New cultures or cultivation methods can provide higher yields, better income prospects and more sustainable production. However, it is not always easy to convince farmers of the advantages and find first movers.
The livestock sector creates livelihoods for an estimated one billion people world-wide. Not only is the consumption of milk, meat and eggs an important source of protein and micronutrients and hence a crucial pillar of food security for the rural poor in particular. For many people, the sale of animal products is the most important, if not the only, source of income. In addition, the animals are a significant multifunctional asset. They provide dung, raising soil fertility, they are simultaneously beasts of burden and tractors, and they represent “hoofed insurance”, not to mention the social prestige that they endow their owners with in several societies. In spite of its important role, animal production has been an unfavourable topic in the development debate – mainly because of its environmental impact. Our authors show the challenges confronting livestock keepers around the world and ways to address them.
Over the last few decades, notions of agricultural development and hence agricultural policies have changed, depending on the circumstances and ideas happening to determine global politics. Much has proven to be wrong if not even disastrous for rural regions and has caused precisely the opposite of what was originally intended. Our authors give accounts of the lessons learnt and of what nowadays appears to be the right approach – from the angle of development co-operation and the partner countries, research and civil society.
Is organic agriculture, which does not seek output maximisation, able to feed a growing world population, or will it always remain a fine but small niche? Can smallholders in the South achieve stable incomes by converting to organic production? Or is it possibly even grossly negligent to entice them to join the markets – doubtlessly expanding – for organic food as they may never actually be able to enter them due to the high quality standards and entry costs? While our authors do not have simple answers to these questions, they are very instructive.
Specialists from international agricultural research centres give accounts of their activities in plant breeding. This had been prompted by the ruling of the European Court of Justice in late July 2018 stipulating that new plant breeding technologies such as genome editing receive the same legal treatment as conventional genetic engineering methods do. While this does not ban their application (in Europe), they are now subject to stringent regulatory conditions. In response to this development, leading scientists from more than 85 European plant and life science research centres issued a position paper warning that the ruling was “irresponsible in the face of the world’s current far-reaching agricultural challenges”.
It is by no means intended to once again spark the old debate on the pros and cons of genetic engineering – the arguments here are by and large well familiar, and positions are more or less firmly established. Rather, what we want to show is which developments plant breeding has seen over the last few decades and what challenges it faces today given climate change and more and more global crises.
So far, global food and agricultural policies have not succeeded support agri-food systems benefiting the many and taking threats to ecosystems into account. What we need is not only a mobilisation of resources, but, above all, a transformation of our food finance architecture.
It’s easy to find arguments in favour of raising the degree of farm mechanisation. People’s living conditions improve, for the drudgery that also makes farming so unattractive for young people is no longer necessary. Standardised, optimised processes along the entire value chain raise the quality of primary and processed goods; harvest and post-harvest losses are reduced.