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Editorial (November 2013)

Mass devastation in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (© Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)
Mass devastation in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan
© Jason Gutierrez/IRIN

Agriculture should have been a central issue for climate negotiators at COP19. One billion farmers stand to see their livelihoods affected by climate change and by 2050 they are going to be responsible for feeding a global population predicted to reach 9 billion. And yet, as the latest climate summit ends agriculture has been sidelined once more.

As the week of negotiations in Warsaw opened, Yeb Sano, chief climate change negotiator for the Philippines made an emotional plea for urgent action in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The worst superstorm to hit landfall has affected over 1 million farmers who urgently need to replant their rice crops if they are to feed their families next year.

However, despite the ferocious intensity of the storm, with winds recorded at 175 mph, sceptics remain unconvinced that this extreme weather event was a result of global warming. This begs a number of questions, in particular how many more extreme events and climate summits will be required before the world's governments take stronger, more definite action to limit the impacts of climate change and to protect the lives of vulnerable people? And what will be the economic cost of global warming in the future if we don't invest now to prevent the worst happening?

In this edition of New Agriculturist we report on a survey carried out with farmers in Bolivia, India and Nepal who were asked for their observations on changing weather patterns and any resulting impacts on crop yield and food security. In coping with such changes, many farmers increasingly rely on agricultural biodiversity, spreading their risks to build resilience.

Indeed, the value of the world's plant genetic potential is a major focus of this edition as we Focus on neglected and underutilised species (NUS) and how they can contribute to health, resilience and improved livelihoods. Contributors to Points of view discuss the research and policy implications if the potential of NUS is to be achieved, and GFAR research and innovation examines the development of value chains for wild plants and underutilised crops with commercial potential.

Quinoa, an ancient grain held sacred by the Incas, is a key crop for many Andean people. Its value as a traditional crop, as well as its commercial potential, have been highlighted in 2013, dedicated the UN International Year of Quinoa. Bolivia, the world's largest exporter of the crop, is currently experiencing a renaissance of interest in quinoa in national restaurants and food outlets. In future, the traditional grain could play a greater role in maintaining Bolivia's food sovereignty, as discussed in Country profile.

Stunning photographs by Michael Benanav - see in pictures - highlight the challenges facing the Van Gujjar, nomadic water buffalo herders who are struggling to maintain their way of life in the mountains of north India. Many thousands of Van Gujjars have been forced to abandon their traditional livelihoods and settle in government-built villages, having been forcibly evicted following the establishment of the Rajaji National Park. A glimmer of hope for some, at least, could lie in India's Forest Rights Act, which in theory guarantees access to their ancestral lands.

Thousands of Van Gujjars have been forced to abandon their traditional livelihoods (© Michael Benanav)
Thousands of Van Gujjars have been forced to abandon their traditional livelihoods
© Michael Benanav

Van Gujjars are vegetarian, taking milk but not meat from their buffalo. As such, they could provide a useful case study for Tony Weiss, author of The Ecological Hoofprint, who, in exploring options for sustainable living, challenges consumers to eat less meat. A less carnivorous diet would, he argues, result in healthier lives and a healthier planet. On the flip side, news reports on the big benefits to be found in small livestock, such as guinea pigs (cavies).

Finally, the role of technology in promoting improved production and more efficient trade is featured in Perspective and Developments. Surabhi Mittal, an ICT specialist with CIMMYT questions the value of mobile phones in delivering useful information to farmers, suggesting that extensive face-to-face work with farmers in their fields is needed if such virtual advice services are to be truly effective. Meanwhile, in Ghana and Burkina Faso, the development of smartphone software appears to be stimulating more effective and profitable trade in cashew and shea nuts.

As we head towards the end of 2013, we are pleased to bring you these stories of change and we look forward to sharing more innovations and developments during the next year. If you would like to share interesting and successful outcomes of agricultural research and development, please do get in touch with us to see how we might collaborate together in developing and communicating the impacts and lessons learned from your work.

Date published: November 2013


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