South Africa’s agricultural industry body AgriSA will approach banks, agribusiness and government to raise 3 billion rand ($220 million) to help farmers hit by severe drought, its executive director said.
Farmers have faced dry conditions over most of the nation for the last year, even as they are still recovering from a disastrous El Nino-induced drought in 2015.
“We have basically reached a point now where we don’t have any more fat in the system. There is no buffer any more in the agricultural sector,” AgriSA boss Omri van Zyl told reporters.
Van Zyl said the group will also speak to the government’s National Disaster Management agency to get access to the contingency reserves.
“We see this drought again as a national emergency because it is going to have an impact directly on consumer prices, it is going to have an impact on food affordability and it has an impact on the farmers on the land,” said van Zyl.
A survey of producers showed that 31,000 jobs and 7 billion rand ($510 million) in potential revenue were lost since January last year because of drought, AgriSA said.
White maize prices are just off a near two-year peak last week.
“The farmers didn’t get enough (income) to recuperate in 2016 so the grain sector is in a lot worse financial situation than it was. Our ability to absorb this current drought is under pressure,” Jannie de Villiers, head of producers body Grain SA, also told reporters at the briefing.
In early estimates for the 2018/2019 season, farmers have planted around 95 percent of the country’s yellow maize, which is mainly used in animal feed, and between 70 to 80 percent of the white maize, pushing prices higher.
The white maize futures contract due in March traded up 2.76 percent to 3,088 rand on Friday, just under a near two-year high of 3,255 rand reached last week.
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South Africa’s official Crop Estimates Committee, which in October estimated farmers would plant 2.448 million hectares of maize in the 2018/2019 season, is expected to release the preliminary area planted estimates on Jan. 29. -Reuters
Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year
Uganda expects sugar output to rise 11% this year as three mills under construction in the country’s northern and eastern regions come online, officials say.
“Production is currently at 450,000 metric tons. When three new factories that are under construction and development start producing, we will go up to a half a million metric tons,” Uganda’s Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde says in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.
The East African country is only able to consume 360,000 tons per year, leaving a surplus for export in a region that’s grappling with deficits. Uganda exports sugar to the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania.
Underpinning the country’s sugar sector are millers, including Kakira Sugar Works, the largest producer. Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited – Lugazi and Kinyara Sugar Works are the other largest players.
While this growth in output is imperative, the government is keen to see diversification in production to include industrial sugar as the country seeks to save its foreign exchange, Kyambadde says.
“I see a bright future,” she adds, “but producers also need to diversify and produce the finer sugar. All of them are producing the bigger crystals but finer sugar for production is what we would like them to start producing.
“At the moment, we are importing that finer sugar.
“So that has been our concern with them, that why don’t you diversify and start producing the sugar that’s ready for production,” she says.
But these efforts have largely been stalled by Uganda’s high power tariffs, according to Kyambadde.
“They (millers) say from this level, the ordinary sugar, they have to have another line that would make it finer. That means the consumption of power definitely is higher,” she says.
“So that is one of the challenges; that the costs of production are so high,” she said, adding that new power plants will reduce costs to an ideal five US cents/KW.
Uganda is also looking to establish new laws to govern the sugar sector but disagreements over exclusivity clauses relating to purchase of cane from farmers abound.
In March, President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Sugar Act of 2016 that was passed by Parliament in November last year. His spokesman, Don Wanyama, says the president is concerned about the proximity of millers.
“It’s going to antagonize the old sugar players,” Wanyama says. “It’s (the act) not going to be assented to,” he says.
“We hope this issue will be corrected now that the bill is being sent back to parliament,” says Jim Kabeho, the Chairman of Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association, the largest industry lobby.
“Farming constitutes 60 percent of our costs; yet someone without a single tractor and using cheap old machinery just wants to come and buy from your farmers,” he said in a phone interview.
Kabeho, also a director at Kakira and a board member at regional business lobby, the East Africa Business Council, warns that Uganda has lessons to learn from Kenya which allowed “market distortions” in the name of allowing competition only to end up with less production and having to rely on imports.
Yet for Ibrahim Baliitamuto, a cane grower in the eastern district of Mayuge, all that matters is price stability.
“It’s very easy to make a fortune from sugarcane if the prices offered by factories are not changed very often,” Baliitamuto says.
“You can’t tell me about growing maize (corn) when I have a choice of sugarcane.”
Kyambadde says in returning the law to parliament, the president was being mindful of the big players.
“He thinks that the output of the small players is negligible, but we are still discussing that,” she says.
Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? They Make Bad Landing Strips For Flies
Scientists are providing new evidence to answer the longstanding question about why zebras have stripes. It appears stripes make terrible landing strips, bamboozling the fierce blood-sucking flies that try to feast on zebras and carry deadly diseases.
Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a difficult time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored horses. In one experiment, the researchers put cloth coats bearing striped patterns on horses and observed that fewer flies landed on them than when the same horses wore single-color coats.
“We showed that horse flies approach zebras and uniformly colored horses at similar rates but that they fail to land on zebras – or striped horse coats – because they fail to decelerate properly, and so fly past them or literally bump into them and bounce off,” said behavioral ecologist Tim Caro of the University of California-Davis, lead author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Close cousins to horses and donkeys, the world’s three zebra species, known for their black-and-white striped bodies, roam Africa’s savannas eating a variety of grasses. Their stripe patterns vary among individuals, with no two alike.
