Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Government allows private middlemen in agriculture

CUBA STANDARD — Continuing Cuba’s trial-and-error quest for efficiency and a rise in domestic food production, the Council of Ministers on May 31 allowed private middlemen to supply and buy from farmers.

“It’s urgent to put the conditions of all producers on equal footing, free the productive forces, and promote their efficiency,” economic czar Marino Murillo told the cabinet in announcing a package of measures, according to official daily Granma.

All private farmers will now be allowed to relate directly to “natural or juridical persons in regards to supplies, services and products,” according to the Granma article. Farmers can now explicitly sell all production that exceeds planned quotas to “any natural or juridical person,” said Murillo, who is a vice president in charge of coordinating the reform process. Likewise, the sale of fertilizer, seeds, fuel, equipment, specialized services, cattle feed and other industrial sub-products for animal food will be gradually shifting from central assignment by government at subsidized prices to “wholesale and retail markets” at free prices.

This is the first time the government explicitly allows middlemen to supply farmers and buy their products.

The dysfunctional state food distribution monopoly Acopio has been a persistent bottleneck to get domestically produced food to market.

Beginning next year, the government will allow the creation of agricultural supply markets that can sell at free prices on the Isle of Youth. These agricultural supply markets will gradually expand to the rest of Cuba, the Granma article said. Before opening the markets, there will be a six-month training program.

“The land management measures that during decades were put in practice have not led to the necessary increase in production,” Murillo said. “It’s necessary to rectify the distortions that have affected economic results.”

Murillo pointed out that 80 percent of Cuba’s arable land is owned by the state, but 70.5 percent of all land is used by private farmers or privately-owned cooperatives, much of it through long-term leases from the state.

Meanwhile, state farms will be reduced to a few strategic activities, such as citrus, protected crops, registered seeds, pig and buffalo breeding, and species genetics, Murillo said.
Original Article Here

GM crops and India’s grain exports

To have, or not to have, genetically modified (GM) crops, is a raging controversy in India today. While opponents of GM crops cite several reasons for rejecting such technologies, many argue that we cannot afford to ignore this option.

The threat to our food grain exports has often been cited as one of the reasons for not allowing GM crop trials. Is this a genuine concern, or is it a mere ruse to influence policymakers against technologies that can potentially help our agricultural sector end the impasse that it is currently in?

Agricultural products contributed around 9% of the total of over $400 billion worth of goods exported from India last year. In value terms, food grains and oil meals constitute less than 40% of all exported agricultural products. Rice tops in the list of exported food grains. With record rice production and exports from Thailand falling significantly, India has emerged as the largest exporter of rice. Last year, we exported 9.75 million tonnes of rice, of which around three million tonnes was the premium basmati variety.

Much of our non-basmati rice exports end up in countries such as Bangladesh and Nigeria, countries where food production is well short of demand. Some countries in western Europe, where the opposition to GM crops is most strident, could be sensitive to the so-called GM contamination in their basmati rice imports. This argument has been used in the past to restrict field trials of improved basmati-like varieties. An objective analysis of the facts shows that such arguments for banning field trials are misleading. It does not help the agricultural sector nor does it serve the interest of Indian farmers.

Europe accounts for just 3% of the total basmati exported from India. More than 70% of our exports go to Gulf countries, which have to get their supplies from India to meet their full requirement. All these countries import processed food items from the US, which contain significant amounts of GM ingredients. Unlike in several European countries, they do not even mandate labelling of food items for GM ingredients.

Analysis shows that more than 96% of our basmati exports are to such countries that will not be affected by allowing GM rice trials. Even the contention that exports to Europe will be affected is misleading as Europe is the largest importer of GM soybean and corn from the Americas.

The possibility of adventitious mixture of GM grains from research trials with that of commercially produced grains is extremely remote as these trials are well contained using scientific principles of isolation—geographical, temporal and spatial isolation.

Several GM crops that can create huge value to the Indian farmer are in advanced stages of testing. A recent study by the Centre for Social Development in Delhi has shown that the net returns to the farmer have gone up by 375% after the adoption of BT cotton. With rice occupying almost four times the area under cotton in the country, the potential creation of value in this case will be much more than the value of the total rice exports from India.

Indian agriculture needs technology solutions to meet food and nutrition security challenges. Heeding misleading arguments against GM crop trials will result in potential solutions needlessly remaining just that.
Original Article Here

Agriculture shows pull out all the stops for young and old

The growing popularity of our agricultural shows is reflected in the fact that many are now becoming bona fide two-day events.A case in point was the weekend's Ballymoney Show, which attracted large crowds of visitors from the North Antrim area and beyond.

"We had tremendous crowds in the showgrounds on both Friday evening and throughout Saturday as a whole," North Antrim Agricultural Association President Frank McClure told the Belfast Telegraph.

"At the very heart of our activities on the Friday evening is our ever growing relationship with the Young Farmers Clubs. It is tremendous to see the commitment of so many young people helping to make Ballymoney Show such a success."

He continued: "Friday evenings also suit the large numbers of people who may have significant weekend commitments. Our committee will be actively looking at ways in which we can further expand the activities taking place on Day One of the Show."

Commenting on the event as a whole, Frank McClure confirmed that livestock entries had held up well.

"However, trade participation was well up on 2012," he stressed.

Saturday afternoon saw Maghera Charolais breeder Patrick Gallagher carry the field with his more than impressive three year old bull: Rumsden Fawhes. Bought for an undisclosed sum as a weanling, the bull looked every bit the champion in the show ring last weekend. His Ballymoney success follows on from a more than impressive outing at Balmoral last month.

Meanwhile, the 101st Lurgan Show was also proving a popular draw on Saturday.

Hosted by Lurgan and District Horse and Cattle Society Ltd, the County Armagh town's idyllic park was a hive of activity from early and throughout the day welcomed thousands of exhibitors, judges and spectators from all over the country, and as far afield as Australia.

Craigavon Mayor Carla Lockhart arrived in a horse-drawn carriage flanked by the PSNI, and was joined by other VIP guests including Ulster Farmers' Union president Harry Sinclair; Upper Bann MP David Simpson; MEP Diane Dodds; local MLA's Sammy Gardiner, Sidney Anderson and Joanne Dobson; and RUAS president John Bamber.
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Genetically Engineered Wheat is Destroying US Agriculture: Oregon Wheat Found Contaminated with GE Wheat

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that unapproved genetically engineered (GE) wheat was found growing in an Oregon wheat field. The discovery has implications for U.S. trade as Japan has already indicated it would stop purchasing U.S. wheat exports.

According to USDA officials, a Oregon farmer sprayed his wheat field, intending it to lay fallow for the next year. Despite multiple sprays of RoundUp, the farmer found so-called “volunteer” crops unexpectedly persisted, just as GE crops are engineered to do. The discovery prompted him to send samples to Carol Mallery Smith, scientist at Oregon State University, who determined that the crops were infused with the RoundUp Ready gene. USDA confirmed the results but officials have declined to comment on how the seeds ended up in this farmer’s field to begin with considering Monsanto has not conducted field trials in Oregon since 2001 when it reportedly withdrew from the state.

Since 1994, Monsanto has conducted 279 field trials of RoundUp Ready wheat over more than 4,000 acres of land in 16 states. Tests have been conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. After facing intense opposition from farmers and activists, Monsanto reportedly stopped its efforts to introduce GE wheat, but restarted extensive field trials again in 2011.

Contamination of non-GE crops, particularly for USDA certified organic crops, is a serious concern. Worries about harm to human health and the environment have prompted several state legislatures to consider bills that would require labeling of products with GE ingredients so consumers know what they are eating. Additional legislation proposed by Senator Bill Bowman (R-ND) in 2002 would have allowed farmers in North Dakota the right to sue Monsanto if wheat was found to be contaminated with genetically modified crops. The discovery is likely to prompt similar legislation if not litigation.

USDA regulates GE herbicide-tolerant plants under the Plant Protection Act, however its scrutiny of the full range of potential human health and environmental effects has been challenged by environmental groups as inadequate. GE wheat is not approved to be grown in the U.S. or anywhere world-wide.

While the world’s biggest wheat importer, Egypt, has made no move to stop importing U.S. wheat, Japan has cancelled its offer to buy U.S.\ western white wheat. Meanwhile the European Union has prepared to begin testing shipments for the RoundUp Ready gene. These discoveries may have major implications for the U.S. economy, In 2012, exported wheat represented a gross sum of $18.1 billion, with 90% of Oregon’s wheat exported abroad.

