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Agri Actualities

A stranger enters the room, from another world, and tells a long-time team to do things differently.

The chances of a great outcome, based on human psychology, are not great.

Most of us are used to the way we do things, and only sometimes dying for a chance to change. We also prefer to hear insights about change from those we trust to understand our own challenges, which is something we don’t expect of outsiders.

If that same stranger then arrives with an external, one-size-fits-all ‘solution’, that doesn’t reflect our values, norms, and local constraints, the chances of any business transformation are slim indeed.

Yet, in agriculture, smallholders enjoy the frequent arrival of such outsiders, with big and radical ‘solutions’, flown in from outside and presented, rather than based on local relevance and circumstances.

It’s a modus operandi of top-down reform: “we come up with an answer to problems based on our world’s norms and tell you what to do.”

Yet farmers know best about farming, and decades of failures and stunted progress should have long-since served to change the way reformers work in recognizing that fact.

But as NGOs engage continent-wide with the millions of smallholders on whom Africa’s fortunes and future rely, the process of resolving smallholders’ issues based on existing parameters has not been a driving force.

But it needs to be.

Instead, the world of agricultural transformation is dominated by jargon. Addressing a smallholder problem is called an ‘intervention’. And ‘interventions’ are based on ‘big picture’ theory and poverty reduction targets that generate ‘solutions’ that are built and helicoptered in from outside.

However, the truth is that this top-down approach to agrarian reform goes against human nature, and defies real and present issues for individual farmers, relying instead on assumptions and theory.

Argues British academic and development scholar Robert Chambers, the result has been that initiatives implemented by the international research and development community simply do not benefit the poor farmer.

“This is because the conditions that poor farmers operate within puts limits on the extent to which they can benefit from the initiatives,” Chambers observes in his book Whose reality counts?

In South Africa, a classic example was a top-down program called the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (AsgiSA) implemented countrywide by the Independent Development Trust NGO, which failed miserably in seeking to effect reforms that were anathema to local farmers.

The ‘big idea’ was to improve farmers’ market and farm input access by moving in to govern and run all the farmers in a village and then sell the combined produce on their behalf – reinvesting 90 per cent of the profits for next year’s planting, and sharing 10 per cent among the farmers.

But as the NGO set about managing whole villages’ production as a single operation from merged fields, it simultaneously set aside farmer participation in decision-making. Not surprisingly, the farmers resisted merging their fields as well as the loss of autonomy and flexibility in their land use, and the program failed.

Strangely enough, the farmers just didn’t want to be ‘governed’ by this presented organization.

Yet this ‘move in and manage’ approach remains typical of agricultural reformers’ engagements in Africa, with NGOs frequently failing to consult and engage farmers at the program development stage in order to build solutions that are dovetailed to their local realities.

By stark contrast, a ‘farmers first’ approach, also known as bottom-up, has been shown to deliver completely different outcomes.

These initiatives see organizations working hand-in-hand with farmers on the ground, consulting them first, to identify their unique challenges, then developing solutions with them to resolve these specific and local issues. With this participatory approach, farmers drive the process through hands-on involvement in the planning, financing, implementation and maintenance of the programs.

Though not yet widespread in Africa, the concept has been proven to work in the US and in India, as well as in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

In IOWA, US for instance, the Practical Farmers of IOWA (PFI) organization, engages farmers to define what research they need done. PFI then partners with scientists to undertake studies where the farmers and the researchers contribute resources, such as time and land. The farmers drive the research agenda, and are thus committed to it.

In Zimbabwe, the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG)/German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) Chivi Food Security Project was initiated in response to chronic food insecurity in pockets of semi-arid areas.

The project began by looking at the constraints on household food security.  The farmers were involved in identifying solutions, planning, and the creation of action plans, which spanned the roll out of soil and water conservation technologies.

Farmers then selected and tried the practices they preferred. They also met to discuss the results and any problems encountered, and to suggest possible solutions among themselves.

The level of change saw farmers who were originally very poor farmers eventually moving to buy their own cattle.

It is, therefore, essential that agricultural interventions use such practical and workable approaches.

Indeed, with this year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum, themed Lead, Measure, Grow: Enabling new pathways to turn smallholder farmers into sustainable agribusiness, now underway in Kigali, Rwanda, ‘farmers first’ should be top of the agenda, as a necessity.

