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Posts tagged ‘Food and Agriculture Organization’

Saving Nigeria’s Agriculture From Fair-weather ‘Investors’ By Chidi Oguamanam.


By Chidi Oguamanam

Mr. President, you are feeding Nigeria and the international community recognizes your efforts and leadership in feeding Nigeria”. That was Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture’s remark to his boss, President Jonathan. Curiously, Adesina – not a top official of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations – was presenting an award from the FAO to the President.  According to media reports, the President was recognized by the FAO for his government’s effort at reduction of hunger and chronic poverty in the country. The FAO believes (more like speculates) that the federal government has reduced by half between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of Nigerians living on less than $1.25 a day!  Talk about a culture of low expectations, apologies to Okey Ndibe. The reference to 2015 underscores how less seriously one is inclined to take the source of this information, not to mention even the reference to 1990. No one is under illusion regarding Nigeria’s socio-economic profile in the 1990s. Against all odds to the contrary, even if we try to spin that era on a positive light, we quickly realise that the President’s political career had yet to take off in the 1990s.  It is then reasonable to suggest that the President received the award for himself, his successor, if any, in 2015 and partly for Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, Yar’Adua and Obasanjo, our yesteryears heads of state.  So, what the FAO is saying is that the collective years of these men in power made us to crawl on a nano scale out of the tunnel of hunger and poverty in which they either met the nation or interred it by their policies.

 

This award to the President raises more questions than answers. I doubt if many Nigerians, even the President himself, took it seriously. The President’s measured and less enthused response was more important. A detached review of the award presentation on television indicates that the President’s body language reflected disguised embarrassment. I suggest that such a posture was more commendable than the award, a fact nuanced in the President’s remark.  Even the fact that the FAO did not choose a more auspicious strategy or forum to present the award has its own symbolism. If the FAO seriously and truly wanted to showcase the government’s positive impact on hunger and poverty eradication, it probably could have flown in its Director General, Jośe Graziano da Silva, to present the award to the President. It could possibly have chosen a more visible global arena, in Geneva, New York, Rome or elsewhere to celebrate the President and lift him onto a global pedestal as a model for other leaders, especially in Africa, on the issue of hunger and poverty eradication and the Millennium Development Goals.

This opinion is not about the unanswered questions from the President’s award. It is a reflection on Nigeria’s agriculture, one that seeks to open a debate of some sort. All said, I personally think that we have a hard-working Minister of Agriculture. I have reason to believe that his leadership of the sector is comparatively refreshing. He needs to be encouraged. The potential of Agriculture as an engine of Nigeria’s national rebirth is great. We need to move beyond potential. In the last couple of decades, global agricultural transformation presents opportunities and challenges for developing countries, especially in Africa.  We have seen the full-blown introduction of the wonders and dangers of modern agricultural biotechnology, through genetic modification of crops and even animals. We have also witnessed the introduction of living modified organisms of various kinds and large scale international trade, domestic marketing and consumption of genetically engineered food. With the global expansion of free trade, the trans-boundary movements of these goods and various novel food and agricultural products have continued to increase.

Add to that, the aggressive presence of China in Africa and Nigeria, has continued to boost questionable foreign direct investments, not only in resource extraction but also in the service industries, notably restaurants and downstream retail and sundry services. These eateries and retail outlets serve and sell all kinds of foreign and culturally sensitive dishes and agricultural products. Sometime one wonders how those stuff make their way into Nigeria. With a feeble but noticeable revival of the middle class in Nigeria, our consumption pattern and taste continue to change in very predictable and unpredictable patterns. While Nigerians in diaspora long for local food, some of their compatriots at home make consumption of foreign cuisine a status symbol.  Vegetarians and carnivores alike are competing for consumptive space after their divergent fancies. Local crop, animal and fish farming are barely struggling to rise to these challenges.  Yet, I see opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurships for our graduates in the agriculture and allied sectors.

