Tag Archives: Environment

SWOT Analysis of the African Agriculture

A very comprehensive and realistic SWOT Analysis has been carried out and published by the Montlpellier Panel, a group of reputed experts on agriculture, trade, sustainability and global development. The Panel is working together to make recommendations to enable better European government support of national and regional agricultural development and food security priorities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Let´s have a look to their findings:

Strengths:

  • The diversity of African agricultural ecosystems furnishes resilience although this heterogeneity also requires sophisticated and nuanced management
  • Smallholder agriculture can be highly efficient producing five or more tons of grain per hectare with appropriate inputs and management
  • Farm-level production costs in Africa are often relatively low
  • There is a strong tradition of village-level farmer associations providing a basis for growth and innovation
  • Acceleration in GDP growth in SSA has been, in part, driven by faster agricultural growth
  • More organized and concerted African leadership through CAADP
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the continent increased from US$2.4 billion in 1985 to US$55 billion in 2010 although most of this was in the oil and gas sectors

Weaknesses:

• A lack of coherent, cross-ministerial policies and leadership on agriculture

• Poor incentives for small business investment

• Access to input and output markets is often weak

• Average cereal yields are only one ton per hectare

• The predominant rainfed agriculture is vulnerable to unreliable and unpredictable rainfall

• Total agricultural R&D spending in Africa grew at only 1.9% between 2000 and 2008, although there is wide variability between countries

• African soils are heavily degraded and depleted of nutrients

• Tenure over more than 90% of land remains outside the formal legal system in Africa and is therefore at risk of dispossession.

• Agricultural mechanisation is poorly developed

Opportunities:

  • There is a large agricultural workforce: 65% of Africa’s population lives and works in rural areas
  • The workforce will be predominantly young: by 2040, one in five of the world’s young people will live in Africa
  • Large opportunities to improve yields through increasing fertilizer application rates and irrigating more land
  • Fertilisers are applied at average rates of about 11kg/ ha of arable land (compared to 154kg
    ha in India and 468kg/ha in China). There is a huge potential to use local African sources of rock phosphate fertilizer at affordable costs
  • Only around 4% of cultivated land in SSA is irrigated. Potentially over 20 million hectares of land under irrigation
  • Already in motion are agricultural growth corridor projects in areas with high agricultural potential that will stimulate investment and develop regional value chains
  • Mobile and internet connectivity is growing rapidly: mobile phone subscribers have risen from less than two million in 1998 to over 400 million in 2009 and internet users in SSA between 2005 and 2010 grew by almost 430%

Threats:

  • 80% of all African farms (33 million farms) are less than two hectares in size, which can increase transaction costs
  • The success of investments in agriculture depends on the engagement of women who make up 50% of the agricultural labour force and have relatively poor access to resources and services
  • SSA has many pests, diseases and weeds such as Striga, Black Sigatoka, Banana wilt, Cassava mosaic virus, Maize leaf streak, Maruca beetles, stem borers, downy mildew and locusts that are capable of destroying harvests
  • SSA farmers face the lowest agricultural incentives in the world
  • Three quarters of African countries are net importers of agricultural products and African trade tariffs are on average 50% higher than comparable tariffs in Latin America and Asia
  • Climate change is likely to reduce crop yields across much of SSA

Definitely, any plan to tackle the problem of food production in Africa cannot be simplistic, but to include actions from a very broad number of areas simultaneously. However, I would like to highlight a very clear conclusion derived from this analysis -in alignment with other similar reports-, and this is how important is for the future of a successful growth of agriculture in Africa the extensive implementation of those technologies of irrigation, crop protection and climate control, like greenhouses, which could be denominated as “modern” in the african context, though are long time existing in other parts of the world.

We don´t have to invent the wheel, we don´t have to test, but simply to transfer technology and know-how that are easily available and which results are predictably.

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Climate change or… Geomagnetism ?

It may sound awkward at first glance, but serious research are being carried out around the changes of the magnetic fields of the Earth and findings lead to a potential link with climate change. If so, no need to say that it would affect agriculture too.

The origin of these investigations are on the interest to predict the changes on the North-South magnetic axis with the time. We know since long ago that the North magnetic pole doesn´t coincide with the geographic North pole, because the magnetic one changes continuously. This variation (magnetic declination) is very small, but it´s still sufficient to have to be considered in maps, charts, navigational methods and instruments. Even in the GPS era, the magnetic compass is still an essential tool in ships, planes and for many travelers.

We also know, that the mentioned variation isn´t stable. The changes can be predicted for short periods of time (well, some years, actually), but the change is capricious: it doesn´t match with a fix pattern. So it cannot be predicted for longer term periods. The reasons? The number one leads to the Earth nucleus, an apparently unstable “ambient” that determines heavily the magnetic fields of our planet.

Now, some researches carried out by analyzing the orientation of magnetic particles contained in samples of soil extracted from certain locations, revealed that the magnetic poles of the planet have changed their position so much in the past, that they even were on opposite positions to where them are now.

Yet it´s true that it took many thousand years “the travel”, it is also true that scientists are finding some acceleration in the changes in the last years.

The correlation between the trace of temperature evolution, obtained from glacier age samples, and that of the magnetic fields variation, is well studied and unveils that big changes in climate -like desertifications and glaciations- are always linked. It´s a proven fact.

And what is the connection of Earth magnetic field with climate?

It´s not yet clear which one causes changes in the other.

