Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop and ‘Dista’ rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra (in the northern central plateau of Madagascar), is named after the farmer who discovered it.The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.Dista yields are also high for another reason: farmers are using the “Système de Riziculture Intensive” to cultivate it (see http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/index.html for “System of Rice Intensification”, SRI). SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavour. (Source: Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet, 28 March 2011)
Proof that innovation pays off. In 2007, the India branch of the Worldwide fund for nature (WWF-India) launched the project entitled 'Reducing the Impact of Water-intensive and Polluting Crops: Securing sustainable sources of freshwater to support the livelihoods of poor communities in the Godavari Basin' in India (http://www.wwfindia.org/news_facts/?1940). Inter Press Services now reports that farmers who have adopted the water efficient measures witnessed water savings to up to 30% of normal water usage. The project is centred on promoting better management practices (BMP), agricultural practices that optimise the three pillars of sustainability – social responsibility, environmental integrity and economic viability. These practices include improvement of planting techniques such as time and method of planting, selection of a suitable variety and appropriate soil, optimum spacing and seed treatment; fertiliser application, type of irrigation and soil drainage and weed control techniques. Sustainable practices are much needed for sugarcane which, according to WWF-India figures, occupies just four per cent of the land in Maharashtra state but consumes nearly two-thirds of the state irrigation supply. (IPS, 10/5/2011).
NOAA-funded researchers hope a new climate information system they developed will help West African farmers help themselves. Rainwatch is a prototype geographic information system (GIS) that monitors monsoon rainfall and tracks season rainfall attributes. This information is crucial because sub-Saharan Africa depends more strongly and directly on rainfall than any other region on Earth, yet the area has the fewest rainfall monitoring stations and significant delays that occur between data collection and its availability for users. Rainwatch automates and streamlines key aspects of rainfall data management, processing and visualization. A major appeal is its simplicity – all interactive interfaces, symbols and names used are unpretentious and self explanatory. In addition, the system can be used by Africans without any outside assistance such as satellite information. In a successful 2009 demonstration involving seven rain gauge stations in Niger, Rainwatch was shown to directly address the area's need for better rainfall data acquisition, management, representation and rapid dissemination. The programme continued in 2010, when it dramatically showed the return of abundant rainfall. It is expected to expand beyond Niger. Because Rainwatch is simple to operate and more streamlined in design and scope than existing systems, the researchers hope the programme will be adopted and used more widely throughout West Africa where other more complicated rainfall data dissemination systems have had limited success. (NOAA, 12/5/2011)
Monitoring drought globally is challenging because of the lack of dense in-situ hydrologic data in many regions. This is particularly problematic for developing regions such as Africa where water information is arguably most needed, but virtually nonexistent on the ground in many regions. A potential way forward is to use a modelling framework that couples available satellite remote sensing and in-situ information. This results in physically consistent and spatially and temporally continuous estimates of the water cycle and drought. A drought monitor based on this framework and an accompanying web-based user interface have been developed by Princeton University, in collaboration with UNESCO, for operational and research use over Africa. Based on macro scale hydrologic modelling, the system ingests available data to provide a real-time assessment of the water cycle and drought conditions, and puts this in the context of the long-term record back to 1950. The data is made available online for drought research and operational use to augment on-the-ground assessments of drought.
The Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences (PAUWES) is hosted by the University of Tlemcen in Algeria. PAUWES offers two world-class graduate programmes, a Master of Science in Water and a Master of Science in Energy. The Institute provides state-of-the art facilities, cutting-edge technical and policy knowledge from its internationally renowned faculty and experts, as well as networking opportunities and scholarships for students and researchers.