Zimbabwe is increasingly consuming more wheaten products. Over the past five years, the country’s wheat consumption has increased, on average, by 3 percent a year to an estimated 320 000 tonnes in 2018. This has largely been driven by a growing bread demand. Estimatesfrom the United States Department of Agriculture shows that Zimbabwean bakeries produce roughly 850 000 loaves a day.

With local production having slumped since 2000, the country relies on imports to meet domestic requirements. This has amounted to an average 305 000 tonnes a year over the past five years of which South Africa supplied 34 percent. Trailing behind was Russia with an average share of 17 percent over the past five years. The other notable wheat suppliers to Zimbabwe are Poland, Mozambique, Australia, Lithuania and Ukraine, amongst others.

This year could present more of the same, as Zimbabwe’s wheat production prospects are quite dim again, with the harvest estimated at 20 000 tonnes, which is unchanged from last year. This is a result of limited expansion in area planted, combined with expectations of lower yields.

The lower domestic wheat production volumes will subsequently lead to a 7 percent annual increase in Zimbabwe’s 2018 wheat imports to 320 000 tonnes. The key suppliers are likely to be similar to the aforementioned countries.

This is contrary to the view shared by the government last year that there were efforts underway to revive this industry after a decade-long declining trend.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, some of the key production constraints in Zimbabwe are the high cost of production coupled with relatively low capital returns. Hence, some farmers have a made a switch to other more profitable crops.

To be fair, this is also true for South Africa, which has seen a steady decline in wheat area plantings over the recent past (this is a topic for another day – we are talking about Zimbabwe tonight).

The dismal performance in production is limited to Zimbabwe for now. Other regional wheat-producing countries such as South Africa and Zambia could recover from 2017 levels.

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According to the report, World: Poppy Seed – Market Report: Analysis and Forecast to 2025, recently published by IndexBox, the global poppy seed market was estimated at 111 000 tons in 2016, which was 6% more than in the previous year (2015). After a noticeable slump in 2012, the market fluctuated over the next four years within an overall upward trend. In value terms, the global poppy seed market had total revenues of $183,4 million in 2016 in wholesale prices, which was approximately at the level of the previous year; prior to that it fluctuated wildly due to price changes reflecting yields of poppy. That figure refers to the total revenue of producers and importers (excluding logistics costs, retail marketing costs, and retailers’ margins, which will be included in the final consumer price).

Leading consumers of poppy seed

India, accounting for 14% of global poppy seed consumption in 2016, the Czech Republic (9%), Germany (9%), Russia (8%), Hungary (8%), Poland (6%) and the United States (US) (5%) were the countries with the highest consumption of poppy seed.

The highest annual growth rates of consumption from 2007 to 2016 were recorded in Hungary, with +11,6% growth, and India and Poland, with +8,8% and +7,2% growth, respectively. Following robust consumption growth rates, India significantly strengthened its share in terms of global poppy seed consumption from 12% in 2007 to 19% in 2016; Hungary (+5 percentage points) and Poland (+2 percentage points) also increased their shares over the same period. In contrast, the share of the US (-2 percentage points), the Czech Republic (-3 percentage points), Germany (-7 percentage points) and Russia (-14 percentage points) declined over the period under review.

Amongst the leading consuming countries, high levels of per capita consumption levels were recorded in the Czech Republic (941 gr/year) and Hungary (854 gr/year), which were significantly higher than the world average of 15 gr/year. The annual growth of per capita consumption from 2007 to 2016 was the most notable in Hungary, with +11,6% growth.

In the European market, poppy is used mainly by the food and confectionery industry, while in the largest poppy consuming country – India – it is a popular spice and an integral ingredient in the preparation of some national dishes. The market is largely determined by the supply of poppy, the yield of which is subject to strong fluctuations due to adverse weather conditions. Moreover, the need to obtain licenses for growing poppy, as well as strict control over its production, will limit the expansion of production. On the other hand, the population growth contributes to the growth of the food industry, which in turn will ensure the growth of poppy consumption. As expected, the world poppy market will grow for the next ten years at a rate of +1,2% per year, which will bring the market to a level of 123 000 tons by 2025.

