Knowledge for Development


News items relevant to the policy dialogue on S&T for Development.’s expanded website tackles fertilizer market information needs to improve Africa’s food security

The newly expanded website gives farmers access to the best market information available and could provide a key to unlocking a green revolution in Africa. The new website is a powerful tool with many searchable statistics, media channels, market news, product catalogues and business directories, and provides the technical tools farmers and policymakers need to fuel Africa’s agricultural development. Designed in an easy-to-navigate, user-friendly format, the website connects fertilizer usage information across the continent and globally, and provides a rich collection of information on Africa’s fertilizer market to support rigorous data analysis.    (IFDC, 10/02/2015)


Recent progress of hyperspectral imaging on quality and safety inspection of fruits and vegetables

Hyperspectral imaging (HSI), a rapid, non-destructive, and chemical-free method, is now emerging as a powerful analytical tool for product inspection by simultaneously offering spatial information and spectral signals from one object. This paper focuses on recent advances and applications of HSI in detecting, classifying and visualizing quality and safety attributes of fruits and vegetables. First, the authors describe the basic principles and major instrumental components of HSI, and summarize commonly used methods for image processing, spectral pre-treatment and modelling. Most important, the authors provide morphological calibrations that are essential for non-flat objects as well as feature wavebands extraction for model simplification. Second, in spite of the physical and visual attributes (size, shape, weight, colour and surface defects), the paper reviews applications from the last decade categorized according to textural characteristics inspection, biochemical components detection, and safety feature assessments. Finally, it discusses the technical challenges and future trends of HSI. (Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 20/01/2015)


World crop diversity survives in small farms from peri-urban to remote rural locations

As much as 75% of global seed diversity in staple food crops is held and actively used by a wide range of smallholder farmers, with the rest in gene banks. This is the conclusion of a study by Karl Zimmerer, Steven Vanek and colleagues from the GeoSyntheSES (Geographic Synthesis for Social-Ecological Sustainability) Lab at Penn State University, USA. They looked at new census data from 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and combined the data with field observations to develop an understanding of who is farming what and exactly where. Knowledge of potential problems faced by these farmers and plans for responses to potential disruptions of agriculture are important to preserve diversity and improve food security. (EurekAlert, 13/02/2015)


Effects of combined traditional processing methods on the nutritional quality of beans

Researchers of Makerere University, Uganda, have developed a processing method for production of fast cooking bean flours and assessed the effect of processing on the nutritional characteristics of the flours. Dry beans were soaked for 12 h; sprouted for 48 h; dehulled and steamed for 25 and 15 min for whole and dehulled beans, respectively, or roasted at 170°C for 45 and 15 min for whole and dehulled beans respectively. Dehulling eliminated phytates and tannins and increased protein digestibility. In vitro protein digestibility and mineral extractability were negatively correlated with tannin and phytate content. Total available carbohydrates were highest in moist heat-treated bean flours. Overall, combined processing of beans improved the nutritional quality of dry beans and the resulting precooked flours need shorter cooking times compared with whole dry beans. (Food Science & Nutrition, 14/02/2015)


The technological edge for animal feed producers

New portable devices are helping the animal feed industry to blur the lines between the lab and the field. By eliminating the need to ship samples to centralized labs, handheld analysers provide fast, actionable results at the point of need. The ability to test at multiple stages in the supply chain is important for traceability as well as quality. For feed manufacturers, the demand for greater efficiency, transparency and performance will only increase. To stay ahead of the competition – and reduce the costs of quality control procedures – the industry will continue to adapt, and technologies such as portable NIR (near-infrared) spectroscopy technology will play an increasingly important role. Moving precision and efficiency from the lab to the wider supply chain is one way that smart feed producers can achieve new levels of growth. (, 19/12/2014)


Improving markets for seeds and fertilizers in West Africa

West African governments, through ECOWAS and other regional bodies, have been working to develop harmonized trade rules and quality control procedures for improving farmers’ access to quality seeds and fertilizers. Regional regulations based on advanced international standards have mostly been agreed upon and are helping to guide quality improvements in some countries. Nevertheless, most countries do not currently have the physical capacity or institutional structures needed to implement the agreed trade rules, which will take considerable time and investment to develop. This World Bank analysis points to the need for pragmatic solutions that are easy for individual countries or groups of countries to implement in the near term while longer-term progress towards full harmonization continues. (World Bank, 10/02/2015)

27/02/2015’s expanded website tackles fertilizer market information needs to improve Africa’s food security

