Knowledge for Development

Developments

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


Interpreting academic studies: a primer for media

Justin Feldman lists a series of question every science journalist should ask when reporting on a new scientific study. His article is part a Journalist’s Resource (JR) project, that examines news topics through a research lens. Feldman's guide looks at how a journalist should understand a research project's hypothesis, variables, unit of analysis, causation logic (such as Randomised Controlled Trials, systemic reviews or meta-analysis for example), results generalisation potential, intrinsic limitations and conclusions.   Editor's note: The following annotation offers a great example of insightful journalism, where a difference in field research methodology can influence the end results in a surprising way.   (Journalist’s Resource, 27/05/2014)

28/07/2014


Behavioral responses and the impact of new agricultural technologies: Evidence from a double-blind field experiment in Tanzania

The results of a recent paper published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics comparing Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) conducted with cowpea farmers in Tanzania, using an open RCT with a double-blind RCT ( used in medical science) were discussed by Venezuelan journalist and blogger Francisco Toro. The results were surprising and put into question the standard methodology that agricultural scientists commonly use to assess the success of the introduction of new agricultural technologies. Toro sums it up: 'In the open RCT, Tanzanian cowpea farmers who knew they were getting improved seed easily outperformed farmers who knew they were getting traditional seed. But in the double-blind study, farmers who weren’t told whether the seed they got was improved or not performed just as well whether that the seed they received was improved or traditional. In fact, farmers who used traditional seed without knowing it did just as well as farmers who used improved seed, whether they knew it or not. Only farmers who knew the seed they were given wasn’t improved lagged behind in productivity.'   (Francisco Toro's blog, 09/04/2014)

28/07/2014


Fake seeds force Ugandan farmers to resort to 'bronze age' agriculture

Counterfeiting gangs in Uganda are dyeing regular maize so that they have the characteristic pinkish orange colour of industrially processed maize seed. The Guardian reporting on the dire state of Uganda's seed system concludes that an apparent illegal industry has developed cheating farmers by selling them seeds that promise high yields but fail to germinate. The result is a crisis of confidence in commercially available high-yield seed. 'The seed market is very small compared to what you would expect from the returns to these hybrid seeds', says David Yanagizawa-Drott, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and part of a team currently researching the problem. A pilot study conducted 18 months ago 'found significant amounts of hybrid seeds that were falsified'.   (The Guardian, 08/04/2014)

28/07/2014


Destructive pest threatens PNG's coffee crop

Tom Kukhang from Papua-New-Guinea's (PNG) Coffee Industry Corporation and coffee growers on the island fear that a berry borer pest could have a devastating impact on the industry. The pest is reportedly just 20 kilometres from PNG's border with Indonesia and could largely destroy PNG’s coffee crop. The nation's quarantine organisation NAQIA and the Coffee Industry Corporation are currently working together to provide surveillance in border areas and major ports.   (Radio Australia, 30/05/2014)

28/07/2014


Understanding disease resistance genes in crops to secure future food production

Dr Henrik Stotz from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, UK and Pierre de Wit from Wageningen UR in The Netherlands have proposed a new concept called effector-triggered defence or ETD that explains how plants protect themselves against the pathogens that grow in the space outside plant cells (the apoplast).This new insight could help scientists breed new, more successful disease-resistant agricultural crops. By exploiting new molecular and genetic insights, their research has provided a better understanding of the defence system of crop plants against the damaging pathogens that grow in the spaces between plant cells.    (AlphaGalileo, 27/05/2014)

28/07/2014


The Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystems

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of European scientists created in 2009, has published the single most comprehensive study of neonics, Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity and ecosystems (WAI). The WAI has examined over 800 scientific studies carried out in the last five years, including those sponsored by industry. Some aspects of this analysis have been broadly acknowledged (e.g. risks to honeybees), but some have not (e.g. risks to birds, earthworms, other pollinators and aquatic invertebrates). Relatively few studies have specifically focused on biodiversity and ecosystem impacts and this analysis moves understanding forward in a much more holistic and extensive way.   (Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, 17/06/2014)