Lower production

Production of poppy seed was 103 000 tons in 2016. The gradual increase over the period from 2007 to 2011 was followed by a sharp decline in 2012. This was caused by contraction of Turkish output because of the reduction in farmers’ acreage allocated to poppy cultivation. This, in turn, was due to farmers switching to cultivation of other crops and poor weather conditions.

In value terms, production stood at $211 million with pronounced fluctuations over the period under review, which was due to price changes. In 2016, global poppy seed production failed to recover after the drop in 2012.

Reduced production volumes

The Czech Republic was the key world poppy seed producing country, and the good quality produce was preferable over poppy seed produced in other countries. Czech output was about 29 000 tons in 2016, which accounted for 28% of total global output. The other major producers were Turkey (20%), Spain (13%), Hungary (9%), Australia (6%) and France (5%).

In the Czech Republic, production levels decreased by -1,6% annually from 2007 to 2016, largely attributed to unfavourable weather conditions and due to the farmers switching to cultivation of other crops. Most of the other major producing countries increased their poppy seed output. From 2007 to 2016 annual growth rates were especially high in Hungary (+15,5%) and Spain (+10,4%).

Majority intended for exports

Poppy seed is a highly traded commodity, with the share of export in total global output at approximately 75% in 2016. High trade intensity is determined mainly by the substantial distances between the main countries of poppy seed production and key consuming countries. Poppy seed will continue to be highly traded, fuelled by increasing consumption, trade liberalisation policies, as well as intense global and regional integration.

Largest suppliers of exports

In 2016, the volume of global poppy seed exports totalled 80 000 tons, with a mixed trend pattern over the last few years. A gradual decrease over the period from 2007 to 2009 was followed by a rapid recovery from 2010 to 2011. However, the trend pattern turned down, decreasing through to 2015 and then increasing again in 2016.

The Czech Republic (23,2 000 tons), Turkey (18,6 000 tons), distantly followed by Spain (9,2 000 tons), the Netherlands (6,2 000 tons), France (5,1 000 tons), Hungary (2,7 000  tons) and Austria (2,3 000 tons) constituted the largest exporters of poppy seed worldwide, together making up 85% of total exports.

Hungary was the fastest growing exporter (+13,4% per year) from 2007 to 2016. The share of Turkey (+4 percentage points), Spain (+4 percentage points), France (+2 percentage points) and Hungary (+2 percentage points) increased from 2007 to 2016, while the share of the Czech Republic (-5 percentage points) and the Netherlands (-6 percentage points) contracted over the same period.

India proved to be a promising market with regard to poppy seed imports

The volume of global imports totalled 85 000 tons in 2016. The imports trend pattern was generally in line with exports: these trade flows complement each other on a global basis. Determined by the high trade intensity, the share of imports in global demand accounted for approximately 77% over the last year.

In 2016, India (16 100 tons), Russia (8 900 tons), Poland (8 000 tons), Germany (7 800 tons), the US (5 800 tons), the Netherlands (5 800 tons) and Austria (5 600 tons) were the leading destinations of poppy seed imports, together making up 68% of global imports. Amongst the major importing countries, India (+8,4% per year) gained the highest annual growth rates from 2007 to 2016. While the share of India (+9 percentage points) increased significantly, the share of Russia (-8 percentage points), the Netherlands (-5 percentage points) and Germany (-3 percentage points) reduced from 2007 to 2016. The shares of the other countries remained relatively stable throughout the analysed period. – IndexBox

Brazilian President Michel Temer signed the new truck freight bill into law this week, enshrining higher transport costs for farmers and agribusiness and turning all eyes to the Supreme Court hearings later this month.

After quickly passing the lower house and Senate, the new freight law, which creates minimum rates for truckers and grants them subsidies in other areas such as tolls, prompted farming groups and exporter associations to unleash a new wave of legal challenges over its constitutionality.

As published in the government’s Official Gazette on Thursday, the new law 13,703/18 will allow the National Transport Agency (ANTT) to set minimum rates for trucking freight across the country based on fuel costs, distances and other factors.

Rates will be adjusted twice yearly, on January 20 and July 20.

The law has put a dampener on future physical sales of Brazil’s 2018/19 soybean and corn crops that will begin harvesting in 2019 because the market is still uncertain over transport costs.

Public hearings over the new minimum rates will start on August 30 under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux, who is in charge of constitutional issues at the highest court.

Fux is sitting on more than 50 injunctions filed over the past two-plus months by the agribusiness and productive industries.

