Local scientists could maximise their impacts in food production worldwide

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: Flickr/IITA

Local scientists creating global impacts in agriculture

Nina Dudnik

Speed read

  • Scientists in developing nations are using new tools to spur food production
  • Partnerships and funding are key to helping local scientists to make impacts
  • Investing in the R&D of such scientists could maximise their impacts
Local scientists could maximise their impacts in food production worldwide if supported, argues Nina Dudnik.

In a three-room lab outside Nairobi, Kenya, cutting-edge science is meeting time-honoured farming practices. Steven Runo, a senior lecturer with a specialisation in molecular biology, and his colleagues at Kenyatta University are using the tools of modern molecular biology to overcome constraints of growing maize, sorghum and rice.

In particular, Runo is using a broad range of genomics and molecular biology strategies to fight parasites such as Striga, which strangle the crops.

The type of research being conducted by Runo, his team in Kenya and other scientists in developing countries is key to food security in the world.

Read the full article: SciDevNet

Integrated research initiatives to combat land degradation

Photo credit: CGIAR

Demonstration site in Rasht Valley, Tajikistan. Photo credit: Aziz Nurbekov


2015 in Review: Combating land degradation and climate change in Central Asia

Submitted by Sherzod Shoasilov on January 26, 2016

Year 2015 saw the implementation of several integrated research initiatives to combat land degradation, mitigate the effect of climate change and improve soils in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Declared as the “International Year of Soils” by the 68th UN General Assembly, the year 2015 marked a series of multidisciplinary research achievements to combat land degradation, mitigate the effect of climate change and improve soils in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The following provides an overview of the collaborative research initiatives and outcomes – nested in the integrated systems approach – by the scientists of the CGIAR Regional Program for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC), donors and partner national research institutions, whose work contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.  Most of this work aims at developing the national research capacities for sustainable productivity increases in agriculture through development, adoption, and transfer of improved knowledge and technologies.

Actions to combat land degradation

Land degradation is a key challenge in Central Asia. To address this challenge, the three-year Knowledge Management Project of the Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management (CACILM) continued to be implemented in 2015 to streamline the use, creation and dissemination of knowledge on sustainable land management in five countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), acting as the CACILM coordinating center of convened an annual meeting of partners in Almaty, Kazakhstan on 17-18 March, followed by its Steering Committee meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on 24 June. During these two events, scientists and partners reviewed achievements and constraints, and agreed on a plan of activities for the upcoming year 2016. To date, the project has collected and described in standard format more than 100 SLM approaches and technologies applicable to the four main agro-ecosystems found in Central Asia, relating to rainfed and irrigated agriculture, as well as mountains and rangelands.

Read the full article: CGIAR

How thirsty trees pull water to their canopies

Photo credit: Science Daily

Water can be pulled up to as much as 45 feet — well above the barometric limit — overturning the theory proposed by seventeenth century Italian physicist and mathematician Evangelista Torricelli which has stood for the last 400 years.
Credit: © shsphotography / Fotolia

Breakthrough discovery reveals how thirsty trees pull water to their canopies

Source: University of Leicester

Summary: A scientific mystery about how trees pull water from the ground to their top branches has been solved by an international team of scientists. The researchers have discovered that water can in fact be held in a vacuum for almost indefinite periods of time and even under significant tension without forming bubbles or breaking apart, which helps to explain how trees siphon water to their highest points.


New centre for agricultural innovation

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Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

Africa gets new centre for agricultural innovation

The main gap that the centre seeks to close is the low capacity of the present extension service.” Bernard Marc Winfried, AfricaRice

Speed read

  • The centre aims to boost incomes of smallholders
  • The centre will initially focus on rice, soybeans, poultry and ruminants
  • An expert says it could help address poverty and aid growth in Africa

A new research centre that will help African countries promote innovation in the agricultural sector to combat rural poverty and hunger has been inaugurated.

The Green Innovation Center, which was inaugurated at AfricaRice in Benin this month (3 January), aims to boost agricultural productivity, increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and create job opportunities, particularly for youth and women in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia
The Green Innovation Center is supported by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in partnership with other institutions such as Benin Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, and AfricaRice.

BMZ has given 2.7 million euros (almost US$3 million) to AfricaRice to implement the centre’s activities in 2016 and 2017, according to Bernard Marc Winfried, a knowledge management specialist at AfricaRice.
Gerd Müller, minister for BMZ, said during the inauguration thatagriculture does not only need water and fertiliser but also knowledge and innovation.

