The Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) fellowship – an initiative by the African Academy of Sciences and Association of Commonwealth Universities – seeks to help early-career researchers undertake research to address climate change in Africa.
The five-year, £4.85 million (almost US$ 6 million) programme funded by the UK’s Department for International Development has selected 37 researchers from about 100 applications as visiting fellows, according to Benjamin Gyampoh, CIRCLE programme manager.
“There is a research uptake component where the researchers are supported to identify the key stakeholders of their work.”
Benjamin Gyampoh, CIRCLE programme
The third cohort of fellows are from 25 universities and research institutes based in nine countries –Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The fellows attended an induction workshop last month (10-12 February) in Kenya.
The 25 institutions nominated the researchers to the programme, and their applications went through rigorous review processes.
New plant research leads to the discovery of a gene that significantly increases seed yield in maize
March 16, 2017
VIB – Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology
A gene that significantly increases plant growth and seed yield in maize has been discovered by researchers. Research into crop yield is crucial because of the increasing incidence of extreme weather conditions affecting agriculture. The results from laboratory research were confirmed during two-year field trials conducted in Belgium and the United States showing that this gene can increase seed yield in maize hybrids by 10 to 15%.
Researchers from VIB-UGent have discovered a gene that significantly increases plant growth and seed yield in maize. Research into crop yield is crucial because of the increasing incidence of extreme weather conditions affecting agriculture. The results from laboratory research were confirmed during two-year field trials conducted in Belgium and the United States showing that this gene can increase seed yield in maize hybrids by 10 to 15%. The results of the greenhouse and field trials are published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
Can we produce a better wheat crop to feed the world? Single to multiple wheat genomics
January 12, 2017
Entering a ‘wheat pan-genomics’ era from single to multiple wheat DNA references, a research team aims to diversify one of the world’s most complex genomes to improve yield quality and increase wider production of this critical food crop.
Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is the UK’s most economically important crop and the world’s most widely cultivated cereal. Wheat production is vital in both emerging and growing economies. Therefore, understanding the genomics of wheat is essential to sustain increased yields for the growing global population, while protecting the crop from common disease epidemics and adaptation to extreme climate change conditions.
The wheat genome has been an enigma to scientists due to its exceptionally large and complex genome. Previously leading a first complete analysis of the bread wheat genome with other BBSRC-funded institutes, EI have now leveraged their genomics advances to work with both industry and research partners to enable the production of a better and more sustainable crop to aid global food security.
From the most sourced plant data reference1 released in November 2015, EI have developed a new method that is influencing industry and academia to further advance the field of wheat genomics into a multi-reference era. Unveiling new genome assemblies for five further wheat varieties presented publicly at PAG, the largest plant and animal genomics global conference, in San Diego, 14 January 2017.
The new wheat analyses came to fruition after delivery of the first wheat reference using the bioinformatics ‘w2rap’ tool for genome assembly developed by Bernardo Clavijo and his Algorithm Development Team at EI. Life science industry leaders Bayer Crop Sciences approached the team to run a pilot project sequencing a commercially significant wheat variety.
Alexandra N. Kravchenko, Sieglinde S. Snapp, G. Philip Robertson. Field-scale experiments reveal persistent yield gaps in low-input and organic cropping systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201612311 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1612311114
Addressing the gap between research and practice in sustainable agriculture
January 18, 2017
Michigan State University
New research has found a big difference in the yields produced by alternative agricultural practices in commercial fields compared with the same practices in the small experimental plots ordinarily used to test them.
These differences have important implications for closing the global yield gap between research plots and farmer fields, especially for low-input practices adopted by organic farmers in the United States and by resource-strapped farmers in less developed regions.
The study, published in the latest issue of PNAS, compared the yields of a crop rotation of wheat, corn and soybeans under three different management practices: conventional, low-input and organic. The tests were conducted at small experimental plots and the much larger commercial field level. Though researchers found no appreciable difference in the yields produced at either level for conventional crop management, they noted a significant yield gap for both low-input and organic management.