Well, on one side, the magnetic fields act as a shield protecting the Earth surface from the “impact” of high energy particles which may cause some disruption in elements such as the electric power grid, problems in air communications, and reduction of the life of geostationary satellites -like those governing the GPS system-, among others. But another effect of these particles reaching the surface of the planet, either ground or oceans, is heat transfer and, thus, temperature change, so its variations activate a chain reaction in the complex climate mechanism.

On a different line, some scientist refer to the solar particles affecting what they call “cloud seeds” -other particles which act as aggregators of vapor molecules and start up cloud formation-; so, the variation in the magnetic shield would influence the amount of clouds  in the atmosphere.

Other theory is that changes in the heating of the core of the planet and the transmission of heat through the mantle and its layers, cause climate change and, obviously, in the magnetic fields too.

Maybe at the end of the day, men and modernity may not be the real reason -or at least not completely- of the alleged global warming that we are experiencing.

PD: Shall we have to use a compass to predict the weather tomorrow?

Did you know…?

Dear all,

Find below some key figures that help to figure out in our minds a broad picture of essential facts of world agriculture.

So, did you know that…

  • World agricultural production has grown nearly 300%  over the last 50 years, while the cultivated area only did it by 12%. Furthermore, more than 40% of the increase in food production came from irrigated areas.
  • In the same period, global cultivated land per person declined from 0,44 to 0,25 Has/person. This shows how successful intensive agriculture has become.
  • Rainfed agriculture is the world´s predominant agricultural system. Current productivity of rainfed systems is, on average, 50% of its potential, and in the poorest countries only 20%. Increasing climate variability is bringing grater uncertainty in production levels.
  • Around 350 million people were affected by drought and other natural disasters between 2010 and 2011, mostly in Africa and Asia.
  • Until 2000, agriculture was the mainstay of employment around the world. Since then, the services sector has assumed this mantle and the gap between the two has widened. Although employment growth in agriculture has slowed, the number of workers in this sector reached over 1 billion in 2009. In sub-Saharan Africa, growth in agricultural employment accounted for half of all employment growth between 1999 and 2009.
  • In the coming decades, climate change may bring further risks and unpredictability to harvests; it is anticipated that key agricultural systems will have to cope with new temperature, humidity and water stress.

(Source: FAO)

To me, all the above mentioned clearly shows:

  • How successful agricultural intensification has been.
  • The need to increase the efficiency of land and water use.
  • The need to prevent food production be affected by weather conditions.
  • It also leads to the consideration of modern intensive agricultural production systems as an strategic pillar of the food sufficiency in this planet.

What do you think?

Practical solutions for a big challenge

Our civilization faces a great challenge: for the next 40 years we have to double the food output from our farms if we want the expected 9 billion people living then to be properly fed.

If that was not challenging enough, let´s add the restricted availability of the key ingredient: water. Not only an issue of quantity, but of the environmental impact that would cause having to double the volume of water that we currently use in agriculture.

Conclusion: we need to produce more (a lot more) with less (water among other inputs).

Obviously, this is a very simplistic and partially focused introduction of a much more complex subject. But this is enough to highlight the great relevance that should play the two means of production that we discuss on this post:

  • irrigation systems
  • greenhouses

Irrigation systems must become an indispensable and omnipresent actor in farms all across locations, like Africa and other underdeveloped regions, as much as it is today in the most advanced agricultural regions, like Europe and North America.

Rain-fed crops are no longer an option for the assurance of food supply to 9 billion people. Irrigating crops by traditional inundation practice, isn´t either a sustainable option. Only systems like drip irrigation and spray are seen as a viable alternative that can ensure a great increase in output production while preserving the natural reserves of water.

Efficiency of existing irrigation systems is big, but it´s expected that most evolved systems, like hydroponics, only implanted in the western world, do expand their presence and become the standard in those regions where today rain is the first irrigation system. With systems that require an extraction of water equivalent only to that the plants incorporate to their cells, plus the loses on evapotranspiration, we ensure that only the strictly necessary water is used. Efficiency at top level.

Greenhouses provide a big range of advantages to horticulture. Yet cereal crops are excluded, there´s still a big stake of the food diet that can be grown under protected environment.

The protection from weather and pest risks, provides outstanding conditions to multiply the yield of all crops by several times the standard in outdoor conditions in the same surface; crops can be grown during a longer period of the year (even the whole of it in some cases); the losses of production due to quality damages are minimized; the demand of inputs like water, fertilizers and agrochemicals is lower per kg of product obtained; the use of pesticides can be minimized or eradicated much more easily than in outdoor crops.

Add to all that the possibility to modify and control the interior climate conditions according to each crop, and the output is boosted.

The combination of Greenhouses and modern Irrigation Systems represent a mix of highest efficiency, and as such, them should play a significant role in the development of a new model of sustainable agriculture in those regions of the planet, where current practices are completely unviable to ensure food supply in the coming decades.

We are not facing a problem of having to solve a technological challenge; the existing technology is good enough and still evolves and improves day by day. What we face is a double challenge:

  • extending the presence of that technology to all regions of the world
  • divulge the necessary knowledge and expertise to make those systems works properly

Six Ways to Ensure Food Sufficiency by 2050

Hi everybody,

I wanted to share with you a very interesting video edited by FarmingFirst.org, that shows, in a very clear way, a list of 6 measures that would result essential to guarantee food sufficiency, after the big growth of population that our planet will expect from now to 2050.

38 years is not that much for the aim to transform in depth the current status of agricultural output in the world. We depart from a weak position, with already many needs to attend now; no need to say that the work to be done and the complexity of implementing means like these at planet scale, are tremendous challenge.

We could well say that the people involved in the agricultural industry certainly have in their hands the future of humanity.

Your comments are welcome.