Knowledge for Development


News items relevant to the policy dialogue on S&T for Development.

Achievements of the 10th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) h its 10th annual meeting, in St Vincent and the Grenadines in June 2014. They focused on data collection, quality control, data preparation for analysis, and analytical methods. Four specific priority areas were formlulated: (i) improving the quality of regional data for the blackfin tuna; (ii) improving data collection systems to facilitate the implementation of the Sub-regional Fisheries Management Plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flyingfish; (iii) developing a data collection and information system for fisheries which use fish aggregating devices; and (iv) collecting and analysing data on the lionfish. Training of data collectors, improvements in national data collection programmes and stakeholder awareness building on the importance of data collection were other critical areas identified for attention.   (CRFM, 25/06/2014)


CTA / RUFORUM / Wageningen UR Deans Workshop "Improving Food and Nutrition Security Outcomes: What Role for Universities?"

As a side event of the RUFORUM Biennial Conference 2014, this workshop intends to expose African deans to the Auditing Instrument for Food Security in Higher Education (AIFSHE) tool and methodology for increasing university engagement (leadership), quality (content and process-wise) and relevance (with respect to the market as well as with the policy makers) in addressing the Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) challenge. The objective of the workshop is therefore, to garner their feedback on the utility of the tool and identify areas for improvement and the next steps for up-scaling FNS in Tertiary Agricultural Education (TAE) for influencing policy and practice and improving food and nutrition outcomes in Africa and beyond. -- Lucungo Hall, Maputo, Mozambique -- 19-20 July 2014. 


Discussion paper: What is a sustainable healthy diet?

In this paper, Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN, UK), considers the increasingly topical question of 'What is a sustainable healthy diet?' She begins by highlighting the rationale for focusing on the diets question, and then moves on to discussing definitions of ‘good nutrition’ on the one hand, and ‘sustainability’ on the other.  The main substance of her argument focus on the major food groups that constitute UK’s Eat-well plate, examining the health and sustainability issues that their consumption raises.  She also included a review of recent studies in this area. An important limitation of her paper is that it focuses largely on developed country contexts. Being a discussion paper, FCRN is looking for input from members in low income and emerging economies, where the sustainability and health issues play out very differently.   (FCRN, 04/2014)   


Nutrients in crop fall as CO2 levels rise

Andrew Leakey, plant biology professor at the University of Illinois, US, and colleagues report that levels of zinc, iron and protein drop in some key crop plants when grown at elevated CO2 levels. The teams simulated high CO2 levels in open-air fields using a system called Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE), which pumps out, monitors and adjusts ground-level atmospheric CO2 to simulate future conditions. The experiments revealed that the nutritional quality of a number of the world’s most important plants dropped in response to elevated CO2. Zinc and iron went down significantly in wheat, rice, field peas and soybeans. Wheat and rice also saw notable declines in protein content at higher CO2. Nutrients in millet, sorghum and maize remained relatively stable at higher CO2 levels because these crops use a type of photosynthesis, called C4, which already concentrates carbon dioxide in their leaves.    (University of Illinois, 07/05/2014)   


Indigenous leafy vegetables in South Africa: Unexplored source of nutrients and antioxidants

In this review, Collise Njume and colleagues from Walter Sisulu University, South Africa, describe the nutritional value and antioxidant potential arising from the rich polyphenolic constituents of 22 indigenous leafy vegetables (ILVs, or imifino, morogo, muhuro in local dialects) species belonging to 12 genera and 10 families. Amaranthus species, Cucurbita pepo, Bidenspilosa, Chenopodiumalbum and Solanumnigrum (imifino, morogo, muhuro) appear to be the most popular and most widely occurring leafy vegetables in the rural areas of South Africa. The authors highlight the need to create awareness that would encourage consumption and industrial production of these vegetables in a bid to curb the high level of malnutrition and food insecurity in the country.    (African Journal of Biotechnology, 05/2014)   


Reaping benefits from post-harvest science in the South Pacific

Professor Steven Underhill of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) describes how research in the South Pacific is being tailored to boost Fiji fruit and vegetable exports. His impression of postharvest handling systems in the South Pacific was that of a sub-optimal system which lacks reliable infrastructure and technology. For example, packaging is inappropriate for transporting produce any distance (i.e. old boxes and sacks are used), packing facilities are limited, trucks overloaded with produce travel along rough roads, and refrigeration is non-existent. Given these apparent postharvest limitations, Underhill believes improvements to postharvest practices present big opportunities to benefit local farmers. Historically, postharvest efforts have centred on introducing a concept of 'post-harvest best practice' from outside the region. Over the past decade, this approach has led to the construction of packing sheds and improved packaging with cool storage, and general post-harvest training for farmer groups. However, Underhill feels much more could still be done to tailor solutions to the local context and maximise benefits for smallholder farmers. Understanding local needs and analysing the post-harvest supply chains should be top priorities for post-harvest  science.    (ACIAR, 06/05/2014)   (Photo source: sxcreenshot grab from ACIAR's PARDI work in Fiji)