“Nobody’s going to want to buy wheat from the PNW (Pacific Northwest) for a while,” said Roy Huckabay, analyst with the Linn Group in Chicago.

For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
Original Article Here

African Land Grabs: Defending Basic Human Rights, Promoting Sustainable AgricultureAfrican Land Grabs: Defending Basic Human Rights, Promoting Sustainable Agriculture

SOCFIN Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd. (SAC), a subsidiary of SOCFIN, (Société Financière des Caoutchoucs), a Luxembourg-registered company controlled by the prominent French entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré and Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri, is suing a Sierra Leonean NGO, Green Scenery, for its reporting on the activities of the company.

In May 2011, Green Scenery released a report on SAC’s oil palm project in Sierra Leone, which highlighted inadequate compensation, corruption, and pressure on land owners and chiefs to sign agreements to give up their land. [1]

Earlier in 2011, SAC signed a 50-year lease with the Sierra Leonean government for 6,500 hectares (ha) on land used by more than 9,000 farmers in 24 villages in Pujehun District. The deal gave SAC an option to expand the leased area by an additional 5,000 ha.

The company responded by filing suit for defamation (known as a SLAPP suit) against the NGO and its Executive Director, Joseph Rahall, asking a Sierra Leonean court to order them to apologize, pay damages, and to stop publishing information that the company may consider defamatory. Yet, Green Scenery’s report is consistent with the formal grievances filed by local communities opposed to the forceful takeover of their land and the destruction of their crops and forests by SOCFIN. [2] In December 2012, 101 members of landholding families from 36 villages called on the national Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations, and the United Nations to support their struggle against the company. [3]

The allegations have also been corroborated by independent assessments on the ground conducted by several international organizations, including the Oakland Institute in February 2012 [4] and Welthungerhilfe in May 2012. [5]

“Bolloré and Fabri are using a defamation suit to silence local opposition and to intimidate an NGO whose only crime is to defend the basic rights of local farmers whose land is being taken away,” says Frédéric Mousseau of the Oakland Institute.

“Similar practices by SOCFIN subsidiaries have been reported in recent years in Liberia, Cameroon, and Cambodia, [6] where Bolloré or SOCFIN have used the threat of legal action against NGOs and the media to silence criticism,” says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN.

As organizations committed to defending basic human rights and promoting sustainable agriculture, we are as much concerned about the threat that SOCFIN’s project poses to Sierra Leone’s farmers as we are about the threat that intimidation maneuvers pose to the work of independent civil society organizations and, through them, democracy. This is why we are standing by Green Scenery.
Original Article Here

Agriculture sector's share in GDP dips: Assocham

LUCKNOW: Despite record foodgrain production during the course of the past few years, the share of agriculture and allied sectors to India's gross domestic product (GDP) has declined by more than 4.5% between 2004-05 and 2010-11; while the share of services in the gross domestic product has increased by more than 4.6% during the same period; apex industry bodyAssocham has said.

Moreover, the share of agriculture and allied sectors in the gross state domestic product (GSDP) of the top 19 states in India declined significantly during the aforesaid five-year period, thereby registering a fall ranging between about 2% to about 12% in the GSDP, according to a sector specific analysis carried out by Assocham.

While the industrial sector saw a paltry increase of 0.5%, the mining and quarrying sectors marginally dipped by 0.6% across India during the aforesaid period; according to the Assochamanalysis. The industry sector in Punjab saw a surge of about 6.27%, followed by Uttarakhand, where the industry sector grew by about 6.13%. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh are other states that saw marginal growth in industrial sector."Jharkhand is the only state across top 20 states in India to have witnessed a surge of over 3% and about 11% in the share of agriculture-allied activities and services sector respectively in its GSDP," said DS Rawat, national secretary general of Assocham, while releasing the findings of the chamber's analysis.
The share of agriculture and allied sectors in the GSDP has fallen drastically by 7% in Uttar Pradesh. Expressing concern over the decline in the share of agri-allied activities in the GSDP of almost all the states, Rawat said that, "This calls for increased investments in research and development for speedy improvement in yield, besides addressing infrastructure requirements in storage, communication, roads, and markets, in the agriculture sector."

According to an Assocham-Yes Bank study titled '2nd Green Revolution: Agriculture to Agribusiness,' the government must push agricultural reforms, including streamlining of norms to promote private sector investments in the sector.
Original Article Here

Jalili vows to put agriculture top of agenda

alili, who is serving as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said dynamic agriculture can easily boost domestic production, create new job opportunities and consequently curb price hikes.

Production will prevent the current 11-billion-dollar imports and release the existing potential to create more jobs, he said.

The presidential candidate said millions of dollars have been allocated to the agricultural sector and the next administration needs to exploit those funds to help rural areas prosper.

Jalili is facing seven rivals: former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, lawmaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, President of the Strategic Research Center of the Expediency Council Hassan Rohani, former First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref, and former Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Gharazi.

The president of Iran is elected for a four-year term in a national election.
Original Article Here

Monday, 3 June 2013

Agricultural revolution?: Two dams constructed to irrigate 1,808 acres

In an attempt to boost agricultural production by providing irrigation to barren land, the government has constructed two small dams in Kurram Agency at the cost of Rs351.7 million.

The Kot Ragha and Maidani dams, which have been constructed in Mali Khail, Upper Kurram and Enzari, Lower Kurram respectively, will allow 1,808 acres to be irrigated.

According to the FATA Secretariat’s irrigation department, the Kot Ragha Dam was completed with an estimated cost of Rs103.6 million and will irrigate 500 acres. The dam will also enable the extraction of 10 cusecs of water.

The Maidani Dam, on the other hand, is the larger of the two in terms of rainwater collection. The 55.09 square kilometre structure costs Rs248.1 million and will help irrigate 1,308 acres of land.

“Once the dam has started functioning perfectly, there will be an agricultural revolution with thousands of acres of land being cultivated,” said the irrigation department’s executive engineer, Noor Ahmad.

He said the construction of the dams started in 2004, but work stopped owing to deteriorating law and order in the agency. The project resumed in 2011 and was completed by the end of 2012, added Ahmad. “Soon, locals will be able to benefit from them.”

The Maidani Dam is 86 feet wide and has the capacity to store 2,975 hectors of water. According to Ahmad, the dam will help increase the yield of agriculture products.

“The dams will also boost the fisheries business,” explained Ahmad. “The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) fisheries department has also constructed fish farms in the area, which has boosted economic activity.”

“About 70% of the population in Kurram Agency depends on agriculture, but the main problem is water shortage,” said Murad Hussain, a resident of the agency. He claimed the land in Kurram Agency was more cultivable as compared to other agencies in Fata; adding it was famous for growing good quality wheat, rice and cultivating orchards.

Laiq Hussain, a resident of Lower Kurram, said the dams would help increase food production once an irrigation canal was constructed. This will help irrigate large expanses of barren land and create jobs for locals, he added.

Muzamil Hussain said the dam site could encourage tourism and act as a for families wishing to relax.
Original Article Here

Cyber extension, a new hope in agriculture and rural development

Recent global issues such as liberalization, privatization, democratization and decentralization determine the policy process for agricultural and rural development.

Many parties believed that the agricultural and rural sectors shifted toward more diversification, commercialization and had focused on the issue of sustainability and efficiency.

The central government should prepare the appropriate strategies to improve facilities to ensure efficiency in agricultural production, distribution and commercialization.

The consequence of the phenomenon made it necessary for a paradigm change in agricultural development, including agricultural extension practices. Agricultural and rural extension played an important role in shaping the success of agricultural development.

The pivotal roles of agricultural extension encompass the communication and transfer of new knowledge and innovation; technical and non-technical advisories; and the facilitation of clients (producers, input agents, farmer groups, farmer associations, consumer groups).

In responding to the new paradigm, countries worldwide adopted institutional reform for agricultural and rural extension. In Indonesian, farming conditions and farmer resources means a single strategy for agricultural extension institutional reform is inappropriate.

A scheme for funding an extension of public services is still needed, especially for food production and smallholder farming businesses.