28/07/2014


Obstacles to integrated pest management adoption in developing countries

Integrated pest management (IPM) has hardly been adopted in developing countries, despite its theoretical prominence and sound principles. These are the findings of a research project conducted by scientists from CIAT, IRD, CIP, University of Greenwich, Cornell University and Wageningen UR. They found 51 potential reasons why IPM adoption by developing country farmers is low. The most frequently mentioned obstacle was 'insufficient training and technical support to farmers'. Different adoption obstacles were identified than in high-income countries. Developing-country respondents rated 'IPM requires collective action within a farming community' as their top obstacle to IPM adoption. Respondents from high-income countries prioritised the 'shortage of well-qualified IPM experts and extension workers'.   http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/19/1312693111  (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and IRD (FR), 25/02/2014)

28/07/2014


Molecular genetics: science and technology regulation

In early 2014, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in India conducted the 23rd Annual Dialogue series. The focus of the Dialogue was to provide important inputs to the Regulatory Authority Bill that is before the Indian Parliament for the approval and commercialisation of genetically modified crops. The Foundation brought together all stakeholders in the agriculture sector, including molecular biologists, plant breeders, farmers’ associations and civil society representatives from both national and international institutions, to help produce definite guidelines. Seven key recommendations emerged, in particular: Well-designed needs assessment to facilitate decisions on publicly funded GM research; decisions should be based on the precautionary principle; genetic literacy at the grassroots level about GM crops; hidden hunger and the micronutrient deficiency can be largely eliminated by integrating nutritionally rich crops and plants and promoting nutri-farms or homestead gardens.   (Agriculture & Food Security, 12/05/2014)

28/07/2014


A global initiative to collect, conserve, and use crop wild relatives

This paper by Hannes Dempewolf and colleagues of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Germany, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK, informs researchers interested in the 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change' initiative and to encourage them to start collaborating under its umbrella. The authors explain that the main objective of the project is to collect and protect the genetic diversity of a range of plants with characteristics that are required for adapting the world's most important food crops to climate change. The initiative also makes these plants available to plant breeders who can readily use them to produce varieties adapted to the new climatic conditions.    Editor’s note: What mechanisms are in place to ensure equal access to the genetic diversity collected and that countries derive economic and social benefits from any sale or profits from their indigenous resources?   (Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 18/02/2014)

28/07/2014


Kram-kram is the edible and highly nutritious grain

Kram-kram (cram-cram) is the edible and highly nutritious grain from Cenchrus biflorus, a perennial grass. The grain is rich in protein and has perhaps the highest calorie content of any grain, but today it is only collected when the harvests of other grains are insufficient to feed the community. The Tuareg people in Mali traditionally collect Kram-kram as a wild cereal. To be used, the seeds need to be hulled in a mortar, extracting the white grain from its spiny covering. The grains can be pounded and eaten raw, made into porridge, or mixed and cooked with other foods. During the rainy season, the plant can be harvested more than once. It can be preserved in traditional silos, where fermentation softens the spines enough so that it can be eaten by animals. Kram-kram grass grows very well in the sand and needs little water. Many more underused species for agriculture and food production can be found on the online database 'The Ark of Taste'.  (Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, 2014)

28/07/2014


Bean genome sequencing yields uncommon findings

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia, U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, North Dakota State University and University of California Davis has recently released the genome sequence for the common bean – which includes a number of varieties that together rank as the world’s 10th most widely grown food crop. The new whole-genome sequencing will also help to identify genetic 'markers' that can be used to speed up breeding of new bean varieties in the United States, East Africa and other countries. All of the well-known bean varieties have the highly valued ability to form symbiotic relationships with 'nitrogen-fixing' bacteria in the soil. One of the goals of the sequencing project was to better understand the genetic basis on which symbiotic relationships between nitrogen-fixing plants and bacteria are formed and sustained. The new sequencing identified a handful of genes involved with moving nitrogen around, which could be helpful to farmers who intercrop beans with other crops that don’t fix nitrogen. The researchers also discovered dense clusters of genes related to disease resistance within the chromosomes.   (UC Davis, 09/06/2014)

