Knowledge for Development


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

A Creative Commons guide to sharing your science

In this online guide, Puneet Kishor of the Creative Commons explains that a more open copyright licence does exactly what researchers want, when it comes to moving research forward and receiving credit for their work. This guide introduces the Creative Commons licences best suited to science and the principles behind them.    (, 02.09.2014)


Agrobiodiversity conservation and plant improvement: adjustments in intellectual property rights reclaiming the public domain towards sustainability and equity

With the advent of the TRIPS Agreement and the dominant interpretative implementation of its minimum standards, actors who use, conserve and improve agricultural biodiversity are faced with a strong property rights system that has been thoroughly criticised. However, these critics have not achieved the regulatory shift they are advocating. In this PhD dissertation, Fulya Batur explains that this is due to the lack of socio-technological contextualisation of applicable laws and judicial interpretation. Indeed, intellectual property applies to very different innovation contexts and confronts all those involved in plant improvement, from mass selectors, small-scale private conventional plant breeders, public molecular researchers, specialised start-ups and integrated biotechnology giants. (APBREBES, 04/2014)


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)


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)


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)


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)


Burundian scientists have been trained through SCARDA

Five Burundian scientists have just completed their SCARDA sponsored training and returned to their research institutes empowered with the passion and skills to create a ripple effect in the system.SCARDA (Strengthening Capacity for Agricultural Research and Development in Africa) is RUFORUM's regional postgraduate scholarships programme to provide young agricultural scientists with opportunities to obtain further university training. This report provides their remarkable life stories in and careers in Burundi that was in a state of prolonged collapse, suffering from a dearth of resources and people to help support farmers, who are the backbone of the economy in the tiny yet densely populated country.  


Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa

FARA and partners are leading the development and operationalization of the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (S3A). This African-owned and African-led agenda  articulates how Africa needs to  apply science, technology, extension, innovations, policy and social learning to meet its agricultural and overall development goals. In the medium to long term the aim is to build systemic scientific capacity at national and regional levels in order to address the evolving needs of farmers, producers, entrepreneurs and consumers, especially given strategic and foresight issues such as climate change and urbanisation. (FARA, 12/2014)


Stuck on the road to the market: Why Kenya suffers from stunted innovations

In this study, the Scinnovent Centre reviews the challenges facing innovators in Kenya and makes recommendations to the actors within the national innovation system on the available support activities required to ensure Kenyan innovators meet their full potential. Targeted at exhibiting innovators during the Annual Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Conference and National Science Week held on 19 to 23 May 2014 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) the survey was conducted to capture their views on a range of issues including intellectual property rights; financing; market access; receptivity of the market to local innovation; policy support; role of the private sector and role of universities and other training institutions.


Our big bet for the future by Bill and Milanda Gates

The African Union has declared 2015 the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’. In this context it is interesting that Bill and Melinda Gates - in their 2015 Gates Annual Letter ‘Our big bet for the future - see many opportunities for Africa women and their families to create a better world for themselves and their children. In part 2 of this letter to explain how Africa is able to feed itself within 15 years from now, if farmers would focus on just four keys to increasing agricultural productivity: proper use of fertilizer, better rotation of crops, accurate timing of planting and harvesting and enhanced planting techniques.    


Africa’s Soil the New Frontier: Re-imagining Africa Food Security now and into the Future under a changing climate

  On 30-31 July 2015, in Nairobi, UNEP, FAO and partner will organise the 2nd Africa Food Security and Adaptation Conference (AFSAC 2015), with a focus on ‘Africa’s Soil the New Frontier: Re-imagining Africa Food Security now and into the Future under a changing climate’. Considering that Africa’s existing oil and mineral reserves will run, its soil is considered to be its next ‘oil’ in a changing climate and ecosystem based adaptation (EBA) driven-agriculture offers a sustainable and growing source of income. Read the conference concept note of 27 January 2015.


European Agricultural Research Addressing Global Challenges

This 'Portal of Portals' provides a common entry point to websites of various organisations and projects in Europe which address the global challenges that have become a driver of European agricultural research.The portal wish to contribute to collaboration, investment and innovation among all stakeholders. Research has a fundamental role to play in this process and ease of access to information is critical. Agricultural Research (AR) focusses on national needs within Europe whereas Agricultural Research for Development (ARD) is dedicated to collaboration with and in developing countries working towards the Millennium Development Goals. AR and ARD are interlinked due to the global scale of the challenges including issues such as climate change and food and nutrition security.


Assessing the effectiveness of smart phone-based video training in invasive plant identification

Citizen science is emerging given the rapid growth and increasing popularity of smart phone technology which put sophisticated data-collection tools in the hands of more and more citizens. Jared Starr of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA and colleagues argue that with smart phone apps, it is becoming increasingly practical to remotely acquire high quality citizen-submitted data at a fraction of the cost of traditional studies. Yet, one impediment to citizen science projects needs to be addressed, i.e. the question of how participants are trained because the traditional 'in-person' training model can be cost prohibitive as the spatial scale of a project increases. In the context of a study of invasive plant identification in Massachusetts, the authors explored possible solutions and analysed three training models: (i) in-person, (ii) app-based video, and (iii) app-based text/images. They found that participants who had received video training were as successful at invasive plant identification as those trained in-person. This and other findings of their study have implications for a variety of citizen science projects that need alternative methods to effectively train participants when in-person training is deemed impractical and too expensive.    (PLOS ONE, 05/11/2014)