A useful instrument for field research in the drylands

Photo credit: WVC – Rhizotron.TC PICTS.008 copy


A publication in Soil Technology 5: 97-100 (1992)




1992 MINI-RHIZOTRONS 3_Fotor_Fotor

Pastoralists may benefit from new rangelands management approaches

Photo credit: Google

In times of severe drought her husband may have to take the cattle far away to look for pasture.


New rangelands management approaches improving resilience and economic benefits for Kenya’s pastoralists



A study that evaluate the changing nature of pastoralists’ institutional arrangements in response to socio-economic and ecological changes over a period of 10 years, and assessed how these changing arrangements are contributing to value of ecosystem services benefits, shows that co-management is now a significant feature of current institutional arrangements in northern Kenya.

Three types of institutional arrangements including elders only, group ranch committees and community conservancy boards were reviewed. Results showed that management of the rangelands has changed over time and co-management is now positively influencing the economic benefits communities derive from these ecosystems and is enabling pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods as part of enhancing their resilience.

The study was carried out in Isiolo, Laikipia and Samburu.

See the text: Livestock Systems and environment

African governments need to embrace S&T for development

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Mauritian president calls for embracing of S&T

“It is time to tackle mediocrity in science and technology.” – President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Mauritius

by Sam Otieno

Speed read

  • Sub-Saharan Africa produces only about one per cent of global research ouput
  • An expert has urged African governments and the private sector to support STI
  • A policymaker says R&D initiatives could help Africa address development issues

African governments and the private sector need to embrace science, technology and research for development, according to President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius.

In a speech Gurib-Fakim delivered during the launch of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) this month (10 September) in Kenya, she noted that there are research and development challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa.

She said that a yawning gap in research capacity still exists in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the region accounting for less than one per cent of the world’s research output despite having 12 per cent of the global population.
“Our collective challenge is to reduce brain drain and accelerate brain gain because about one-third of qualified scientists and engineers who were born and trained in developing countries [have] moved to industrialised countries,” she said.  “Ten per cent of the total science and technology workforce in the United States is of foreign origin, while in Australia it is as high as 25 per cent”

Read the full article: SciDevNet

Nutritional science will have to make some changes to its curriculum

Photo credit: Nature World News

Changes in nutritional science are being made to meet the increasing global food demand. (Photo : Flickr: Dean Hochman)

Nutrition and Science: How to Feed the World

By Samantha Mathewson

In order to meet the food demands of growing populations, nutritional science will have to make some changes to its curriculum. That is, according to a recent evaluation  from scientists at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech University.

“The grand challenges in 21st century nutrition research extend beyond individual health, encompassing all the massively interacting systems that help to sustain a global population,” Josep Bassaganya-Riera, a professor and director at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory, said in a news release. “This article provides concrete recommendations for assessing these issues at the macro-level such as the application of informatics, data analytics, and modeling approaches.”

Read the full article: Nature World News

Trees for carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air quality, and human services

Photo credit: Nature World News

A team of researchers recently mapped tree populations worldwide. (Photo : Crowther, et al)

Boreal Forests and Climate: 3 Trillion Trees in World

By Samantha Mathewson

Picture 3 trillion trees. See? You can’t. We’d wager that none of us can see the forest or the trees at that rate. However, a recent study that mapped the world’s trees, including great swaths of forest in northern and equatorial regions, found that they totaled around 3 trillion.  This is roughly seven and a half times more than previously estimated. However, according to recent mapping, these numbers still represent a 46 percent decline in worldwide tree population since the beginning of human life on Earth, as a release noted.

The researchers used satellite images, forest inventories and supercomputer technologies. They collected tree density information for more than 400,000 forests worldwide.

“Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth, yet we are only recently beginning to comprehend their global extent and distribution,” Thomas Crowther, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), said in a news release. “They store huge amounts of carbon, are essential for the cycling of nutrients, for water and air quality, and for countless human services. Yet you ask people to estimate, within an order of magnitude, how many trees there are and they don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what I would have guessed, but I was certainly surprised to find that we were talking about trillions.”