Study reveals which genes are critical to a plant’s response to drought
October 25, 2016
VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)
Because plants cannot relocate when resources become scarce, they need to efficiently regulate their growth by responding to environmental cues. Drought is the most important cause of reduced plant growth and crop yield, which makes insights into a plant’s drought response highly valuable to agriculture. A new study has provided major insights into how plants cope with water-limiting conditions, which can direct advanced breeding and genome engineering efforts to create high-performing, drought-tolerant crop plants.
Africa Analysis: Benefits of the restarted R&D alliance
“Many people argue that donors’ influence over health research agendas in Africa remains too strong.” Linda Nordling
The second phase of Europe-Africa clinical trials partnership has started
It could help African countries increase their investment in health R&D
African governments need to help sustain the gains to be made
The reboot of the Europe-Africa clinical trials alliance could make Africa invest in health R&D, writes Linda Nordling.
In 2010 in Mali’s capital Bamako, representatives from over two dozen African health ministries signed a ‘call for action’ urging their governments to allocate at least two per cent of health ministry budgets toresearch. 
The aim of the call was for African governments to take ownership of the research agenda, which at the time was viewed as too driven by international donor priorities.
Nearly a decade on, many people argue that donors’ influence over health research agendas in Africa remains too strong. And the two per cent goal is still a pipe dream.
There is no doubt that African countries have seen increased investment in health research. But with most of this increase coming from international donors, the question of who sets the research agenda remains.
In 2008, after the Bamako meeting, critics condemned the lack of mechanisms in the call of action for its proposed implementation. 
But for countries looking for a way to fulfil their two per cent ambition, a reinvented Europe-Africa clinical trials programme offers a vehicle for doing so and for directing international funding towards national priorities.
The implications of plants needing less water with more carbon dioxide in the environment changes assumptions of climate change impacts on agriculture, water resources, wildfire risk, and plant growth, say scientists.
Climate change has less impact on drought than previously expected
Source: University of California – Irvine
Summary: As a multiyear drought grinds on in the Southwestern United States, many wonder about the impact of global climate change on more frequent and longer dry spells. As humans emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, how will water supply for people, farms, and forests be affected?
SIAC mid-term workshops are an attempt to stock take funded studies, and through discussions provide feedback on analysis approach and preliminary results. The 30th July workshop focuses on the seven (7) studies funded under SIAC 3.1 – these are a rather diverse set of studies, some quite macro in nature, that assess the adoption and impact of a number of technologies that have apparently spread widely. Description of these studies (including the CGIAR innovation under study), early results and snapshot of discussions follow.
C88, for instance, which is a late blight resistant variety has been claimed by CIP as one of its most successful varieties. Considering the extension efforts in China to promote potatoes – the study focuses on Yunnan province which accounts for 10% of the Chinese potato production – and, expert estimate that 33% of potato varieties in China can be traced to CIP germplasm, this study carefully examines the adoption (including through DNA fingerprinting), the determinants of adoption, and consumer/producer surplus through household and community surveys. Data from another SIAC activity suggests that C88 is an important crop in the (main) early spring season (around 16% of all cultivated varieties, 400K ha), and a significant winter crop variety (around 50%, 60K ha). So, what is the story of C88 as revealed by this study (so far)?
The focus of DNA fingerprinting (leaf or tuber samples, SSR marker) was not to identify the range of potato varieties – it was to confirm that the potatoes grown by households that self-identified the variety as C88 was indeed C88. 137 of the 141 fresh samples were confirmed to be C88 suggesting that C88 self-identification by farmers is not an issue. What we don’t know yet is the varietal identity of potatoes in households that do not self-report C88 – are they growing C88 and are we underestimating C88 diffusion in Yunnan? What are the varieties that C88 has not replaced or have that replaced C88 following dis-adoption? There are also questions about the dynamics of adoption over time: for instance, farmers recycle seeds and seed degradation could be an issue. While preliminary analysis suggests that current disease pressure and adoption is related, farmers who value blight resistance are less likely to continue growing C88 over time – plausibly suggesting that farmers are constantly looking for resistant varieties and dis-adopt C88 over time as seed degeneration occurs. Seed degeneration might also account for up to 25% of yield loss. Location is also found to be critical for adoption: farmers close to urban areas are likely to have grown C88 at some point in the past, but much less likely to grow it now. There are also some interesting issues raised by value chain providers – chip manufacturers prefer C88 because of its quality, but are forced to source other varieties from other provinces because high quality C88 potatoes are not available.
