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Editorial (May 2011)

Boosting agri-business skills in rural areas can have great impact (© WaterAid/Layton Thompson)
Boosting agri-business skills in rural areas can have great impact
© WaterAid/Layton Thompson

Change is unsettling, which is why 'business-as-usual' is a preferred option. But all the signs are that 'business-as-usual' cannot sustain a stable society: lack of food and employment, and shortages of essential resources, including water, are even now seeding increased poverty, migration and civil unrest. A 'Plan B' is urgently needed and in World on the edge Lester Brown summarises the strains facing the world, pointing to food as the 'weak link' in 21st century civilisation, and offers his Plan B. However, Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, remains optimistic that the application of existing technology can bring us back from the edge. He points to the advances in urban agriculture in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the huge potential for recycling water and improving irrigation efficiency.

A further critique of 'business-as-usual' comes from a recent meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's (IFAD) governing council, where lead speaker Princess Haya of Jordan described as 'morally bankrupt' a world where 300 million children starve each year, while US$3 trillion is spent on armaments and where a combination of high food prices, drought, corruption and greed are putting mankind on a very dangerous path. She summarises her forthright views in Perspective, with highlights in the latest New Agriculturist podcast.

That there is room for optimism is reflected by Focus on reports featuring rural entrepreneurs such as Pamela Anyoti Peronaci, Ugandan chilli trader and entrepreneur extraordinaire. Her success shows how growing more food is not the only way to address hunger and poverty among smallscale farmers, earning money to pay for food can be just as effective. As entrepreneurial initiatives in Colombia, India, the Pacific and several African countries demonstrate, boosting agri-business skills in rural areas can have great impact. Benin's Songhai Centre, for example, is establishing a network of satellite centres, to take its proven model for rural business development to new areas.

Successes also feature in Developments with reports on the intensive camel farming in the United Arab Emirates and an innovative crop insurance scheme in Kenya. Similarly, In Pictures offers a striking example of just how effective water harvesting can be: Nicaragua's dry season is ideal for growing crops in all but one respect - lack of water. But by building dams to harvest the rains, farmers have transformed their landscape and their productivity.

What is the future for pastoralism? (© WRENmedia)
What is the future for pastoralism?
© WRENmedia

Livestock are not overlooked: after much talk of nomadic livestock keeping being in crisis, could it be on the point of finding a better future, as an innovative, market-oriented industry? That possibility, and how it might be achieved, is the subject of Points of View, presented at a recent conference on the future of pastoralism, held in Addis Ababa and organised by the Future Agricultures consortium.

Finally, to our Country Profile of Tonga, this small and vibrant Pacific nation reflecting so many of the ills and the potential of global agriculture. What is the 'Plan B' for a country that is one of the most deforested island nations, where imports exceed exports, population growth and lack of opportunity are cause for significant migration, and where 60 per cent of the population are obese? The government is said to be working on solutions. Plenty that's thought-provoking in this latest edition of New Agriculturist, and we hope you'll share your thoughts with us through the comment boxes at the foot of each article.

Date published: May 2011

 

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