However, privatization of services — to some extent — began over a decade ago and was mainly for profitable farming commodities. The model of public-private-partnership is likely among the solutions for agricultural extension arrangements in Indonesia. Intensive involvement of private sectors including private corporations, NGOs and community groups in extension practices will be more essential and reduce the burden of the government’s budget.

On the other hand, central and local governments could focus the extension of service for less profitable commodities but play important role on national food sector, for instance rice, corn, soybean and cassava.

From the perspective of the agricultural extension system, optimizing of accumulation and distribution of agricultural knowledge and innovation has been acknowledged as triangle knowledge model including research, education and extension; with farmers situated in the center of the system as the best solution for overcoming problems.

To meet the needs of extension services from commodity producers and various distribution and market accessibilities; introducing and combining extension methods will likely be more effective.

Applying conventional extension methods, such as face-to-face extension, group meetings, leafleting and field studies are no longer sufficient.

The commercialization of farming commodities means quick information and innovative services are needed.

The educational background of a young generation of farmers is significant as they need to have higher ability to access more complicated extension service methods.

In regard to new extension challenges, the development and utilization of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agricultural extension has become a promising future strategy.

ICTs in some cases could guarantee high speed and effectiveness of information distribution for new technologies and innovations.

As noted by Sharma (2006), the use of ICTs for agricultural and rural extension was regarded as “cyber extension”. In practice, cyber extension is the utilization of online networking, computer and digital interactive multimedia to facilitate the dissemination of agricultural technology.

Cyber extension is regarded as a strategic model since the model could improve information accessibility for farmers, field extension officers, extension managers, researchers, input agents and other related parties on extension practices.

The utilization of cyber agricultural and rural extension is not only performed by developed countries but also by developing ones. Several Asian countries have quickly developed cyber extension for farming.

In 1988 Japan introduced a computer network system, known as the Extension Information Network (EI-net). Fukuda (2005) described it as an integrated system that combines related stakeholders including central and local governments, research institutes, farming corporations, market, agricultural extension officers and farmers.

The development of cyber extension could facilitate many parties on a real time basis. Databases are a fundamental prerequisite for the development of cyber extension. Thus, information could be accessed through email, short message and interactive discussion.

For example, a database could include information on agricultural policy news, market information, climate information and new innovations. Government agencies provide various farming statistical data and research results, while private corporations display information related to availability, price and quality. Moreover, information would be more attractive if it was not only displayed through text or image but also on video or simulation.

Compared to conventional extension methods, many parties believe cyber extension has advantages — higher speed of data collection, identification of the most recent farming conditions, communication for information — meaning, the system could distribute information to huge number of users at the same time.

Cyber extension would suit Indonesia due to its archipelagic regions and transportation difficulties. Cyber extension to some extent could overcome the problem of transportation.

In 2008, the Agriculture Ministry introduced cyber extension for farming through the farmer empowerment through agricultural technology and information (FEATI) to improve and serve the needs of farmers.

At the subdistrict level of the pilot project area, the agricultural extension office, as the home base of agricultural extension officers, are equipped with an online system.

Extension officers can access information on the website and submit important information and experiences through a website administrator.

Cyber extension could facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge on the best practices of farming from various areas, while the success stories could promptly be disseminated and be replicated by other farmers in order to improve farming productivity that will lead to improvement of farmers’ life.

Evaluation on performance of pilot project on cyber extension in Indonesia is necessary for future policy making in order to expand and improve the capability of cyber extension in Indonesia.
Original Article Here

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Fracking test in Shafter ‘threatens’ agriculture

Fracking tests in Shafter, California is threatening agricultural activities there, media reports say.

The increasing use of hydrofracking in the region has created competition for water, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Hyraulic fracturing is a drilling technique commonly known as fracking.

Oil companies are now moving into traditionally agricultural areas like Shafter that make up one of the world’s most fertile regions but also lie above a huge untapped oil reserve called the Monterey Shale.

According to the report, the output of the North Shafter oil field and the number of wells have risen by more than 50 percent since 2010.

Now the oilmen and local farmers - shortened to “oil and ag” there- are facing a serious problem. Oil’s push into new areas and its increasing reliance on fracking uses vast amounts of water and chemicals that critics say could contaminate groundwater, the Times said.

Oil industry officials claim that the Monterey Shale could create an oil boom and even transform California into the nation’s top oil-producing state. But state lawmakers have not convinced and introduced several bills that would curtail various aspects of fracking, the report added.

Environmental groups see the lawmakers’ measures insufficient. They have sued state regulators, arguing that they have given oil companies drilling permits without subjecting them to environmental reviews.

Experts say that the fracking techniques newly used in the region involve more potent cocktails of chemicals that drillers are allowed to leave undisclosed to protect trade secrets, according to the report.
Original Article Here

Monsanto is a Ticking Time Bomb for U.S. Agriculture: Japan halts Imports of U.S. Wheat after USDA’s Finding of Genetic Pollution from GMOs

t has already begun: Japan has just cancelled a large contract to purchase U.S. wheat. “We will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat effective today,” Toru Hisadome, a Japanese farm ministry official in charge of wheat trading, told Reuters.

As many readers well know, I predicted precisely this scenario just yesterday in a Natural News article warning about the consequences of genetic pollution. There, I wrote, “All wheat produced in the United States will now be heavily scrutinized — and possibly even rejected — by other nations that traditionally import U.S. wheat. This obviously has enormous economic implications for U.S. farmers and agriculture.”

Now we’re already seeing the result: the ditching of U.S. wheat by world nations that want nothing to do with GMOs.

Monsanto is a ticking time bomb for U.S. agriculture

This proves, without any question, that Monsanto’s genetic experiments which “escaped” into commercial wheat fields are now going to devastate U.S. wheat farmers. Expect the floor to drop out on wheat prices, and watch for a huge backlash against the USDA by U.S. farmers who stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on this.

As the USDA has now admitted, Monsanto’s GMO experiments from 1998 – 2005 were held in open wheat fields. The genetically engineered wheat escaped and found its way into commercial wheat fields in Oregon (and possibly 15 other states), causing self-replicating genetic pollution that now taints the entire U.S. wheat industry.

“Asian consumers are keenly sensitive to gene-altered food, with few countries allowing imports of such cereals for human consumption,” writes Reuters. It continues:

Asia imports more than 40 million tonnes of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade of 140-150 million tonnes. The bulk of the region’s supplies come from the United States, the world’s biggest exporter, and Australia, the No. 2 supplier. Another incredible Monsanto achievement: the genetic contamination of the U.S. wheat supply

Nice job, Monsanto. You’ve managed to spew your genetic pollution across the fields of innocent U.S. farmers who are now going to lose huge sums of money due to the reject of U.S. wheat by all the other world nations that refuse to feed their populations GMO.

And a big thumbs up to the USDA, too, for screwing U.S. farmers by green-lighting open-field GMO experiments that we all warned were going to result in runaway genetic pollution. The USDA, of course, is the official cheerleading squad for Monsanto’s criminal “science” that we all know is a total fraud. How do these scientists now suggest this self-replicating genetic pollution be put back into the black box from which it emerged?

It can’t be done, of course. So now the entire future of the U.S. wheat supply is at risk thanks to Monsanto and the USDA. Nice one, folks. Score another victory for the scumbag destroyers in Washington D.C. and the greed-driven executives at our favorite corporation, Monsanto.

And remember: Genetically modified wheat is only the beginning. Monsanto has no doubt unleashed genetic pollution across many other crops as well. We’re now living in an age where Monsanto is essentially ejaculating its patented seed across all the farms of America, then claiming to “own” the contaminated crops. What a wonderful image of corporate responsibility and service to humankind. I can’t wait to see what other U.S. crops will be rejected by world nations due to Monsanto’s genetic pollution.
Original Article Here

Delayed EU trade accord hurts SA fishing

WITH a trade agreement between South Africa and the European Union (EU) still being negotiated, the country could miss the boat on taking advantage of the EU’s move last week to drastically reduce fishing in its waters to save dwindling fish stocks.

A gap has emerged in the EU fish market because the bloc has agreed to end overfishing in its waters by 2015 — 2020 for some exceptional species — after fish stocks had dwindled precariously. Eurostat has released data showing that fish catches have fallen from more than 8-million tons in 1995 to 4.9-million tons in 2010.

South Africa has an already established European market for its sustainably managed deep-water trawler-caught hake, but high export tariffs are a hurdle to the country’s other fish. The industry cannot charge the same premium as it charges for the hake.