Nigeria, like most African countries, is a site for foreign agricultural land grabs. Pristine agricultural lands in Africa are increasingly targets of foreign acquisitions, especially since the 2008 global financial crises. Africa is a new destination for foreign biofuel farmers and adventurers. The continent is now at the crosscurrent of forces that seek turning poor peoples’ food into rich peoples’ fuel.  In Africa non-traditional trading partners from the influential bloc of regional and emergent powers such as China, India and Brazil look set to out-compete western powers with their eyes not only on extractive industries but also in agricultural investments.  The Obasanjo administration literally gave Robert Mugabe-displaced Zimbabwean farmers free pass into prime agricultural lands in Nigeria’s agricultural belts. Led by Kwara State’s Saraki, other sub-national governments in Nigeria jumped into the bandwagon of courting foreign industrial farmers into Nigeria.  All of these have happened in ad-hoc fashion, at a time when there is no strong legal and policy frameworks for mapping the future of Nigeria’s agriculture. Save for Botswana, Ethiopia and South Africa (the latter is also part of the land grab syndrome within sister Africa countries), Nigeria’s situation is not different from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria has an ecological diverse richness that makes for sustainable agricultural production. In addition to its immensely youthful population, Nigeria has invested quite significantly in manpower development in Agriculture. With several research centres, mid-level colleges of agriculture, polytechnics, and universities of agriculture, the expectation was that Nigeria’s agricultural revolution will be driven from within. The success of the fairly new privately-owed Afe Babalola University in practical agricultural and food production is evidence of what is possible when corruption is bridled in public institutions and when there is a will to follow through with set target. Government can learn from the private sector. Agriculture is multi-layered solution to a significant measure of Nigeria’s hydra-headed problems: youth unemployment, dependency on petroleum, hunger, poverty and all aspects of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Collectively, national failure on those scores is related to persistent national security crisis, radicalization and religious brainwashing of idle and unemployed youths across all religious divides in the country.

Can Nigeria afford to let so-called foreign direct investors and agents of industrial agriculture and international trade dictate its agricultural road map? In Africa, certainly in Nigeria, agriculture is a way of life as well as a cultural process. It is not an exclusively industrial and production process as it has since become in the western world.  Our agricultural practices reflect our worldview and our relationship with our environment. From all nooks and crannies of this country, traditional farming communities, mainly led by women, are custodians of the culture in agriculture. The diversity of the agricultural crops and the millennial innovation of our farmers on the farm fields from season to season perhaps compares to the various claims of test tube or laboratory agriculture. These folks are the true custodians of our food security. They grow culturally relevant food and have a good mastery of our ecosystems.  For every civilization, food is an extension of culture and identity. Despite the abundance of foreign cuisine in Nigeria, our food security lies in locally-grown food by local people, especially women. With necessary support to these segments of our economic strength through access to land capital and market coupled with strategic support for young agriculture graduates, Nigeria’s agricultural revival will be under the control of ordinary Nigerians.

When it comes to shaping agricultural policy, Nigeria and, of course, Africa has the benefit of late comers. In most developed world, large scale industrial agriculture has displaced small-holder traditional farming and farmers. Seed breeders and their allies in hi-tech agro- biotechnology have succeeded in turning small-holder traditional farmers into endangered species. Rarely do people have control over their food supply any more in the developed world.  Consequently, genetically modified foods have become the norm in those regions of the world. Consumers have limited choice over what they consume.  The idea of organic food is no longer one based on absence of transgenes. Rather, it is based on what constitutes a tolerable percentage of transgenic presence. Organic certification is as politicized as the issue of labeling of genetically modified organisms. The history of industrial agriculture shows how unpredictable science is. Crop failure and presence of carcinogens in industrial agro-chemicals of the green revolution era are lessons yet to be learnt. Not mention the dangers of monoculture.

Nigeria’s factor endowment in its indigenous traditional agricultural communities must be leveraged in order to empower these critical segments of our socio-economic survival. The long-throat with which the government and elite private sector have embraced foreign direct investments in Nigeria’s agriculture is worrisome. There is no suggestion here that Nigeria can do without external technical and capacity building support in the agricultural sector. Presently, we have fairly robust educational institutions in agriculture that could play constructive roles in negotiating and hosting technology transfer initiatives toward a national agricultural policy that addresses Nigeria’s food security needs. That is different from freely downloading external industrial agricultural interests in Nigeria on a silver platter. Nigeria’s national interests are not necessarily in sync with these fair-weather investors.

Assuming the genie is still in the bottle, it is tenable that Nigeria could potentially manage and mitigate full-blown introduction of genetic modification in our agricultural farmlands.  Doing so, Nigeria could constitute itself into a niche exporter of organic or exotic produce. But in the prevailing paucity of a comprehensive cross-sectorial national agricultural policy framework and cognate legal and general regularly environment, living modified organisms could readily make their ways through our borders. Some of them can be easily and intentionally introduced into the environment without necessary precaution, risk assessment and management as mandated in international law.  Even modified organisms designated for food, feed and processing easily and, in fact, regularly end up in agricultural farmlands. Since Nigeria signed onto the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, it is not clear if we have any effective risk assessment, crisis intervention and management regime regarding trans-boundary movement of living modified organisms that are capable of posing environment and human health hazards, with severe implication for national food security. A critical look at our borders and customs contact points: land, sea and air, and this point needs no more arguing.

