Knowledge for Development


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

Application of the Commodity Approach to Pigeonpea Value-Chain Analysis in Kenya

Pigeonpea is one of the most popular sources of protein for many Kenyans living in drier regions. However, government officials have neglected pigeonpea and other pulses such as chickpeas and cowpeas, to the extent that they are often excluded from the Ministry of Agriculture reports. But, faced with climate change that threatens food security in Kenya, pigeonpea has gained significance and interest due to its ability to withstand drier climatic conditions. In this paper, Kennedy O. Pambo of the Department of Agricultural Economics of the University of Nairobi, has applied the commodity approach to agricultural marketing to describe the stages in the pigeonpea marketing system in Kenya. Pambo shows that farmers perform minimal farm gate processing to their produce since the market offers no premiums for it. Therefore, improving the market structure to reward value addition through simple processing would be important in creating employment as well as improving farm gate margins.   (AgCom Search, June 2014)


Proceedings: IFAMA CCA Agribusiness and Food World Forum

In June 2014, the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) convened the Agribusiness and Food World Forum in Cape Town, South Africa that was attended by 500 multi-sector leaders representing over 30 countries. During the forum, they discussed current and new models for raising the professionalism of agribusiness and developing a sustained talent pipeline to feed the world. Over 60 industry and academic leaders presented papers on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to transformative technologies. The proceedings of the forum are now available at AFAM’s website.    (IFAMA, 15-19/06/2014)


Changing water availability during the African maize-growing season, 1979–2010

Lyndon D. Estes of Princeton University, USA, and colleagues have used a new bias-corrected meteorological dataset to analyze changes in precipitation, potential evapotranspiration and water availability in 20 African countries between 1979 and 2010, and the factors driving changes. With this dataset, they have filled a gap in understanding how global climate change is impacting African agriculture. The found that maize-growing areas in Southern Africa, particularly South Africa, benefitted from increased water availability due in large part to falling demand driven primarily by declining net radiation, increasing vapour pressure and falling temperatures (with no effect from changing wind speed), with smaller increases in supply. The Sahelian countries and Ethiopia experienced strong increases in water availability driven primarily by increased rainfall, with little change or small reductions in demand. However, intra-seasonal variability of water supply increased in West and East Africa. Only a small number of countries, mostly in or near East Africa, experienced declines in water availability due to decreased rainfall, but exacerbated by increasing demand. Much of the reduced water availability in East Africa occurred during the more sensitive middle part of the maize-growing season, suggesting negative    consequences for maize production.    See also Princeton Journal Watch, Molly Sharlach’s blog, of 21/07/2014   


Good practices in small-scale irrigation in the Sahel

This new handbook on small-scale irrigation in the Sahel, published by GIZ Germany, describes many successful planning approaches, and implemented infrastructure and agronomic practices that could be used for investments in conservation, processing and marketing programmes. The handbook summarizes 44 good practices that have been made available by a dozen institutions in Mali, including the Ministry of Rural Development, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, IFAD, Canadian Cooperation, Afrique Verte, BORNEfonden and programmes funded by GIZ and KfW.   (Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, 13/03/2014)


CTA Top 20 Innovation Abstracts (21-40)

The farmers have voted for the CTA Top 20 based on the forty (40) innovations that had been shortlisted by a team of ACP experts earlier this year. This documents contains the compilation of abstracts of the innovations 21-40.


CTA Top 20 Innovation Abstracts

The farmers have voted for the CTA Top 20 based on the forty (40) innovations that had been shortlisted by a team of ACP experts earlier this year. We have compiled annotations of all innovations: the first 20 annotation (1-20) can be find in the document attached below. For annotations  21-40, please click here.


First arboretum opens in the Seychelles

The Seychelles National Biodiversity Centre, located at Barbarons on Mahe, the largest and most populated island of the Seychelles, was officially opened in July 2014. The centre is set to become a 17 hectare arboretum for preserving rare and endangered plants species that are only found in the Seychelles. In view of the extraordinary biodiversity in the Seychelles, more than 50% of Mahe island has been declared a protected area.    (Seychelles News Agency, 19/7/2014) 


Exploring biodiversity to produce sustainable cosmetics and agrochemicals

AGROCOS is a pioneering European project that is using modern scientific techniques to develop new products for the agrochemical and cosmetics industries. At the heart of the AGROCOS project are molecules extracted from 1800 plant species harvested in ‘biodiversity hotspots’ in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region. These compounds are tested for their anti-fungal, herbicidal or insecticidal qualities, and for their UV protection characteristics and anti-ageing properties. From the thousands of compounds extracted, the project hopes to identify the five most promising ones for developing new products. The project represents an important breakthrough for the technique of ‘bioprospecting’, or deriving materials from nature.    