This species is South Africa’s only fish stock with the sought-after Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation indicating its operations ensured sustainable fish stocks. The accreditation enables sellers to charge a premium for the flesh.

Department of Trade and Industry trade division chief Xavier Carrim said at the weekend there was "a deal in the making" for South Africa’s fish, but that it formed part of the long-negotiated economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the EU. Without that agreement, EU import tariffs for other species of fish caught in South African waters were high.

Jeremy Marillier, spokesman for industry body Fish SA, said it was "not impossible, but unlikely" that the country would be able to take advantage of last week’s EU decision. This was because of the bloc’s import tariffs for South African fish other than the deep-water trawler-caught hake.

The EU’s €1bn a year common fisheries policy has been blamed for driving decades of over-fishing, with generous subsidies leading to over-capacity in the fishing fleet. The European Commission estimates that 75% of European fish stocks are over-fished, compared with just 25% worldwide.

As part of the new deal, EU fishing nations must reduce the size of their fleets to reflect their quotas, lose some subsidies. The deal must be rubber-stamped by EU governments and the European Parliament before taking effect.

Mr Marillier said about 90% of South Africa’s total allowable catch of 150,000 tons of deep-water trawler-caught hake was sold to the EU, earning the sector R1.9bn a year, because of its MSC accreditation.

The hake long-line fishery missed out on MSC accreditation in 2008, which fishing industry analyst Shaheen Moolla in part attributed to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ refusal to help it pay the fees. Not gaining MSC accreditation caused a collapse of the fishery, which in 2008 got R40/kg but now achieved R2.30/kg (net profit before tax). The cost of putting boats to sea outweighed profits, Mr Moolla said.

Requests for comment from the department drew a blank at the weekend, but Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told Parliament last week her department would continue to participate in trade negotiations and forums "to enhance the interests of the South African agricultural sector".

Mr Marillier said South Africa’s hake faced competition from Namibia and Argentina. Namibian hake had duty-free access to the EU through the Cotonou Agreement.

Mr Carrim said there was "steady progress" on securing an EPA between the Sacu and the EU, with the next talks in two weeks’ time.

EU ambassador Roeland van de Geer said talks between the bloc and the Southern African Development Community were "still in full swing" and negotiators remained optimistic a deal would soon be concluded.
Original Article Here

Budget: Agriculture top priority, says Siddaramaiah

Hubli: Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said he will accord more priority to agriculture while presenting the Budget next month.

Addressing reporters during a felicitation programme at Kaginele in Haveri district on Sunday, the CM said the focus will be on ensuring a scientific price for farm produce. Measures will be taken to ensure adequate supply of seeds and fertilizer following a good monsoon this year.

Declining to present a separate Budget for agriculture, Mr Siddaramaiah targeted the BJP government, claiming it was misleading people without evolving programmes to redress farmers’ problems.

Accusing the previous government of failing to bring out the facts with regard to the death of two farmers in police firing in Haveri in 2008, he said the government will take necessary measures based on the report submitted by Justice Jagannath Shetty Commission on the incident.

“We will have programmes in the Budget that will benefit farmers. The onus will be on officials in case of an anomaly in the distribution of seeds and fertilizers”, the CM warned.

He revealed that the government was planning to constitute a Lake Development Authority with special focus on the development of lakes and said measures would be initiated to improve catchment areas and clear lake encroachments.

Lambasting former PWD minister C.M. Udasi, the CM said B.S. Yeddyurappa’s aide had failed to give a suitable reply during the Assembly session on the corruption scandals in the PWD department.

He said the state government will implement the recommendations made by the legislature committee which had probed the PWD graft charges in various places including Magadi, Nelamangala and Ramanagara.
Original Article Here

Saturday, 1 June 2013

AP government constitutes GoM on agriculture sector for 12th plan

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh government on Friday constituted an 11-member Group of Ministers to provide policy direction to the agriculture sector for the 12th Plan. The GoM will also monitor and review the performance of the agriculture sector during the 12th Plan period.

Minister for Agriculture will be chairman of the GoM that will have ministers for finance, major irrigation, horticulture, animal husbandry, co-operation, forests and environment, marketing, major industries, minor irrigation and civil supplies as members. Representatives of industry and research organisations will be special invitees to the GoM while Principal Secretary (Agriculture) will be the member-convenor, according to an order issued by Chief Secretary PK Mohanty.

"The GoM will approve the Agriculture Action Plan, review the functioning of the Group of Secretaries for convergence in agriculture sector and monitor the performance of agriculture sector programmes in achieving the annual and 12th Five Year Plan targets set by the government," the Chief Secretary said in his order. The GoM should meet once in three months or "as frequently as required" to accomplish its tasks.
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Despite great agriculture performance Brazil’s economy first quarter result disappoints

Brazil’s GDP grew 1.9% in the first quarter, compared to the same period last year, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, or IBGE, said.

The first-quarter GDP number, however, came in below government and economists' project
ions of 0.80% to 1% growth in the January-March period, but it bolstered expectations that Brazil's economy could start recovering in 2013.

The Brazilian economy grew 7.5% in 2010, marking its best performance in a decade, but then expanded by only 2.7% in 2011 and 0.90% last year.

The government expects the economy to grow between 3 and 4% this year, but private sector analysts are forecasting growth of 2.93% this year and 3.5% in 2014.

The agricultural industry, whose production surged 9.7% was responsible for most of the growth between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of this year, the IBGE said.

The service sector grew just 0.50% and manufacturing expanded at a rate of only 0.30% during the same period, the IBGE said.

The agricultural industry's solid performance was mainly due to soy production, which rose 23.3%, compared to the first quarter of 2012, while corn production grew 9.1%, tobacco output rose 5.7% and rice production increased 5.1%.
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AfDB, USAID, and Government of Sweden Launch Agriculture Fast Track Fund to Spur Investment in African Agricultural Infrastructure

Donald Kaberuka, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Rajiv Shah, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Gunilla Carlsson, the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, have announced the creation of an Agriculture Fast Track Fund for Africa.

The three announced the creation of the US$ 23 million fund, designed to stimulate greater private investment in agricultural infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa, at the Grow Africa Investment Forum in Cape Town on Thursday.

The fund will serve members of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition launched by the United States' President Barack Obama at the 2012 G-8 Summit. The six member countries of the alliance are Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

The fund is designed to strengthen the links between farmers, markets to consumers. Providing funding of up to $1.5 million per project, the Agriculture Fast Track Fund will finance feasibility studies, project design, market analyses, site surveys, business plans, financial modeling and other upstream activities that ensure project quality and bankability. These project preparation grants will facilitate access to more funding for agricultural infrastructure from banks and other investors.

The Agriculture Fast Track Fund was developed with the support of USAID, which has committed $15 million while the Government of Sweden pledged $10 million. The fund will be managed by the African Development Bank.

"The African economy is currently overly dependent on public investment for infrastructure development," Dr. Kaberuka said. "The Agriculture Fast Track is a critical tool to better leverage donor funding to catalyze private sector investment in support of infrastructure construction and Africa's long-term economic growth and food security."

The New Alliance has matched market-oriented regulatory reforms in the six member-countries with $3.7 billion in commitments for investment from the private sector. "Since the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was founded last year, we've seen member countries make serious reforms that have led to real progress," said Shah. "The launch of the Agriculture Fast Track allows African farmers to take advantage of these reforms through fast-tracked infrastructure projects that will better deliver their products to markets."

"By targeting the project preparation stage of projects, the Agriculture Fast Track will advance infrastructure projects when funding is most acutely needed to pivot from planning to construction," said Carlsson. "This targeted approach allows us to catalyze significantly more private sector investments and ensure the highest standards in terms of social and environmental sustainability."
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Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture

Today’s agriculture is in deep trouble. It faces a crisis that even now affects the cost and quality of the food eaten in every corner of the world.

Famine and disease have become a reality for the poor, “have not” areas of the world. But few are aware that an agricultural crisis of equal—and greater—magnitude looms on the horizon for the third of the world we call the “have” nations.

