Rising food insecurity in Southern Africa is a concern said the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on Monday.
The organisation said the Southern Africa region is increasingly experiencing food insecurity “as a result of poor harvests” across the region.
The Southern African Development Community reported in their 2015 Vulnerability Assessments that “there will be an estimated 27,4 million food-insecure people in the region during the next six months”.
This is a frightening estimate to consider, and if nothing is done about it, millions would suffer FAO spokesperson David Orr said.
These areas also have to contend with global warming, changing weather patterns, and the El Niño weather phenomenon, which Orr said “could significantly impact Southern Africa following a poor agricultural season in 2014 – 2015”.
Orr said they are constantly monitoring weather patterns as the “intensity of the El Niño is increasing towards a peak expected in late 2015, and may become one of the strongest such events on record”. This means that the region faces another “poor rainfall season and harvest”.
In addition, food insecure countries in the region have to cope with “high levels of chronic malnutrition in children and of HIV prevalence in adults”.
“The poor harvest experienced by farmers across the region will negatively impact the capacity of vulnerable farmers to purchase seeds, fertilizer and other necessities for the current planting season,” said Orr.
Earlier this year, Botswana and Namibia endured an extensive drought season.
Orr cited Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar as being three of the countries in the region most at risk for food insecurity. These three countries, the FAO noted, “all suffered severe crop failure due to extended dry spells”.
Malawi, said Orr, was experiencing its worst food insecurity crisis in a decade, with 2,8 million people facing food insecurity.
Zimbabwe’s harvest season was cut by half, and the impact of this harvest would be seen in the coming months, with 1,5 million people facing food insecurity.
Orr said Lesotho and the southern parts of Angola and Mozambique were facing growing food insecurity concerns, and while Botswana and Namibia faced drought conditions earlier this year, they weren’t considered to be in the most vulnerable group.
Food insecurity, together with rising food prices, brings with it uncertainty about the future.
Orr said, “Food insecurity means that people struggle to buy or produce enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life”.
Orr said that FAO, together with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), have joined forces to expand their operations in these regions.
He said the WFP planned to provide assistance to 2,4 million food-insecure people “during the height of the lean season, the period prior to the next harvest when domestic food stocks become depleted”.
He said, “lean season activities will combine food assistance with cash transfers in areas where market conditions allow. So far this year, WFP has already provided food assistance to one million people who have been affected by floods”.
Orr said they are working with governments to combat rising food prices and implement crisis management plans.
Orr added that in Malawi’s case, the country needs about US $44 million to avert the impending crisis.
The response plan, he said, would include “provision of inputs, with an emphasis on drought-tolerant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum and millet and on supplementary irrigation in order to cope with potential prolonged dry spells”.
He said that in Zimbabwe, the “FAO is working with the government to support resilience building approaches among vulnerable groups”. This support, he said, included 34 irrigation schemes in drought prone districts which were being rehabilitated.
“As many as 127,000 smallholder farmers are receiving support to adopt climate smart technologies and increase their access to rural finance,” he said.
The adoption of climate smart technologies could be one way in which sustainable production and increased resilience among communities could be used to combat food insecurity.
One such way in which communities could help solve the problem is through cash and food for work projects. Orr said these projects see “rural communities work on the refurbishment or construction of schemes such as water management systems, tree planting and terracing to prevent soil erosion”.
In addition, “FAO is providing support to 40,000 smallholder households to engage in commercial livestock production,” he said.
This support extended to drafting a drought mitigation programme that required US $32 million, responding to foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks which required 5,4 million vaccine doses, and providing stock feeds and seeds to farmers.
Orr said that they were “working with the government and partners to assist some 400,000 of the most vulnerable people, scaling up to reach 850,000 people at the height of the lean season”. He said assistance would be provided through food and cash transfers.
Funding, Orr said, is critical to address food insecurity in the region, and provide assistance to all in need. – ANA
Johannesburg – South Africa should brace itself for a rapid rise in staple food prices as the worst drought in 23 years leaves farm land barren.
Although food inflation in the country has remained relatively low, the drought and the weak rand could change the equation as the country has to rely on imports to augment the shortage in the local market.
The latest statistics show maize, wheat, soya beans, sunflower and ground nut harvests have fallen by almost 30 percent year on year.
In the meantime, sugar cane production came down by almost 23 percent. In some sugar cane areas of KwaZulu-Natal, production fell by as much as 53 percent.
Agricultural experts this week warned that the people who would feel the biggest impact of the drought would be the poorest of the poor, who depend on staple foods such as maize, bread, cereal and beans.
Farmer representative body Grain SA this week warned of tough times ahead for consumers as living costs would rise and disposable income drop.