Cocoa butter and synthetic biology

The synthetic biology company Solazyme could threaten the livelihoods of millions of farmers. This California-based company has engineered synthetically modified microbes that produce a cocoa butter substitute for use in food and personal care products. At present, cocoa butter, the main ingredient of chocolate, is produced in 30 tropical countries and provides livelihoods for an estimated 6 million smallholder farmers. The world’s top three cocoa-producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia, which together account for over two-thirds of all cocoa bean production.    (ETC Group, 3/07/2013) 


Patchouli and synthetic biology

Making use of synthetically altered micro-organisms, patchouli oil can now be produced from yeast. Known for its distinct fragrance, patchouli oil is used in perfume, laundry detergents, air fresheners, baby wipes, and more. The California-based biotech company Amyris and the Swiss purveyor of perfumes and flavours Firminich have developed a new manufacturing process that produces patchouli oil in large quantities in about two weeks. Smallholder farmers in Malaysia, China and Indonesia, who traditionally produce patchouli oil through a lengthy cultivation and extraction process, will inevitably be affected.    (ETC Group, 3/07/2013)


Situation analysis of the current status of tissue culture application in the Eastern and Central Africa region

This situation analysis documents the existing tissue culture capacity in terms of human resources and physical infrastructure. This study covered six of the ten ASARECA member countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia, and is the first comprehensive analysis of the current state of tissue culture in East and Central Africa. The report presents valuable information that can help scientists, donors and policy makers make informed decisions on issues related to tissue culture application in the region and can inform the development of tissue culture application policies and programmes and their management.    (ASARECA, 17/07/2014) 


New water-hunting power of plant roots discovered

Using an advanced form of X-ray imaging, researchers from the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with several international research groups, discovered that the presence of even small amounts of water can influence the structure of plant roots in soil. The degree of root branching determines the efficiency of water uptake and acquisition of nutrients by plants. Any new understanding of the regulation of root branching is of vital importance, and this finding could open up new ways of improving the water and nutrient foraging qualities of important food crops and hence could significantly improve crop yields.     (University of Nottingham website, 3/06/2014)


Biotech in Africa

Florence Wambugu and Daniel Kamanga of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Kenya, brought together a large number of African experts from fields as diverse as economics, agriculture, biotechnology, law and politics and asked them to review various biotechnology initiatives in Africa. In this book, available both as e-book and hard cover edition, the experts argue that there is a great future for biotechnology that sidesteps Western interests that do not necessarily match those of Africa. They demand a greater say in how research and development funds are allocated and spent, and ask for more elbow-room for Africa’s political leaders to drive the development of feasible policies, suitable biosafety legislation and regulation, and to respond effectively to public-private partnerships.     (Springer website, July 2014)


Climate change adaptation in crop production: Beware of illusions

More consistent treatment of climate change adaptation is needed to inform assessments of the impacts of climate change and to more easily identify innovations in agriculture that are truly more effective in future climates than in current or past ones. At present, many potential changes in agricultural management and technology, including shifts in crop phenology and improved drought and heat tolerance, could help to improve crop productivity but do not necessarily represent true adaptations. In this article, David Lobell of Stanford University, USA, argues that such ‘adaptation illusions’ arise from a combination of faulty logic, model errors and the management of assumptions that ignore the farmers’ tendency to maximize profits for a given technology. He asserts that the concept of adaptation should be more consistently treated in order to better inform assessments of climate change impacts, and that agricultural innovations should be identified that are truly more effective in future climates than in current or past ones.     (Global Food Security, 25/6/2014)


The risks of a global crop yield slowdown from climate trends in the next two decades

In discussions of the impacts of climate change on agriculture, it is often mistakenly argued that most of the expected impacts will occur toward the end of this century and that therefore most of the risks will have to be dealt with by future generations. In this article, Claudia Tebaldi, National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA, and David Lobell, Stanford University, USA, argue that the growth in demand for food is expected to be much slower after 2050 than before it, and that most of the growth will take place before 2050 – in the next two decades, in fact. They explain that smaller climate change impacts in the near future could have much greater consequences for food security and food prices than larger ones after 2050. They continue to argue that in the coming decade, global warming will substantially increase the chances that climate trends will cut yield growth rates to half, with a roughly 1 in 4 chance for maize and 1 in 6 chance for wheat. Although such scenarios may seem unlikely for many, the authors recommend further study, particularly by institutions that are potentially affected by associated steep rises in international food prices.     (Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 9 no. 7, July 2014)