The United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the other “have” regions have been dazzled by the storybook pronouncements of “scientific agriculture.” We who live in such areas have become accustomed to talk of “burdensome surpluses,” and, while others were going hungry, came to believe we were immune to a food crisis.More than 40 years ago, this organization’s predecessor published a booklet with a similar title to this one predicting that the growing crisis in agriculture then, if not seriously addressed on a large scale, could and would begin to adversely affect more affluent countries. At the time, we stated, “In the very near future, the growing crisis in agriculture could easily cause YOU to be numbered among the seriously sick and diseased—or among those hapless millions who go to bed at night with empty, aching stomachs.”

True to what we said, this is coming to pass with increasing numbers of people now suffering illness as a result. Also, disease and death rates in livestock, poultry and crop industries are increasing, with many elements of production becoming critical. A genuine crisis has developed in agriculture worldwide, including in the United States. World food shortage is no longer a prophecy but a reality, and one that will greatly worsen unless wholesale changes occur in our approach and attitude toward agriculture and its approach to food production.

And this does not even take into account the shocking fact that arable land is disappearing by millions of acres per year!
Diminishing Land Resources

The United States is an alarming example of vanishing rural land. According to American Farmland Trust, more than one acre of farmland was lost per minute, with more than four million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of Massachusetts—disappearing from 2002 to 2007 as a result of homes and urban sprawl. During a 25-year period, the population grew 30 percent while land converted for urban use increased 57 percent. And this is only in the United States!

According to The World Factbook, “The planet’s population continues to explode: from 1 billion in 1820, to 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999.” In October 2011, the world’s population passed the seven billion mark! At last calculation, the world’s arable land is a little over 10 percent.

While cultivable land areas are “shrinking,” BBC reported that the United Nations expects that at present, “Food production will have to increase by 70% over the next 40 years to feed the world’s growing population…”Even simply maintaining current food production is unpromising. The world depends heavily on United States exports, along with products from Eastern European countries and those situated on the Black Sea. IRIN, the United Nations news service, reported that in the beginning of 2012, the U.S. “planted more than 39 million hectares of maize [corn], 5 percent more than in 2011, making it the highest acreage under maize in the last 75 years.”

It also stated that the “third largest soybean crop ever was put in.”

But this made no difference as “record high temperatures and poor rainfall—less than 50 percent of normal precipitation in the corn-belt, a group of Midwestern US states where maize is traditionally grown—wilted most of the standing maize. In the past few weeks [of June], just when the plants needed moisture in the crucial pollination phase, there was little or none. ‘Irrigating this scale of farms is out of question—we would need to empty an ocean,’ said [Abdolreza] Abbassian [secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization].

“The USDA announced [in July 2012] that only 48 percent of crops were in a ‘good to excellent’ condition, down from 72 percent at the beginning of June. This is the worst good to excellent rating since 1988, said the department, when 23 percent of crops were given a good to excellent rating…The projections for soybeans have also been reduced by eight percent—the lowest level since 2003” (ibid.).

As a result, The Associated Press reported that “a number of farmers in the hardest hit areas of the Midwest have cut down their crops just midway through the growing season.”

On top of this, Reuters showed that grain exports for 2012 from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan “could be at least 35 million tonnes less than in 2011,” and in 2012 Morocco’s “cereals crop fell from 8.4 million tonnes in 2011 to 5.1 million tonnes.”

For the first time ever, there is no new, rich agricultural land that man can use. The deforestation of the Amazon Basin and rainforest areas of many other countries of the world continues, but good crop production on these soils is usually short-lived, followed by a reduction of rain.

According to the film “Food or Famine,” in 1850, Earth’s land area, if equally distributed, was about 33 acres per person; in 1900, it was 24 acres; by 1950, it had dropped to 15 acres; in 1974, it was 10 acres. Given today’s most recent statistics, it is NOW only five acres.

But that is not all! Of these five acres, approximately one and a half are desert—and too dry for production. Another one acre represents the arctic and polar regions—meaning it is too cold. Yet another acre is jungle and tropical forest, which is too wet for production. The additional one acre is mountainous—too high and steep. This leaves only a half-acre of land per person suitable for cultivation. And—you guessed it—half of this remaining half acre has already been depleted by previous generations—wasted by erosion because of improper tillage, monoculture and other poor management practices.

What about the remaining one-fourth of an acre?
Seven Inches from Starvation!

No matter who you are or where you live, you must eat food to continue your physical existence.

Ultimately ALL your food comes directly or indirectly from the soil and, more specifically, from the top few inches known as topsoil.

Author Karl B. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil that this life-sustaining topsoil “lies in a thin layer of an average depth of seven or eight inches over the face of the land.” In some few areas, it may be as deep as two feet or more, but in many others it is considerably less than seven inches.

“If that layer of topsoil could be represented on a 24-inch globe it would be as a film three-millionths of one inch thick,” Mr. Mickey wrote. “That thin film is all that stands between man and extinction.”

This thin layer of earth sustains ALL PLANT, ANIMAL AND HUMAN LIFE upon it!

Previous civilizations have already destroyed much of the topsoil, and today we are depleting what remains more rapidly than at any other time in history.
Record of History

The story of mankind’s interaction with the land is long, complicated and brimming with lessons—most instructive in what not to do.

In the journal BioScience, Dr. Lamont C. Cole compared the leading aforetime civilizations to their modern counterparts.

“The valley of the Nile was [a great] cradle of civilization. Every year, the river overflowed its banks at a predictable time, bringing water to the land and depositing a layer of silt rich in mineral nutrients for plants.

“Crops could be grown for 7 months each year. Extensive irrigation systems were established before 2000 BC. This land was the granary of the Roman Empire, and this type of agriculture flourished for another 2,000 years.

“But the population has continued to grow and economic considerations have diverted land from growing food to growing cash crops such as cotton.”

In 1902, in an effort to promote year-round irrigation, the Aswan Low Dam was constructed in the southern part of the country. But it proved to have an inadequate reservoir area. After almost overflowing in 1946, the Aswan High Dam was constructed in 1970 to further contain the water.

While the dam has irrigated hundreds of thousands of acres, the soil has been deteriorating through salinization, a process that increases soil’s salt content. In addition, the productivity of its riverside lands has decreased—proving to be a disaster for Egypt. Any plusses accorded the dam have been far outweighed by the creation of serious problems. Aside from salinization, “population growth has virtually destroyed any possibility that…agricultural land can significantly raise the average level of nutrition.”

The Sahara Desert was once forested and inhabited. “The glories of ancient Mali and Ghana in west Africa were legends in medieval Europe. Ancient Greece had forested hills, ample water, and productive soils” (ibid.).

Today, less than 10 percent of land in modern Iraq—site of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys—is cultivated. Dr. Cole wrote, “The landscape is dotted with mounds representing forgotten towns, the ancient irrigation works are filled with silt, the end product of soil erosion [the oldest and biggest polluter in history], and the ancient seaport of Ur is now 150 miles from the sea with its old buildings buried under [several] feet of silt…Similar conditions prevail in Iran which was once the seat of the…Persian Empire…” (emphasis added).

Yet the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates had at one time supported some of the greatest civilizations. With a complex irrigation system built using its flood plain, these rivers produced the fertile soil that nourished the Sumerian and Babylonian empires.

“Herodotus tells us that this country was one of the greatest for the production of grain, yielding returns as high as two hundred fold or even three hundred fold in exceptional years,” Milton Whitney wrote in Soil and Civilization.

Citing Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years, Dr. Cole stated in BioScience that “old Roman roads [in Lebanon] which have prevented erosion of the soil beneath them now stand several feet above the rock desert. But in a churchyard that had been protected from goats for 300 years, the cedars were found [in] about 1940 to be flourishing as in ancient times.”

Farther east, a similar pattern is seen. China was one of the first to build an agricultural structure conducive to supporting a society. However, as with other ancient civilizations, population growth led to terrible abuse of the land. Today, the nation endures recurring, catastrophic floods due to silt-clogged rivers, some colored yellow by eroded soil.

In addition, the ancient irrigation systems of India and China “stand abandoned and filled with silt. When the British assumed the rule of India two centuries ago, the population was about 60 million. Today it is about [1.2 billion] and most of its land problems have been created in the past century through deforestation and plowing and the resulting erosion and siltation, all stemming from efforts to support this fantastic population growth” (ibid.).

Speaking of Central and South America, Dr. Cole said, “Archaeologists have long wondered how the Mayas managed to support what was obviously a high civilization on the now unproductive soils of Guatemala and Yucatan. Evidently, they exploited their land as intensively as possible until both its fertility and their civilization collapsed. In parts of Mexico the water table has fallen so that towns originally located to take advantage of superior springs now must carry in water from distant sites.”

