FAO regional conference for Africa

In February the 20th United Nations Food
and Agricultural Organization
regional conference for Africa took
place in Addis Ababa from Feb. 16-20. According to a Xinhua News Agency
report, the conference focused on improving African food security.

Speaking before the conference, Ethiopian
President Negasso Gidada said achieving food security should be the primary
goal of African governments. This view was echoed by Ahmed Haggag, assistant
secretary general of the Organization of African Unity, who said that
agricultural progress is the key to long term general prosperity in Africa.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called
for increased irrigation projects.

“There can be no food security in
Africa without controlled utilization and conservation of water resources
and without intensifying production systems,” Diouf said. “Irrigation
is an important element of security in the face of widely fluctuating
rainfall. It is also an ingredient of intensification considering that
irrigated land is twice as productive as rainfed land.”

The FAO meanwhile approved 18 investment
projects in Africa in 1997 for a total cost of $478 million dollars, and
has spent close to $1.8 billion in the region since 1995.

El Nino could cause crop loss in California

California, already suffering huge crop
losses late last year from extensive flooding, may experience large crop
losses if El Nino causes rain storms to continue through March.

In an Associated Press report,
farmers and officials said that continued storms through March would make
it very difficult for bees to pollinate blooming trees and plants. The
result could be another year of huge crop losses for California, which
lost $746 million in 1995 to storms.

“If this keeps up and keeps growers
from planting vegetable crops or corn for dairies, it could have a ripple
effect through the entire agriculture economy,” said Modesto nurseryman
Bob Driver.

The most immediate threat is to California’s
$1 billion almond crop, but lettuce growers are also concerned continued
heavy rain will disrupt planting schedules.

China to reach 1.6 billion by 2050

In mid-March China’s State Family
Planning Commission announced it expected that nation’s population
to peak at 1.6 billion by 2050 and then begin to decline gradually.

According to an Agence France-Presse
report, “China’s population will begin to drop gradually in
the middle of the 21st century when the population structure becomes more
rational and due to better family planning, the commission said.”

Given China’s failure with its one-child
policy, the results of its renewed efforts to promote family planning
are questionable.

Gasoline reaches its lowest price ever

Remember when doomsayers such as
Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown predicted massive energy shortages and enormous
oil and gas prices as the world began to use up its store of fossil fuels?
On March 8 the Associated Press reported that gasoline prices reached
a historic low.

Citing figures from the Lundberg
Survey, which checks 10,000 gasoline stations nationwide for the price
of gasoline, as of March 6 gasoline was selling at its lowest price ever.

“The decline since September
qualifies as a price crash, and the pump price on average is now lower
than it’s ever been since the begging of the gasoline market, taking
inflation into account,” said Tribly Lundberg.

A barrel of crude oil was selling
for $15, down from $24 just a year ago.

Why the decline in prices? Competition.
A price war has broken out among refiners and distributors, while crude
oil prices remain stagnant given the enormous world supply.

Just how bad is famine in North Korea?

A Feb. 24 Reuters report revealed
just how bad things are in North Korea. A survey of 472 North Korean refugees
who fled to China revealed that 29 percent of the refugees’ relatives,
acquaintances and neighbors have died in the last two years of famine.

The survey, conducted by the Korean
American Sharing Movement, is not generalizable to the whole of North
Korea and suffers from serious methodological problems, but it is an anecdotal
look into just how severe the famine in North Korea has been for those
living in border towns close to China.

A similar survey last year of North
Korean refugees in China revealed a 24 percent death rate of relatives,
acquaintances and friends of refugees.

No-till farming starting to catch on

A March 3 Associated Press report
reveals that no-till farming practices, which relies on minimal plowing
and crop rotation to preserve the quality of topsoil, is starting to catch
on with American farmers.

According to the Conservation Technology
Information Center, no-till methods were used on almost 110 million acres
in the United States in 1997 — about 37 percent of total farmland.

One of the factors driving the
adoption of no-till practices is the gradual phasing out of farm subsidies
under the 1996 “Freedom to Farm” law. As subsidy payments and
accompanying restrictions on what farmers can plant are eliminated, farmers
are looking for new crops to plant and more cost effective ways to plant
them.