News No 3 / 06 (June 2006)
in a critical phase
> Genetically modified
soy leads to a dead end
> Water is power
> Lack of
nutrients in African agriculture
> Seed should not
be distributed without due consideration
> Promotion of
forest associations in China
the sustainability of agricultural production
> Reducing poverty
through horticultural resources
of biodiversity, beliefs and spirituality
time for debate is over
from agriculture: The future in the rural South
UNCCD in a critical phase
Poverty and a lack of funds for investments in sustainable production
systems, along with population growth, conflicts and the growing influence
of international markets, are increasing the pressure on natural resources
in ecologically sensitive arid areas. Ten years after the enactment
of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 1/5 of the Earth's
surface and 1/3 of the world's population are directly affected by persistent
The Convention gives a high priority to combating poverty in arid areas
and demands participatory implementation approaches. All people involved,
from smallholder farm families and grassroots communities to civil society
and national and international decision-makers, are to be involved in
Today, however, the UNCCD is in a critical phase, and the ideal of constructive
collaboration at all levels is still far from becoming reality. This
judgement was also shared by the participants at an international conference
on “Desertification, hunger and poverty” in Geneva. Industrialised
nations whose national economies are only marginally affected by desertification
accuse the governments of developing countries of insufficient implementation
of measures. Directly affected developing countries, on the other hand,
deplore a lack of support from the industrialised nations, whose agendas
rarely feature the UNCCD. Due to this politicisation of discussions
in the UNCCD bodies, they have lost track of the importance of measures
and their implementation.
This is the point at which a publication by the Swiss Agency for Development
and Cooperation (SDC) enters the debate. By presenting successful projects,
it aims to give more importance to local implementation. However, single
locally successful projects are not enough to counter desertification
at a greater scale. The influences, often external, that prevent sustainable
resource use are too strong. These influences comprise, for example,
climate change and economic conditions that are often disadvantageous.
Furthermore, declining prices for export goods (e.g. cotton) and increasing
prices for import goods (fossil energy, consumer goods, and capital
goods) closely limit the affected countries' options for action.
The task of finding an effective approach to implementing the Convention
in this environment, influenced by numerous and partly contradictory
interests, is a difficult one. The conference in Geneva, as well as
the SDC publication, point to the important challenges facing the signatory
states, the UNCCD Secretariat, and the governments of the affected countries.
- Reliable and well-recognised organisations must join forces and
increase their lobbying efforts to create the conditions necessary
for sustainable development in arid areas.
- Collaboration with related Conventions (UNFCCC, UNCBD) must be
intensified in order to make use of synergies.
• Production must be diversified at all levels in order to reduce
risks and create new income opportunities, particularly in the secondary
and tertiary sectors.
- Smallholders, small enterprises and grassroots communities must
be provided with information and training that enables them to make
use of new political, economic and technological opportunities.
- Civil society organisations must increasingly be involved as mediators
between grassroots communities and decision-makers at the macro level.
- The inhabitants of arid areas must be given financial support in
their efforts to achieve sustainable resource use.
The UNCCD signatory states must make their decisions accordingly
and provide the necessary funds if they want to live up to their responsibilities.
> Coping with drought. Sabine Brüschweiler, Ernst Gabathuler.
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2006. 35 p. http://18.104.22.168/dezaweb/ressources/resource_en_91565.pdf
> Desertification, hunger and poverty. International Conference.
Geneva, Switzerland, 11–12 April 2006.
Documentation to be published in July 2006. For more information please
> Report of the Conference of the Parties on its Seventh
Session, Held in Nairobi, from 17 to 28 October 2005. Convention to
Combat Desertification. 78 p. www.unccd.int/cop/officialdocs/cop7/pdf/16add1eng.pdf
Genetically modified soy leads to a dead end
Driven by a growing demand for fodder from overseas and by government
incentives, large-scale cultivation of genetically modified soy is rapidly
expanding in many South American countries.
The authors point out the devastating ecological and social consequences
of this development: Expansion of cultivated land – and, in connection
with this, the development of a large-scale transport infrastructure
– leads to a loss of forests and other ecologically valuable areas.
