ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 September 2002


The advance of agriculture and the preservation of the environment can come together to the benefit of both farmers and local communities. Sherr said the future looked bright, and the world should sit up and take notice. "We are in the middle of a paradigm shift," she said. (from item 1)

1. Farming to feed hungry need not hurt nature - expert
2. Malawi and the Bush Fire of Globalisation


Farming to feed hungry need not hurt nature - expert

SOUTH AFRICA: September 2, 2002

JOHANNESBURG - Increasing food production to feed a growing world population need not hurt biodiversity, and can actually help preserve threatened ecosystems.

That was the message from a leading scientist at the Earth Summit, which is trying to hammer out ways to help enrich poor nations without fouling the planet further.

"Improving agricultural productivity can conserve biodiversity. The two are mutually compatible," said World Conservation Union Chief Scientist Jeffrey McNeely.

The world's population is growing, with most of the increase expected in poor, tropical areas of the globe, and more people will need more food.

That will require either an expansion of agriculture at the expense of forests and wildlife, or an improvement in existing methods.

The former is the 'doom and gloom' option, but McNeely said he believes it need not be the case.

In fact, the advance of agriculture and the preservation of the environment can come together to the benefit of both farmers and local communities, he said.

McNeely was launching a study he wrote with economist Sara Scherr, advisor to food security group Future Harvest, which addresses the questions of how the world can support a 50 percent increase in human population without encroaching further on our natural resources.

"If you want to see positive stories, you must look here," he said last week.

"If we follow this lead, we will see a greatly reduced rate of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, we will see countries being more self-reliant, and we will see protected areas less affected by the farming going on next to them."

The report, titled "Ecoagriculture," details 36 case studies demonstrating that it is possible to reconcile farmer's demands for productivity with conservation, ranging from

Increasing agricultural production is essential, argues Scherr, and seeing as most of the three billion people predicted to join the world's population in the next half-century will live in the impoverished tropics, it is specially important to focussing on strategies for the developing world.


Otherwise, she said, entrenched visions of Western industrial farming will predominate, and will encourage people in the developing world to slash, hack and tear down their indigenous ecosystems in favour of vast, clear-cut fields.

"We are going to get about 2.8 billion people in these areas... It will place great demands on land use, and in addition population is growing fastest in the world's biodiversity hotspots," she said.

"If we are really going to preserve biodiversity, then we are going to have to change the way we farm," she added.

Going through the report, McNeely and Scherr highlight several examples of how this can be done.

There are farmers in Zimbabwe who have designed a hand irrigation scheme for small plots of land that uses much less water than more expensive mechanical water supply systems; rice-growers in California whose paddy flooding has reduced the need to burn off stubble, reducing their costs and expanding wetland habitats for bird life; and animal herders in Costa Rica whose hedge-planting has both helped shield their livestock and reduced soil erosion.

In Zambia, introducing the idea of leaving fields fallow to allow nutrients to regenerate has improved the structure of the soil, reduced the need for expensive fertilisers, and nearly tripled farmers' annual income from the maize they grow in between fallow periods.  "Everywhere there are examples," McNeely added, describing a scheme for using waste orange peel from juice factories to fertilise the soil of endangered forests.

Sherr said the future looked bright, and the world should sit up and take notice.

"We are in the middle of a paradigm shift," she said. "I find out about a new initiative every week, and there is a lot more going on than anyone has any idea of."

[for more on the study:]


Malawi and the Bush Fire of Globalisation

Permaculture, Issue number 33 (Autumn 2002)

Malawi, AIDS-ravaged and classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, is facing a humanitarian catastrophe in which up to two million people may die of starvation within a year. June Walker, a leading permaculturist who has lived in Malawi for many years, gives her view on the famine...

The famine in Malawi raises many issues. Some areas of the country have had neither flood nor drought and have had average yields of different crops, whilst other areas have had crop failures and have hit the headlines overseas. Certainly this is a clarion call for the widespread food shortages which will plague all AIDS-stricken countries for the next generation.

It does seem that in the main agricultural areas where smallholder farmers have come to depend on World Bank programs - Starter Packs of hybrid maize seed and fertilizer, with legumes added in later years - are where the horror stories and pictures are coming from. Areas that have never had good soils, such as our own on the lakeshore, where farmers are therefore not worthy of so much extension work, are places where people have increased the diversity of their gardens to include rice, cassava and sweet potatoes.

These areas, with a stronger tradition of home gardening and choice of crops, have not experienced famine and are not the source of the horror stories - yet. Dry season vegetable gardens are growing well, people are

raising fruit trees, and preserving wild fruits for the hunger to come. Some are following the traditional methods of drying vegetables, collecting seed of the forgotten traditional vegetables and sprouting seeds to increase the nutrient release. They trap mice, a great delicacy, and in good years they fire whole hillsides to collect them.

At a recent public talk, 'Food in the Time of Famine', I was blanketed by a World Bank agriculturist, older and more experienced than I, who insisted that as maize produces the most calories per hectare, it was the only food to concentrate on. Malawians in the audience held their fire, as they do when provoked, and so did I. Afterwards, the agriculturalist volunteered that in the 10 years of World Bank programs in Malawi, only 3% of the small-holder farmers had changed their practices, which he saw as a bad sign. Hopefully the recalcitrant 97% will be able to provide for the survivors in Malawi of the bush fire of globalization that is sweeping across our world.

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