Grain SA economist Wandile Sihlobo said poor people would have to dig deeper into their disposable income to buy maize, which at the current exchange rate cost almost double the normal price.
“The cost of importing maize has increased by at least 80 percent in the past days alone,” Sihlobo said.
“The drought has had quite a significant impact that it has caused but what I think what is closer to our tables is maize where the harvest has actually decreased by 31 percent on a year-on-year basis so the impact is quite significant.”
During a good harvest, South Africa is able to provide enough maize for its own consumption, netting the agricultural industry at least R6.5 billion in revenue.
But this week, with the rand dipping to R14, its weakest level yet against the dollar, Grain SA forecast that South Africa would import 700 000 tons of yellow maize and 50 000 tons of white maize in the coming maize marketing year.
The provinces hardest hit by the drought are KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Free State and Mpumalanga.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the sugar cane industry warned that it would take at least 10 years to recover the billions of rands it has lost through the drought.
South African Cane Growers Association managing director Nhlanhla Gumede said the industry faced a “double whammy” because farmers made a return on their investments over a time period of eight to 10 years and a break in the cycle could push them into further despair.
“If the good conditions prevail then the crop will be able to recover relatively quickly – not enough for this year but certainly for next year,” Gumede said.
“Our focus at present is to work with as many stakeholders as possible to provide a basket of solutions for farmers and workers.”
Agri SA agricultural economist Thabi Nkosi said farmers were scaling back on production, which could leave millions without jobs as the industry was labour intensive.
Nkosi said the drought could cost farmers R10bn as input costs surpassed profits, raising worries about the short-term sustainability of the industry.
“Farmers are holding back and do not want to invest in an industry that is looking bleak,” Nkosi said.
“Some of them are already talking insolvency so they will not be looking at employing more people instead they would retrench those already in employment to lower their costs,” Nkosi added.
Although only 5% of South Africa’s beef is produced away from feedlots, getting official “grass-fed” certification for small holder farmers is a struggle with the Department of Agriculture. So says Mpumelelo Ncwadi, co-founder of the Indwe Trust; an organisation working to strengthen smallholder farmers in South Africa.
According to Ncwadi, 95% of South Africa’s beef is produced on feedlots where animals are fattened with maize-based food (unnatural to cows whose natural diets should be grass-only) and antibiotics.
Here’s why gaining a “grass-fed” certification from the Department of Agriculture is a struggle for small holder farmers.
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The International community and the big donors who have invested huge amounts of money in Africa over many decades to alleviate hunger and eradicate poverty were not successful in finding solutions to these problems.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world’s population will increase by one-third between now and 2050.
If current income and consumption growth trends continue, the FAO estimates that agricultural production will have to increase by 60 percent by 2050 to satisfy the expected demand for food.
Agriculture must therefore transform itself if it is to feed a growing global population and provide the basis for economic growth and poverty reduction.
During the period between 2010 and 2012, almost 870 million people were estimated to be undernourished.
In addition, another one billion people are malnourished, lacking essential micronutrients.
About 60 percent of malnourished people are small subsistence farmers. This is shocking because they are the very people on whom most of the countries in Africa and the international community rely to feed the millions of undernourished and malnourished people.
The first obstacle on the road to food security in these mostly underdeveloped African countries is the unwillingness or inability of the countries and the international community to make a paradigm shift and realise that the production of food by small subsistence farmers will never be the solution to famine and poverty in Africa.
These farmers are in many cases struggling to make a living themselves.
It is a fact that no farmers in the world, regardless of their colour, race or the size of their farms, can make a contribution to food security if they cannot produce food profitably and sustainably.
The time has now arrived for everybody involved in wanting to achieve food security in Africa to acknowledge and accept this reality.
Once this obstacle is overcome and the mindshift made towards transformation of the agricultural industry, the road to food security can become a scientific and economic reality in Africa.
But an important question should be asked in this regard: how is it possible that the international community and big donors continued year after year and decade after decade with the same development policy that proved unsuccessful, but then expected a different result?
The ultimate question is, then, what should be done to achieve food security and eradicate poverty in these countries?
The answer is simple: profitable and sustainable production of food commercially.
This is the prerequisite for any country that wants to achieve food security. There is no other way.
The second obstacle to achieving food security and relieving poverty is the fact that the subsistence agricultural industry in Africa has never had the capacity to support an ever-growing population in a sustainable manner.
The fact that the agricultural industry still makes the biggest contribution to economic growth, and that it is still the most important part of the economy, is a further obstacle and remains the most important reason for the underdeveloped status of these African countries.