28/07/2014


Commercial substances obtained from native plants

Researchers at the Mexican Scientific Research Center of Yucatan (CICY) studied 20 native species forexploration, recollection, characterisation and conservation of native herbs in the region. . They built a pilot distillation kit to obtain essential oils from plants and to do bioactivity tests and product development. In this publication, Luz Maria del Carmen Calvo Irabién, head of research, explains that the essential oil from Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) has potential in the agroindustry and that basil bush (Ocium campechianum) has antioxidant, antimicrobial and antifungal properties and high concentrations of eugenol, an aromatic agent widely used in the cosmetic and fragrance industry.   Note: For example, science competition winner Stella Kabiri-Marial demonstrated that invasive Cymbopogon afronardus (Stapf) could be used as a natural insecticide. K4D has recently also highlighted the pioneering work of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim on novel plant bio-resources.   (AlphaGalileo, 19/06/2014)

28/07/2014


Effect of three storage methods on the quality and shelf-life of white yam cultivars

Bonaventure Kissinger Maalekuu, of the Department of Horticulture, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana and colleagues conducted a survey to assess the pre-storage treatments applied to yam, methods adopted for storage and farmers knowledge on postharvest losses. In addition a proximate analysis to determine the nutritional variation of White yam cultivars, Pona and Tela, was conducted before and after storage. The survey revealed that only few farmers apply agro-chemicals to their harvested tubers before storage. Yam is stored in yam barn (major method) or stored in heaps on a floor or in open sided structures, depending on time of harvest. All three storage methods caused a significant reduction of the nutritional composition of the tubers. The open sided storage structures performed best with respect to lower weight loss, sprouting, decay, pest damage and nutritional composition.   (Journal of Agricultural Science, 15/06/2014)

28/07/2014


Tunnel greenhouses for smallholder farmers in Fiji and Samoa

Research on tunnel greenhouses offers smallholder farmers in Fiji and Samoa opportunities to grow produce and supply markets regardless of seasonal weather changes and island topography. Dr Richard Markham, Pacific Crops research programme manager at ACIAR, explains how using tunnel greenhouse technology in combination with irrigation allows for crop production all year round. Standard greenhouse structures can with some minor adjustments withstand tropical storms (removable roof and walls), excessive heat (shade cloth and taller structures), and pests out (netting).    (ACIAR, 21/05/2014)

28/07/2014


Reducing food waste by households and in retail in the EU

The EC commissioned LEI Wageningen UR this study to investigate what the effects of a 40% reduction in food waste at the household and retail level would be on the economy. The study shows that such reduction could result in annual savings of € 123 per person and the total savings for the EU of € 75.5 billion. However, the total effect on the EU economy will be negligible. The reduction in food waste on the demand side (household and retail) will mean that much less agricultural land will be needed for growing food (in the EU, agricultural land use will be reduced by 28,940 km2 – an area of the size of Belgium). Most of this agricultural land will be freed up because of a reduction in waste of dairy products, fruits and vegetables and red and white meat. The study reveals however that results would be greater if European households would adopt healthy eating patterns in terms of lowering consumption of meats and dairy instead of reducing food waste. Follow-up research is necessary to determine what the results would be of reducing food losses on the supply side (agriculture, the processing industry, storage and transport) and food losses and waste in the rest of the world.   Editor’s note: ACP governments need similar evidence from their national and regional universities to support decision-making.  (LEI Wageningen UR, 16/04/2014)