Scientists aim to adapt wheat to a warmer climate with less water
By Julie Mollins
EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – Scientists battling to increase wheat production by more than 60 percent over the next 35 years to meet projected demand are optimistic that they have begun to unravel the genetic mysteries that will lead to a more productive plant.
A recent study conducted at 26 international sites with a new generation of improved wheat breeding lines crossed and selected for superior physiological traits, resulted in yields that were on average 10 percent higher than other wheat varieties.
In the study, scientists identified many useful traits in the wheat plant suited to heat and drought adaptation, including: cooler canopy temperature indicating the ability of the plant to access subsoil water under drought and root proliferation under hot irrigated conditions.
They also discovered the plants have the ability to store sugars in the stem when conditions are good and the capacity to remobilize them to the grain when needed for seed filling if conditions do not permit enough photosynthesis. Leaf wax also plays a role by reflecting excess radiation and reducing evaporation from the leaf surface, lowering the risk of photo-inhibition and dehydration.
Additionally, scientists discovered that total aboveground biomass, a trait, which indicates overall plant fitness and with the right crossing strategy can be converted to produce higher grain yield.
As I interact with scientists and development experts, I am convinced that embracing science, technology and innovation (STI) is an integral component of Africa’s social and economic growth.
My conviction of STI’s importance to Africa’s development was given impetus when I attended the Grand Challenges Africa meeting in Kenya last month (24-26 February).
The meeting hosted 475 members of the scientific community from 43 countries around the world.
Grand Challenges Africa is a family of grant initiatives designed to foster innovation in solving key global health and development problems. The initiative has invested in 380 projects across Africa to develop, launch and manage Africa-specific innovations for addressing development challenges that could prevent African countries from reaching theSustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Read the full article: SciDevNet
World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June
“Let us find long‐term solutions, not just quick fixes, to disasters that are destroying communities,” urged Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.(See PRESS RELEASE below).
Willem Van Cotthem:We keep hoping that success stories and best practices will be applied at the global level. Priority should be given to methods and techniques providing daily fresh food to the hungry and malnourished. It cannot be denied that hunger and malnutrition are constantly undermining the performances of people. Application of existing success stories in local food production (kitchen gardens, school gardens, hospital gardens, …) would positively influence the efforts to combat desertification (limiting erosion, stimulating reforestation, etc.). We keep hoping.
Reply: Willem Van Cotthem: Hello Friends at the UNCCD Secretariat: It will be my pleasure to select a series of success stories in the literature. However, I am convinced that the UNCCD secretariat has the necessary documentation to compile even a book on this subject (to the best of my knowledge the documents, e.g. presentations at COPs and meetings of CST and CRIC, have been there during my active period in the CST and in Bonn). Please consider a consultancy to achieve top class work that would serve all member countries, the CST and the CRIC. To be presented at the next World Day June 17th 2016.
UNCCD’s Monique Barbut Calls for Long‐Term Solutions Not Just Quick Fixes To Drought Bonn, Germany, 22/02/2016 –
“Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People. This is the slogan for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June. I am calling for solidarity from the international community with the people who are battling the ravages of drought and flood. Let us find long‐term solutions, not just quick fixes, to disasters that are destroying communities,” urged Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The droughts and floods beating down on communities in many parts of the world are linked to the current El Niño, which is expected to affect up 60 million people by July. In some areas, including in North Eastern Brazil, Somali, Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, the El Niño effects are coming on the back of years of severe and recurrent droughts. It is impossible for households that rely on the land for food and farm labor to recover, especially when the land is degraded.