The only solution is the deliberate transfer of a major proportion of the population out of the agricultural industry to relieve the industry from its enormous burden, even if this takes longer than a generation or two to achieve.
Secondary and tertiary services will provide industries that are essential during the transformation of the current struggling subsistence agriculture to a highly scientific and commercialised industry.
The investment in industrial development, specifically in agriculturally related industries, will have to play a major role in this transformation process.
It will create business and employment opportunities outside the agricultural industry.
Food production must be intensified and vertically expanded. After this further horizontal expansion can be continued.
Production must be commercialised, operated and managed on a profitable basis to be sustainable and to achieve food security and poverty eradication.
Food production should be adapted to climate change and must also be directed towards the conservation of the environment and natural resources.
The international community and big donors should invest in this transfor- mation process by appointing qualified agencies with the required expertise, skills and experience to produce food in these countries.
It should be produced in partnership with and to the benefit of the small subsistence farmers and the population as a whole.
Large projects that are highly labour intensive – such as the production of vegetables, fruit, flowers and other products under irrigation – should also be developed to accommodate a large number of subsistence farmers in a productive way.
The transformation of the agricultural industry should be economically and financially self-sufficient and require only an initial capital investment, with no further financial support.
Industrial development through the investment in agriculturally related enterprises such as seed production, manufacturing of fertilisers, machinery and implements – as well as renewable energy – will be essential wherever it is possible in Africa.
Investment in infrastructure to accommodate the import of production inputs and capital goods which cannot be produced or manufactured locally, as well as for the export of products, must receive a high priority.
Investment in manufacturing and value-added capacity must also have a high priority in developing new markets for agricultural products.
Child labour should not be allowed and all children should attend school and receive further education and training in order to qualify themselves for employment and business opportunities outside the agricultural industry.
An acceptable birth control system would have to be developed and implemented to limit the rapid growth in the population.
As far a South Africa is concerned, the generally accepted goals of the government – of land redistribution and the development of small black farmers – on the one hand and food security on the other can never be compatible.
This is mainly because there is no possibility that small farmers, as in the rest of Africa, can make a meaningful contribution to food security if they cannot produce food profitably and sustainably.
This is a proven fact. Because of the small scale of their farming operations, the severe climate conditions, the fact that most of them might not have the interest, experience, entrepreneurship, or capital or management skills means they could find it very hard to survive financially.
And if they further don’t receive the necessary training and extension services from qualified and experienced agricultural scientists to develop as fully fledged commercial food producers, then it is fair to say that South Africa has taken the wrong road to the longer-term sustainable food security for the country.’
The land redistribution policy and small-farmer development in South Africa, as a purely political objective, may already have placed agriculture on a path to an unprofitable, unsustainable and non-commercial industry.
The question that is also relevant is to what extent these developments – together with the government’s prospects of agriculture apparently being the only industry to create more jobs – have already placed South Africa on a reverse path towards an underdeveloped country?
Fanie Brink is an independent agricultural economist. This article is adapted from a paper he presented yesterday at the Fertiliser Association of Southern Africa Congress in Somerset West.
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Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere.
The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.
The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.
But these methods are slow, expensive and impractical in feeding a growing population, right?
Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarterof current emissions.
Estimates of the total potential impact vary. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University argues that desertified and otherwise degraded soils could sequester up to 3bn tons of carbon per year (equal to 11bn tons of CO2, or nearly one third of current emissions). Other experts foresee even greater potential. According to research at the Rodale Institute, if instituted universally, organic regenerative techniques practiced on cultivated land could offset over 40% of global emissions, while practicing them on pasture land could offset 71%.
That adds up to land-based CO2 reduction of over 100% of current emissions – and that doesn’t even include reforestation and afforestation, which could offset another 10-15%, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course, none of this is license to perpetuate a fossil fuel infrastructure, since there is an eventual limit to the amount of carbon that soil and biomass can store.
Working with nature
Given that they are better even from purely commercial considerations, why haven’t regenerative practices spread more quickly? An answer commonly offered by farmers themselves is that “people are slow to change.” Maybe so, but in this case there is more to it than that. Regenerative agriculture represents more than a shift of practices. It is also a shift in paradigm and in our basic relationship to nature – as a comparison with geoengineering highlights.
First, regenerative agriculture seeks to mimic nature, not dominate it. As Ray Archuleta, a soil-health specialist at the USDA, puts it, “We want to go away from control and command agriculture. We should farm in nature’s image.” In contrast, geoengineering seeks to take our centuries-long domination of nature to a new extreme, making the entire planet an object of manipulation.
