Estevao Carlos, a pork seller in Morrumbala District, in Zambezia, the most populated province of Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).
Two useful reality checks have appeared this week for those of us in the agricultural research for development business.
(1) The first concerns the hardy jatropha tree, widely heralded as a miracle biofuel source.
Miyuki Iiyama, fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre, and James Onchieku, principal research officer at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, write in SciDev.Net this week (27 October 2010) that ‘while it is possible that jatropha could eventually evolve into a higher yielding oil crop that is productive on marginal lands, and markets could be established for its oil and other useful by-products, it is far too soon to make such promises.
‘The reality is that jatropha is still essentially a semi-wild plant and as such its seed yields, oil quality and oil content are all highly variable. Considerable research is needed into the agronomy of jatropha and crop improvement.
‘The FAO/IFAD [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/International Fund for Agricultural Development] report recommends short-term research focused on producing superior clonal plants, with longer-term work on developing improved varieties with reliable trait expression and a seed production system that ensures farmer have access to productive and reliable planting materials.
‘For now, the main potential of jatropha is as part of a strategy to reclaim degraded land, provide a source of locally processed and used oil, and as a hedgerow to control grazing. Until further R&D is conducted — by establishing jatropha trials in various agro-ecological zones, with farmers informed of best practices — significant plantations remain risky and uneconomical. Only “business as usual” should continue.’
Read the whole article at SciDevNet: Reality check for ‘miracle’ biofuel crop, 29 October 2010.
(2) The second reality check concerns what farming practices poor livestock producers should, and can, follow to ensure food safety.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) teamed up to produce a new book called Guide to Good Farming Practices for Animal Production and Food Safety (2010).
Here’s the introduction:
‘Food safety is universally recognised as a public health priority. It requires a holistic approach, from production to consumption.
‘This Guide is intended to help Competent Authorities to assist stakeholders, including farmers, to fully assume their responsibilities at the animal production stage of the food chain to produce safe food. Good farming practices should also address socioeconomic, animal health and environmental issues in a coherent manner.
‘The recommendations in the Guide complement the responsibilities of the Competent Authorities at the farm level, in particular those of the Veterinary Services, and are intended to assist in developing on-farm quality assurance systems for animal product food safety. This document complements existing OIE, FAO and Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) texts aimed at addressing animal health and welfare, socioeconomic and environmental issues related to farming practices. The bibliography lists the most relevant documents and publications.
‘To assist the Competent Authorities an indication is given at the end of the Guide on the steps to be taken to implement the recommendations.’
Delia Grace, a veterinary and public health researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says: ‘This book is a competent compilation of common sense livestock-keeping principles and practices. Well-off, well-educated farmers (mainly in rich countries) are familiar with these and generally follow them (except when it is in their decided self-interest not to).
‘For poor farmers in poor countries, however, the recommendations are to a large extent unworkable. To give just a couple of examples: When a country has millions of poor livestock keepers and only dozens of veterinarians, how can farmers “Establish a working relationship with a veterinarian to ensure that animal health and welfare and disease notification issues are addressed” and how (and why) should illiterate livestock keepers keep no less than six different sets of records about their farms (page 5)?’
‘Can farming practices be considered “good,”‘ Grace asks, ‘if they provide few direct benefits to those expected to carry them out? What is “good” for the resource-rich livestock owner is often demonstrably not “good”, or even feasible, for the resource-poor livestock keeper. FAO and OIE, two global bodies, have, understandably, recommended global standards that keep our livestock foods safe for human consumption. But these standards can be considered “standard” only by those (relatively few) livestock keepers with the wherewithal to uphold them. Most of the rest of the 1.3 billion people in the world who pursue livestock livelihoods will, also understandably, continue to apply their own, lower, standards of food safety—until such time as their socioeconomic and policy circumstances change, providing them with incentives to invest in higher standards of food safety.’
Find the guide at: Guide to good farming practices for animal production and food safety, FAO and OIE, 2010.