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Editorial (March 2009)

Good news: rice production has increased, especially in Africa (World Bank)
Good news: rice production has increased, especially in Africa
World Bank

Finally, it seems, there is some good news. Even while the financial crisis continues to topple banks around the world and many developed countries are now officially in recession, a ray of light has appeared: rice production is expected to reach record highs this year.

Ironically, part of the reason for this is that shrewd producers planted more when prices peaked in 2008, excited by the prospects of higher returns. But also many governments actively encouraged more planting to stave off the very real likelihood of national rice shortages. Now they are reaping the rewards and global rice stockpiles are to be replenished after running dangerously low last year. It goes to show how much can be achieved in a very short space of time - and, of course, with favourable weather.

Swift, decisive action is key in many areas of agricultural development, not least in the livestock sector too. Disease, crossbreeding and climate change all present growing threats to unique and well-adapted animal breeds in different parts of the world. Fortunately, the international community is waking up to the need to document and conserve indigenous animals, as we report in this edition's Focus on. From the threat of global warming in the islands of the southwest Pacific, to the highlands of Argentinean Patagonia and the plains of the Serengeti, we look at the importance of conservation and some of the challenges faced by humans and animals alike.

Innovation is also essential for protecting and improving livelihoods, as we see in this edition's In pictures, where farmers in the slums of Kampala are using vegetable waste for animal feed and domestic fuel. The spirit of entrepreneurship is also evident in Developments, where we report on the boom in sea cucumber farming in Madagascar, where wild stocks had collapsed due to overfishing. The initiative has been so successful that wild sea cucumbers are now beginning to re-establish themselves. We also report on successful rice intensification trials in Mali, while, on a more sobering note, A global partnership to end hunger makes it clear that, despite numerous interventions around the world, the international community will not meet its Millennium Development Goal to halve poverty and malnutrition by 2015. But with concerted effort and combined strength, there might be a way to limit the damage caused by shocks to the world food system, which last year pushed the number of people living in absolute poverty to nearly 1 billion.

Indigenous, well-adapted livestock breeds around the world are under threat (©FAO/A Vitale)
Indigenous, well-adapted livestock breeds around the world are under threat
©FAO/A Vitale

Diversifying production is one way to protect against unfavourable swings in the market - if you have the means to do it. Honduras is perilously dependent on banana production, as reported in Country profile, and already the big banana companies are looking to new plantations in Africa as plummeting soil fertility and disease pressures caused by decades of monoculture take their toll.

Soil also features in Points of view, where experts discuss what Africa needs in order to address its own long-running soil fertility problems. Our lead title in Book reviews, Soil not oil, by Vandana Shiva, makes a passionate call for protecting soil as a fundamental building block of human life. With revolutionary zeal, Shiva extols the virtues of organic production as central to the future of sustainable food production.

Finally, with 2008 designated the UN's International Year of Natural Fibres, cotton expert Karim Hussein gives his perspective on smallscale fibre production in West and Central Africa, with lessons that are relevant to natural fibre producers everywhere.

We hope New Agriculturist will bring a greater understanding of the complexities of agricultural development around the world, and perhaps even help you formulate ways of changing and improving it.

Date published: March 2009


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