Second, regenerative agriculture is a departure from linear thinking and its control of variables through mechanical and chemical means. It values the diversity of polycultures, in which animals and plants form a complex, symbiotic, robust system. Geoengineering, on the other hand, ignores the law of unintended consequences that plagues any attempt to engineer a highly nonlinear system. It exemplifies linear thinking: if the atmosphere is too warm, add a cooling factor. But who knows what will happen?
Third, regenerative agriculture seeks to address the deep basis of ecological health: the soil. It sees low fertility, runoff and other problems as symptoms, not the root problem. Geoengineering, on the other hand, addresses the symptom – global warming – while leaving the cause untouched.
There is no quick fix
Unlike geoengineering’s quick fix, regenerative agriculture cannot be implemented at scale without deep cultural changes. We must turn away from an attitude of nature-as-engineering-object to one of humble partnership. Whereas geoengineering is a global solution that feeds the logic of centralisation and the economics of globalism, regeneration of soil and forests is fundamentally local: forest by forest, farm by farm. These are not generic solutions, because the requirements of the land are unique to each place. Unsurprisingly, they are typically more labour-intensive than conventional practices, because they require a direct, intimate relationship to the land.
Ultimately, climate change challenges us to rethink our long-standing separation from nature in which we think we can endlessly engineer our way out of the damage we have caused. It is calling us back to our biophilia, our love of nature and of life, our desire to care for all beings whether or not they make greenhouse gas numbers go up or down.
Geoengineering, beyond its catastrophic risks, is an attempt to avoid that call, to extend the mindset of domination and control to new extremes, and to prolong an economy of overconsumption a few years longer. It is time to fall in love with the land, the soil, and the trees, to halt their destruction and to serve their restoration. It is time for agricultural policy and practice to become aligned with regeneration.
Source: The Guardian
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Maize is the major staple crop in many parts of Africa. Bt maize is the only commercialised genetically modified (GM) food crop in the continent and has been cultivated in South Africa since 2001 through public and private programmes.
Bt maize produces insecticidal proteins that provide resistance to the African maize stem borer (Busseola fusca) and the Chilo borer (Chilo partellus), two pests that cause significant yield losses.
There is intense debate about the role of genetically modified (GM) food crops in combatting low yields and food insecurity amongst smallholders in Africa. Bt maize is still the only commercialised GM food crop in Africa and thus provides an unique opportunity for an empirical evaluation on this matter.
Only African country to grow Bt maize
South Africa is the only country in Africa where farmers grow Bt maize. South African smallholders have been introduced to Bt maize through a number of private enterprise interventions and government programmes since 2001. Scientific publications on the effects of Bt maize on South African smallholders, from socioeconomic and ecological perspectives, are now starting to accumulate.
Bt maize produces insecticidal proteins that provide resistance to the African maize stem borer (Busseola fusca) and the Chilo borer (Chilo partellus) which can cause significant yield losses in low-input African smallholder systems. As maize is the dominant staple crop in Africa, and stem borer damage is a significant production problem to many African smallholders, Bt maize could have substantial positive impacts on the livelihoods and food security of smallholders.
In this commentary, we argue, however, that the fact that Bt maize was originally developed for use in large-scale capital intensive farming is still reflected in its functioning, which currently results in it being of limited use to smallholders. In addition, the regulatory context in which Bt maize was introduced in South Africa, and the lack of information provided to smallholders with the introduction of Bt maize, further reduce the current possibility of smallholders benefitting from it.
As an alternative, we see positive progress in public–private initiatives to develop new maize varieties, specifically for smallholders’ preferences and circumstances, which, we argue, show greater potential to improve food security in smallholders’ contexts.
Economic risk of adoption – much more expensive
The first aspect which negatively impacts on the possibility of Bt maize to be of benefit to smallholders is the economic risk that its adoption entails. To date, Bt maize seed has been supplied to smallholders through government-sponsored interventions – either for free or at greatly subsidised rates; smallholders therefore have not yet experienced the real costs of the seed.
Bt maize is currently sold at about double the price of popular non-GM hybrids and five times that of the price of popular open pollinated varieties (OPVs). Despite the high prices, some economic studies on Bt maize have reported that, by averaging over a number of years, smallholders can benefit from adopting Bt maize compared with planting conventional hybrids. However, stem borer pressure is highly variable between seasons; therefore during years and at sites that experience low insect pressure, the economic benefit of planting Bt maize can be negative.
Resource-constrained smallholders who do not have an economic buffer are not able to absorb losses in years for which the cost of Bt maize seed does not pay off.
Further reinforcing economic risk taking, currently commercialised Bt maize varieties are developed to give high yields under good agricultural conditions (sufficient and timely rain, fertilisation and good storage conditions).