In the 1970s Nigeria invested in arts and culture, established a good number of universities with strong bias in the arts and in cultural studies. Several decades later, with the combination of private sector initiatives and the ‘products’ of those institutions, the Nollywood was born. In the 1980s without sound scientific base in primary and secondary schools, Nigeria boosted its technical education, established several universities of technology and later those of agriculture. Yet we have teaming youth unemployment, an agricultural landscape that is increasingly rudderless, far removed from the aspiration for food security and food sovereignty, one that is ready to marginalize the most critical link in agricultural sustainability – small scale peasant agricultural communities. We are ready to jump to bed with Zimbabwean farmers and offer French kiss to Indian and Chinese land grabbers. With political will and visionary leadership what we are looking for in the Sokoto of foreign direct investment in agriculture we already have in our traditional agricultural sokoto.

Conceivably, the President did not fall for the diversion of the FAO award. He did not seem to have been under any illusion that he is feeding the country. For our overpaid members of the National Assembly, it is time to partner with the executive and take a holistic look on Nigeria’s agriculture. Previous pretensions to generating agricultural policy for Nigeria are too shallow and lack depth, especially in regard to cross-sectorial challenges of governing the new global agricultural dynamics. It is time to begin the design of sound context-sensitive, national interest-driven policy architecture for Nigeria’s agriculture. We have good ministerial leadership in the agricultural sector that can drive the change. It is better late than never. We may even reflect on the pros and cons of a ministry of food separate from but harmonised with the ministry of agriculture.  The President has no business feeding Nigeria. His province is to spearhead the shaping of policies. He should leave that task of feeding Nigerian to the people whose job it is – real Nigerian farmers. They need empowerment and protection from fair-weather investors!

You may follow me on twitter: @chidi_oguamanam

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

Mexico Overtakes America as Fattest Nation.


Finally some good news for America in its ongoing battle of the bulge: Mexico has moved into first place on the list of the world’s most-obese developed nations.

According to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly a third of Mexican adults, or 32.8 percent, are considered obese, defined as having an adult body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.

America still tips the scale at a close second, with 31.8 percent of adults defined as obese. Then comes Syria, weighing in at 31.6 percent, while Venezuela and Libya tie for fourth place at a hefty 30.8 percent.

“The same people who are malnourished are the ones who are becoming obese,” Abelardo Avila, a physician with Mexico’s National Nutrition Institute, told the Global Post.

“In poor classes we have obese parents and malnourished children. The worst thing is the children are becoming programmed for obesity. It’s a very serious epidemic,” she said.

About 12 percent of the world’s population is obese, according to the report.

The world’s fattest nation overall is Nauru, a South Pacific island where 71.1 percent of its 10,000 population is obese.

Though the report didn’t include data for American Samoa, in the past it ranked as the world’s fattest locale. According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, 95 percent of the country’s inhabitants were considered overweight

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Melanie Batley

Plague Locusts Threaten Israel for First Time in 50 Years.


PARIS — Desert locusts in Israel hatched and formed groups of juveniles known as hoppers for the first time in more than 50 years, threatening crops, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported.

Spraying of hoppers is in progress to treat as many infestations as possible before the immature plague insects become adults that could form swarms and threaten agriculture, the Rome-based FAO wrote on its Locust Watch website today.

Adult desert locusts can eat their own weight of about 2 grams (0.07 ounces) in food daily, and swarms can cover several hundred square kilometers, with between 40 million and 80 million locusts per square kilometer (0.4 square miles), according to the FAO. The last time locusts hatched and formed hopper groups in Israel was in April 1961, the U.N. agency said.

“Hatching occurred from mid-April onwards in the western Negev Desert of Israel and in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt where hoppers are now forming groups and bands in both areas,” the FAO wrote.

In Egypt, insecurity is hampering survey and control operations in the Sinai, according to the FAO. Locust breeding has been detected and hopper groups may be forming in inaccessible areas, according to the report.