He said he would not make any decision on the merits of the requests until he had a better idea of the impact of the new rates on the economy.

But after President Temer signed the bill into law this week, many of the same groups that originally filed injunction requests returned to the courts to challenge the law again.

The National Farm Federation (CNA), the Brazilian Vegetable Oils Association (Abiove), and the National Grain Exporters Association (ANEC) were among the groups filing challenges at the courts anew.

“The anticompetitive measure hurts the free market, which is a central pillar of the Brazilian Constitution” and “will set a grave precedent for the country,” Abiove said in a public statement after Temer signed the bill.

Anec estimated earlier this week that the new freight rates have raised export costs for grains by $20/mt and will cost the society more than 70 billion reais ($18 billion).

Anec also highlighted that small farmers will be hurt the most, as will the poor, who will face higher food prices.

Several large commercial farming operations are already investing in new truck fleets to avoid paying the higher freight rates. AC

EU apple growers are anticipating a “bumper” crop for the 2018-19 season, according to European fresh produce association Freshfel.

Last year severe frosts across much of the continent led to one of the smallest crops in years, with volumes falling 21% year-on-year to 9.34 million metric tons (MT).

But this year production has recovered, with Freshfel general delegate Philippe Binard telling Fresh Fruit Portal the crop would be “very strong”.

The World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA) is due to release an official crop forecast at Prognosfruit Conference taking place in Poland from August 8 – 10.

“No doubt that this year there will be very strong apple crop,” Binard said.

He said the heatwave and low rainfall across many parts of Europe over recent weeks would likely not have a major effect on the crop but may lead to slightly smaller sizing.

However, he highlighted that as much of the fruit would not be picked until September or October there were still various factors that could influence the crop’s development over the fall.

“We are still now looking before the … meeting to decide whether some of the initial forecast that has been made needs to be updated,” he said.

Specifics on the picking dates will be given at this week’s conference, but Binard expected that overall they would be similar to last year. He emphasized, however, that each growing region would have been impacted differently by the heatwave.

Market challenges and opportunities

One challenge for marketing the apple crop this year is that the European Commission is phasing out its financial support measures established due to the closure of the Russian market in 2014 to numerous origins including the EU.

The fruit and vegetable sector was the hardest hit in Europe, with €2.5 billion of produce previously sent to the market on an annual basis. and the European apple market suffering oversupply issues in the aftermath.

Binard said the EC was due to withdraw the assistance programs as the produce industry was expected to have found alternative markets by now, but he did not believe the task was quite so simple.

“To reposition the market is not something which is very easy,” he said, adding that Freshfel was calling on the EC to reconsider the withdrawal of the program.

He said that having the Russian market closed last year had not been such a big issue as severe frosts in April and May resulted in a much shorter crop, but with this year’s bumper crop the situation would be more challenging.

In addition, he said that trade would be very limited to North African countries like Algeria and Egypt due to numerous issues.

However, frosts in China and tariffs on U.S. apples for some of its biggest markets around the world could create some opportunities for European growers.

With China and Mexico having implemented substantially higher tariffs on U.S. apples – and India set to do the same in September – exports from the North American country are expected to be severely affected. Tarun Arora of India-based importer IG International said the anticipated 25% tariff hike on U.S. apples could result in volumes dropping by three-quarters.

“I think there is a number of elements which will play a role for the development of the season,” Binard said.

“India is a market that has been developing progressively for a number of European products including apples, so I think next year indeed there will be a number of parameters that will be different from other seasons.” FP

In its 54th national conference report and resolutions, the governing ANC highlighted that the interventions regarding expropriation of land without compensation would largely focus on government-owned land, prioritising the "redistribution of vacant, unused and underutilised state land, as well as land held for speculation and hopelessly indebted land".

It remains to be seen if commercial land or farms will be part of the expropriation process. Tampering with such areas would potentially have a negative effect on food security and agricultural growth — an outcome that the ANC is trying to avoid.

Meanwhile, the EFF opposition party argues that all land should be nationalised, or "wholesale expropriation without compensation" should be applied. In such a scenario the effect would not only be limited to land for food and agricultural production, but would also — according to its proposal — include land for housing and for industrial and retail use. We argue in this article that this strategy will by default destroy the asset value of a large portion of SA’s land and could by definition also have a large negative impact on financial institutions and the property market.

