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Editorial (March 2008)

World food reserves are at their lowest level for 30 years (WRENmedia)
World food reserves are at their lowest level for 30 years

The world food situation is becoming ever more precarious. This week, the head of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, warned that global food reserves were at their lowest level for 30 years and that food price hikes could continue until 2010. Many basic food products have already become unaffordable for the poor, and the WFP itself is now faced with having to cut back its own food aid due to spiralling costs.

Increased demand for biofuels, the impact of climate change and the rapidly growing world population are largely to blame for the rising price of food and increased pressure on agricultural land. Many regions suffer from exhausted and degraded soils and bringing some of these lands back into production is essential in order to feed a world population predicted to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

In Focus on we take a closer look at the various ways in which soil fertility can be restored and agricultural production re-established. From Uzbekistan, we see how the liquorice plant - widely regarded as an invasive weed - has helped restore soils ruined by decades of irrigation; how bioreclamation of degraded lands has improved livelihoods in the Sahel; and how the Loess Plateau in China has been transformed from ecological disaster to a sustainable success story.

Despite the achievements in the Loess Plateau, China still has important issues to address, not least how to feed its rice-loving people in the face of increasingly frequent extreme weather events. In Developments we look at how researchers are working to develop drought-tolerant rice in a country with increasing competition for limited water supplies. We also hear how Kenya's horticulture industry is coping with the fallout from the recent disputed general elections and how tissue culture technology is proving popular with producers in the country.

In News brief we report on the floods in southern Africa, the opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and the promise of a "second-generation" of biofuels that could minimise the environmental and social problems associated with deriving fuel from food crops.

We ask a range of experts for their opinions on the rush for non-fossil fuel sources in Points of view, with particular focus on one biofuel crop rapidly gaining popularity in Asia - jatropha. The debate surrounding this hardy, oilseed-bearing tree is also the one of the issues addressed in our Podcast, where we hear from Jagdeesh Rao, of the Foundation for Ecological Security, who has serious doubts about the benefits of this "wasteland" crop.

In Perspective we hear from Mahlati Moyo, chairman of the Mongu District Farmers' Association in Zambia, who believes farmers should play a more active role in the development of agricultural policy so that their voices can be heard.

At a time when globalisation impacts upon some of the most world's remote communities, this edition's In Pictures feature documents how the alpaca sector in the high Andes of Peru has responded to the challenges of the 21st Century.

The lead title in Book reviews is "The future control of food", by Geoff Tansey and Tasmin Rajotte, who take a critical look at the world of intellectual property rights (IP) and its impact on the sustainability of our agricultural and food distribution systems.

These are certainly testing times for world agriculture, and the need to formulate inclusive, coherent policies to rise to the challenges of food security, climate change and sustainable development is as pressing as ever. New Agriculturist aims to provide an insight into the development issues that affect us all, and the work being carried out around the world to address them. We hope you will get in touch with your comments and suggestions for future coverage - new ideas are some of our most important tools in creating a more food-secure world.

Date published: March 2008


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