Flying South

Any adult groups and swarms that may form in either country will probably fly south in June to summer breeding areas in the interior of central Sudan to western Eritrea, the FAO said.

Locusts are also breeding in Saudi Arabia, including on the edges of irrigated alfalfa crops. Groups of adults moved to the country’s interior and there’s a risk that small groups could reach southwest Iran and move east, the FAO said. Hopper bands are forming in Sudan along the Nile River that could threaten crops this month, it said.

The locust-risk level in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan is orange, the second-highest category, meaning surveys and controls must be undertaken and there’s a threat to crops, according to the FAO. The level is yellow in Egypt, a lower risk assesment that calls for increased vigilence.

In northwest Africa, spring breeding is in progress in the northern Sahara of Algeria and on the southern side of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, according to the report. Spraying has taken place in Algeria, the FAO said.

Desert-locust distribution can extend over 60 countries during plague years, covering about 29 million square kilometers, according to the FAO.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Locusts Strike Egypt Three Weeks Before Passover.


locust
Millions of the grasshopper-like insects swarmed Israel’s southern neighbor, damaging crops. (RNS)

With Passover just three weeks away, the timing of a massive infestation of locusts in Egypt is striking many Israelis as downright biblical.

Millions of the grasshopper-like insects swarmed Israel’s southern neighbor, damaging crops. Some have since made their way to southern Israel.

On the eve of Passover, which this year begins at sundown on March 25, Jews around the world will recall the Exodus story and the 10 plagues that befell Egypt.

According to the Old Testament Book of Exodus, God sent 10 plagues to Egypt because the pharaoh refused to free the Israelites from captivity.

Locusts were the eighth plague. The pharaoh relented after the 10th plague and the Israelites left, but the Egyptian army pursued them until the soldiers drowned in the sea.

The last sporadic swarm of locusts was eight years ago, Keith Cressman, the senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome, told NBC News. Cressman said the insects started along the Sudan-Egypt border after breeding and got caught up in a weather system that carried them north and east.

Though Israeli agricultural experts are on high alert and fear that the locusts could devastate crops, many Israelis have been more laid back, with some noting that some varieties of the leggy pests are kosher.

“Not only does the Torah permit man to eat certain mammals, birds and fish, but it even permits him to eat certain insects–namely several types of locusts,” Rabbi Natan Slifkin wrote in The Times of Israel.

Although most Jews of European descent have scant experience with locusts and don’t know how to identify the kosher kinds, some Jews of North African descent do have the expertise, Slifkin said.

Slifkin proceeded to explain how best to cook the locusts–with some oil and spices.

“My wife, however, insists that I do not use her kitchen utensils for the task; she is locust-intolerant,” the rabbi said.

“The rationale for certain locusts being kosher may be a practical matter–when your crops are wiped out by locusts, at least you’re not left with nothing to eat.”

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

World must brace for higher food prices, experts say.


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  • Indian villagers cross a dry river bed in Gandhinagar district. With drought parching farms in the United States and near the Black Sea, weak monsoon rains in India and insidious hunger in Africa's Sahel region, the world could be headed towards another food crisis, experts sayIndian villagers cross a dry river …

With drought parching farms in the United States and near the Black Sea, weak monsoon rains in India and insidious hunger in Africa‘s Sahel region, the world could be headed towards another food crisis, experts say.

Asia should keep a catastrophe at bay with a strong rice harvest while the G20 group of industrialized and emerging economies tries to parry the main threat, soaring food prices.

“We have had quite a few climate events this year that will lead to very poor harvests, notably in the United States with corn or in Russia with soja,” warned Philippe Pinta of the French farmers federation FNSEA.

“That will create price pressures similar to what we saw in 2007-2008,” he added in reference to the last global food alert, when wheat and rice prices nearly doubled.

In India, “all eyes will be on food inflation – whether the impact of a weak monsoon feeds into food prices,” Samiran Chakraborty, regional head of research at Standard Chartered Bank was quoted by Dow Jones Newswires as saying.

Monsoon rains were 15.2 percent below average in mid-August, according to latest data from India weather bureau, and Asian rice prices are forecast to rise by as much as 10 percent in the coming months as supplies tighten.

India and Thailand are two of Asia’s leading rice exporters.

Indian Food Minister Kuruppasserry Varkey Thomas told parliament this month that prevailing conditions “could affect the crop prospects and may have an impact on prices of essential commodities.”

