3 December 2002
FAMINE IN AFRICA: CONTROLLING THEIR OWN DESTINY/SO WHOSE RICE IS IT ANYWAY?
"Research by Professor Jules Pretty, director of the University of Essex centre for environment and society, suggests some 8.98 million farmers in Africa, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand have now adopted sustainable agriculture practices and technologies on 28.92m hectares. Some of the most interesting results have been from Africa."
"Pretty found that in 45 sustainable agriculture initiatives in 17 African countries, some 730,000 households have in the past 20 years substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95% of the projects where the aim was to increase crop yields, cereal yields have improved by 50%-100%."
"What is remarkable is that many of the improvements are occurring in resource-poor areas that had hitherto been assumed to be incapable of producing food surpluses. Clearly, sustainable agricultural systems can be economically, environmentally and socially viable. But without appropriate policy support, they are likely to remain localised or simply wither away." (item 1)
1. Famine in Africa: Controlling their own destiny
2. SO WHOSE RICE IS IT ANYWAY?
1. Famine in Africa: Controlling their own destiny
The Guardian (London) November 30, 2002
Guardian Special Supplement
If southern Africa is to improve crop yields, communities must take control. John Vidal investigates how methods such as sustainable farming are having a dramatic impact on people's livelihood
Sam Togo has a small farm in northern Tanzania. He lives 20 miles from the nearest large town and his wife and seven children are well fed on the bananas, sweet potato, cassava, maize, a few cereals and fruit that they grow on their 1.2 hectare patch. Hunger, he says, is something they do not know.
Sam's community is remote, but information from around the world filters through. He knows that small farmers everywhere are under pressure from the global economy; he knows about climate change and the great hungers in neighbouring countries, and he has heard the debate about genetically modified crops and the promises the companies offer. His community calls GM crops "zinazobedlishwa viinitete" - literally "seed that have had their yolks changed" - and Sam freely admits he does not understand them. His instinct is to stay clear, because he is by nature cautious, he does not want to go into debt and he thinks there are better ways to farm the land. Sam represents the antidote to Africa's great hunger: a small farmer in a vulnerable place who is not in trouble, can feed himself and who is happy with what he has. He is not interested in going down the route of expensive chemicals and pesticide sprays, nor does he want to buy more land. Instead, with help from a local farm group supported by a western charity, he has become one of tens of thousands of farmers throughout Africa who have adopted what are known as sustainable farming methods. Sam starts with the soil, which, after his family, he calls his most important asset. Protecting it from erosion, improving its quality, regenerating it with manures, rotating it, keeping it moist in the long, hot months and nurturing it, he says, are an obsession. His neighbours have flirted with pesticides, but he thinks they are bad for his family's health. He has also weaned himself off fertilisers, which he says led him to a dependence he does not want. Sam is dirt poor, but he wants for little, he says. He reckons that since 1998, when he started to learn new ways to improve his soils, his crop yields have improved dramatically. He also says the environment has improved. Sustainable farming like that practised by Sam is very slowly coming into the world's farming systems and is becoming popular in Africa and other developing countries. It may have been born of poverty and lack of access to expensive inputs, but both academic researchers and development groups believe it is potentially a real alternative for millions of people, a system of farming that is traditional yet modern and can improve yields phenomenally.
Research by Professor Jules Pretty, director of the University of Essex centre for environment and society, suggests some 8.98 million farmers in Africa, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand have now adopted sustainable agriculture practices and technologies on 28.92m hectares. Some of the most interesting results have been from Africa. Pretty found that in 45 sustainable agriculture initiatives in 17 African countries, some 730,000 households have in the past 20 years substantially improved food production and household food security. In 95% of the projects where the aim was to increase crop yields, cereal yields have improved by 50%-100%. Pretty also found that 88% of the projects made better use of locally available natural resources, 92% said they have improved human capital building through learning programmes, and in more than half the projects, people were working together as groups. In south-west Ethiopia, he found that the Cheha integrated rural development project is making a substantial impact on regional food security.
Since the drought of 1984, it has introduced new varieties of crops (vegetables) and trees (fruit and forests), promoted organic manures for soil fertility and botanicals for pest control, and introduced veterinary services. Crop yields have improved 60% and nutrition levels 60%. An area once reliant on emergency food aid is able to feed itself and produce surplus crops for sale at local markets. In Kenya, the soil and water conservation branch of the ministry of agriculture has helped 100,000 farms apply soil and water conservation measures. In many of these areas, food production has been increased and resource degradation reduced. In the drought-prone region of Yatenga, Burkina Faso, soil and water conservation and land management programmes have helped farmers develop low- cost, low-risk technologies that increase food production, improve soils and require few external inputs. Some 12,500 farm households there have adopted sustainable agriculture, resulting in a 70% improvement of overall nutrition levels in the project area, along with a 60% increase in crop yields. "The conventional wisdom is that to increase food supply, we need to redouble efforts to modernise agriculture," says Pretty. "After all, it has been successful in the past. But there are real doubts about the capacity of such systems to reduce food poverty. The poor and hungry need low-cost, readily available technologies and practices to increase local food production. "This is farming that makes the best use of nature's free goods and services while not damaging the environment. It minimises the use of non-renewable inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers, and it makes better use of the knowledge and skills of farmers. What is remarkable is that many of the improvements are occurring in resource-poor areas that had hitherto been assumed to be incapable of producing food surpluses. Clearly, sustainable agricultural systems can be economically, environmentally and socially viable. But without appropriate policy support, they are likely to remain localised or simply wither away."
2. SO WHOSE RICE IS IT ANYWAY?
The Times of India; November 30, 2002
RAIPUR: A European company has been seeking to access a rare database of rice germplasm at the Indira Gandhi Agriculture University in Chhattisgarh and it is now revealed that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been drafted for a possible collaboration. The university's database is believed to be the second-largest in the world after the one at the Rice Research Institute in Manila. It was put together by a senior scientist by the name of R H Rachharia between 1972 and 1976. The European company, Syngenta, wants to access the database so as so develop rice hybrids which can then be patented and sold. The university could earn handsomely from this as well. But the deal raises several questions pertaining to intellectual property and the rights of communities to plant varieties which they have nurtured over generations of cultivation and use. The rights of communities are addressed by the international Convention on Biodiversity which was intended to be applied in conjunction with Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). What this means is that the farmers of Chhattisgarh have a right to regard the germplasm from their fields as their property and therefore should also benefit from any deals that the university gets into with a commercial agent. Several companies over the years have been eager to access the university's database.
Rice from Chhattisgarh has is own special characteristics and even minor modification through biotechnology could result in hugely valuable patents. The university's vice-chancellor, VK Patil, said on Wednesday that a draft MoU was prepared after three rounds of meetings with Syngenta representatives. Patil who was summoned by the Governor, Dinesh Nandan Sahay, on Tuesday after controversy erupted in Chhattisgarh over a possible deal. Patil said that the university had three rounds of meetings with Syngenta since July 31 this year. On October 23, the university finalised a 15 point MoU to be signed between the company and the university. Among the proposals was a six-member joint board between the company and the university to monitor the progress of developing and marketing hybrid seeds. Leader of the Opposition in Chhattisgarh, Nandkumar Sai, and leaders of a campaign to save the state's rich biodiversity have opposed the deal and sought greater transparency at the university.