Aerial reconnaissance “has revealed ancient ridged fields on flood plains, the remnants of ‘a specialized system of agriculture that physically reshaped large parts of the South American continent’” (ibid.).

According to Dr. Cole, today we call these areas of the world underdeveloped. Yet we ought to call them overdeveloped!
Lesson of Rome

A closer look at Rome is worthwhile as the empire’s territory is considered a classic case study in manmade erosion.

From Rome’s Golden Age to the Western empire’s collapse, all soils in the farmed areas (with the possible exception of Egypt) had been deprived of the nutrients necessary for the production of healthy crops.

“In England evidences of Roman cultivation have been found five feet below the present surface,” Mr. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil. “Largely as a result of Roman exploitation, there are [almost] no forests on the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Palestine. Typical of this region is the North Dalmatian coast…[where the] hills of this region once were magnificently clothed with primeval forests. The Romans and the Illyrians, the earliest inhabitants, began the destruction of the forests. The first Slav settlers were prodigal, too. The denudation of the hills was completed by the Venetians, from about 1400 to 1700, who cut the trees for timber for their ships and piles for their palaces. The Yugoslav government was unable to reforest the hills because the young trees not uprooted by the savage north winds of winter were eaten by the goats of the peasants” (ibid.).

Many of these regions saw greatly reduced populations before the empire’s fall in AD 476, chiefly due to the deficient soils that could no longer sustain the region’s inhabitants.

Until modern times, Rome represented perhaps the worst example of long-term, widespread agricultural mismanagement. As a consequence, “the results of [Rome’s] avarice are visible yet today, in the eroded hills of Greece and the Mediterranean coast, in the sands of north Africa and western Asia.”

Yet in the 1940s, some soils in Italy had “completely recovered and…were producing more than they ever did.” Also, some soils in Western Europe and England had been “farmed for centuries not only without injury but…with yields steadily increasing for the past [217] years” (Man and the Soil).

WHY? How did this recovery come about? And why is it that some soils of Western Europe and England did not suffer erosion comparable to that of so many other areas?
“Golden Age”

Following Rome’s self-destruction, Europe’s inability to keep fertile soil in the Middle Ages continually pushed them to the brink of starvation.

During the 18th century, central Europe’s soils showed severe deterioration. In his 1947 bookFood or Famine: the Challenge of Erosion, Ward Shepard wrote, “Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the world has had a larger food supply than it ever had before. The nineteenth century was the golden age of abundance. Except for this relatively brief period, though, food has been man’s chief preoccupation through his long, precarious history and prehistory.”

But this age of abundance is rapidly drawing to a close. In 2010, almost one in seven people in the world—925 million—were underfed and undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And the first six months of 2012 showed that an additional 50 million worldwide are without food.

In the 19th century, two notable factors helped make Europe’s food supply plentiful—parallel revolutions in industry and agriculture.

This was mostly due to the new conservation efforts put forth that transformed crop growth. The most significant practices are still in use today, such as contour farming and the process of rotating crops with bare fallow.

In addition to these, Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine, the institution of effective crop rotations also helped accelerate the improvement in agriculture, along with the shift “from a soil-depleting grain economy to a soil-building livestock economy.

“The agricultural revolution not only greatly increased Europe’s food production, but gave an unparalleled stability to her soils by devoting a high proportion of them to permanent improved pasturage. This inherent stability and balance have been maintained despite two world wars and the immense growth of [the] European population.”

This was aided by the fact that central European soil is not as easily erodible as others. Also, rainfall there “is regular, frequent, and gentle, as contrasted with the heavier and more irregular rains that prevail in most parts of the United States” and the rest of the agricultural world (Man and the Soil).

But there is also a most important fact that must be considered: “soil stability in Europe was purchased at the expense of the ruthless exploitation of the soils in the new continents” (Food or Famine, emphasis added).

The book states that the dramatic agricultural revolution that fed the European “masses fathered by the
machine age” was important. But even more so was “the European colonization of the rich new fertile lands—the Americas, Africa, and Australia—and the opening up of the black lands of Russia, coincidentally with perfecting machine exploitation of the soil and rail and ocean transport of food crops to the ends of the earth.

“With machine tillage and rapid transport, the vast new lands became the granary of the world. Their produce could be quickly moved to feed the swiftly growing industrial populations of the capitalist countries or to alleviate famine in India or China.”

The soils and resources of the new frontiers—especially in North America—seemed inexhaustible. But not for long!
Last Frontier

The New World was shamefully exploited and abused. By 1685, streams were muddy with silt and floods increased due to deforestation. But the destruction of field and forest continued unabated.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—among a host of other early American leaders—were alarmed by what they saw taking place around them. They crusaded against destructive farming practices in word and deed, but to no avail, according to Mr. Mickey. The rape of the New World continued—and accelerated. When one tract of land wore out, undeveloped land was always available a little to the west.

“Every social and economic force seemed to encourage the spread of American agriculture. The invention of McCormick’s reaper, in 1831, and the other inventions of farm machinery that followed it made possible the cultivation of more and more acres…When the iron plow proved inefficient in the sticky prairie soil, the self-scouring steel plow appeared in 1837 to accelerate the westward march of agriculture” (Man and the Soil).

Throughout millennia, when man has worn out land in one area, he has moved to another. The close of the 19th century saw farming territory expanded to Oklahoma, marking the last free land area that could be occupied. After that, there was no rich, new agricultural land to which he could go.

The last significant U.S. frontier had been reached!
Decades of Destruction

The consequences of misuse of the land became more fully apparent around 1914, at the beginning of the first world war.

“During World War I, 50 million acres of agricultural lands in Europe, exclusive of Russia, went out of cultivation. Consequently, 40 million acres of grass lands in the United States were thrown into cultivation for the first time. This land—most of it in the area of western Texas and Oklahoma, extending into bordering parts of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska—never was fitted for intensive cultivation.”

“In the madness of the ‘wheat rush’ these lands were ripped open by the plow and wheat was cultivated on them by a process which is better described as ‘mining’ than agriculture.”

“On many of these huge farms there were no human inhabitants. Men came in the fall or the spring, plowed and seeded the soil, and went away. They returned in the summer, gathered the crop and went away again. After the harvest, the bare soil lay unprotected in that arid, windswept region, while the fierce sun baked it and robbed it of moisture and fertility” (Man and the Soil).

The original condition of the soil was so rich that the effects of poor husbandry took a number of years to become apparent. Then, over the 20-year span of 1914 to 1934, erosion took a greater amount of soil than in any previous period, which created an environment ripe for the coming great dust storms.

In portions of the U.S. Plains states, as well as Arizona and California, there are now deserts where approximately 90 to 140 years ago lush grasses reached up to horses’ bellies or higher and bumper wheat crops were a yearly occurrence.
America Not Alone

Much of the world followed the U.S. in these short-sighted practices. In the 19th century, economic expansion, with attendant soil mismanagement, took place around the globe. The population explosion pushed for more intensive farming practices that would rob the planet of its capability to support its occupants.

Africa ranks equally or perhaps even ahead of North America in the extent and severity of depletion.

Data has shown that most nations in Central and South America suffer these problems to some extent, Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine. In many areas, such as the wheatlands of Chile and the vast plains of the Argentine Pampas, they are severe. Overgrazing and tilling up grasslands to cultivate wheat have taken a heavy toll in destroying the choicest agricultural lands on the continent. The Amazon Basin and other tropical areas—though of less value agriculturally—also reveal excessive erosion.

The story of topsoil depletion in the Australian wheatlands and grazing lands on the border of the central desert sounds like a replay of what happened in the American West of the 1930s. Deforestation of mountains has also led to flooding and siltation issues (ibid.).

And the same picture emerged in New Zealand, where acres of forest converted into pastureland were overgrazed. Many steep slopes that should have been left to permanent forest were cleared to accommodate more sheep and cattle.

Yet it is not just the aforementioned countries that are devastating their soil. Erosion swept with unexpected force through the population-strained country of India as well as the wheatlands of Russia and grasslands of Eurasia.

“Looking at the world’s soils and natural resources in the large, they are in general and with few exceptions characterized by similar degenerative processes, which may be classified as follows:

“1) In humid regions, water erosion is destroying sloping lands by virtue of poor methods of tillage and by overgrazing of pastures.