What’s more, these conditions do not just devastate families and destabilize communities. When they are not attended to urgently, they can become a push factor for migration, and end with gross human rights abuses and long‐term security threats.
“We have seen this before – in Darfur following four decades of droughts and desertification and, more recently, in Syria, following the long drought of 2007‐2010. It is tragic to see a society breaking down when we can reduce the vulnerability of communities through simple and affordable acts such as restoring the degraded lands they live on, and helping countries to set up better systems for drought early warning and to prepare for and manage drought and floods,” Barbut said.
Ms Barbut made the remarks when announcing the plans for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, which will take place on 17 June.
“I hope that World Day to Combat Desertification this year marks a turning point for every country. We need to show, through practical action and cooperation, how every country is tacking or supporting these challenges at the front‐end to preempt or minimize the potential impacts of the disasters, not just at the back‐end after the disasters happen,” she stated.
The United Nations General Assembly designated 17 June as the observance Day to raise public awareness about international efforts to combat desertification and the effects of drought.
Ms Barbut thanked the Government and People of China, for offering to host the global observance event, which will take place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“China has vast experience in nursing degraded lands and man‐made deserts back to health. This knowledge can and should benefit initiatives such as Africa’s Great Green Wall, the re‐ greening in southern Africa and the 20 X 20 Initiative in Latin America. We can create a better, more equal and climate change‐resilient world,” she noted.
“I also call on countries, the private sector, foundations and people of goodwill to support Africa when the countries meet later in the year to develop concrete plans and policies to pre‐ empt, monitor and manage droughts,” Ms Barbut stated.
The 2016 World Day campaign is also advancing the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September last year. The Goals include a target to achieve a land degradation‐neutral world by 2030. That is, a world where the land restored back to health equals to, or is more than, the amount degraded every year.
Back in 2007, I have read with interest the following text published in Development Gateway’sdgCommunities :
“Going for Growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa”
“This collection of essays by key experts in the field of international development looks at the role of science, technology and innovation in encouraging a risk-taking, problem solving approach to development cooperation in Africa. This year has seen an unprecedented determination by the world’s richest nations to engage with the development of the poorest. The report of the Commission for Africa, chaired by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Our Common Interest, set out the themes that dominated the G8’s discussions at Gleneagles over the summer, while a mass movement, in the form of the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, affirmed that the political agenda was matched by a widespread public demand for action. Central to this transformative agenda will be the role of science, technology and innovation, both as a driver of economic growth within the developing countries and as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies.”
Calestous Juma, ed. The Smith Institute, London, November 2005.
Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
ISBN: 1 902488 97 0
Document Length: 129 pp.
For more information about this publication please contact:
Contributor: John Daly – Published Date: February 7, 2007
Going for Growth in Action: Smith Institute Report’s Ideas Applied to Africa’s Mining Industry
“Science, Technology, and Globalization Project Director Calestous Juma has sparked a serious debate about education, entrepreneurship, and Africa’s mining industry in Dr. Chris Hinde’s “Comment” column which appears in Mining Magazine. Juma is the editor of Going for Growth: Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa (.pdf), a collection of essays published by the Smith Institute, a British think tank. “Going for Growth” emphasizes building Africa’s capacity to solve its own problems.
Juma starts his essay with “Most African economies have historically been associated with natural resources and raw materials. There is growing recognition, however, that a transition into modern economies will involve considerable investment and use of new knowledge.”
He has since called for the mining industry to fund and lend expertise to a school of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy — and be located in the African country that makes the best case for hosting it. The school would have places for approximately 100 students per year and would serve as a model for similar centers of learning all over Africa. See “African Lessons” (.pdf) by Dr. Chris Hinde in Mining Magazine (February 2006) for the complete interview.
A later issue of Mining Magazine continued the discussion, focusing on the need for the proposed schools to teach how both the international risk-capital markets operate and mining ventures are financed. African mining operators and investors must be trained on how and where to obtain capital. See “Money Matters” (.pdf) by Dr. Chris Hinde in Mining Magazine (June 2006).