Despite that warning however, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization expects rice output to slightly surpass “excellent results” recorded last year, though the FAO cut its global forecast for production of unmilled rice to about 725 million tons from its previous figure of 732 million.

The world is feeling the onset of the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has a natural warming effect, is active in the western Pacific and expected to last until winter in the northern hemisphere, according to Japanese meteorologists.

The US farm belt has been ravaged by the most stifling drought since the 1950s, and the country’s contiguous 48 states have just sweltered through the hottest July on record.

Corn production is probably at the lowest level in six years, the US Department of Agriculture said, and curtailed production will likely send corn and soybean prices to record highs, it added.

“Cereal prices have shot up, with an increase in (corn) prices of almost 40 percent since June 1,” strategists at the CM-CIC brokerage noted.

Commerzbank commodity experts said high temperatures and drought around the Black Sea “have resulted in wheat crop shortfalls on a scale that cannot yet be predicted with any accuracy.”

US commodities analyst, AgResource Company president Dan Basse told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last week that the Australian harvest could play a role in easing the food shortage.

“We need every metric tonne of wheat and grain the Australian farmers can produce,” Basse said. “Anything that the Australian farmer can do to assure or boost his production should be profitable in the year ahead.”

Jean-Rene Buisson, head of France’s national association of food industries (ANIA) said: “All products based on cereals, including meat, will be affected by price increases, not necessarily by September, but definitely during 2013.”

In China, food prices are considered politically sensitive and account for up to a third of a consumer’s average monthly budget, government statistics show.

China has reined in inflation as its economy slows however, while its grain output stood at 1.3 trillion tonnes in the first half of the year, up 2.8 percent from the same period a year earlier.

The Financial Times (FT) said concerns over the US harvest had prompted senior G20 and United Nations officials to consider an emergency meeting on food supply, with a conference call on the issue scheduled for August 27.

The newspaper cited officials as saying the talks were not a sign of panic but rather reflected the need to establish a consensus to avoid a repeat of the riots and tensions sparked in 2007-08 by spiking food prices.

Major concerns include hoarding or export restrictions by food producing countries, along with panic buying by others.

Also crucial is the balance between the use of grain as a direct source of food and its role as animal feed or as a basis for motor fuels.

FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil called in the FT for the United States to suspend biofuel production programmes to ease the pressure on food resources.

“An immediate, temporary suspension” of a mandate to reserve some crops for biofuels “would give some respite to the market and allow more of the (corn) crop to be channelled towards food and feed uses,” he wrote.

A region where food is in chronic shortage is the Sahel region of Africa, where the number of malnourished children is estimated to have hit a new high of 1.5 million as cholera and locusts emerge as new threats, UNICEF has warned.

The relief agency World Vision Australia said 18 million people need food assistance in Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Senegal.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

AFPBy Severine Rouby | AFP

The right kind of rain could cure U.S. drought.


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. weather experts know exactly what would officially end this year’s killing drought: nine to 15 inches of rain falling in one month over the hardest-hit parts of the country.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. It will take the right kind of rain – slow and steady over a period of weeks – to cure the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century. The wrong kind could only make matters worse, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The nine-to-15-inch estimateis derived from the Palmer Drought Index, which considers temperature and precipitation to project what it would take to end a dangerous dry period. The index does not consider how quickly the rain falls.

Richard Heim, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, reckons that half an inch of rain, every other day for a month, would soak into the parched soil and go a long way toward ending the extreme dry conditions that have blighted the corn and soybean crops, slowed traffic on the Mississippi and threatened to send food and fuel prices soaring.

But if the requisite amount of rain fell in a single day, Heim said by email, it could cause flash floods that would run off sun-baked ground without seeping in, doing little to end the drought.

Much of the U.S. corn and soybean crop is already lost due to the drought, and even if it started raining now, that would not restore the crops to normal levels.

Without numerous days of steady rain, this could be a repeat of the drought year of 1988, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That year, drought devastated corn, soybeans and winter wheat, causing problems that carried over into the next growing season, he said.

Sterling Smith, a commodity strategist for Citigroup, suggested that might happen to this year’s soybean crop, which he said “might take two growing cycles to straighten out.” Soybean prices could be high well into spring 2013, Smith said on August 10, as the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast soybean inventory could shrink to a scant two-week supply before next year’s crop is ready for harvest.

It’s not just a U.S. issue. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned on August 9 that the world could face a food crisis like the one seen in 2007-08 if countries restrict exports as they worry about rising grain prices fueled by drought. Global food prices surged in July, FAO reported.