New technology for monitoring tuna fishing in the Pacific

New technology for monitoring tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is being tested on two large Chinese tuna longliners under the Taipei flag. The e-monitoring system uses high-definition video cameras, GPS and a central computer unit to record all events and video footage and with which the information gathered can be analyzed by experienced longline fishing experts and observers. As part of this test, the e-monitoring results will be compared with information collected by two independent fisheries observers who were assigned to each vessel to carry out their regular tasks of observing and recording the catch. The project partners are Tri Marine, National Fisheries Developments (NFD), Yi Man Fishing Company, Satlink, FFA, SPC, Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). They presented preliminary findings of this test at the meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s annual Scientific Committee to be held in Majuro in August 2014. Implementing e-monitoring technology in all or parts of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean fisheries will require logistical and legal frameworks to be put in place at national and regional levels.    (SPC, July 2014)


Call for proposals: proven practices to increase resilience of ACP agriculture under changing climate

CTA will support the documentation of proven practices, policies and ICTs that contribute to increased productivity and resilience of agriculture under changing climate in ACP regions. The Centre is particularly interested in interventions that have the potential to contribute to cross-learning among ACP countries and could be scaled up for the benefit of farmers and stakeholders in the regions. The practices, policies and ICTs should be documented in such a way as to provide practical information that will be useful to different stakeholders- farmers, researchers and students, extension workers, development agencies, policy makers. Closing date: 14 October 2014


Caribbean Science and Agriculture Film and Video Competition “Adding Value to Local Foods”

The public can view and 'like' their favorite video. CTA, CCST and their partners launched the second Caribbean Science and Agriculture Film and Video Competition ‘Adding Value to Local Foods’ in October 2013. The main objective of this competition is to encourage the use of ICTs by young professionals in improving the environment for agricultural science and innovation in the Caribbean region. By now, 36 teams from eight countries have posted their videos to the competition’s Facebook page. The public is invited to view and 'like' their favorite videos.The closing date for the public voting is 18 August. There is a prize for the team whose film/video is viewed the most by the public and receives the most 'likes'. The competition awards ceremony will be held in Port of Spain, Trinidad from 27th-29th August 2014.


Sustainable intensification: a new buzzword to feed the world?

Ian Scoones, at Future Agricultures, reviews the literature on ‘sustainable intensification’ (SI) in particular at what differentiate the concept of 'sustainable agriculture' from the one of 'sustainable intensification', only to find a 'crisis' narrative. Scoones notes that a social and political analysis is absent, a fact that undermines the approach. He concludes: 'For SI to be anything more than a rather odd collection of technical solutions, the questions of socio-technical choice and direction must be put at the forefront. This means having a political debate, and bringing in people more centrally, something that may jar with the rather bland techno-economic prescriptions offered to date.'    (Futures Agricultures, 16/06/2014)


Science, policy, and the transparency of values

Guiding principles for communicating scientific findings in a manner that promotes objectivity, public trust, and policy relevance have been proposed by Kevin C. Elliott (Michigan State University, US) and David B. Resnik (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US) . These are based on current ethical, conceptual, and empirical studies of objectivity and conflicts of interest in scientific research. Both conceptual and empirical studies of scientific reasoning have shown that it is unrealistic to prevent policy-relevant scientific research from being influenced by value judgments. Conceptually, the current dispute over an EC report on its regulatory policy for endocrine-disrupting chemicals illustrates how scientists were forced to make value judgments about appropriate standards of evidence when informing public policy. Empirical studies provide further evidence that scientists are unavoidably influenced by a variety of potentially subconscious financial, social, political, and personal interests. The authors conclude that when scientific evidence is inconclusive and major regulatory decisions are at stake, it is unrealistic to think that values can be excluded from scientific reasoning. Thus, efforts to suppress or hide interests or values may actually damage scientific objectivity and public trust, whereas a willingness to bring implicit interests and values into the open may be the best path to promoting good science and policy.   (Environmental Health Perspectives, 01/ 07/2014)