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?


I just heard a programme on the BBC World Service in the One Planet series called “Nuts.” It looked at the problems encountered in developing the Brazil nut as a source of income for poor Amazonian farmers. Unfortunately, it appears that some very tight – some would say unreasonably tight – EU regulations about levels of aflavotoxins are preventing exports. There’s part two next week. The website for the One Planet series is here, but this particular programme does not seem to be online yet. I’ll keep looking out for it. Coincidentally, WWF also has a long piece on the Brazil nut out today, which you can find here. International Trade Forum had a piece on Brazil nuts here in 2004.

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.

Opium poppies

There are a couple of interesting articles in this week’s print issue of The Economist, but they are both premium content on the web, so I’ve dug a bit deeper for you and will post on them separately. One article contrasts the global shortage of opiates for medical use with the efforts being made to stop Afghani farmers growing the opium poppy for the heroin trade. A crazy situation. One possible solution is licensing farmers to grow the crop under strict controls, but that is not without difficulties, especially in a place like Afghanistan. However, there is a possible scientific solution. It turns out that Tasmania, of all places, is an important opium poppy producer, and researchers at “Tasmanian Alkaloids recognised that there was a possibility of breeding a poppy variety in which the biosynthetic pathway stopped at thebaine instead of going on to produce morphine.” That would make it ok for therapeutic opiate production but useless for the illicit drug trade. You can read all about it here. There’s a paper on poppy transformation here and one on poppy genetic diversity here.

Organic agriculture and development

A long article on International Press Service’s wire gives a broad overview of the benefits to farmers in developing countries of switching to organic principles of production. The article cites many benefits, including the buffering and resilience associated with greater diversity in an ecosystem.

For example, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia that had converted to organic agriculture continued to harvest crops even during a severe drought, while neighbouring villages using conventional chemical fertilisers had nothing, according to Louise Luttikholt, strategic relations manager at the International Federation of Organic Agriculture (IFOAM). Agriculture departments in Ethiopia are reported to be keener on organics now.

The article looks at experiences from elsewhere around the world too.