Knowledge for Development

Judith's pick - Early October 2014

05/10/2014 - Judith Francis

Dear readers, 

Two important CTA events will take place in October 2014. The International forum 'Unleashing Science, Technology and Innovation for Food and nutrition security' will start on 15 October. The programme has been published. Find it here. A cross-learning write-shop on CTA Top 20 innovations starting on 13 October will bring together authors / case owners of the CTA Top 20 innovations, technical experts, editors and designers. The objective of the write-shop is to contribute to increasing productivity and earning potential of smallholder farmers by increasing access to existing knowledge and their effective use. Find the programme here.

We would like to share a number of interesting developments and publications we collected during our web research. Of note is the Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize 2015 and the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security. Apply by 4 December 2014 here.


Governing agricultural biotechnology in Africa: building public confidence and capacity for policy-making

Norman Clark, John Mugabe, and James Smith provide an analytical context of biotechnology and biosafety in three African countries by reviewing the nature of science policy research, especially as it applies to potential developmental impacts of biotechnology. The book throws new light on biotechnology governance in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda that have been struggling with biotechnology development and related biosafety policy and pays attention to experiences in OECD countries. In addition, the authors pay close attention to the analysis of risk and how it may be managed. They discuss the flawed nature of traditional approaches to biosafety management (treating biosafety risks as reducible to probabilistic values) and argue that these approaches are not only invalid from a purely scientific point of view, but also fail to deal with attitudes of civil society. They think that it is largely for these reasons that the 'precautionary principle' has begun to be taken seriously.

(Africa Portal, 09/2014)

Wheat gene discovery clears way for non-GMO breeding

The gene that prevents wheat from breeding with related ancestors was discovered by Washington State University researcher Kulvinder Gill and colleagues. The genes from related ancestors contain a vast array of traits preferred by growers. Using conventional genetic manipulations, the discovery will permit innovation in wheat variety development unhampered by the cost, regulatory hurdles and controversy of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Silencing the gene would permit breeders to successfully pair chromosomes of related ancestors and develop wheat varieties with the disease- and pest-resistance traits of other grasses.

(WSU, 15/09/2014)

Morphological, physiological and molecular characterisation of drought tolerance in cassava

Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is inherently drought tolerant. Nevertheless, substantial genotypic variation exists for this trait. Characterisation of these morphological, physiological and molecular differences establish an essential foundation for future development of drought-associated molecular markers for cassava. In this study, Charles Ochieng' Orek, ETH­Zurich, Switzerland, carried out multi­seasonal and locational field­based trials in Kenya to identify drought-tolerant and drought-susceptible cassava genotypes. These were then subjected to further physiological and molecular characterisation under controlled water deficit assays at ETH­Zurich. Field drought stress generally reduced cassava vegetative growth and productivity. In addition to other phenotypic parameters, storage root fresh weight was used as a primary criterion to discriminate between drought-tolerant and drought-susceptible genotypes.

(Dr.Sc. thesis, ETH-Zurich, 2014)

Underutilised wild edible plants in the Chilga District, north-western Ethiopia: focus on wild woody plants

In Ethiopia, despite the extraordinary number of ecological zones and plant diversity, the diversity of plants is under threat due to the lack of institutional capacity, population pressure, land degradation and deforestation. An adequate documentation of these plants also has not been conducted. In this article, Mekuanent Tebkew, University of Gondar, and colleagues at other Ethiopian universities report on a study of the distribution, diversity, role, management conditions and associated traditional knowledge of underutilised wild edible plants in north- western Ethiopia. They found 33 wild edible plants that are used by local communities to supplement staple foods, to fill food gaps and for recreation. As these communities apply only elementary management practices to some wild edible plants, special attention is required to sustain the benefits of these plants.

 (Agriculture & Food Security, 26/08/2014)

Policy options to enhance markets for nutrient-dense foods in Tanzania

Ewan Robinson of IDS, UK and colleagues from Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania analyse policies and interventions to improve the functioning of markets that deliver nutrient-dense foods. They analyse five broad strategies – voluntary fortification, mandatory fortification, promoting fresh foods, non-profit distribution, behaviour change communication – and describe what mechanisms can be used to address market constraints such as enforcement, supply quality, distribution costs, signalling, and awareness raising. No single strategy can address all constraints completely but different interventions can address some and benefit certain populations. Programme-specific recommendations are put forward; for example, the promotion of nutrient-dense fresh foods must distinguish between pre-farm-gate and post-farm-gate consumption and related policies should support the production of neglected nutrient-dense crops.