This development is reinforced by an increase in other economic activities,
such as the timber and mining industries, which are attracted by the
new infrastructure. Introduction of large-scale cultivation methods
forces smallholders and landless people to migrate to areas that have
so far not been cultivated, such as the Amazon, or to the cities. Moreover,
the diversity of agricultural production is reduced. More and more foods
need to be imported, leading to an increase in prices.
According to the authors, the cultivation of herbicide-resistant soy
itself is not at all sustainable: The herbicide that is to be used with
the seed destroys nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Along with widespread nutrient
loss due to increased soil erosion, this leads to a growing need for
fertiliser. At the same time, persistent use of the same herbicide gradually
leads to resistance, and partly also eliminates beneficial organisms.
Source: GM soybean: Latin America's new
coloniser. Miguel Altieri and Walter Pengue. In: Seedling (GRAIN). January
2006. pp 13–17. www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-06-01-3.pdf
Water is power
“If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature,
but by our institutions, great is our sin.”
Charles Darwin's words still hold true. Today we increasingly acknowledge
the fact that the “water crisis” is a consequence of institutional
failure at the local as well as the national and international levels.
Water legislation, water policies and overall organisational conditions
are the result of political negotiation processes. Idealist visions
assume that all actors are equitably involved in political processes
and have the same access to knowledge and information. The reality of
power relations, however, is quite different. The water institutions
that have emerged over the past two decades have actually aggravated
inequality. The situation for poor, marginalised groups has become worse.
A background paper of the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico on “Institutional
Development and Political Processes” places the role of power
distribution at the centre of considerations. In so doing, the paper
aims to encourage in-depth discussion and contribute to combating inequality
and water poverty.
The 2nd UN World Water Development Report also highlights the pivotal
significance of institutional development and power-related aspects
in its chapter on water governance. Following a critical analysis of
current governance practices in the water sector, the report outlines
necessary improvements. Important elements mentioned are the recognition
of water rights, but also decentralisation of control over water.
> Institutional Development and Political Processes. Cross-cutting
Perspectives. 4th World Water Forum, Mexico City, March 2006. pp 213–240.
> The Challenges of Governance. In: Water, a shared responsibility.
2nd UN World Water Development Report. UNESCO, World Water Assessment
Programme. 2006. pp 42–85. www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml
Lack of nutrients in African agriculture
Africa's food security has deteriorated significantly over the last
two decades. The number of malnourished people has risen markedly due
to continuous population growth.
This is what the International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural
Development (IFDC) states in a report prepared for the “Africa
Fertilizer Summit” of June 2006 in Nigeria. In most African countries,
agriculture accounts for more than 25% of the gross domestic product.
However, food production is constrained by fragile ecosystems, low soil
fertility, and sparse use of new instruments such as mineral fertilisers
and improved crop varieties. According to the authors, progressive decline
of soil fertility as a result of nutrient depletion is one of the main
factors causing low yields.
The authors see two major reasons for the great extent of nutrient depletion
in many sub-Saharan countries: A lack of interest on the part of farmers
practising shifting cultivation in long-term soil fertility conservation,
and a lack of additional plant nutrients. Wise use of mineral fertilisers,
combined with the application of adapted soil conservation practices,
but also the assurance of secure land rights, could improve the situation.
Source: Agricultural Production and Soil
Nutrient Mining in Africa. Implications for Resource Conservation and
Policy Development. Summary. Julio Henao and Carlos Baanante. IFDC.
March 2006. 13 p. www.rockfound.org/Library/Soil_Nutrient_Mining_in_Africa_Report.pdf
Seed should not be distributed without due consideration
In crisis situations farmers may lose both their yields and their
reserves within a short period of time. Many relief agencies respond
to such situations by distributing seed to the farmers. However, seed
aid is a complex issue, and careful preparation is a precondition for
A collection of fact sheets based on case studies in Burundi, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe offer useful guidelines.
