Knowledge for Development


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

Yield performance of potato seed tubers after storage in diffuse light stores (DLS)

Jane Muthoni, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), and colleagues from the University of Nairobi and the Mount Kenya University, carried out an on-farm trial to determine the yields of eight common potato cultivars following storage in diffuse light stores (DLS) for eight months. The trial was carried out for two consecutive seasons. The experiment was carried out in three farmers’ fields while the trial at KARI's Tigoni research station was meant for comparison. Results show that planting of tubers after storage in DLS gave significantly more yields than planting freshly harvested tubers.     Related: Feasibility of Low-Cost Seed Potato Storage in Kenya: The Case of Diffused Light Storage in Nyandarua County. Results of this farm storage trial indicated that DLS could be used by potato growers for prolonged seed storage the following season. This way the growers could be assured of good potato harvests due to the use of well sprouted tubers. This is critical in case of seasons with low or less than average rainfall as experienced in recent years.     (Journal of Agricultural Science, 01/2014)    


Biodegradable packaging from cotton waste

Biodegradable agricultural waste blends developed by Greg Holt, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USA and colleagues at the USDA’s Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit in Texas, are being used by the packaging industry in a new process that 'grows' made-to-order packaging products to protect breakable goods during shipping. The proprietary process involves combining cotton gin waste and fungi inside a cast, resulting in a spongy-looking material similar in appearance to polystyrene foam. The custom-shaped end product provides a cost-effective 'green' alternative to extruded polystyrene foam packaging.    (USDA ARS, 09/12/2013)   


Paint and chemical products from plants

In this web story, chemist Hermann Fischer, who co-founded a manufacture of natural paints in Germany, explain the potential of biomass to replace crude oil in the production of everyday goods. According to Fisher, much of the agricultural waste left after harvest could be used to produce the ingredients and compounds necessary for products such adhesives, paints, batteries, insulation and lubricants. R&D is crucial to enable the potential of biomass and pushing widespread acceptance of biodegradable products, outside of niche production.   (Deutsche Welle, 13/01/2014)   


Traditional ecological knowledge and global environmental change

Ecology and Society in 2013 included a special feature 'Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Global Environmental Change' addressing two main research themes. The first theme concerns the resilience of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and the conditions that might explain its loss or persistence in the face of global change. The second theme relates to new findings regarding the way in which TEK strengthens community resilience to respond to the multiple stressors of global environmental change. Those themes are analyzed using case studies from Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Theoretical insights and empirical findings from these case studies suggest that despite the generalized worldwide trend of TEK erosion, substantial pockets of TEK persist in both developing and developed countries. A common trend on the studies presented here is hybridization, where traditional knowledge, practices, and beliefs are merged with novel forms of knowledge and technologies to create new knowledge systems. The findings also reinforce previous hypotheses pointing at the importance of TEK systems as reservoirs of experiential knowledge that can provide important insights for the design of adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with global environmental change. Based on the results from papers in this feature, we discuss policy directions that might help to promote maintenance and restoration of living TEK systems as sources of social-ecological resilience. Among the papers in this special feature, one stands out: Indigenous ways of adaptability to uncertainty: Outputs from an experiment in West African drylands   (Ecology and Society, 12/2013) 


Banana genotype composition along the border between Uganda and the DR Congo

Deborah Karamura of Bioversity International (formerly IPGRI,, explored Musa genetic resources along the Uganda-DR Congo  border, sampled unique Musa germplasm and assessed the cross-border genotype diversity. This in situ analysis of banana diversity reveals that the bananas were of different types: almost half are of the cooking types, the rest is split between roasting, dessert and beer/juice types. The exercise made possible the collection of 18 new genotypes.  The research is a chapter of the following book published by CABI: 'Banana Systems in the Humid Highlands of Sub-Saharan Africa. Enhancing Resilience and Productivity'.   


