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Editorial (July 2009)

High food prices are still affecting the poor (WRENmedia)
High food prices are still affecting the poor

The following facts and predictions may make uncomfortable reading but they could be what it takes to bring agriculture, and its potential to drive development, centre stage. Economic growth in Africa will be only 0.9 per cent in 2009, according to the United Nations, down from 4.9 per cent in 2008. Poverty on the continent will rise by 1.2 per cent this year, with 265 million people expected to go hungry. Close to half of all African children are reported to be underweight for their age and food prices remain higher than the poorest in Africa can afford.

These were just some of the stark truths outlined at the opening of the 13th summit of the African Union held in Sirte, Libya in early July. Agriculture was, for the first time, a key component of the discussions by heads-of-state at the summit, which had the overall theme of "investing in agriculture for economic growth and food security."

Investing in agriculture is also a theme in this issue of New Agriculturist. In My perspective, Lindiwe Sibanda, spokesperson for the Farming First initiative and CEO of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), calls for agricultural policy in Africa to be transformed and for governments to commit more of their budgets to agriculture. In Developments, we report on the launch of a novel public-private partnership which aims to improve access to infrastructure, agricultural services and finance for small farmers. And in Country profile, the need for investment to rehabilitate agriculture in Angola is also highlighted.

But do all investments in agriculture bring good returns to local communities? A key issue facing national governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America, is 'land grabbing', with an increasing number of foreign governments and companies buying up or leasing land to grow crops. Some of the risks and benefits are outlined in Points of view, whilst a proposed international code of conduct to minimise negative impacts on the poor is discussed in Developments.

For many communities, wild tree crops have traditionally provided an important source of food and income (Mpingo Conservation Project)
For many communities, wild tree crops have traditionally provided an important source of food and income
Mpingo Conservation Project

With attention now turning to the forthcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen, the lead book, The vanishing face of Gaia, gives a shocking warning about the future of food production. Stark facts require stark choices and, as author James Lovelock points out, it has taken governments too long to understand or act on the seriousness of our plight. The call to include agriculture in the Copenhagen talks features in News.

From coverage of global issues, we also look at local initiatives among communities whose livelihoods depend on harvesting from the wild. From the Amazon basin to the deserts of Botswana and the Himalayan foothills, we focus on some of the strategies being adopted to sustain important species, including propagation on-farm, as well as efforts to help communities access the most lucrative markets. The importance of forest products is also highlighted in our picture feature from Nepal.

Like any good agriculturist who is keen to improve and change with the times, we too are undergoing change. The look and the layout of New Agriculturist are developing, so that you can access what is of most interest to you more easily and more regularly. Meanwhile, we will continue to do what we can to keep agriculture - in all its dimensions - in the spotlight.

Date published: July 2009


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