The authors point out the importance of local grain markets as sources
of seed. Relief interventions are often based on the false assumption
that there is not sufficient seed available, when in reality poor farmers
simply lack the means to buy it. In such cases it makes sense to distribute
vouchers or cash sums that enable farmers to buy seed. In the case of
direct seed distribution it is important to make sure that the seed
is of good quality and well-suited to the given local conditions. Another
important consideration is to prevent negative influences of the intervention
Along with thematic inputs, this practice-oriented publication also
provides methodological support for the preparation, implementation
and evaluation of seed interventions, as well as the assessment of project
Source: Seed Aid for Seed Security
– Advice for Practitioners. Practice Briefs 1–10. Louise
Sperling and Tom Remington with Jon M. Haugen. International Center
for Tropical Agriculture and Catholic Relief Services. 2006. 51 p. www.ciat.cgiar.org/africa/practice_briefs.htm
Promotion of forest associations in China
In China, 60% of the population (765 million people) lives in rural
areas. Projections state that around 300 million people are supposed
to migrate from rural to urban areas over the next 15 years. Since 1985,
however, companies in rural areas have facilitated local labour migration
by providing a basis for more than 110 million jobs outside the agricultural
Yunnan is one of the poorest and least urbanised provinces in China,
but it has the largest total area of collectively owned forest in the
country, which helps generate economic development in the region. To
ensure that the population stays in the province and to provide them
with a living, small and medium-sized forest enterprises (SMFE) must
remain competitive and meet strict environmental performance requirements.
This is why the government wishes to see the creation of associations
which would help position SMFEs on the global market and which would
act as an intermediary between the current socialist market society
and a liberalised one.
The present study also analyses sources of tension due to changes in
rules and statutes which impact directly on local actors. In addition,
greater collaboration with universities and with Southwest Timber, the
largest wholesale market for timber products in the region, gives rise
to new situations which require the various parties involved to adapt
Source: Emerging forest associations
in Yunnan, China. Horst Weyerhaeuser, Shao Wen and Fredrich Kahrl. ICRAF,
IIED, 2006. 31 p. www.iied.org/pubs/pdf/full/13524IIED.pdf
Assessing the sustainability of agricultural production
call for sustainable agricultural production is omnipresent. But how
can sustainability in agriculture be defined? And how can it be measured?
A symposium organised by the newly founded “International Forum
on Assessing Sustainability in Agriculture” (INFASA) offered an
opportunity for experts from the policy sector, farmers' organisations
and the scientific community to discuss these questions. Their presentations
showed that a great variety of methods for assessing the sustainability
of agricultural production already exists. However, successful practical
application requires the use of a few easily communicable indicators
that should best be defined together with the farmers.
Both politicians and private enterprises have a great interest in quantifiable
sustainability indicators, as they can serve to assess the effect of
political measures, as well as provide a convincing selling point. However
– and this is particularly true in the context of development
cooperation – indicators should not cause additional work for
farmers and stronger external influence on local communities, but support
them in optimising their production systems. In the end, indicators
remain nothing more than a tool. The basic precondition for sustainability
is a broad, cross-sectoral perspective.
> International Forum on Assessing Sustainability in Agriculture
> Symposium Presentations. First INFASA Symposium. Zentrum Paul Klee,
Bern, Switzerland. 16 March 2006. www.iisd.org/measure/community/infasa/presentations.asp
> Contact: Fritz Häni, Swiss College of Agriculture: Fritz.Haeni@shl.bfh.ch
Reducing poverty through horticultural resources
the Green Revolution of the 1950s, research and agricultural resources
have concentrated on the production of rice, wheat and maize. However,
horticultural production has also developed, but without subsidies or
any external encouragement. The fact that fruit and vegetables are essential
for a well-balanced, healthy diet has progressively changed eating habits
both in the North and South. The desire to consume exotic products or
products that are not in season also increases demand.
Since 2000, studies have shown the important role and great potentials
of horticultural resources in terms of providing the most disadvantaged
population with a living, particularly “small” farmers.