A bit of background: in March 2018, outstanding bank credit to the private sector (businesses and households) totalled R3.5-trillion, according to the South African Reserve Bank June 2018 Quarterly Bulletin. Of this, mortgages accounted for 39% (R1.4-trillion), with households accounting for 68% (R929bn). Put into context, the amount of mortgage exposure (households and corporates) that the banks have is equivalent to 29% of South African annual GDP (at March 2018).

This includes, predominantly, credit extended to buy houses and vacant land for building a residential structure. In SA, the general practice is that banks fund up to 40% of the acquisition of vacant land — which happens to be in line with the areas identified for expropriation within the ANC documents. In the case of free-standing houses, the value of land is built into the selling price, while flat or apartment owners generally have an undivided share in the land on which the structure is built, which is owned jointly through a body corporate.

Furthermore, it is estimated that about 70% of all residential property transactions in SA involve freehold property. This implies that a large majority of housing transactions include, directly or otherwise, private land acquisition. The state assuming ownership of all land without compensation therefore means, from a consumer perspective, a loss of the land component of the acquisition, while retaining the ownership of the building structure. As the law reads, the land portion cannot be disconnected from the immobile asset such as a building or a house in SA’s application of property law.

For an average household in this country, the property represents its largest investment from which its members derive wealth.

At an aggregate level Reserve Bank data show that net wealth (the value of residential buildings minus mortgage advances) derived from residential buildings as at December 2017 was about 16% of households’ net wealth. This, however, conceals the true contribution of residential property to households’ balance sheet. This is because pension funds, which is households’ biggest component of financial assets, also invest in property via the equity market. This excludes households themselves investing directly into the equity market and also indirectly via other investment vehicles such as unit trusts.

An aggregation of all this shows that the destruction of all property value would have serious implications for SA’s national asset base and the foundation of the economy.

Hence, we have continued to argue that a wholesale or blanket expropriation of land without compensation policy or approach could be viewed as a destruction of land value, some of which is financed by debt.

The often cited figure is that of agricultural debt, which was estimated at R158bn in 2017, according to data from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. But, if we consider the aforementioned components of the economy, the effect could be much wider. The exact value of this component remains unclear, but as demonstrated by the numbers above, it is likely to be significant.

In terms of the agricultural debt, the effect would not only be felt by the commercial banks. The government also has "skin in the game" through the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of SA (Land Bank), which accounts for nearly a third of agricultural debt.

The balance is accounted for by commercial banks, agricultural co-operatives, private persons and other institutions.

The Land Bank presents an interesting picture in terms of its exposure in the agricultural land and long-term credit market. At the end of 2017 the long-term loans and loans secured by mortgages owed to the Land Bank was worth R16.2bn (of which R8.5bn was for individual mortgages). The Bank has also provided cash advances to agribusiness and co-operatives equal to R25.5bn. With some other advances and loans, the total assets are equal to R46.56bn, which is then financed via the bank’s liabilities (mainly promissory notes and Land Bank bills).

Many of the cash advances to agribusiness are also on-lend to farmers to acquire farm land, which implies that the farmers’ land exposure of the Land Bank and the agribusiness could easily be at least 50% of the Bank’s total asset base. A land policy scenario described above will therefore also risk the Land Bank’s financial stability and one could foresee that roughly R20bn-R30bn of the state budget will have to be used to save the bank.

In terms of section 8 of the Expropriation Act, an expropriation will extinguish a mortgage bond, but not the debt.

Simply put, if the land is expropriated, the owner still owes the bank, but it becomes an unsecured loan (which would typically be associated with a higher interest rate).

Considering these components, the question then becomes, should a property owner continue servicing their loan when they no longer have ownership rights to that property or a component thereof, and the bank has no security to fall back on?

Furthermore, should financial institutions — and real-estate corporations — simply write off their assets on their balance sheet?

Wholesale expropriation of land without compensation therefore could be likely to trigger a major devaluation of financial institutions’ assets, and ultimately their balance sheets. (The blanket expropriation approach is somewhat different from the ANC’s official views, as outlined in its documents, but more in line with the EFF’s position.)

