Knowledge for Development

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Crop pathogen emergence and evolution in agro-ecological landscapes

The shift in land-use patterns in agricultural landscapes might influence crop diseases to provide predictive tools to evaluate management practices. This is the conclusion of a study by researchers at NRA, France, with colleagues from around the world who found that landscape structures that promoted larger pathogen populations on wild hosts facilitated the emergence of a crop pathogen; but such landscape structures also reduced the potential for the pathogen population to adapt to the crop. In addition, they determined the evolutionary trajectory of the pathogen population by interactions between the factors describing the landscape structure and those describing the pathogen life-histories.  (Evolutionary Applications, 03/02/2015)Download the text of the article

10/03/2015


DivSeek mines the genetic treasure in seed bank vaults

A new initiative, DivSeek, was unveiled in January 2015. This programme systematically characterizes the genetic, physical, and biochemical makeup of banked seeds in the hope of exploiting traits such as drought tolerance and pest resistance that could help the development of better crop varieties. The 69-member DivSeek consortium, which includes the world’s leading agricultural research centres, expects that DivSeek will help agricultural gene banks to make the transition from warehouses for plant seeds to become seed centres that can start to capitalize on the often hidden value of some 7 million seed deposits held in more than 1700 repositories around the world.  (Science, 09/01/2015)

10/03/2015


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)

9/03/2015


Assessment of genetic diversity of sweet potato in Puerto Rico

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

7/03/2015


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)

27/02/2015


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)

22/02/2015


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)

5/02/2015


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)

5/02/2015


Underutilised wild edible plants in the Chilga District, north-western Ethiopia: focus on wild woody plants

In this article, Mekuanent Tebkew, University of Gondar, and colleagues at other Ethiopian universities report on a study of the distribution, diversity, role, management conditions and associated traditional knowledge of underutilised wild edible plants in north- western Ethiopia. Despite the extraordinary number of ecological zones and plant diversity, the diversity of plants is under threat due to the lack of institutional capacity, population pressure, land degradation and deforestation. An adequate documentation of these plants also had not been conducted. The researchers found 33 wild edible plants that are used by local communities to supplement staple foods, to fill food gaps and for recreation. As these communities apply only elementary management practices to some wild edible plants, special attention is required to sustain the benefits of these plants.    (Agriculture & Food Security, 26/08/2014)

29/10/2014


Native foods scoping study under way in Australia

The New South Wales Local Land Service has commissioned a scoping study to assess whether native foods businesses could be viable, in which a team of environmental consultants is conducting a desktop study into the native foods industry. They did so because the consumption of native bush foods has grown steadily over recent years; bush tucker recipes are abound and products from lemon myrtle to quandong jam being snapped up in Australia and overseas. By narrowing down to which species that would be best suited to the region, the team will assess whether there is a business case for developing the crops for these herbs, foods and spices. The study is expected to be completed by October 2014.   (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 25/08/2014)

29/10/2014


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.    

25/08/2014


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


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


Indigenous leafy vegetables in South Africa: Unexplored source of nutrients and antioxidants

In this review, Collise Njume and colleagues from Walter Sisulu University, South Africa, describe the nutritional value and antioxidant potential arising from the rich polyphenolic constituents of 22 indigenous leafy vegetables (ILVs, or imifino, morogo, muhuro in local dialects) species belonging to 12 genera and 10 families. Amaranthus species, Cucurbita pepo, Bidenspilosa, Chenopodiumalbum and Solanumnigrum (imifino, morogo, muhuro) appear to be the most popular and most widely occurring leafy vegetables in the rural areas of South Africa. The authors highlight the need to create awareness that would encourage consumption and industrial production of these vegetables in a bid to curb the high level of malnutrition and food insecurity in the country.    (African Journal of Biotechnology, 05/2014)   

30/06/2014


The use of indigenous ecological resources for pest control in Africa

David Grzywacz of the Natural Resource Institute (University of Greenwich, UK) and colleagues investigated two examples of crop protection practices in Africa that harness locally available biological resources. The researchers examined the use of the pesticidal plant Tephrosia vogelii, and the harvesting of the endemic insect virus Spodoptera exempta (SpexNPV). Both of these can be produced locally and have shown promise in trials as inexpensive and effective tools for pest control. Their use is currently being scaled up and evaluated by researchers on the continent. This focus on these unconventional crop protection systems illustrates the need to explore further the potential of locally-available natural resources to replace expensive imported agricultural inputs. The authors of the paper argue that the countries’ regulatory environment must evolve to facilitate the registration of new products and the establishment of supply chains that benefit the local producers and help them improve upon the production methods.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12571-013-0313-5   (Food Security, 02/2014) 

13/05/2014


African consortium announces 100 crops for sequencing

The African Orphan Crops Consortium, which includes the University of California, UC Davis, Mars Inc. and other global partners, released the names of the 100 African crop species whose genomes it plans to sequence, assemble and annotate to improve the nutrition of African farm families. The list of these 100 species, developed by African scientists, is being released so that researchers around the world can contact the consortium with suggestions for research needs regarding the selected species. The crop list, which includes the African eggplant, amaranth and the spider plant, is available at the consortium’s website. The first orphan crop to be studied will be baobab, because its fruit has antiviral properties and other health benefits, ten times the antioxidant level of oranges, twice the amount of calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than bananas.    http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10804  (UC Davis, 17/01/2014)   

28/02/2014


Biochemical and nutritional properties of baobab pulp from endemic species of Madagascar and the African mainland

Cissé Ibrahima and colleagues from the Institut National d'Hygiène Publique (INHP, Côte d'Ivoire) and CIRAD, studied the biochemical characteristics of the fruit pulp of five endemic baobab species from Madagascar and one from Côte d’Ivoire. Contents in vitamin C, polyphenols, lipids, proteins and minerals were evaluated. Comparing the results for each species, the researchers found high variability in biochemical characteristics and mineral content between the various species. None of them could be identified as a clear all-round winner. To date, despite the baobab fruit's nutritional importance, the lack of knowledge on pulp preservation causes loss. Future research should focus on increasing the pulp storage time while preserving its nutrition value.    http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJAR/article-abstract/D9364B442110    (African Journal of Agricultural Research, 12/11/2013)   

27/02/2014


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.    http://phys.org/news/2014-02-farms-species.html   (Phys.org, 03/02/2014) 

18/02/2014


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 http://www.nuscommunity.org/ and see outputs of their related 2013 international conference highlights on http://nus2013.org/. Note previous IFAD funded NUS projects since 2001. Also visit Crops for the Future website - http://www.cropsforthefuture.org/http://sustainability.thomsonreuters.com/2013/12/20/executive-perspective-call-remember-forgotten-crops/(Thomson Reuters, 20/12/2013)

27/01/2014