On June 22, 2006, Professor Calestous Juma resumed the discussion by addressing the Human Rights & Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The Roundtable is comprised of representatives of the extractive industry (oil & mining companies), human rights organizations, and development agencies. They meet regularly in invitation-only, confidential sessions to discuss issues of common cause and concern — specifically the promotion of the rule of law and open societies. Over the last few years the group has focused increasingly on community and economic development projects and issues surrounding community engagement.
This session, entitled “Bain or Blessing: Can the Extractive Industry Help Reinvent African Economies?”, focused on how resources can be utilized to “extract growth” for Africa, as well as other developing countries. Professor Juma discussed how the extractive industry, which is becoming dominant in many African economies, can be used as an engine of sustainable growth, breaking the widely held view that natural resource extraction is associated with corruption and environmental non sustainability. The Roundtable explored the direct links between community/development activities, including corporate partnerships with international donor agencies and the larger strategy of economic development. As companies invest to increase the local content of their work and managerial force, they are promoting (and could further promote) higher technologies in the fields of business, communications, engineering, and the environment.
MY VIEWS ON “GOING FOR GROWTH IN ACTION” (Willem Van Cotthem)
What an interesting text about “the role of science, technology and innovation in encouraging a risk-taking, problem solving approach to development cooperation in Africa”!. This is what we were looking for since long: “a problem solving approach development cooperation in Africa”, and all other developing regions of course, in particular when entering a period of “an unprecedented determination by the world’s richest nations to engage with the development of the poorest” (Make Poverty History campaign).
It sounds like a dream-come-true when we read:
“Central to this transformative agenda will be the role of science, technology and innovation, both as a driver of economic growth within the developing countries and as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies”.
Let us go a bit deeper into the “serious debate” about education, entrepreneurship, and Africa’s mining industry, sparked by Director Calestous Juma (see above) when he starts his essay with …
“Most African economies have historically been associated with natural resources and raw materials. There is growing recognition, however, that a transition into modern economies will involve considerable investment and use of new knowledge.”
We learn that Juma “has since called for the mining industry to fund and lend expertise to a school of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy — and be located in the African country that makes the best case for hosting it. The school would have places for approximately 100 students per year and would serve as a model for similar centers of learning all over Africa.
That is the turning point where I am not following anymore the heartbeat of the “serious debate”. Looking for “a problem solving approach development cooperation in Africa”, a continent where drought, desertification, hunger, poor public health and poverty are the main obstacles for a swift development, shall we now turn to funding and lending expertise to schools of entrepreneurship that would raise scientific literacy?
I would rather think that transfer of Science, Technology and Innovation should first concentrate on funding and lending expertise in agriculture, horticulture and health sciences, used as drivers for sustainable economic growth and as “as a core element in nurturing managerial and governance competencies” in those basic fields mentioned above.
I can never believe that it will be possible to educate good entrepreneurs in schools of excellence (100 students a year!), as long as the stomachs of those students will be empty or only partly filled. But maybe we are not speaking about the same students, members of the poor rural communities?
Let us not put the horses before the carriage of the rural population!
If we really want to focus “on community and economic development projects and issues surrounding community engagement”, it will be necessary to first solve the problems of the community’s primary needs, like food and health care, before spending mountains of financial resources on creating “top managers for the mining industry”.
Instead of discussing “…how the extractive industry, which is becoming dominant in many African economies, can be used as an engine of sustainable growth, breaking the widely held view that natural resource extraction is associated with corruption and environmental non sustainability”, it would be better to discuss possibilities to create first an engine for sustainable growth in agriculture and public health, where environmental sustainability can be the crux of the matter.
If it is really true that “… companies invest to increase the local content of their work and managerial force, they are promoting (and could further promote) higher technologies in the fields of business, communications, engineering, and the environment”, I would rather invite those companies to promote higher technologies in the fields of agricultural and environmental engineering, without thinking too much at “extracting or mining natural resources”, because that almost never happens with the clean objective to improve the daily life of the local people.
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