EL NINO TO THE RESCUE?

Leading members of the Group of 20 nations said Monday they are prepared to call an emergency meeting to address high grain prices caused by the U.S. drought and poor crops around the Black Sea.

Autumn rains, which tend to be steadier than summer downpours, could help in the United States. So could El Nino, a weather pattern spawned by warm surface waters in the equatorial Pacific that tends to send significant precipitation across the southern tier of U.S. states.

The odds of El Nino developing this year are greater than 75 percent, Rippey told Reuters. If this pattern develops, southern states from California through the Gulf Coast and parts of the Southeast would get a good soaking. But El Nino also could well send dry, warm weather from the Northwest through the drought-hit northern Plains and parts of the Ohio Valley.

Beyond agricultural drought, some parts of the United States are experiencing hydrologic drought, with rivers, lakes and the underground sources of water known as aquifers at low levels because of increasing demand as populations expand into dryer areas.

These subterranean lakes were filled (recharged is the hydrologic term) thousands of years ago when what is now North America was a much wetter and more humid place, said Van Kelley, a hydrogeologist at INTERA, a Texas-based geoscience and engineering consulting firm.

“Most of the country is using groundwater that’s been recharged thousands and thousands of years ago,” Kelley said in a telephone interview. “And so in most aquifers, we’re pumping what some people call fossil water.”

Florida’s groundwater system can be swiftly recharged with heavy rains, Kelley said. But many U.S. aquifers – including the giant Oglala aquifer that lies under a swath of the American midsection from South Dakota to Texas – have been depleted.

Aquifers like the Oglala took thousands of years to fill and even heavy rains won’t refill them after years of pumping water out, Kelley said. But aquifers can be replenished by diverting river water into them when supplies on the surface are plentiful.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent; additional reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Dan Grebler)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersBy Deborah Zabarenko | Reuters

UN says locust swarms could add to Mali’s woes.


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The multiple crises racking Mali took a biblical twist Tuesday when the United Nations warned the rebellion gripping the country’s north was hampering efforts to prevent a locust plague.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it was expecting a surge in locust numbers in Mali and Niger thanks to heavy rains and an accompanying boom in vegetation.

Ground teams in Niger, Mali’s eastern neighbour, have treated 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) since June 5, but the continued unrest in Mali’s vast desert north has curtailed locust-control measures there.

“In northern Mali, control operations cannot be carried out because of political conflict,” the FAO said in a statement.

Mali, once one of west Africa’s most stable democracies, was plunged into turmoil on March 22 when a band of soldiers seized power in the capital Bamako, saying they were fed up with how the president was handling a Tuareg rebellion in the north.

The ensuing chaos created a power vacuum and enabled the Tuareg ethnic rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters to seize the northern half of the country.

The radical Islamists have been imposing sharia throughout their territory, and aim to spread the strict Islamic law to the rest of Mali.

The FAO said it needed an extra $10 million (8.1 million euros) for logistical support in tackling the locust threat, including vehicles, communication equipment and pesticide delivery.

“Lack of equipment is particularly acute in Mali, where more than 30 pickup trucks and other locust equipment were looted recently in the northern part of the country,” the statement said.

The organisation’s senior locust forecasting officer Keith Cressman said good breeding conditions this year meant a second generation of locusts could hatch at the end of the summer, posing a regional threat.

“Swarms could move to Mauritania, Algeria, Libya and even southern Morocco as well as threaten crops during the harvest period in the Sahel of west Africa,” he said in the statement.

Locusts have also been spotted in eastern Chad and in western Sudan.

The creatures, which travel large distances in huge swarms and can strip whole fields of their crops, were first seen in south-west Libya and south-east Algeria in January.

France had already pledged 850,000 euros ($1.0 million) for efforts to contain the locust threat and talks were ongoing with four other donors for another $4.0 million, the FAO said.

The prospect of plagues of vegetation-eating insects devouring the desert region’s crops compounds pre-existing concerns about food security in the Sahel region and beyond.

West Africa is facing malnutrition in several countries amid the Sahel’s third drought in a decade.

Crops failed across a massive swathe of eight countries after late and erratic rains in 2011, leaving some 23 million people across the region facing hunger, aid agencies have reported.

Agricultural production in the Sahel, especially Mali, Niger and Chad, is threatened by the escalating conflict in Mali as well as by locusts.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

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