Medium-scale farms are on the rise in Africa. Why this is good news

3 days ago
Medium-scale African farmers are relatively wealthy and influential. BOULENGER Xavier/Shutterstock

Driven by population growth and growing land scarcity, most African farm households are witnessing the gradual sub-division of their land. Over time farms are getting smaller and smaller. Today, over 80% of farms in relatively densely populated countries – like Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda are smaller than one hectare. Because they’re so small, few can generate enough income to keep farmers above the poverty line and most of them increasingly rely on off-farm incomes.

But, from about ten years ago, we have started to see evidence of a major rise in the number of medium-scale, African-owned farms.

Along with many colleagues, we set out to understand who these people are. We randomly selected farms operating between five to 50 hectares, and interviewed the farmers. We found that the rapid rise of these medium-scale farms was being driven by a diverse group of people including urban-based professionals, influential rural people, and successful smallholder farmers who acquired more land and grew their operations.

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How poor management of Nigerian forests led to exploitation by criminals

5 days 21 hours ago
Across the world forests have been exploited as a source of cover from which to launch attacks. Rettet den Regenwald/shutterstock

Nigeria’s forests cover about 96,043 square km– that’s about 10% of the country’s landmass. But the presence of authorities in these sanctuaries is either non-existent or, at best, sporadic. This has led to forest areas being poorly managed, which in turn has led to them being exploited by criminals and posing a security threat.

Using the theory of ungoverned spaces as a foundation, I conducted a study to understand the major reasons for the invasion and use of forested landscape for criminal activities in Nigeria.

I found that the forests are used by terrorists, kidnappers, cannabis cultivators, cattle rustlers and robbers. This is because they offer shelter and have resources that can support militants – like food or illegal logging to finance their activities.

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Why South African community's win against mining company matters

5 days 21 hours ago
A Xolobeni villager protesting against mine development. Flickr/Patricia Alejandro

A South African High Court has passed an important judgment putting a stop to the pervasive practice by companies to mine ancestral lands in rural areas without the villagers’ consent.

The case was brought by the community of rural UMgungundlovu, a small cluster of villages that fall under the Amadiba traditional authority on the largely undeveloped coast of the Eastern Cape Province. The place is also known as Xolobeni.

The villagers have been resisting plans by the Australian mining company, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, to mine their land for titanium and other heavy minerals for at least a decade.

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Why massive effort needs to be put into growing trees on farms

2 weeks 2 days ago
India has developed a pioneering national agroforestry policy. Suleman Merchant/Shutterstock

It’s now over 50 years since the world was first warned that resources were being used at an unsustainable rate. It has now been estimated that almost one quarter to one third of the world’s land is degraded to some extent.

Degradation refers to land that’s lost nutrients, or has changed physically, and therefore produces less or supports less life. This is mostly caused by the loss of soil, changes in the quality of the soil, or changes to land cover – like trees being cut down.

About 20% of agricultural land and 40% of forests are degraded. Degradation reduces our capacity to feed a world population that will reach at least 9 billion people by 2050 and it destroys ecosystem services – like the supply of clean water. Also when soil is degraded and trees destroyed, the carbon they contain is released into the atmosphere. Having high levels of carbon in the atmosphere is a major cause of climate change.

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Honey bees, already at risk, face a new threat from a common herbicide

2 weeks 5 days ago
Foraging bees are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the environment. Pixabay

Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide. Because it’s considered safe for animals, it’s extensively used not only in agriculture, but also for weed control in urban areas and home gardens.

It’s the active ingredient in the controversial weedkiller Roundup, which has been in the news after a recent lawsuit in the US. A jury found that it had caused terminal cancer in a former school groundskeeper who was heavily exposed to the herbicide. The manufacturer, Monsanto, was ordered to pay damages amounting to $289m. The legal battles are continuing.

Glyphosate has been labelled a perfect herbicide. It’s non-selective, killing all plants. And it’s easily translocated in plants and is slow-acting and stable.

From a toxicology point of view, it targets a metabolic pathway involved in manufacturing certain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Glyphosate binds to a particular enzyme and inactivates it. This metabolic pathway, called the shikimate pathway, is present in plants but not in animals, so glyphosate is assumed to be harmless to animals. Animals, lacking this enzyme, obtain the amino acids from food.

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3 hours 27 minutes ago
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