development Goals and beyond."

However, the report has been criticised by Action Aid, which claims "the bank's promotion of agricultural liberalisation at all costs and dismantling of public support systems for smallholder farmers is directly related to the fact that 70 per cent of the world's hungry people now live in rural areas." It has argued that policies promoted by the bank will only exacerbate the rural crisis, and not fix it.
World Bank Development Report

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November 2007
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