The newly expanded website gives farmers access to the best market information available and could provide a key to unlocking a green revolution in Africa. The new website is a powerful tool with many searchable statistics, media channels, market news, product catalogues and business directories, and provides the technical tools farmers and policymakers need to fuel Africa’s agricultural development. Designed in an easy-to-navigate, user-friendly format, the website connects fertilizer usage information across the continent and globally, and provides a rich collection of information on Africa’s fertilizer market to support rigorous data analysis. (IFDC, 10/02/2015)


New tools to breed cereal crops that survive flooding

Increasing the tolerance of cereal crops to low oxygen during flooding is a key target for food security. Scientists at the University of Nottingham, UK, have identified the mechanism used by plants under stress conditions to sense low oxygen levels that could lead to the introduction of advanced breeding techniques to developed cereal crops that are better able to tolerate flooding and other waterlogged conditions. They achieved this breakthrough in their work on barley but it could be applied to other cereals. (University of Nottingham, 05/02/2015)Download the article


Responding to crop failure: Understanding farmers’ coping strategies in Southern Malawi

Farmers are not responding directly to climate variability, but to crop failure, which is influenced by climate stress, as well as other constraints, such as poor soil fertility and lack of agricultural inputs and technologies. This is the conclusion of a study examining farmers’ coping strategies for crop failure and the determinants of their choices using household level data from rural southern Malawi. The study found that coping strategies adopted by households are mostly ex-post measures. The main determinants of the adoption of coping options appear to be education, the gender of the head of household, soil fertility and the frequency of crop failure. The study concludes by recommending that policies for the more efficient communication of climate change threats should emphasize the risk of crop failure. Furthermore, initiatives to assist households to better cope with climate change should take into consideration the local context of decision-making which is shaped by multiple stress factors. (Sustainability, 03/02/2015)


When all models are wrong

More stringent quality criteria are needed for models used at the science–policy interface. Andrea Saltelli of the EC’s Joint Research Centre and Silvio Funtowicz at the University of Bergen, Norway, present a seven-rule checklist to aid in the responsible development and use of models. They argue that simple models could enable scientists and stakeholders to understand how assumptions and outputs are linked and that complex and often over-parameterized mechanistic models should be used only for more speculative investigations outside the policy realm. The seven rules are: (i) use models to clarify, not to obscure; (ii) adopt an ‘assumption-hunting’ attitude; (iii) detect pseudoscience; (iv) find sensitive assumptions before they find you; (v) aim for transparency; (vi) don’t just ‘do the sums right,’ but ‘do the right sums’; and (vii) focus the analysis, don’t do perfunctory sensitivity analyses, merely changing one factor at a time. (Issues in S&T, 30/01/2015)


The political economy of official statistics: Implications for the data revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa

The ‘Data Revolution’ rhetoric has so far largely ignored political economy factors, such as historical factors, formal and informal institutional setups and actor incentives. With ‘big data’ being a topical issue, the recent technological solutions offered by the ‘data revolution’ to improve the capacity of statistical organizations and systems should be stepped up. In this ECDPM policy paper, F. Krätke and B. Byiers argue that to make a difference, work towards a ‘data revolution’ must explicitly acknowledge the real political economy challenges on the ground and aim to work within these constraints to improving data, and/or aim to alter the current incentives for producing and using good official statistics. (ECDPM, 12/2014) Read ECDPM’s Policy Brief  More information is available on the Informing a Data Revolution website


EC report: Implementing EU food and nutrition security policy commitments

In December 2014, the European Commission presented the First joint EU–Member States report on the implementation of the EU’s food and nutrition security policy commitments to the European Parliament. It presents an analysis of EU donors' alignment with the six priorities of the implementation plan: (i) improve smallholder resilience and rural livelihoods; (ii) support effective governance; (iii) strengthen social protection mechanisms for food and nutrition security; (iv) enhance nutrition; and (v) enhance coordination of humanitarian development actors to increase resilience.  The analysis concludes that with almost EUR 3.4 billion spent in more than 115 countries by the EU donors in 2012 alone, food and nutrition security is important both in terms of share of total development assistance and in geographical coverage. In particular, food insecure states in Sub-Saharan Africa receive substantial support. The interventions principally focused on improving smallholder resilience and rural livelihoods (priority 1 | 60 %), followed by enhancing nutrition (priority 5 | 14 %) and supporting effective governance (priority 2 | 12%). The review further concluded that demand-led research, extension and innovation needed more attention, both in terms of increased investments in accordance with 2010 commitments and, in particular, to ensure the translation of results into action on the ground so as to maximise impact and that EU donors’ coordination at country level should move beyond information sharing.    (EuropeAid, 02/12/2014)  Download the report 