“2) The cultivable grass-lands—the prairie soils of the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Russia—are being depleted by one-crop farming, notably wheat, and by wind and water erosion.

“3) Semi-arid grass-lands in the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia have been severely devegetated by overgrazing, with intense wind and water erosion that in many regions is producing, or threatening to produce, true desert conditions.

“4) The bulk of the world’s forests are being destructively exploited, not over 12 or 15 percent of the total forest area being under scientific management.

“5) In all these countries, poor tillage, overgrazing, and deforestation are wasting vast quantities of surface water by permitting it to rush into stream channels and out to sea instead of being absorbed into the soil by well-kept vegetative cover. This wastage causes desiccation of the land, the disruption of rivers and valleys, and an increasing menace to immense potential sources of hydroelectric energy” (Food or Famine).

Earth’s total forest and grassland cover has already been depleted well below the safety margin for maintaining a healthy climate.
Assessing the Erosion Problem

“Erosion has modified the surface of the earth more than the combined activities of all the earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and tidal waves since the beginning of history, yet its processes are so gradual that we…have been prone to ignore it,” Austin Burges wrote in Soil Erosion Control.

And ignore it most have!

In 1935, the United States Congress began to take notice. It established the Soil Conservation Service to address the widening scope of manmade erosion. The seriousness of the situation was driven home by a series of “calamities in the form of searing droughts, stupendous floods, and continent-darkening dust storms that impressed on men’s minds, to the four corners of the earth, the fury of the swiftly spreading revolt of nature against man’s crude efforts of mastery” (Food or Famine).

What did the Soil Conservation Service find when they made their first survey? They discovered that manmade erosion was “in progress on more than half our land surface—on more than a billion acres of the less than two billion acres in the continental United States.

“They found that already over 100 million acres of our best crop-land had been irremediably ruined for further cultivation” (ibid.).

In addition, Mr. Shepard wrote: “An even more destructive and critically dangerous erosion has swept over the western grass-lands of the Great Plains and intermountain plateaus after fifty or seventy-five years of overgrazing by livestock and futile and mistaken efforts to subdue these lands to the plow…Nowhere in America and almost nowhere in the world is the stupendous breakdown of great land masses and river systems more advanced, and in few parts of the world has man been more decisively defeated by nature than in the grass-lands.

“On our third great category of land—forest-land—America has met the same decisive defeat at the hands of nature.”

Despite conservation efforts over the past 75 years, government estimates from the Soil Conservation Service, which became the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994, indicate that nearly two-thirds of the 1.35 billion acres of privately owned rural land in the U.S. (about three-fifths of the total land area) need additional conservation treatment!
Estimated Annual Loss

In his book Soil Erosion Control, Mr. Burges recorded that erosion by wind and water in the 1940s annually removed “21 times as much fertility from the fields of the United States as do the crops harvested from them.”

In accordance with the same calculations, Mr. Mickey wrote in Man and the Soil, “This loss in plant nutrients…represents 60 times the quantity used each year in commercial fertilizer.”

Food or Famine also stated, “From our farms and grass-lands alone, man-made erosion [was] moving over three billion tons of soil every year down into our rivers and reservoirs and out to sea” (emphasis added).

To put this into perspective, Mr. Burges described that hauling this vast amount of earth “would require a train of freight cars long enough to encircle the globe at the equator 37 times!” (emphasis added).

That is a loss of about one-half ton of topsoil for every man, woman and child on Earth.

This is the same topsoil that holds the vital nutrients needed to produce the sustenance we depend on and serves as a thin line that separates man and famine.

“On the basis of 1,000 tons of topsoil to cover one acre seven inches deep, that meant the equivalent…of 7,000 one-hundred-acre farms” was lost in the U.S. to water erosion down the Mississippi River every year (Man and the Soil). That equates to about two million tons per day!

“All of the rivers of the earth probably [carried] to the sea about forty times as much sediment as that carried by the Mississippi,” The Illustrated Library of the Natural Sciences stated.

Recent years have seen little improvement with estimates from 2007 showing that 87 percent of cropland continues to “erode excessively”—meaning that soil erosion rates are beyond the maximum annual “loss that will permit crop productivity to be sustained economically and indefinitely on a given soil” (U.S. Department of Agriculture).

Former USDA International Agricultural Analyst Lester Brown wrote in his book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, “As long as soil erosion on cropland does not exceed new soil formation, all is well.”

In the past two centuries, however, erosion has far exceeded the natural rate of replacement.

Dr. Brown stated, “Today, roughly a third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil at an excessive rate, thereby reducing the land’s inherent productivity. An analysis of several studies on soil erosion’s effect on U.S. crop yields concluded that for each inch of topsoil lost, wheat and corn yields declined by close to 6 percent” (emphasis added).

Following a series of high-intensity deluges in 2011, Richard Cruse, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University, told The New York Times, “In a variety of locations, we’re losing topsoil considerably faster—10 to as much as 50 times faster—than it’s forming.”

But what has been the source of such dramatic losses?

“In some situations, the threat to topsoil comes primarily from overplowing, as in the U.S. Dust Bowl, but in other situations, such as in northern China, the cause is primarily overgrazing. In either case, permanent vegetation is destroyed and soils become vulnerable to both wind and water erosion…Giant dust bowls are historically new, confined to the last century or so. During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. Exacerbated by a prolonged drought, this overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl…” (World on the Edge, emphasis added).

What wind erosion can do was demonstrated by an unprecedented dust storm, or “duster,” on May 11, 1934. Mr. Mickey recorded that it “carried away an estimated 300 million tons of the topsoil of western Kansas and Oklahoma and the bordering parts of Texas, Colorado, and Nebraska” (emphasis added). On the same basis as mentioned above, this one duster “meant the equivalent of 3,000 one hundred-acre farms taken out of crop production” (Man and the Soil).

But the lessons from the Dust Bowl have not been fully learned. Soaring corn and soybean prices in 2011 drove farmers to once again till more land for crops—from steep hillsides to grassy pastures.

“‘There’s a lot of land being converted into row crop in this area that never has been farmed before,’ said [a farmer in western Iowa], explaining that the bulldozed land was too steep and costly to farm to be profitable in years of ordinary prices. ‘It brings more highly erodible land into production because they’re out to make more money on every acre’” (The New York Times). Such shortsighted practices mine cash for the moment instead of building renewable assets for the next year—and generations to come!

Yet even after cultivating more land, crop yields still fell short of those recorded in 2010.

Then in 2012, after a planting season surpassing that of the past 75 years, Bloomberg reported that record drought struck the U.S. and drove 29 states into natural-disaster status. The corn market forecasted a loss of 60 million metric tons, which skyrocketed prices up 55 percent within five weeks!

In an effort to aid livestock producers, protected land was opened in July.

“Additional acres in the Conservation Reserve Program will be made available to farmers and ranchers for haying or grazing, as the most widespread drought in seven decades has substantially reduced forage for livestock, the USDA said.

“The lands made available are classified as ‘abnormally dry’ and do not include sensitive lands such as wetlands and rare habitats,” Agence France-Presse reported.

The combination of overplowing, overgrazing, deluges and droughts leaves the land even more susceptible to erosion than in previous years. One wonders how much longer it will be until history repeats itself.

All these figures, of course, must be taken only as estimates. Erosion takes away the prime materials of the soil. Therefore, some experts believe the loss “is far greater than is apparent from a mere consideration of its actual weight or total quantity” (Conservation of the Soil, emphasis added).
Loss of Water

The effects of man’s mismanagement of the land continue to spread like ripples in a pond. As rainwater carries away vital nutrients contained within the soil, the surface water it drains into becomes unusable due to sheer mass of debris. So man has been sowing the seeds of his own destruction by fouling the two primary sources of nourishment: the soil and the water upon which all life depends.

Evidence of this manifests itself in our rivers and streams. During the 1970s, the USDA reported more than 8,000 of the 12,711 small watersheds identified in the U.S. mainland—or 65 percent—as having conservation problems needing solutions. Today, all watersheds are in need of treatment, with only those of “high need” up for consideration, according to the USDA.

Yet “engineers, still bemused by the fallacy that man can conquer nature, dream of restoring our broken-down river systems by the simple expedient of erecting gigantic flood-detention and silt-detention dams. This is a naive oversimplification of the problem.”