Corporations are valued on the strength of their balance sheets, which affects their ability to raise capital and fund expansionary projects. Ultimately, this could trigger a disruptive stock market repricing. At the same time, the nationalisation scenario could trigger a liquidity risk in the Land Bank and other commercial banks. Given the size of the outstanding debt illustrated above, it is unlikely that the state will be in a position to financially rescue these institutions.

In our previous article published on July 9 2018, we demonstrated the value of property rights, using land as an asset, and its role in a market-based economy such as SA’s that is an integral part of the global economy. The cases presented show that in the event of the nationalisation of land, the potential beneficiaries will not be able to build wealth without assets anyway. We further argued that nationalisation will not enrich anyone, but will rather be a nightmare for the state and its citizens.

The aforementioned implications of the linkages of land to the overall economy suggests that the negative consequences could be rather far-reaching and would not yield any value to potential beneficiaries of the process anyway.

These arguments do not imply that we should not urgently deal with the inequality in land ownership. It is necessary that we implement a decentralised and effective land-reform programme to restore land rights to the majority of our people.

There is, however, a much more responsible solution that will not destroy our financial sectors, our pension funds and our economy. We will share views and ideas regarding a possible workable concept in our final article of this series in Business Day in two weeks’ time.

• Sihlobo is head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber and Kirsten director of the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University.

A potential ban in South Africa on the use of high cube containers on standard trailers could cause “chaos” and damage fruit export industries, the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned.

The Department of Transport is planning to implement heavy restrictions on road vehicles exceeding 4.3 meters as of next January.

In effect, this will prohibit ordinary transport vehicles from moving high cube containers over the road in South Africa.

Cape Chamber president Janine Myburgh said standard trailers carrying high cube containers would exceed the maximum height limit by 30 centimeters and that the department wants to see the vehicles replaced with special low-bed trailers.

“The original concern with the containers was that because they were higher than the old ones there could be a problem with unstable loads, especially in cross winds,” Myburgh said in a letter to the Department.

“However, these containers have been in use for more than seven years and we are unaware of any incidents or accidents involving unstable loads in the new containers. It would therefore seem that there is no justification for the original fears.”

There would also be a high cost involved with converting to low-bed trailers – around R300,000 – that many businesses would not be able to afford, he said.

“In addition, packing sheds and loading facilities have been designed for standard trailers and converting them to serve low-bed trailers is another high cost that drought-stricken farmers cannot afford,” he said.

“It’s not practically possible to convert all the trailers in the remaining few months before implementation date. If the regulation is strictly enforced there will be chaos on our roads with queues of trucks several kilometres long.”

Another issue is that as high cube containers on standard trailers are legal in neighboring countries, trucks entering South Africa could be stopped at the border, which could lead to international incidents.

“The result could be that neighbouring countries would choose to export through Namibia and Mozambique, denying our ports much-needed revenue,” he said.

“The solution to the problem is to grant an exemption to the height regulations for high cube containers in exactly the same way as exemptions have already been granted for car carriers and double-decker buses. These vehicles are even higher/taller than the high cube containers on standard trailers. This would be a “no cost” solution for all.”

“The Chamber strongly believes that the safety of high cube containers on standard trailers has been demonstrated over the last seven years and there was no reason why they should not be granted an exemption from the maximum height regulations.”

In January this year Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) CEO Justin Chadwick told FTW Online: “As it stands, the fruit industry faces a massive dilemma if the Department of Transport does not act promptly.” fruitportal/

Hot conditions and low rainfall amounts continue to take their toll on the wheat crop in eastern Australia as the country’s 2018-19 wheat production is forecast at 21 million tonnes, about 12% below the previous estimate, according to a July 10 Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA said the wheat harvested area is expected to fall slightly to 12 million hectares.

“Moderate rainfall since May has improved soil moisture for the winter wheat crop, but continued rainfall is essential during the planting window across many regions, especially eastern Australia,” the USDA said.

Wheat is the major winter crop in Australia, with sowing starting between April and July. The crop is harvested between August and January.

If the forecast holds, the size of this year’s crop would be similar to the 2017-18 harvest of 21.2 million tonnes.

Australian wheat exports in 2018-19 are also forecast to remain unchanged at 16,000 tonnes.

“Australia is the world’s third largest wheat exporter, but its exports are expected to face stronger competition from Black Sea wheat traders, especially for feed wheat,” the USDA said.

Barley production is forecast to rise to 9.5 million tonnes in 2018-19 from 8.9 million tonnes the prior season.