Read the full article: Nature World News

Drought- or flood-resistant crops to make agriculture in California more resilient

Photo credit: Yahoo News

Sprinklers and lettuce in Salinas, California


Scientists Are Trying to Save Salad From the Drought

By Tove Danovich

For the last four years, California has been dreaming of water. Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a state of emergency in 2014, followed by a mandatory water reduction of 25 percent in urban areas. But the water saved by digging up lawns and installing new shower heads hasn’t helped farmers, who have let an estimated 540,000 acres of land go fallow, resulting in a total economic loss of $2.7 billion, according to a report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Even if El Niño shows up as predicted, it’s not a long-term solution for many crops. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently published a report showing that combined global temperature in July was the highest in 136 years of recorded data. And a wet winter doesn’t mean the drought will end. So rather than praying for rain, scientists have started work on a number of drought- or flood-resistant crops that will hopefully make agriculture in California (and beyond) more resilient.

Though many of the drought-tolerant varieties under development are commodity crops such as rice, wheat, or corn, the high water content of the delicate vegetables grown up and down California makes their fate iffier during water shortages. A USDA research project based in California is attempting to develop a drought-resistant variety of lettuce. At about 96 percent water, the green has one of the highest water-content levels of any type of fruit or vegetable. Renee Erikson, a plant research geneticist working on the breeding program, said the crop was of particular interest because California produces 72 percent of head lettuce and 85 percent of leaf lettuce grown in the United States.

Read the full article: Yahoo News

Africa should aim to take charge of its own research agenda

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Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

Study finds gaps in Africa-EU food security R&D links

“We, as Africans, need to take the full responsibility of the research agenda and the delivery and implementation of results.” – Johann Jerling, North-West University, South Africa

by Munyaradzi Makoni

Speed read

  • From 2010 to 2012, the number of people in Africa increased to 239 million
  • But research networks involving Africa and the EU to solve hunger have issues
  • An expert says Africa should aim to take charge of its own research agenda

A report has identified  gaps in the capacities and funding for Africa-Europe food security research collaborations, and the need to strengthen such networks and research uptake.

According to the report, the number of hungry people in Africa increased from 175 million to 239 million between 2010 and 2012, a situation that requires effective global cooperation in science, technology andinnovation.

In a report published by the CAAST-Net Plus, a EU-funded consortium that advances collaboration between Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU in research and innovation for global challenges, the authors examined 74 Africa-EU food security research projects implemented between 1998 and 2014.

The report was launched in Accra, Ghana at a meeting of African science policymakers last month (7-8 July).

Read the full article: SciDevNet

Indigenous knowledge, food security and sovereignty of the African farmer

Photo credit: Ghana Crusader

Substantial grain yields have been recorded by small holder farmers who have adopted the Zai Technology Farming in the Upper East Region.

‘Indigenous Knowledge of African farmers be enhanced’

Source: GNA

Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, the Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in charge of Crops, on Wednesday reiterated the need for indigenous knowledge of the African farmer to be enhanced, to achieve food security and sovereignty.

He said Africa had the needed trained human resources in scientific research to contribute to that knowledge or technology development.

Dr Alhassan, who was speaking at the opening of the Fourth Planning and General Meeting of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) in Accra, said “the era of despair, timidity and sometimes outright cynicism of African agriculture must give way to confidence, mutual trust and co-operation among stakeholders.”

AFSA is a Pan-African platform of 21 networks and farmer organisations championing small African Family Farming/Production Systems based on agro-ecological and indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities.

The three-day meeting is on the theme: “Building on International Year of Soils, Strengthening Family Farming,” and it is being attended by over 30 participants from the continent.

Dr Alhassan said: “African family farms need technology generated by African scientists in Africa to increase productivity. This is paramount in the light of eroding natural resources and therefore dwindling potential for exploitation,” he said.

He said only Science and Technology could sustain the twin challenges of increasing productivity with less water and soil resources, and that explained why African governments were seeking the best technology either from conventional or biotechnology sources, to address the growing problems of climate change and its impact on food security.

That, he said, governments do by creating a level playing field for safe engagement of all technologies in agriculture and “we cannot achieve these objectives by pulling apart, but by pooling our collective strengths as public and private non-governmental sectors for the benefit of enhanced family farm productivity and African food and nutrition security”.

He said evidence suggested that family farmers in Africa were highly vulnerable to poverty, especially considering their limited capacity to absorb shocks, such as climate change and market forces, which had implications for food and nutrition security.

He, therefore, called for a holistic action to effectively put in place appropriate policy environment to help resource poor family farmers, to deploy their productivity potential, and sustainably manage the natural resources to enable them to feed the world and care for the environment.

Read the full article: Ghana Web

See also: Ghana Crusader

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