Extrusion technology: A food processing technique for producing nutritious and safe foods

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has produced a report on extrusion technology. Extrusion technology is central to value addition to agricultural commodities, especially cereals and legumes: it is a powerful process that combines several operations, including mixing, cooking, kneading, shearing, shaping, and forming. This high-temperature short-time (HTST) process usually reduces microbial contamination, inactivates enzymes, and facilitates the elimination of anti-nutrient factors, resulting in products that are in a dry state with typically low water activity, which do not require refrigeration storage. Several researchers in Africa have made considerable progress in product development using extrusion technology for the development and production of traditional-based products from indigenous materials. Extrusion has great potential in tropical developing economies where infrastructure for a cold supply chain is inadequate.   Editor’s note: Cost effectiveness is a crucial issue in determining suitability of this technology. There must be a sufficient throughput  of raw material to justify the investment.   (IFT, 04/2014)   


Commentary: Using science to drive adoption of new technologies

Paul Weisenfel, vice president for Global Programs at RTI International, comments on the renewed interest in agricultural production shown by governments and the private sector. While many new technologies in agriculture are being touted as answers to the world’s food security challenges, Weisenfel notes that the bulk of research has been expended on these new technologies with insufficient attention to determining how best to scale them up. According to him, what is needed is a combination of the hard and soft sciences to effectively get smallholders to use these new technologies on a large scale. Weisenfel suggests a focus on three broad areas of research that could dramatically increase uptake: (i) combination of technologies (both new and existing) that work best in particular agro-ecological zones; (ii) better tools to quantify and disaggregate the barriers to adoption; and (iii) sophisticated economic modelling to better understand the market dynamics that drive or inhibit adoption of technologies. With a market-led, design-centred approach – understanding the needs (expressed and latent) and modelling the markets' ability to respond – Weisenfel believes it is possible to guide programmes to address market constraints to adoption.   (The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 05/05/2014)  


Engage farmers in agricultural research

Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association, Bristol, UK, and Tim G. Benton, who leads the United Kingdom's Global Food Security programme and is professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, UK, argue that the next wave of agricultural innovation must be at smaller scales and engage farmers directly in scientific research efforts. Enhancing farmers' own R&D could reap big rewards for minimal extra cost as farmers everywhere are practical experimentalists who understand the idiosyncrasies of their land. Technologies not invented by farmers – new kit, seeds or chemicals – are almost always adapted by farmers  to fit their circumstance but such essential contributions are rarely recognised in official assessments of agricultural R&D. These count farmers as users, rather than makers, of knowledge. Some of the best returns can come from helping farmers to assess their own ideas. Until now, such initiatives have been at arm's length from formal science, and almost exclusively in the developing world. The authors' involvement in a farmer-focused innovation programme in the UK has convinced them that such participatory R&D could also boost agricultural innovation in rich countries.   Editor’s note: Interesting development. For many years this participatory R&D approach was promoted for the Southern research community and perhaps, with this development, it will be more widely embraced by all scientists striving to make a difference and enhance the impact of research.   (Nature, 30/04/2014)   


African science, technology and innovation plan cleared for adoption

In April 2014 African science ministers met to sign off the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) – Africa’s 10-year (2014-2024) blueprint for science, technology and innovation – ahead of the continent’s presidential summit scheduled for 20-27 June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The plan succeeds the Consolidated Plan of Action for science and technology (CPA), which has directed continental policy over the past decade. STISA addresses the weaknesses of the CPA, which too narrowly focused on R&D and fundraising, rather than using science to address Africa’s problems. STISA was drawn up after a review of the CPA by a high-level panel, led by Calestous Juma and has a stronger focus on innovation and ‘science for development’ than its predecessor. The strategy is anchored in six priority areas which include ' Eradication of hunger and achieving food security'. Aggrey Ambali, of UA/NEPAD Science Technology and Innovation Hub (NSTIH), gave a presentation of STISA at the First Bio-Innovate Regional Scientific Conference (Ethiopia, February 2013).    (Lynda Nordling reports for Research Africa, 12/05/2014)    