“Relatively high prices and stronger Chinese demand are expected to encourage increased plantings and production in 2018-19,” the USDA said. WG

Indonesia — Authorities in Indonesia are investigating the killing of a rare orangutan whose body was found riddled with bullet and knife wounds in an oil palm plantation with a history of orangutan deaths. Workers at the plantation in Seruyan district, in the Bornean province of Central Kalimantan, pulled the badly decomposed corpse of the male Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) from a canal at the site on July 1. They reported the discovery to officials from the nearby Tanjung Puting National Park, who then sent a team to check on the body along with representatives from the provincial conservation agency and the NGO Orangutan Foundation International (OFI).

A microchip implant in the orangutan’s body identified him as Baen, a male about 20 years of age who was released into Tanjung Puting by OFI on Sept. 23, 2014, according to Fajar Dewanto, a field director at OFI.

Fajar, who helped identify the body, said Baen had previously been captured from the very same plantation in which he was found dead. The plantation is run by PT Wana Sawit Subur Lestari II (WSSL II), a subsidiary of major palm oil producer Best Agro Plantation.

Fajar said OFI had previously worked with the company to train its employees on how to deal with orangutans inside the plantation, following a string of orangutan deaths in the area. Baen’s death brings to five the number of orangutans found dead in the plantation. No one has been held accountable for any of the earlier deaths, despite orangutans being a protected species under Indonesian law.

Ramli Tamba, an official from WSSL II, told Mongabay in a text message that the company was making “efforts to rescue and protect all wild animals” in its concession. He referred all questions about the series of orangutan deaths, including the latest one, to the provincial conservation agency.

Conservation officials carry the body of a male Bornean orangutan found dead in an oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan. Image by Orangutan Foundation International.

The results of a preliminary examination of Baen’s body found extensive injuries. These included at least seven wounds from airgun pellets, a fractured arm, a severed finger, and deep lacerations all over the body, likely from some kind of bladed weapon. Abrasions around the animal’s ankle indicated it had also been tied up at some point.

Fajar said it appeared that whoever killed the orangutan threw the body into the canal to conceal the crime. The water would have hastened its decomposition, he said, and scavengers like monitor lizards would have eaten the flesh.

Baen’s death marks the latest killing of an orangutan in Indonesian Borneo this month, all involving the use of airguns. In February, police charged four men with killing an orangutan in East Kalimantan province. The suspects admitted to shooting the animal 130 times with an airgun, claiming it had encroached onto their pineapple farm and ruined their crop.

In January, police charged two rubber farmers with the gruesome shooting and decapitation of an orangutan in Central Kalimantan province. The orangutan had been shot 17 times with an airgun.

A recent study suggests the killing of the great apes is a key factor in the loss of nearly 150,000 Bornean orangutans between 1999 and 2015, alongside deforestation and forest clearing for industrial plantations.

The species is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered, or on the verge of vanishing from the wild. The main threats to its survival are hunting and loss of habitat as forests across Borneo are razed to make way for monoculture plantations and mines; as well as poaching for the illegal pet trade. The district of Seruyan, where Baen was killed, is a textbook case of a district taken over by the palm oil industry, aided and abetted by the former district chief.

Orangutans are ostensibly protected by law, but lax enforcement means few perpetrators ever face justice for killing or trading in these great apes.

Officials examine the body after it was pulled out of a canal in an oil palm plantation where at least four other orangutans had been found dead since September 2015. Image by Orangutan Foundation International.The body was badly decomposed when it was discovered. An examination later revealed at least seven wounds from airgun pellets, as well as extensive knife wounds and signs that the orangutan might have been tied up at some point. Image by Orangutan Foundation International.

Banner image of a Bornean orangutan by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on July 3, 2018.

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South Africa Today – Environment

A summer drought is expected to reduce yield and overall production of rice in Italy, according to a June 27 Global Agricultural Information Network report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Italy, the largest rice producer in the E.U.-28, is forecast to produce 1.5 million tonnes of rice in 2017-18, about 5% less than the previous season, the USDA said.

Although the drought has dropped yields from 6.8 to 6.6 tonnes per hectare, the report said the quality of the crop is expected to be good.

According to the latest figures from the Italian Rice Association, about 230,000 hectares of rice is expected to be planted, about 2% less than in 2016-17. WG

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