(IDS UK, 19/08/2014)

Market diversification and sweet potato processing in Papua New Guinea: a pre-feasibility study

This study, commissioned by ACIAR, Australia, focused on exploring the feasibility of establishing an efficient sweet potato processing in Papua New Guinea as an engine for the development of rural areas and the industrialisation of the economy. The main finding by authors Christie Chang, Associate Professor, University of New England and Anton Mais, PNG National Institute for Agricultural Research, is that worldwide sweet potato is used mainly in fresh form for human consumption and as animal feed. Only a very small proportion (less than 1%) is processed into dried chips and flour mainly for home consumption. Per capita sweet potato consumption tends to decline with income growth and urbanisation as consumers are afforded choices in price, quality, convenience, and diversity. The current high level of sweet potato consumption in PNG will change, and has changed in urban centres. Markets for fresh roots will continue to exist in PNG in the short to medium term, but the demand for quality will increase. In the longer term, sweet potato will become less important as a staple food. The study concludes that given the current environment and levels of support and knowledge, promoting sweet potato processing into commercial enterprises would be very difficult. Limited research resources may be better spent on improving the markets for fresh roots and for feedstock.

(Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, 31/07/2014)

Comments: It would be interesting to know what the response of the PNG research, government officials and private sector actors including farmers is to this conclusion.

Farming aquatic animals for global food system resilience

How the current interconnections between the aquaculture, crop, livestock, and fisheries sectors act as an impediment to, or an opportunity for, enhanced resilience in the global food system given increased resource scarcity and climate change are explored in this paper. The researchers, Max Troell of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and colleagues, use an innovative framework called Portfolio theory to analyse how growth in aquaculture and diversifying food production may enhance the ability of the global food system to meet future demands under changing conditions. They found that aquaculture can potentially enhance resilience through improved resource use efficiencies and increased diversification of farmed species, locales of production, and feeding strategies. However, the reliance of aquaculture on terrestrial crops and wild fish for feeds, its dependence on freshwater and land for culture sites, and its broad array of environmental impacts diminish its ability to increase resilience. As demand for high-value fed aquaculture products grows, competition for these crops will also rise, as will the demand for wild fish as feed inputs. Although the diversification of global food production systems that includes aquaculture offers promise for enhanced resilience, such promise will not be realised if government policies fail to provide adequate incentives for resource efficiency, equity, and environmental protection.

(Stockholm Resilience Centre, 21/08/2014)

Genetically-improved tilapia strains in Africa: potential benefits and negative impacts

Two genetically improved tilapia strains (GIFT and Akosombo) have been created with Oreochromis niloticus (Nile tilapia), which is native to Africa. In particular, GIFT has been shown to be significantly superior to local African tilapia strains in terms of growth rate. This study, by Yaw B. Ansah and colleagues, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA, reviews the history of the GIFT technology, and identifies potential environmental and genetic risks of improved and farmed strains and tilapia in general. The study also estimates the potential economic gains from the introduction of genetically improved strains in Africa, using Ghana as a case country. Employing a combination of the economic-surplus model and Monte Carlo simulation, the study found the mean net present value (NPV) of the introduction of the GIFT strain in Ghana to be approximately 1% of the country’s gross domestic product. It concludes that improvements in management practices and infrastructure could increase the yield and profitability of the local strains even if genetically improved strains are not introduced.

(Sustainability, 26/06/2014)

Best practice innovation policy for emerging renewable energy technologies

This report presents international best practice for strategic innovation policy delivery, synthesising proven methods from around the world. It also makes new recommendations to improve the delivery of on-going policy tools, focusing on reducing risk for private sector investment earlier along the innovation chain, and pursuing an increasingly international innovation policy. By following these principles, governments could unlock renewable energy technology deployment at lowest cost and also enhance technology driven economic growth and exports. The report prepared by the Carbon Trust and supported by Element Energy, involved extensive input through workshops and interviews with leading international policymakers and industry experts.

(IEA-RETD, 09/2014)

Drought and food security – Improving decision-support via new technologies and innovative collaboration

The integration of three state-of-the-art technologies such that scientific findings and data are linked to actual user requirements including governments to achieve better decision-support for agricultural drought preparedness has been proposed by Markus Enenkel, Vienna University of Technology, Austria and colleagues. Several promising approaches, ranging from the integration of satellite-derived soil moisture measurements that link atmospheric processes to anomalies on the land surface to improved long-range weather predictions and mobile applications are explored. Satellite-derived soil moisture measurements from space-based microwave sensors can help detect plant water deficiencies earlier than conventional products such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and forecasting models can provide seasonal predictions. These models must be calibrated to regional conditions, take into account weather uncertainties and 'hindsight' data, and be combined with crop health predictions. Mobile applications can link end users to drought-relevant information and also play a vital role in validating satellite-derived drought indicators and collecting socio-economic conditions. According to the authors, the added value of these technologies should create enough political will to ensure they find their way into the decision-support toolboxes of the end users.

(Global Food Security, 10/09/2014)




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