Organic farms support more species

Research led by Sean Tuck of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, looked at data going back thirty years and found that on average, organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms. This effect has remained stable over time and shows no signs of decreasing. For pollinators such as bees, the number of different species was 50% higher on organic farms. It is however important to note that the study only looked at 'species richness', i.e. how many different species, not the total number of organisms. High species richness usually indicates a variety of species with different characteristics. Taking the example of bees, species richness indicates how many different species of bees there are on a farm but not the total number of bees.   (, 03/02/2014) 


A comprehensive study has confirmed the genetic structure of African coffee genotypes

The species Coffea canephora, which produces Robusta coffee, has substantial genetic diversity, which could almost certainly be better exploited in breeding programmes if it were characterized better. A team from CIRAD recently analysed that diversity using microsatellite markers. This was the first truly comprehensive genetic study of the species. It confirmed the existence of diversity groups, analysed the relations between them and determined the genetic structure of the species, particularly the role played by refuge zones during the glacial period of 25,000 years ago and the effect of subsequent human interventions. The analysis covered almost 300 coffee genotypes from the Guineo-Congolese region. The results are crucial for the management and use of genetic resource collections, and should serve the eventual development of adapted coffee crop.     (CIRAD, 15/01/2014) 


Land cover change monitoring using Landsat satellite image data over West Africa between 1975 and 1990

In this report, Marian Vittek, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, and colleagues examine land cover changes occurring between 1975 and 1990 in West Africa using a systematic sample of satellite imagery. Results reveal that in 1975 about 6% of West Africa was still covered by dense tree cover complemented with 12% of tree cover mosaic. Almost half of the area was covered by other wooded land and the remaining 32% was represented by other vegetation cover. Over the 1975–1990 period, the net annual change rate of cover was very low (less then -1%). On the other side, other vegetation cover increased annually by 0.70%, most probably due to the expansion of agricultural areas. This study demonstrates the potential of Landsat data for large scale land cover change assessment in West Africa and highlights the importance of consistent and systematic data processing methods with targeted image acquisition procedures for long-term monitoring.   (Remote Sensing, 07/01/2014)


Ants can positively influence cocoa yields

Scientists from the universities of Göttingen (Germany) and Lund (Sweden) together with Indonesian partners, carried out laboratory experiments and field trials on cocoa plantations in Indonesia. They found that a species-rich ant community could ensure from 27 to 34 % of the cacao yield. The scientists point out that individual ant species have both positive and negative influences on the cocoa yield, but the positive effects dominate. When cocoa trees are populated by undisturbed, species-rich ant communities, however, the cacao yield is up to 27% higher than when they are barred from the cocoa trees. The findings differ when an ant community is dominated numerically by one single species. For instance, the black cocoa ant native to Indonesia brings similar benefits to those of species-rich ant fauna, nevertheless the invasion of an exotic ant can reduce the harvest by up to 34%.    (Rural 21, 08/01/2014)


Locust genome exposes hundreds of potential insecticide target genes

Chinese scientists have unravelled the genetic code of the locust (Locusta migratoria), laying bare hundreds of genes that can be targeted by insecticides. The genome code is a draft, but once it has been polished, could serve as a blueprint for scientists seeking new ways of attacking the voracious insect. Previous research in China has shown that overgrazing rangelands promotes locust outbreaks, in part because overgrazing lowers the amount of nitrogen in plants.   (, 14/01/2014)


Yield and economic performance of organic and conventional cotton-based farming systems

This study presents results from a farming systems comparison trial in India, conducted by researchers from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, FOAG Switzerland and bioRe Association, India over a four-year period. Investigating a cotton-soybean-wheat crop rotation under biodynamic, organic and conventional (with and without Bt cotton), researchers observed a significant yield gap for cotton between farming systems in the first crop cycle which levelled out for wheat and cotton due to lower yields in the conventional systems in the second crop cycle. Gross margins from conventional systems where 30% higher in the first crop cycle, whereas in cycle 2 gross margins in organic farming systems were significantly higher (+25%) due to lower variable production costs but similar yields. Soybean gross margin was significantly higher in the organic system across the four harvest years. Future research needs to elucidate the long-term productivity and profitability, particularly of cotton and wheat, and the ecological impact of the different farming systems.  (PLOS ONE, 12/2013)


Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services: Linking Knowledge to Policy and Action for Food and Livelihoods: Proceedings of the 2011 International Conference

FIND THE CONTENT OF THE PROCEEDINGS' CD-ROM HERE.This CTA publication reflects the state of the art and contemporary thinking and approaches for transforming advisory and extension services and making them more responsive, efficient and effective. It is a major output of the International Conference on 'Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services: Linking Knowledge to Policy and Action for Food and Livelihoods' held in Nairobi in November 2011 which brought together about 500 national, regional and international experts, key stakeholders and organisations. The objective was to take stock of current policies, thinking and practice, successes and failures of ongoing and past reforms in extension and advisory services and build a coalition to address needs of smallholder farmers, in particular marginalised communities, women and youth in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.The published papers were developed from the short-listed abstracts that were selected in response to the call for papers and case-studies and presented during the Conference in 2011. They are presented in keeping with the four thematic areas that were covered: policy, capacity development, tools and approaches and learning networks. These are unique papers that provide insights into the research and practices that are being conducted in the area of extension and advisory services around the world. They also reflect the gaps where more work is needed, especially in the area of policy and impact assessment.The proceedings are a valuable resource for informing policy and practice on extension and advisory services and serves as one of the legacies of the international collaboration that led to this successful conference.Find the content of the proceedings' CD-Rom here.Find the event page here.


Workshop Report: 'Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean: Towards a Shared Vision and Road Map', October 2013

The report and executive summaries are the outputs of the two day workshop on Coconut industry development in the Caribbean which was held in Georgetown, Guyana, on 7-8 October 2013 during the 12th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA). The objectives were: (i) to review in-depth the results of the Intra-ACP needs assessment study on the coconut industry in the Caribbean; (ii) to agree on priority interventions and a Road Map for developing the Caribbean coconut industry within a three to five year period at national and regional level, and (iii) to seek endorsement from the Caribbean Ministers attending the CWA on the indicative Road Map.Find the event page and the presentations here.


A call to remember the forgotten crops

Monkombu Swaminathan, the veteran Indian crop scientist and World Food Prize laureate, wants the UN to devote a year to the world’s ‘orphan crops’ working with agricultural research organisations. Orphan crops are neglected and underutilised plants species (NUS) that can play an important role in contributing to food security either directly by being grown on the farm and commercialised or through their genetic resources, potentially useful in developing improved varieties of conventional crops. Swaminathan argues for an international concerted effort to develop research frameworks and programmes that would explore and exploit the potential of orphan crops in agriculture. Orphan crop are often proven to be adapted to a wide variety of weather patterns, soil conditions and/or pests and pathogen outbreaks. The esteemed scientist also presses the fact that many of the world’s grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables have relatives in the plant kingdom that naturally possess many of the micronutrients lacking in today’s diets. In his opinion, society doesn’t always need to genetically engineer nutritious crops when natural ‘bio-fortified’ plants already exist: his point being that orphan crops offer a viable option for food and nutrition security, as much as GM crops can.  Editor’s note – Promoting NUS for food and nutrition security is not new. What can be gained from a UN year devoted to the world’s ‘orphan crops’? Visit Bioversity International IFAD-NUS III project website and see outputs of their related 2013 international conference highlights on Note previous IFAD funded NUS projects since 2001. Also visit Crops for the Future website - Reuters, 20/12/2013)


