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Editorial (July 2013)

Is the pen mightier than the sword, or do actions speak louder than words? Amidst the presentations and parallel sessions of conference season, it could be tempting to question the value of all this discussion. But in creating lasting solutions to the complex challenges that face smallholder farmers the world over, the phrase 'we need to talk' has never seemed truer.

Policy development needs to involve stakeholders at all levels (© Patrick Dugan/WorldFish)
Policy development needs to involve stakeholders at all levels
© Patrick Dugan/WorldFish

Smallholders themselves must be key participants in that conversation. So concludes Stephen Hall, director general of WorldFish, in offering his Perspective on the need for policy makers in the developing world to take a much broader view on the benefits and roles of fisheries than their current narrow focus on catch limits and boat numbers. Policy must not be made by an 'enclave of experts', he writes, because to work, policies need 'buy in' from those that have most to gain or lose from their success or failure.

A clear example is provided in Cracking up? Brazil nuts under threat, which reports on work by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in the Peruvian Amazon. Here, the pollination and therefore productivity of giant Brazil nut trees is threatened when the surrounding forest is felled for timber. But by working with researchers to measure tree productivity, local nut harvesters are gathering the data to inform new, science-based timber extraction policies. Their story is told through a series of stunning photographs.

Consultation and dialogue are also at the heart of the value chain approach which, in a development context, is increasingly being adopted to connect small scale farmers with profitable markets. In Kenya and Uganda, for example, small scale mango growers are now supplying fruit for Minute Maid Mango drink. Other examples in Focus on Value chains include production of export quality, processed ginger in Fiji, sorghum for East African Breweries' Senator Keg Beer, Ethiopian Navy beans for export to the EU, and Fairtrade coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, now available in UK supermarket Sainsbury's.

Chainsaw noises can be detected and then pinpointed (© Scott Davis Images/Rainforest Connection)
Chainsaw noises can be detected and then pinpointed
© Scott Davis Images/Rainforest Connection

The use of innovative technology to prevent illegal logging is featured in News. In a pilot project in western Sumatra, recycled mobile phones have been adapted to detect the sound of chainsaws and feedback the location to forestry officers. A larger trial in Indonesian Borneo is now being planned. Such news might cheer the authors of Bankrupting Nature, reviewed in Books, who examine how our use of resources is testing - and exceeding - our planetary boundaries.

Other articles in this edition include the UniBRAIN project to support young entrepreneurs in Uganda, and an assessment by WorldFish of the business case for investing in smallholder aquaculture, which can be found in the GFAR-sponsored Research and innovation section. We hope there's plenty of food for thought and some useful ideas for discussion - feel free to include us in the conversation through the New Agriculturist Facebook and Twitter pages.

Date published: July 2013


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