A new Bio-Economy web site

A newly launched website, Bio-Economy, of the South African Research Chair in the Environmental and Social Dimensions of the Bio-economy provides a platform for researchers, policy makers and students to engage with and learn more about approaches within the bio-economy that facilitate poverty reduction in a manner that is socially just and environmentally sustainable.  On the site, publications and other information are arranged according to five themes: (i) governance and rights; (ii) biodiversity use and trade; (iii) seed and knowledge; (iv) access and benefit sharing; and (v) the impacts of emerging technologies.    (Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research, 12/12/2014)


Ecosystem-based adaptation for food security in the AIMS SIDS: Integrating external and local knowledge

This paper critically reviews ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches for food security under climate change, specifically for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) comprising the Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS) region. The focus is on integrating different knowledge forms. The authors assess current EbA approaches to food security, review methodologies for integrating local and external knowledge, and identify key gaps and actions for EbA for food security in the AIMS region and potentially further afield. To fill these gaps, suggested actions include knowledge identification and combination, learning from others and from history, using local champions, and regular monitoring and evaluating progress.    (Sustainability, 26.08.2014)


Narrowing the conventional versus organic farming system yield gap

Lauren Ponisio and colleagues of the Department of Environmental Science of the University of California found that two agricultural diversification practices – multi-cropping and crop rotations – substantially reduce the yield gap between organic and conventional farming systems. They revisited the question of how organic farming may contribute to global food production and compare organic and conventional yields with a new meta-dataset three times larger than those previously used (115 studies containing more than 1000 observations) and a new hierarchical analytical framework that can better account for the heterogeneity and structure in the data. Their robust analysis suggests that appropriate investment in agro-ecological research to improve organic management systems could greatly reduce or eliminate the yield gap for some crops or regions.  (The Royal Society Publishing, 10.12.2014)


Optimising the use of water for drip irrigation in Burkina Faso

This article describes the application of wireless sensor technology, adapted to local climatic conditions, to alert small producers in the semi-arid regions of Burkina Faso on the best time to irrigate, according to the plants’ needs, resulting in higher yields and water saving. This new technology is based on low-cost wireless weather stations that automatically broadcast reliable data. Hydrometeorological measures are made available to local users in real time through the mobile telephone network and the Climaps website. The technology was developed in a R&D project of the Cooperation & Development Centre (CODEV) of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, in partnership with the start-up Sensorscope.  (EPFL, 15/12/2014)


Assessment of genetic diversity of sweet potato in Puerto Rico

A recent study shows the presence of a high level of genetic diversity of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) across Puerto Rica, which can be related to the genetic makeup of sweet potato, human intervention and the out-crossing nature of the plant. The history of domestication and dispersal of sweet potato in the Caribbean and the high levels of genetic diversity found in this study makes sweet potato an invaluable resource that needs to be protected and further studied. The study was conducted by Lorraine Rodriguez-Bonilla of Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.    (PLOS ONE, 31/12/2014)


Plant breeding educators in Africa develop tools to train the next generation of experts

In November 2014, plant breeders from several African universities, regional and international organizations and the private sector met in Nairobi to develop new education and training materials for ‘Demand-led plant variety design’. They decided to develop new educational materials based on demand-led R&D for inclusion in postgraduate programmes in African universities. The course materials will also be available for continuing professional development of practising plant breeders.    (BecA, 14.11.2014)


Rice University study examines how nanoparticles behave in food chain

Scientists of Rice University, Houston, USA, traced the uptake and accumulation of quantum dot nanoparticles from water to plant roots, plant leaves and leaf-eating caterpillars. This comprehensive laboratory study, one of the first to examine how nanoparticles move through human-relevant food chains, found that nanoparticle accumulation in both plants and animals varied significantly depending upon the type of surface coating applied to the particles. The research is available online in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology.  (Eurekalert, 16/12/2014)


Launch of the Dutch Postharvest Network

In December 2014 the Postharvest Network was launched. This network of Dutch specialized companies, knowledge institutes such as Wageningen University and the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs, aims to contribute to the reduction of food losses with practical and proven solutions in the food supply chain of fresh products.  (Food & Business Knowledge Platform, 22/12/2014)  Visit the website of the Dutch Postharvest Network.