New economy, new agriculture
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CTA. 2000. New economy, new agriculture. Spore 87. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46783
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore87.pdf
This first year of the new millennium is full of excited talk about the 'New Economy', with its new approaches to fame and fortune, if not happiness. But that isn't all that s on the move: isn't it also time for a 'New Agriculture'? Maybe you have...
This first year of the new millennium is full of excited talk about the 'New Economy', with its new approaches to fame and fortune, if not happiness. But that isn t all that s on the move: isn t it also time for a 'New Agriculture'? Maybe you have not seen it, but they say there is a revolution going on out there. Maybe you have not seen it because 'there' isn t where you are. Maybe you don t believe that the world is in any greater state of turmoil, hope and despair than at any other time in history, and maybe you are right. But it would be wise to avoid asking 'what revolution?' since the word conjures up so many memories of political leaders who have, over the years, made the same comment just before an abrupt and enforced change of career. Take a look at some recent events. Some say they point to a rate of change in developing and developed countries alike that is so fast that it can only be described asarevolution. Revolutions, perhaps. The African continent with all its diversity is the region with the fastest rate of people connecting to the Internet. The digital divide is closing gradually, if not quickly enough. In early 2000, the participation of individuals and organisations from Africa in the global exchange of knowledge is really growing. In terms of agriculture, it is growing across a spectrum ranging from debates about genetic modification of plants, through dedicated research networks and key inputs to such world events as the UN commission on sustainable agricultural development, to grassroots exchanges between community-based women s saving and credit projects. Yes, one in eight Spore subscribers in ACP countries now has an email address and, by the end of the year 2000, maybe one in two will. Get on your cycle! The new economy - symbolised by the @ sign used in electronic mail addresses allows new exchanges between producers and consumers. Illustration: Lukino In Guyana, the computer revolution recently offered new moneymaking opportunities to a group of Wapishana and Macushi women, through a project started by the state telephone company in late 1998. They set up rural businesses to market their handicrafts over the World Wide Web a splendid example of an agricultural community conquering the world market. But their success threatened the traditional regional leadership and by early 2000 it took over the business from these enterprising young women. Their group fell apart, provoking the comment that 'economic advancement is not just about technology and markets; more fundamentally, it is about human relationships'. Bringing back the good times The human touch is coming back, it would seem, after a long cold exile from the soulless world of monetarism and structural adjustment. Human interventions, sometimes misguided, often ill informed, but human and hopeful nonetheless, have recently brought some fairly big endeavours to their senses and, to an extent, to a grinding halt. The negotiations of the World Trade Organization collapsed in December 1999 in disarray in Seattle, United States, under the pressure of a united Third World front, massive street demonstrations and internal political incompetence. In April 2000, in Washington DC, the joint meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund found itself seriously challenged by an outburst of popular resentment on the streets that these institutions, seduced by their own rhetoric of glossy charm, never saw coming. Sharp-eyed observers say that such demands as 'Make love, not loans' signal a new wave of youthful idealism that is sweeping the world, rural and urban alike. It is worth remembering that these uprisings of hope were organised through the Internet, enabling the greater involvement of Southern groups and governments as well. Something new is surely happening: the ever-accelerating expansion of the Internet has created a notion called the new economy where small local traders suddenly have access beyond their neighbourhood to a world market, and where small can become big overnight and big, small. Where regional and international transactions whether import export deals or exchanges between ACP research communities or farmers organisations that used to take weeks or months can now be set up in hours. The new economy can mean a new agriculture too. What the papers said The sense of change in the air is also very present in the 'visions' about agriculture that have been circulating in recent months. The special Spore supplement 'Scenarios for ACP Agriculture: Joining the Circles of Life?' has been welcomed for its combination of future key issues, listed in the box below. Other turn-of-the-millennium publications recently surveyed by Spore often use the term revolution . There is, for instance, the livestock revolution foreseen by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which predicts a doubling of meat consumption across developing countries, alongside an associated increase in demand for cereals. IFPRI s enthusiastic expectation that an agro-ecological cultivation will take root was shared by The Economist magazine, which stresses that much of Southern agriculture is ready for the holistic approach to agriculture that agro-ecology represents. But in many reviews there has been a consensus that basic operations like composting and mulching must make way for new components of agro-ecology, since they are often labour- and space-intensive. There is a challenge here for more focussed research on certain benign forms of biotechnology that can maximise the productivity of such methods. Similarly, organic agriculture was widely mentioned, more as something that makes sense in terms of natural resource management and good, healthy food, than as a sector promising great financial returns in the future. That is the effect of the market place: soon organic produce will move out of the realm of fad and fashion, and become mainstream; and bang will go the premium profit margins! Across the millennial statements, the most frequently predicted key issues are the ones mentioned by Spore, plus a few that we chose not to mention, or even put down a bit. Our plea, for example, for strategies that are respectful of 'indigenous knowledge' but call for a 'beyond indigenous' approach was not echoed elsewhere by a media apparently besotted by the local and the indigenous. Was it wrong, or premature? Adding values to agriculture And we missed out on a new approach to cultivation that will undoubtedly permeate parts of ACP agriculture during the next decade, though perhaps not in the next year. Precision farming is the next big thing. Using land-surveying techniques and appropriate geographic information systems, farmers are expected to better select which lands to farm, so that they can better manage scarce inputs of water and seeds and better organise harvesting and storage. For ACP farmers to adopt precision farming, many issues need solutions in terms of infrastructure, capacity building and institutional support. There too The Economist agrees, concluding its special survey with the remark that for 'agricultural research to flourish, it needs strong institutions to deliver the goods'. We cannot eat words. We sell to buy, we buy to live. So we need the world s best market information systems. Illustration: Lukino There is clearly a need for institutions that have learned at least this is the suggestion of more than one millennial vision piece by M S Swaminathan, holder of the World Food Prize and fervent advocate of precision farming for the poor to become 'pro-poor, pro-nature and pro-women'. And, dare we add, proactive. The resilient Communautés Africaines journal published by APICA, a development NGO in Douala, Cameroon, celebrated its twentieth year and the Millennium with a stirring call to action: 'We want to encourage participatory communication for sustainable development, shared knowledge and a consensus. As a development magazine, we propose a contract with our readers at the grassroots and in civil society. We call on everyone to pool their efforts, and to bring together that which is special to one person, and that which is universal.' Herein lies an attitude of quality and commitment underlying most of the events and attitudes that have emerged early in the new Millennium. People clearly feel it is time to emphasise values and not just talk monetarily about adding value. There is a change of spirit, as well as a change of pace. Let s keep it that way. [summary points] Spore surveyed more than 500 journals to identify consensus of millennial statements on major agricultural themes. Among those who made such statements, these are the key issues for the start of the new millennium (areas not proposed in Spore are marked *): land productivity irrigation and water conservation energy conservation organisation and multi-stakeholder dialogue governance information and communication technologies. increased meat consumption * agro-ecological cultivation * moving 'beyond indigenous' precision farming * 'pro-poor, pro-nature and pro-women'. To know more: World Food Prospects: Critical issues for the early twenty-first century.P Pinstrup-Andersen et al. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, 1999. 32pp. Free on request. IFPRI 2033 K St NW, Washington DC 20006 USA. Fax: + 1 202 467 4439, Email: email@example.com