In fact, the production of fruit and vegetables would be more profitable
than cereals in terms of investments, growth times and cultivated surface
area. Horticultural production generates jobs, as it requires twice
to four times as much labour than the production of cereal crops.
Although international agricultural research finally seems to be taking
an interest in horticulture, political and financial circles still need
to be convinced. There are major questions which need to be resolved,
such as the influence of supermarkets in the agro-food system, the need
to diversify varieties, the maintenance of stable and healthy production,
as well as providing urban horticulture with a framework.
for poverty alleviation. Katinka Weinberger and Thomas A. Lumpkin. World
Vegetable Center, 2005. 20 p. www.avrdc.org/pdf/WP15.pdf
Conservation of biodiversity, beliefs and spirituality
the world, the conservation and use of water and land have historically
always been linked to spirituality and faith. Furthermore, “sacred”
natural sites are probably the most ancient form of protected habitat
on our planet.
Today, sacred sites and land, which were once used according to the
rules of the community's faith, are now under threat due to cultural
breakdown, pressures on land and resources, not to mention poor governance.
It is a tricky situation: when located outside protected zones, sacred
sites are ignored and neglected by managers; when integrated in conservation
zones, the sacredness and significance which they have for the indigenous
population are often neglected.
In such a context, the creation of, and subsequently the respect for
such protected areas is a real challenge. While no-one disputes the
need for such areas on our planet, greater attention should be given
to the interests and needs of local communities, especially their relationship
with sacred sites.
The present study and its recommendations (based on case studies) is
a useful tool for all those who decide on and manage projects to preserve
biodiversity, protected zones, reserves and natural parks.
Source: Beyond belief. Nigel
Dudley, Liza Higgins-Zogib, Stephanie Mansourian. WWF, 2005. 143 p.
The time for debate is over
Global climate change is a fact. Even if humanity should prove able
to halt the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the current level
of emissions will lead to a substantial warming of the atmosphere and
a rise of the sea level.
This conclusion was reached by the World Resources Institute in an assessment
of all scientific articles on climate change that were published by
prestigious journals in 2005. The survey examined research findings
relating to four areas: climate physics, the hydrological cycle, ecosystems,
and technologies for mitigating climate change.
The compilation clearly shows that the consequences of climate change
are quantifiable and dramatic. A loss of 11% of arable land worldwide
and heavy losses in cereal production in 65 developing countries are
to be expected. The Earth's biosphere is in the process of adapting
to climate change. Will humanity prove equally adaptable?
Source: Climate Science 2005:
Major new discoveries. Kelly Levin and Jonathan Pershing. WRI Issue
Brief. World Resources Institute. 2006. 16 p. http://pdf.wri.org/climatescience_2005.pdf
Away from agriculture: The future in the rural South
The livelihoods of rural populations in the South are changing: They
are becoming more diverse and less dependent on land and agriculture.
Remittances from migrants are playing an increasingly important role.
The driving forces behind these changes are declining yields in small-scale
farming, environmental degradation, increasing land scarcity and new,
non-agricultural income opportunities. These processes have caused a
“new” poverty to emerge among those who have no access to
A differentiated understanding of poverty and its causes makes it possible
to find new answers to these existing challenges. According to the author
of this research article, development can only help to reduce poverty
if new priorities are set. Not only land reforms, but retraining; not
only support to smallholders, but targeted migration away from agriculture
and the merging of plots as a basis for agricultural enterprises must
be promoted. However, this approach can only be successful if it can
rely on a growing economy that provides income opportunities for the
It is probably due to constraints on length that this paper does not
satisfactorily reflect the social and cultural as well as the ecological
consequences of these changing situations. Migration can cause a loss
of social and cultural networks and values, while market-oriented agriculture
can lead to additional degradation of natural resources if the necessary
overall conditions and regulations are not given.
Source: Land, Farming,
Livelihoods, and Poverty: Rethinking the Links in the Rural South. Jonathan
Rigg. In: World Development Vol. 34 No 1. pp 180–202.
Access to journal: www.elsevier.com/locate/worlddev
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