Most clinical studies on vitamins flawed by poor methodology

Balz Frei, director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, explains in a new review published in the journal Nutrients why most large, clinical trials of vitamin supplements are largely useless in determining the real value of these micronutrients. Frei shows that many projects have tried to study nutrients that are naturally available in the human diet the same way they would study a powerful prescription drug, which he thinks is an inadequate research methodology that produces flawed findings. Needed are new methodologies that accurately measure baseline nutrient levels, provide supplements or dietary changes only to subjects who clearly are inadequate or deficient, and then study the resulting changes in their health. Tests must be done with blood plasma or other measurements to verify that the intervention improved the subjects' micronutrient status along with biomarkers of health., 30/12/2013)


Monitoring the effects of climate change on Europe's shellfish

Currently scientists do not fully understand how shellfish, such as oysters, mussels, scallops and clams produce their shells, or how a change in environment will affect their populations. To address this, the European Union is funding an ambitious science programme called CACHE (Calcium in a Changing Environment). The programme, implemented by a international team of scientists, coordinated from the British Antarctic Survey,  will put light on the role of shellfish in the marine ecosystem and will focus on the animals’ capacity to adapt to changing marine conditions.  A central aim of the programme is to help young scientists develop their careers through exposure to both research institutions and the business world. BAS, 09/12/2013)


The role of service plants in banana plantations of the West Indies

A team from CIRAD suggests adopting an approach based on analysing the functional traits of service plants in banana-based systems in the West Indies would help farmers choose the most appropriate species and decide at what point in the crop cycle these plants must be used.  Service plants offer a range of advantages for agro-systems. They can control weeds, regulate pests and diseases and improve soil structural condition and fertility. The research tested a number of plant combinations in Caribbean banana agro-ecosystems. For instance, plants that do not harbour the nematodes that attack banana plants were identified. If planted during fallow periods, they clean the soil and avoid the need for nematicides after replanting of the crop., 12/2013)


The West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station (WICSCBS)

The West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station (WICSCBS) based in Barbados, is one of the two oldest  sugar cane breeding institutions in the world (Java being the other one), with a continuous breeding programme since 1888. WICSCBS has well developed physical facilities to carry out sugar cane breeding to support the industries in the member countries. The staff comprises three Senior Scientists - the Director, Plant Breeder and Geneticist; and a junior scientist responsible for Germplasm and Breeding. WICSCBS goal is to breed superior varieties of sugarcane to cater to the needs of the various member countries. The Station has produced several superior varieties of sugarcane that drive the sugar industries of the member countries.  The station has one of the largest sugar cane germplasm collections in the world (over 3000 unique clones) that are maintained on 16 hectares of land. Editor’s note – It is interesting to note that despite the success in breeding, the West Indies sugar industry is on the decline., 2013)


Expert consultation on ‘Managing Trans-boundary Diseases of Agricultural Importance in the Asia-Pacific’, Proceedings and Recommendations

To provide a common platform for addressing trans-boundary diseases (TBDs), the biotechnology programme of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), known as Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) organised this Expert Consultation on 10 – 12 October 2012 in New Delhi. The meeting took stock of the status of occurrence and impact of TBDs, progress in R&D, and current and future needs to manage these diseases so as to minimise their impacts. Key recommendations concerning TBDs in plants, animal and fish and their management in the region include better documentation and capacity for diagnostic  of TBDs, regional-level surveillance, reliable anti-serum/vaccines banks, preparedness and rapid response infrastructure., 01/12/2013)


Livestock disease policies: Building bridges between animal science and economics

In June 2013 the OECD organised the conference ‘Livestock disease policies: Building bridges between animal science and economics’. This conference focused on how economics, working together with animal sciences, can contribute to a comprehensive and efficient management of livestock disease risks. The four key themes covered were: 1) how to generate a constructive dialogue to reduce and manage uncertainties; 2) the economic assessment of the impacts of animal diseases and control measures; 3) the impact of policy on economic incentives for animal keepers and the food system; and 4) policymaking and communication in an uncertain world. One broad recommendation states that economists, epidemiologists and policy makers need to communicate clearly with each other to ensure better policies for managing livestock diseases. All presentations and proceedings are available online., 12/2013)


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