28/07/2014


Digital agricultural clearing house 'AgroCentral' to be launched in Jamaica

AgroCentral will be a web and SMS application connecting small farmers directly with buyers. The idea for this app was born at a Startup Weekend Jamaica (SWJA) in October 2013 and will be launched in August 2014. AgroCentral uses an eBay-like model allowing farmers to alert buyers via SMS when they have a crop they wish to sell, helping them to cut out the middleman, negotiate higher margins and gauge supply and demand in the market. Farmers simply send an SMS to a central website, quoting the type of product on offer, the quantity available and their desired price. Buyers can either view these posts on the AgroCentral website or – if they have registered interest in buying, they will also receive a SMS. The buyers can directly negotiate with farmers and also send a request to the website. The request will be relayed to all registered farmers who produce that particular crop using SMS. Buyers can also access full profiles of registered farmers, including their location, crops grown and supply capability. The benefit to farmers is that they can quickly find a market for perishable produce.    (Trade & Export Finance, 09/05/2014)

28/07/2014


PacGeo: open access geospatial data repository for the Pacific Region

PacGeo is an all-encompassing geospatial platform for cataloguing, administering and exposing geophysical, geodetic and specialist marine spatial data for the Pacific community. PacGeo provides easy access to jurisdictional information and tools for marine spatial planning in the Pacific. The system has been developed by the University of Sydney, Applied GeoScience and Technology Division of Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SOPAC/SPC), Geoscience Australia (GA), and UNEP GRID-Arendal Centre. PacGeo will be launched with finalised datasets by the summer 2014.  

28/07/2014


iMarine: data e-infrastructure initiative for fisheries management and conservation of marine living resources

iMarine, a project co-funded by the EU under the Framework Programme 7, is an open and collaborative initiative that supports the implementation of an ecosystems approach to fisheries management and the conservation of living marine resources. iMarine provides an open access e-infrastructure that facilitates sharing of a multitude of data, collaborative analysis, processing and mining processing, as well as the publication and dissemination of newly generated knowledge. Practitioners from multiple scientific fields such as fisheries, biodiversity and ocean observation benefit from 'e-infrastructure capacity'; 'application bundles' (access tools by topic modules: biodiversity, geospatial, statistics, interoperability); 'data heterogeneity management'; 'policy best practices'.   

28/07/2014


Data collected by satellites can accurately measure underground water

In a development that could revolutionize the management of precious groundwater around the world, Stanford researchers Jessica Reeves, Rosemary Knight, Howard Zebker and Peter Kitanidis have pioneered the use of satellites to accurately measure levels of water stored hundreds of feet below ground. Their findings were published recently in Water Resources Research. Until now, the only way a water manager could gather data about the state of water tables in a watershed was to drill monitoring wells. In their novel approach, the scientists used Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) to monitor changes in the elevation of Earth's surface. With this technology they could measure groundwater levels across vast areas without using lots of on-the-ground monitors. InSAR data could play a vital role in measuring seasonal changes in groundwater supply and help determine levels for sustainable water use.   (Stanford University, 17/06/2014)

28/07/2014


A new global dataset for rainfall monitoring and drought early warning

A new dataset developed by UC Santa Barbara and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) can be used for environmental monitoring and drought and famine early warning. The Climate Hazards Group Infrared Precipitation with Stations (CHIRPS), a collaboration between UCSB’s Climate Hazards Group and USGS’s Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) combines rainfall data observed from space with more than three decades of rainfall data collected at ground stations worldwide. This dataset seeks to blend the best qualities of rainfall station observations, satellite temperature data and the unique spatial characteristics of rainfall to create the best available rainfall information for climate and agricultural monitoring. The new dataset allows experts to monitor rainfall in near real-time, at a high resolution, over most of the globe. CHIRPS data can be incorporated into climate models, along with other meteorological and environmental data, to project future agricultural and vegetation conditions.   (UC Santa Barbara, 14/05/2014)

28/07/2014