Science and technology audit aims to expand innovation

The Kenya Ministry of Education, Science and Technology seeks to audit its science and technology offering, riding on its growing role as a regional hub for emerging technologies. By auditing the science and technology sector, Kenya hopes to be better able to recruit a critical mass of skilled people – including technologists, scientists and engineers – seen as key to industrial growth and development.    (University World News, 24/04/2014)   


Call for research universities to bring development in African continent

Dr Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson  of the African Union (AU) Commission, delivered a public lecture at the University of Pretoria on the role of research in African universities and how it can bring about development on the African continent. Dr Dlamini-Zuma said research universities, as producers and disseminators of knowledge, were critical to development and to building knowledge economies. She emphasised the need for a skills revolution to train thousands and thousands of professionals in a whole range of different fields such as urban planning, health, education, infrastructure, as well as in agriculture and agroprocessing. She called for more dynamic linkages and cross-fertilisation between industry, businesses, industrial policy and universities. Dr Dlamini-Zuma also called for building research universities in an African context with a concurrent drive to increase the number of PhDs within the continent and spoke on the need to create research centres of excellence across the continent.   (University of Pretoria, 30/04/2014)   


Call to invest in laboratory infrastructure

At the April 2014 meeting of the Open Agricultural Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Nigeria, agricultural biotechnology experts called on governments to invest in and develop laboratory infrastructures across the continent. Professor Baba Yusuf Abubakar, executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria and Dr Jonathan Mufandaedza, chief executive and registrar of the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe explained that modern laboratory infrastructures were indispensable to the promotion of research, enabling testing, certification and innovative development of food products. Dr Nompumelelo Obokoh, chief executive of AfricaBio, said the continent must explore ways of mobilising resources to improve laboratory infrastructure and training scientists in agricultural research, such as public-private partnerships. Other experts argued that obstacles to scaling up research laboratory infrastructures included shortage of trained personnel, poor laboratory management systems, and lack of accessible and quality-assured laboratory services to support meaningful research in agriculture.   (The Herald, Zimbabwe, 02/05/2014)   


How to improve the evaluation of research activity at universities

At a seminar organised by the Interuniversity Institute for Advanced Research on Science and Universities (INAECU), Rafael van Grieken, director of the Spanish National Agency for Evaluation of Quality and Accreditation (ANECA), spoke about the evaluation of research activity at universities. Van Grieken argued that the model of accreditation and evaluation of research at universities is characterised by being overly quantitative and by not sufficiently appreciating aspects such as professional activity and knowledge transfer. 'The model tries to evaluate quality, but ends up being very quantitative because of the regulatory framework, the secondary or indirect nature, the structuring (of knowledge) into large areas and the obligation to express it by points', explained van Grieken, who noted that knowledge transfer is not sufficiently appreciated in some areas while in others it is perhaps valued too much. According to him, there was a need to develop solid qualitative indicators to assess the universities' activities and impact. The purpose of the seminar was 'to help Spanish science improve, be competitive, on the basis of proposals of evaluation and of policies of incentive schemes for research activities'.    (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, 07/05/2014)   


Decoding EU science policy

To help learned societies and other scientific institutions decode the mysteries of the European Union in relation to science policy, Lisa Bungeroth, European Research Policy Officer at the UK Higher Education International Unit (IU), presented a simplified view of the processes behind higher education and innovation policy in the EU. The three bodies that interact to pass EU legislation are: the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers. Once legislation has been proposed by the Commission, documents bounce back and forth between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, taking any amendments into account. Bungeroth also highlighted four main policy frameworks relevant to science research in the EU: (i) EU 2020 – a 10 year strategy to make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world; (ii) Innovation Union – the flagship initiative of EU 2020 to promote innovation in the EU; (iii) European Research Areas – the strategy to create a Europe-wide single market for research, innovation and knowledge; (iv) Horizon 2020 – the main funding programme for research and innovation.    (British Ecological Society, 01/05/2014)   


Parliament rejects draft EU law allowing nanomaterials in food

On 20 March 2014, the European Parliament rejected the EC’s proposed definition of nanomaterials added to food products. Lawmakers decided that the proposed definition would have exempted foods containing nanomaterial additives that are already on the market from being labelled as such. The parliament argued that allowing the word 'nano' in brackets on the labels would confuse consumers and suggested that these additives are new, which would therefore make them 'erroneous and irrelevant'. In addition, a month ago the Parliament's committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) had stated that the Commission's 50% nano-particles threshold for an ingredient to qualify as 'nano' was much too high. This definition, they argued, disregards the European Food Safety Agency's (EFSA) advice of a 10% threshold in light of ongoing uncertainty regarding the safety of nanomaterials.   (, 12/03/2014)   