There had been four main hypotheses about the advantages zebras accrued by evolving stripes: camouflage to avoid large predators; a social function like individual recognition; thermoregulation, with stripes setting up convection currents along the animal’s back; and thwarting biting fly attacks.
“Only the last stands up to scrutiny,” Caro said. “Most biologists involved with research on mammal coloration accept that this is the reason that zebras have stripes.”
African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal.
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The researchers videoed horse flies as they tried to prey on captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, England. Stripes did not deter flies from a distance, as they circled horses and zebras at similar rates. But the flies managed to land on zebras less than a quarter as often.
University of Bristol biologist and study co-author Martin How said stripes may dazzle flies somehow once the insects venture close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.
“In addition to stripes that prevent controlled landings by horse flies, zebras are constantly swishing their tail and may run off if horse flies do land successfully, so they are also using behavioral means to prevent flies probing for blood,” Caro said. -Reuters
Watch Your Step: Kenyan Herders Mark Out Disease-Free Grazing Routes
The morning calm of Losirien valley was broken by a cow bell tinkling as Benjamin Kerei led his herd of about 50 animals down a parched trail alongside a dry riverbed in southwest Kenya.
On the 10-km (6-mile) journey to a nearby grazing ground, the 24-year-old was on the lookout for fresh wildlife tracks.
Like pastoralists all over the East African country, Kerei needs to keep his cattle away from wild animals to avoid exposing them to infectious diseases, some of which can be deadly to both livestock and humans.
With droughts and floods shrinking the amount of habitable land in Kenya, the search for enough food and water is driving people and wildlife deeper into each other’s territories.
As a result, cases of infectious diseases that are passed from animals to humans – called zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses – are on the rise, said Patrick Kimani, chief executive of the Kenya Livestock Producers Association.
In recent years, some herders have found a simple way of keeping their livestock and themselves healthy.
They search for grazing routes that are not used by wildlife, and mark them for others to follow.
In the southern part of Kenya’s Rift Valley, Kerei – who began using the method two years ago – said zoonotic diseases were very common but herders did not know how to treat them.
“This is why we choose to use safe grazing routes to reduce (the) chances of livestock coming into contact with sick wild animals,” he said.
In Kenya, there are at least 36 known zoonotic diseases, according to Samuel Kahariri, chairman of the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA). The most serious include brucellosis, Rift Valley fever, rabies and anthrax.
Most of these diseases are widespread among pastoralist communities, Kahariri added.
Brucellosis, for example, is one of the most common zoonotic infections globally.
Mainly transmitted from cattle, sheep, goats, elk and deer, it can be passed to humans through the consumption of raw meat or unpasteurised milk, causing flu-like symptoms.
Sam Kariuki, director of the Centre for Microbiology Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, estimated that around 750 Kenyans contract brucellosis every year.
But spotty record-keeping makes it impossible to get an accurate picture of how zoonotic diseases spread, he noted.
The data does show that the number of brucellosis cases has increased in the past few years, said James Akoko, a researcher studying the disease at Maseno University in Kisumu County.
Akoko said the negative effects of climate change combined with a growing population meant there was more contact between humans, wild animals and livestock than ever before.
“People are encroaching into areas that were meant for wild animals, and that kind of contact can create opportunity for the diseases to spread across different hosts,” he said.
Pastoralists like Kerei are working hard to prevent that.
Once they identify routes that do not cross into wildlife territory, they mark them out with small brick towers.
Besides checking for tracks and faeces, they know the presence of big cats like lions and tick-eating birds indicate that grazing animals such as buffalo and deer have moved into an area, said Paul Gathitu, a Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman.
When that happens, the brick towers are dismantled, signaling to others that the route has become risky.
“It is a difficult task ensuring that our livestock do not share pasture or watering points with wildlife,” said Kerei. “But it is the only cheap and readily available measure we have.”
For now, the technique is used mainly by Maasai tribes in the Rift Valley and the Borana in northern Kenya, said Abdulaziz Jama of the Pastoralist Capacity Development Programme.
Anecdotal evidence from local elders confirms the technique works where there are no other options to fight diseases, he added.
“Use of safe grazing routes is one of the many (types of) indigenous knowledge that have been helping marginalized communities battle climate change and zoonotic diseases where the national government has failed,” he said.
The government is struggling to manage the spread of zoonotic diseases partly because of the difficulty it faces in tracking them as herders move from one location to another, said the KVA’s Kahariri.
The problem is exacerbated by poor road and communication networks in areas where pastoralists live, making it hard for them to share information with the government when a zoonotic disease appears, Kahariri added.
Ezekiel Kiamba, from Ildamat village in southeast Kenya, said officials should do more to support herders.
The 32-year-old farmer does not use safe grazing routes to protect his 80 cows. Instead, he hires a private vet to regularly check and vaccinate his herd, at $20 per dose.
He would like to see the government use modern technology to send real-time information about outbreaks to rural communities.
“Some of us pastoralists have smartphones which the government could use to work with us and help manage zoonotic diseases,” he said. “I am still waiting for this to happen.” -Reuters
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