Reframing the evidence debates: a view from the media for development sector

The lack of clear standards for reporting evidence from media for development programmes, the limited efforts to date to collate and systematically review the evidence that does exist, and the lack of relevant fora in which findings of evaluations can critically be discussed, are significant barriers to evidence generation. The paper is part of the BBC Media Action’s Bridging Theory and Practice series and calls for an 'evidence agenda', which creates shared standards to systematically map the existing evidence, establishes fora to discuss and share existing evidence, and uses a strategic, longer-term collaborative investment in evaluation to highlight where evidence gaps need to be filled. Without such an agenda evidence producers, assessors and funders risk talking at cross purposes.    (MandE News, 09/08/2014)


Monitoring the performance of agriculture and food systems

UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) recommends the creation of a whole new global information system built on the principle of open data sharing and real-time learning to drive agricultural innovation. SDSN emphasises that governments must embrace the era of digitally-enabled exchange of information and prioritise, customise, and commit to implementing different 'digital agriculture' technologies, based on local relevance and feasibility, to collect new data that is highly disaggregated, easily sharable, and more transparent to foster accountability. It is perceived that many of the real or perceived data gaps could likely be filled if existing information tools and methodologies were better aligned and more readily available to all. Technologies to develop this global information system include geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, global positioning systems (GPS), and numerous internet and smart phone tools, such as mobile phone applications, social media, and crowd sourcing.   (UN SDSN, 10/01/2014)


Diversity, genetic erosion and farmer’s preference of sorghum varieties in North-Eastern Benin

The varietal diversity, distribution and extent, the rate of diversity loss and farmers preferential criteria for adopting sorghum varieties are assessed. This study, conducted in 15 villages in the North - eastern of Benin, shows a maximum of 12 constraints of which climate change (76.34%) was rated by many farmers as the top most problem affecting the sorghum production. The rate of varieties loss recorded per village varied from 0 to 100% (26.95% on average). Innocent Dossou-Aminon of the Polytechnic University of Abomey, Benin, and colleagues argue that at this rate of genetic erosion, local sorghum varieties might vanish around 2030 and emphasise the urgent need to conserve Benin’s valuable sorghum genetic resources. Implementing a national programme for sorghum improvement and breeding to identify high-performance varieties adapted to soil and climatic conditions is recommended.    (Int. J. Curr. Microbiol. App. Sci., 10/2014)


Beyond NERICA: high-yielding rice varieties adapted to rainfed upland conditions in Benin

Experiments have been conducted in four rainfed upland areas to assess yield differences in 65 rice varieties, including the interspecific hybrids: the upland New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties developed from crossing Oryza sativa L. and O. glaberrima Steud. Upland indica varieties performed well in three out of four environments, showing consistently higher yields than other upland NERICA varieties and their parents. None of the upland NERICA varieties showed consistently higher yields than their parents across the four environments. These and other results suggest that further increases in rice yields in the rainfed uplands of West Africa are most likely to occur through using upland indica varieties as donors. Researchers from the Africa Rice Centre in Benin, the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS, Japan) and JICA (Japan) conducted the experiments.   (Tropical Agriculture and Development, 11 /09/2014)


Appraisal of rice production statistics in Uganda

The dire state of agricultural statistical capacity and methodologies in Uganda and other developing countries is highlighted. Doubt is often cast over the accuracy of FAOSTAT, the official statistics on crops, particularly for sub-Sahara Africa. Masao Kikuchi of Chiba University, Japan and JICA expert staff in Uganda, examined recent revisions made in the 'official' rice statistics of Uganda, together with rice-related statistics of the latest Uganda Census of Agriculture. They point out some anomalies in these basic rice statistics (overestimation, large fluctuations) and propose possible revisions (using district data and production average).   (Tropical Agriculture and Development, 11 /09/2014)


Can Sub-Saharan Africa's plural seed systems survive?

Regulatory bodies in Africa could use DNA fingerprinting to characterise and license seeds from the informal seed systems and to establish the legitimacy of these systems in regulatory frameworks and markets. Such recognition may help to diversify informal seed systems and deliver all types of seeds to farmers in diverse agro-ecologies. But this also would require open and inclusive markets. Leonard Haggai of the East Africa hub of the Future Agricultures Consortium reports that many participants of the Regional Dialogue on Strengthening African Seed Systems held in July 2014 raised doubts about the ability of scientists and policy analysts to influence seed policies that could support more open and plural seed systems. Reasons for their doubts are the current technological lock-in to few hybrid cash crops, the narrow interests of powerful actors in the sector and the non-organised smallholder farmers who cannot mobilise the political support for investments in a diversified seed system.   (IDS KNOTS, 07/08/2014)


Seaweed species may have promising nutritive value for animal feed

A promising opportunity exists for specific seaweed species based on the analysis of the nutritional value. The study carried out by the Centre for Animal Nutrition, Wageningen UR, The Netherlands, assessed the nutritional value of various seaweed species from different locations in Europe and the influence of a bio refinery process on the value of the residue. Results emphasise the importance of adequate selection of species and the need for further work to be confirm the results based on in vivo digestibility and performance studies.   (, 01/10/2014)