Some EU legislation hinders the use of insects in animal diets

Emmy Koeleman, editor at, writes about the production, trade and use of edible insects as food and feed and the wide range of regulatory areas, from product quality assurance to the environmental impact of insect farming, that govern this sector. She argues that no clear legislation with respect to insect-based animal feed exists, raising questions on how the development of novel insect products are affected by the multitude of laws in the EU. She cites the work of the FAO in providing a first look at the regulations on the regulatory frameworks influencing insects as food and feed at international, regional and national levels. Her focus is on the processing aspects of using insects in animal feed, the early experiments and the promising avenues. The need for new protein sources with minimal environmental impacts is urgent and the EU should be pressed to develop an enabling legal framework to govern the sector, she argues.   (, 02/05/2014)   


Scientists race to develop farm animals to survive climate change

A report in the Los Angeles Times details the efforts Carl Schmidt and his colleagues at the University of Delaware, USA, put into developing heat-resistant chickens. They are trying to map the genetic code of African naked neck chickens to see if their ability to withstand heat can be bred into flocks of US broilers.   (Los Angeles Times, 03/05/2014)    Editor's note: Julius Kofi Hagan, at the Department of Animal Science, School of Agriculture, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, was awarded the third prize in the Young Professionals in Science competition for his research on developing chicken breeds that can be highly productive under the hot and humid environments of the tropics. The research undertaken in this breeding programme involved introducing two heat-tolerant genes – the naked neck (Na) and frizzle (F) traits – into chicken of the Lohman Brown, an imported bird of hybrid origin, to make them more productive in Ghana.   How can the benefits from developing improved breeds in the US based on indigenous genetic resources from Africa be shared? What are the policy instruments? K4D has been advised by Prof Luke Mumba that there are a number of on-going efforts on the African continent to protect and at the same time sustainably utilise Africa’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.  Through the support of NEPAD/SANBio,  the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre has published policy guidelines on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in June 2013 (  At  continental level, the AUC is working on Policy Guidelines to govern access, use and protection of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.   


Unmanned aerial systems in farming: a pilot project in Cuba

The popularity of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is on the rise in many countries for a multitude of applications. In one such development, the UAS is rapidly becoming a tool for crop monitoring and management, which is essential for food security. GeoCuba has been successfully testing UAS technology for farming purposes. A pilot project conducted in Cuba in co-operation with the Russian firm Uniintex-Ginus has shown that a UAS is a flexible, low-cost solution, but it has also revealed some limitations. A UAS offers great flexibility to quickly acquire data in sufficient spatial resolution at low cost. However, the use of UASs is restricted to small areas. Moreover, flexibility has its limits as the use of a UAS for civilian applications is still subject to the same regulations as for manned aircrafts; permission must be requested a few days in advance.   (GIM Intenational, 23/04/2014)   


Mapping the yield gap to prioritise research and inform policy

In the study recently published in Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US, led by Patricio Grassini, assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, analysed the trends of crop yields over the past four decades in 36 countries and regions. The study suggests that previous predictions of yield gain have been overly optimistic and that, in fact, yields in some areas have already reached a plateau. However, while yield gains follow a linear upward trend, there are interruptions and changes over time and world regions. For some of the most productive areas around the world, yields have not increased for one or two decades and further steady gains in yield in these regions are unlikely. The researchers noted that such plateaus also occur at very low yields in some developing regions of the world. Citing the example of maize in sub-Saharan Africa, very low yield plateaus are not due to a biophysical limits (unlike wheat in Western Europe or rice in China), but to external obstacles. In these regions, there is more opportunity to increase yields through use of technology and smart public investment (see ACIAR publication above). Grassini and colleagues from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Wageningen University are currently working on a project called the Global Yield Gap Atlas. The project aims to estimate yield potential for cropping systems around the globe and compare potential yields to actual yields in order to estimate yield gaps. Mapping areas where the yield gap is large can help prioritise research and inform agricultural policies.   Editor's note: We know that there is a yield gap in some regions and in other regions, countries have reached their optimum yield potential. Will the Global Atlas also tell us what are the existing technological options and financial investments needed for increasing productivity to provide nutritious food at affordable prices while ensuring that smallholder farmers can earn reasonable incomes?  (Crop Science Society of America, 25/04/2014)