“For the engineers ignore the most significant aspect of their problem, namely, that nature herself, violently reconstructing entire watersheds in an effort to cope with the surplus runoff,has carved over 200 million gullies in the United States,” Mr. Shepard wrote in Food or Famine(emphasis added).

Testifying to the unconquerable force of nature, “an estimated 2000 irrigation dams in the United States are now useless impoundments of silt, sand, and gravel” (BioScience).

Improper use of land has not only affected surface water quality, but it has also spread into the seas where our rivers lead, as reported by The New York Times: “Fertilizer runoff is responsible for a vast ‘dead zone,’ an oxygen-depleted region where little or no sea life can exist, in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Whether simply overlooked or willingly ignored, proper soil fertility management and land use has been proven to vastly reduce both water loss and erosion. Unless there is a return to these true values, these losses will lead to catastrophe!
Original Article Here

South Africa: Solar Energy Option for Agriculture - Premier Modise

The North West Provincial Government is considering solar energy as an option for agriculture because Eskom rates are crippling farmers, Premier Modise announced in a bilateral meeting held with Eskom in Mahikeng on Thursday.

Premier Modise told the Management of Eskom Provincial Operating Unit that the province has resolved to establish provincial energy committee to explore alternative energy sources.

Modise who was with MEC for Economic Development, Conservation, Environment and Tourism, Motlalepula Rosho in the engagement said that province wants to be closely involved in the roll out of renewable energy and not an adhoc basis to ensure that women and young people in the province benefit and take ownership in order to sustain local businesses.

"We appreciate plans for installation of 17 263 new household connections across the province during the current financial year towards which Eskom has budget R383 million, however there is a needs for you to adopt a business perspective to support economic activity and support small medium micro enterprises and our venture into manufacturing," Premier Modise told Eskom General Manager, Philistas Khumalo and members of her unit.

"We are concerned about inferior quality of electricity in our rural communities and as a farming province we wish to mitigate the impact of carbon deposits on our livestock," Modise stressed.

She urged Eskom to seek permanent solution to theft of generators at water pumping stations in Moretele and prioritise Brits, Rustenburg and Mahikeng to ensure that businesses in these areas are not affected adversely by power disruptions that interrupt productivity.

Khumalo outlined plans to improve average incident duration and frequency through refurbishment of the ageing network, strengthening and normalisation of network to improve availability, splitting of long lines with high customer base into shorter, use of livework to improve timeous defects repairs on lines and replacement of old wood and strict management of vegetation.
Original Article Here

'Rename Marathwada agriculture university after former CM Naik'

AURANGABAD: The Maharashtra Gor Banjara Sewa Sangh and Bhartiya Bahujan Mahasangh(BBM) took out a joint rally in the city on Friday to reiterate their demand of naming the Marathwada Agricultural University in Parbhani after former state chief minister Vasantrao Naik.The agitating members said the government should rename the university by month-end.

Prakash Ambedkar, national president of BBM, said despite chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's announcement in this regard, the government was moving with a sluggish pace. "We want the government to rename the university at the earliest as we are celebrating birth centenary of the great leader," he said.

The chief minister had announced in November 2012 that Naik, a Banjara tribe leader from Yavatmal district, would be honoured on his birth centenary and the Marathwada Agriculture University would be named after him.

"We will hold rallies at talukas throughout the state and create awareness," Ambedkar said, adding that the government had also announced 28 schemes for the welfare of Banjara community, but has not implemented it yet. "Of the 28 schemes, the state government has not yet acted even on a single scheme. This attitude is creating a sense of insecurity among the people," he said.

The BBM president said that Naik had played a vital role in setting up four universities in the state of which three had already been named after three different leaders. "Rahuri Agriculture University has been named after Mahatma Phule, the agriculture university in Akola after Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh and the agricultural university at Dapoli in Ratnagiri after Balasaheb Sawant. Similarly, agricultural university in Parbhani should be named after Naik," he added.

Hirasingh Rathod, state president of Maharashtra Gor Banjara Sewa Sangh, and others participated in the rally.

Chief minister Yashwantrao Chavan had announced in November 2012 that Naik, a Banjara tribe leader from Yavatmal district, would be honoured on his birth centenary and the Marathwada Agriculture University would be named after him.
Original Article Here

NBP intends to finance energy and agriculture sectors

After implementing core banking application, National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) now intends to prioritise financing energy (Rs 125 billion) and agricultural sectors over the coming years. National Bank had successfully implemented core banking application in its main branch to provide 'superb' customer services, besides ensuring efficiency across the banking functions.

"The NBP has launched core banking application to strengthen its internal banking system, facilitating its customers. After the successful launch of the main branch, the bank is planning to introduce core banking application in all its branches. According to the plan, core banking application will be implemented in 250 branches over the next four months. NBP has already completed a pilot project of online system and at present, with 1,300 online branches, the bank has become the largest bank with 100 percent online branch network."

As the entire country is facing a serious crisis of energy followed by mounting circular debt, the bank is also planning to extend its financing to the energy sector.

NBP "will finance energy-related project on top priority". "So far, some 10 energy projects had been initiated in the country, of which seven have been financed by the NBP. Of these seven, five have already commenced operations and two more are expected to become operational shortly.

On the whole, as much as financing facility worth Rs 125 billion had been extended to the energy sector. Cut in key policy rate, 2012 was a difficult year for commercial banks because of persistent reduction in discount rates that significantly impacted the net interest income of all banks.

Under a declining interest rate scenario, the bank was redefining its business model and at present, while most commercial banks were investing heavily in government securities, the NBP had effectively kept its fresh investment in government securities at a minimum level and was trying to fulfil the demand of the private sector.

"The bank is planning to offset the impact of low interest rate by expanding (its investment) in high-yield and low-risk products, low-cost deposit mobilisation branch expansion and a reduction in non-performing loans (NPL).Agricultural, advance salary and consumer gold are three main products of the NBP to facilitate masses, particularly people in rural areas, which had previously been deprived of banking facilities.

A significant growth witnessed in agriculture and consumer loans over the past few years and at present, the NBP had the largest market share in terms of agriculture and consumer loans among domestic commercial banks.

"Consumer loans, especially against gold, have grown by 51 percent whereas the growth in agricultural loans was 30 percent during 2012. Total agriculture and consumer loans stood at Rs 131 billion at the end of December last year. Many local banks preferred to invest in government securities, the NBP witnessed a significant growth in advances locally as well as internationally. With an increase of 25 percent, total advances grew to Rs 657 billion by the end of December last year from Rs 525 billion in December 2011. NBP achieved a massive growth in lending to farmers: the bank achieved its target for this fiscal year by disbursing Rs 52 billion on account of agricultural credit disbursement during July-April of FY13."

The bank's overall investment has surged to Rs 343.5 billion at the end of December last year, up from Rs 319.5 billion at the end of December 2011. The bank was planning to set up 55 new branches across the country, including 40 conventional and 15 of Islamic banking, focusing on rural areas. NBP decided to open more branches in less developed areas, instead of urban areas, out of 40 branches, as many as 30-32 branches would be established in rural areas.

Commenting on the bank's foreign operations, NBP currently had 29 overseas branches, bank was gradually expanding. NBP was planning to set up a branch in Sri Lanka to facilitate trade and industry.

NBP would soon set up a branch in Russia, "The bank is also successfully operating as many as four branches in Afghanistan and six in Central Asian Republics, NBP was also revitalising its Islamic banking operations. With the opening up of 15 new designated Islamic banking branches this year, the total number of such branches would rise to 23,Islamic banking was likely to provide new impetus to NBP's Islamic banking services, bank's home remittances services, NBP had aggressively extended its remittance correspondence base across the globe with the aim of facilitating overseas Pakistanis. Cumulatively, the NBP had struck agreements with 30 leading overseas remitting partners. Citing a major strategic move, NBP had created a separate independent group named Global Home Remittances Management Group in 2009 to focus on inward home remittances business. 

NBP was the leader in the home remittances business. The domestic farming sector actually needed loans worth Rs 750 billion annually, while nearly Rs 300 billion was being disbursed via formal banking channels, leaving behind a gap of Rs 450 billion "which is being filled by informal channels charging very high mark-up rates from farmers". NBP's farming sector disbursements witnessed a massive increase of 68 percent over the past two years.-PR
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