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Editorial (January 2009)

Even the most dogmatic optimists will have had their faith tested in 2008. Crises in the price and availability of food, fuel and fertiliser were quickly followed by a breathtaking crisis in finance, bringing the economies of many developed countries to the brink of recession. The possible impact on agricultural development remains to be seen, but the ripples will certainly be felt over the months and years ahead.

There may be tough times ahead for farmers worldwide (World Bank)
There may be tough times ahead for farmers worldwide
World Bank

While food and fuel prices have dropped from the heart-stopping highs of last year, one thing is certain for 2009: this is only a temporary lull. As the world population grows and the impact of climate change on agriculture becomes increasingly apparent, food shortages, failed harvests and further price rises are all likely unless urgent action is taken. Greater emphasis on sustainable development might help avoid a repeat of past mistakes.

In My perspective, Bibi Giyose, of The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), discusses the challenges the world faces as a result of the 'crises of the four F's.' At the beginning of a new year, she argues passionately for a "true" commitment to eradicating malnutrition once-and-for-all.

However, the ongoing financial turmoil in the West could be a great opportunity for investors to look to African agriculture as a sound bet for their money. Delegates at the recent Africa Finance and Investment Forum, give their opinions on whether Africa's fortunes could be about to change in Points of view - and, encouragingly, provide some reasons for optimism.

However, agricultural development in Africa is likely to be hindered by security concerns, exemplified by the Democratic Republic of Congo in Country profile.The recent resurgence in violence in the Kivu provinces has once again brought a country with vast natural resources and mineral wealth - and great agricultural potential - to the world's attention for all the wrong reasons.

Commercialisation of banana could be one route out of poverty for Africa's subsistence farmers (©FAO/P Cenini)
Commercialisation of banana could be one route out of poverty for Africa's subsistence farmers
©FAO/P Cenini

But even when security is precarious and lawlessness is rife, there can still be hope: Somalia is more than just a land of pirates, anarchy and civil war, as revealed in this edition's Focus on section, which looks at how African bananas are playing a role in reducing poverty there. We report on work to stimulate Somalia's banana industry as well as efforts to commercialise banana in Kenya and Uganda, and the battle against banana diseases across the continent as a whole.

Commercialisation of subsistence crops is key to improving rural livelihoods in Africa, and in Developments, opportunities for baobab farmers in Africa are outlined, now that the European Union ban has been lifted on imports of this 'secret superfruit'. We also look at a community trade network in Central America where farmers use an exclusive currency, as well as the importance of conserving indigenous livestock in India. In pictures, also from India, features the growing taste for ice cream - made from camel milk - in the state of Rajasthan.

The debate over the effectiveness of international aid is brought into sharp focus in this edition's Book reviews. The lead title, Jonathan Glennie's The trouble with aid, calls for less, not more aid to Africa, in order to help the continent develop.

But one country that has good reason to look forward to 2009 is Malawi. President Bingu wa Mutharika has been recognised for his role in transforming agriculture in the southern African country, as detailed in News brief. Wa Mutharika has shown that with a strong commitment to agriculture and the right incentives, the fortunes of a whole country can be quickly improved.

In 2009 New Agriculturist will continue to report on how farmers, scientists and the international community are working to meet the challenges of sustainable development and helping to improve the livelihoods of the word's rural poor for this generation and those of the future. If there are issues, innovations or initiatives you would like featured in future editions, we would like to hear from you.

For those of you with intermittent or poor internet access, a new version of New Agriculturist CD will shortly be available. Keep watch for further details. Finally, to all our readers, and despite the possible challenges of 2009, we wish you a prosperous year.

Date published: January 2009

 

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