Crops in the news

I’m not sure what to make of newspaper articles describing how to grow and process staple crops. On the one hand, it is nice to see the mainstream media take on agricultural subjects. On the other, it is sometimes difficult to see who exactly is meant to benefit from articles such as this on cassava from the St Kitts & Nevis and this on sweet potato from Zambia. Any thoughts?

Sachs in Kenya

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project, is in Nairobi, and The Nation reported yesterday that he “said … giving farmers high yield seeds, fertiliser and mosquito nets to prevent malaria infection would accelerate the country’s economic growth.” He quoted the experience of the Millennium Villages: at Sauri in Siaya District, for example, cases of malaria have dropped by half since the distribution of free mosquito nets and last year the harvest was four times bigger than two years ago. I have no issue with the malaria interventions, but does anyone really still think that “high yield seeds” and fertilizer are the sole answer to agricultural development in Africa? Couldn’t Prof. Sachs have said something about the importance of diversity too?

Mapping agriculture in Bhutan

Great to hear about a national atlas of natural resources, including agriculture, for Bhutan. Such publications are not as common as one might think, alas, but I can’t think of anything more useful in planning agricultural biodiversity conservation activities in a country.

Bats to the rescue

The other Economist article I wanted to mention deals with bats and how useful they are to agriculture, as pollinators (e.g. Agave) and – the main point of the piece – as predators of agricultural pests. Work in Texas is actually trying to quantify the benefit that bats bring to famers of cotton and other crops as they munch their way through moth populations in their millions. Always good to be able to put $ values on biodiversity.

Is climate change an opportunity for Africa?

Kennedy Omenda is a freelance journalist who has written a very interesting article over at The African Executive. Africa’s Agriculture Can Adapt to Climate Change suggests that forecast changes to rainfall patterns, temperature and the like could actually offer Africa a chance for development. Omenda refers to farmers changing their crops and methods and people changing their diets, and benefits that will arise from increased trade and other structural improvements.

It is not a “bad” change after all, but a good opportunity for farmers to embrace new technologies and researchers to brainstorm on products that will suit the various climate patterns. Adequate infrastructure, access to markets and credit will enhance agricultural development and food security while building resilience to future climate change.

I am not absolutely persuaded, I have to admit. Maybe necessity will drive the changes needed, but, to take one example, while farmers in currently wet regions will need to grow crops that can grow with less water, what will farmers in currently dry regions, some of which are going to dryer, grow?

Fascinating aside: Africa “has about 1,150 world weather watch stations. That is one per 26,000 square kilometers—or eight times lower than the minimum density recommended by the World Meteorological Organization”. Maybe climate change will boost investment in weather forecasting that will be directed to farmers rather than pilots and soldiers.

On balance, I think the article is a sort of pro-business-as-usual, but I’d love to hear contrary views.