Local hybrids outperform the GM ones
Smallholders often do not have the economy to provide such an optimal farm environment, and commonly farm on lands that are less suited for agriculture. As a result, planting currently available varieties of Bt maize entails the risk that input costs will not be covered within any one year. Indeed, studies on Bt maize in South Africa indicate that commercial varieties into which the Bt trait is introduced are outperformed by locally used non-GM hybrids and OPVs, which are better adapted to smallholders’ agro-ecologies, fluctuations in rainfall and suboptimal storage conditions.
Other countries, such as India, China and Argentina, which report higher adoption of Bt crops by smallholders, have less monopolistic seed markets and lower prices for GM seed than South Africa does, and, as a result of lower regulatory control on GM crops, the Bt traits have also to a greater extent been incorporated into locally suited varieties. It must also be noted, however, that the lower regulatory control of GM crops in these countries has simultaneously led to the marketing of seed of dubious quality, which negatively affects farmers.
Lack of transfer of information on Bt maize is found to be a key obstacle for successful adoption by smallholders. To successfully adopt Bt maize, farmers must be informed that it provides resistance to stem borers; and, for the sake of preserving the stem borer resistance, they need to be taught to plant a refuge of non-Bt maize next to their Bt crop. This refuge is provided by planting a specified area of non-Bt hybrids with the Bt crop, thereby providing feeding grounds for stem borers. In South Africa today, the main information channel on Bt crops to smallholders is through the private sector (seed companies and local seed retailers).
Jacobson and Myhr reported from the Eastern Cape Province that the information days on GM crops held by seed companies were insufficient for transferring all the necessary information and that the local seed retailers largely lacked the ability to transfer information on GM crops. We have recently witnessed a similar situation in the Limpopo Province where Bt and Roundup Ready maize is about to be rolled out to smallholders through a government-funded programme, while seed retailers and local government authorities lack sufficient information on GM crops.
Lack of information leads to faulty planting
Research shows that as a result of the current flaws in how information on Bt maize is transferred to smallholders, many smallholders planting Bt maize are not fully aware of what makes it different from other hybrid maize; and they often do not understand the purpose of refugia, nor comply with the demand to plant them. (To some extent, the lack of compliance with refugia plantings also applies to large commercial South African farmers).
Regulations regarding Bt maize in South Africa also currently obstruct smallholders from fully benefitting. These regulations apply both to the patents for GM crops and the biosafety management practices that come with planting GM crops in South Africa. Both forms of regulation result in farmers not being allowed to recycle GM seed. While hybrid seed in general is unsuitable for recycling because of yield drop, resource-constrained smallholders frequently use the possibility of recycling seed to be able to plant in years for which the budget does not allow for the purchase of new seed.
In summary, current Bt maize varieties in South Africa are expensive, are not suited to planting in suboptimal agricultural environments and come with regulations that smallholders do not understand or with which they do not agree. Whilst some of these problems can be remedied, there are cheaper alternatives available that are more attuned both to smallholders’ agro-ecologies and to their farming practices.
The South African government is currently, through the Agricultural Research Council – Grain Crops Institute (ARC-GCI), promoting the development and certification of maize OPVs suited to smallholder conditions and practices. The ARC-GCI is working in collaboration with the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT), initially through the Southern African Drought and Low Soil Fertility Project, and now through a breeding programme called Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa. These initiatives are working closely with smallholders and have resulted in the registration of a number of stress-tolerant maize OPVs on the South African Variety List.
In addition to drought and low soil nitrogen tolerance, the varieties also possess such desirable traits as resistance to major maize diseases (e.g. turcicum leaf blight and grey leaf spot), superior tolerance to smallholders’ storage conditions, early maturation and suitability for home processing. These are features of maize that are repeatedly highlighted as important by smallholders in southern Africa.
As a consequence of the projected increase in moisture stress because of climate change, these varieties, and continued efforts to produce them, can also be expected to substantially contribute to food security in future. Smallholder farmers in the Limpopo Province have already adopted some of these varieties, and are currently growing and marketing certified seed of ZM 1421, ZM 1521 and ZM 1523. In the Eastern Cape Province, some of the OPVs showed very stable performance across different stress-prone environments and seasons, and produced yields that were not significantly different from hybrids.
Zero seed costs can be realised for some seasons, because of the option of recycling seed of OPVs without the yield penalty associated with recycling hybrids.
We argue that government money would be better spent on supporting further development and spread of these less costly stress-tolerant maize OPVs to smallholders which, we argue, have better prospects for increasing and stabilising smallholders’ maize yields in economically sustainable ways.
Source: Green Times
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