Knowledge for Development

Related developments

Cultural practices to maintain soil quality and address climate change

To keep soils productive and reduce their climate change footprint, farmers in the USA are encouraged to graze sheep more readily, adopt no-till systems, rotate crops, and use less nitrogen fertiliser. Agricultural Research Service, 8/03/2013)


Vertical farming sprouts in Singapore

Vertical farming systems are meant to service urban centres where arable land is scarce. This particular method requires more energy and technical skills than the average ‘horizontal’ greenhouse. However, vertical farming or, at the least, some of its most basic principles could be adapted to small scale urban farms in developing countries, when space becomes scant.(NPR, 6/11/2012)


Research shows legume trees can fertilize and stabilize maize fields, generate higher yields

Inserting rows of ‘fertilizer trees’ into maize fields can help farmers cope with the impacts of drought and degraded soils, according to a 12-year-long study by researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). They conducted three coordinated experiments, starting in 1991 in Malawi and Zambia, and found that farms that mix nitrogen-fixing trees and maize have consistent and relatively high yields year after year. In Malawi, the highest average maize yield was found in fields that combined both fertilizer trees and inorganic fertilizers, but applied at just half the standard recommended amounts.Maize mono-crops grown with inorganic fertilizers may have higher yield in some years but the yield is less reliable in the long run. Mono-cropping without replenishing soil nutrients in any way – the de facto practice of resource-poor maize farmers – was the least productive and most unpredictable of all.EurekAlert has the report (14/10/2012).


Cook Islanders grow sustainable food using 'aquaponics' reports on a recent pilot aquaponics experiment underway in the Cook Islands. The project combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals like fish in tanks) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in symbiosis, a strategy that can be replicated in other island nations. The project's long-term objective is to give Pacific islanders – who are facing climate-related issues such as drought and fish poisoning – a way to sustainably grow crops using minimal water and no pesticides.This aquaponics project is a great example of successful partnership: it is the brainchild of Pacific Islands Trade and Invest, the business arm of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, which has teamed up with the New Zealand and Cook Islands governments to make it happen.(, 26/10/2012)


Apple thinning with potassium bicarbonate: New environmentally friendly method available

Apple thinning has been a major problem for farmers seeking to transition from conventional to organic production. Consumers expect organic apples to have comparable size and quality to non-organic fruit, and thinning is needed to achieve that goal. Organic farmers are not able to use most plant hormones and instead rely on time-consuming and expensive hand labour to thin their trees. In Europe, organic farmers also use mechanical methods, as well as lime-sulphur and molasses. These other methods are not as effective as hand thinning and can damage trees. Now, scientists at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) have found a way to thin trees using an ingredient commonly found in kitchens.By applying potassium bicarbonate, a substance used in baking, to trees at a key times in the growing season, organic farmers can efficiently regulate crop load better than hand thinning and the other alternatives currently used in organic production. The results were consistent for 11 varieties treated over a three year period. Potassium bicarbonate has the advantage of being very environmentally friendly. In 2012, Swiss authorities approved the commercial product, Armicarb©, for use as an apple thinner based on FiBL’s research.(Excerpt from FiBL News Service, 20/8/2012)


Banana-coffee intercrop system most beneficial

Ongoing research by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kampala, Uganda, in collaboration with other CGIAR centres (CIAT, ICRAF, and CIFOR), has attempted to evaluate the benefits of different types of systems, including co-benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation and implications for pest and disease incidence. Researchers have found that banana-coffee intercrop systems can be beneficial for farmers because they leave the yield of the coffee crop virtually untouched, while providing more food for their personal use. Essentially, by combining the two crops farmers are greatly increasing the total yield value of a single plot of land, even if the yield for individual crops doesn’t change much.(CCAFS, 9/7/2012)


Monoculture mania must and can be overcome

This opinion piece published on the OurWorld2.0, an initiative by the United Nations University, argues on the need to reign in the drive to monocultures. It offers avenues for alternatives citing efforts in the EU and the US and arguments from big name economists (Paul Krugman) and op-ed from the NY Times. It makes for an interesting read.(UNU OurWorld2.0, 20/8/2012)


Low adoption rate of no-till agriculture on many small farms explained

ILRI Clippings looks at why many small scale farmers do not adopt no-till practices (understood as conservation agriculture) on their land. It appears that the value of crop ‘wastes’– what remains of cereal and legume crops after their grains and pods have been harvested for human consumption – is invaluable for poor farmers raising farm animals as well as growing food crops. More so, the authors of the featured story say that ‘No-till requires farmers to keep stubble on the field after each harvest, so that it adds organic matter to the soil. But farmers in developing countries usually raise livestock in addition to cultivating crops, and stubble is an important source of livestock feed. The need to use the stubble for feed is particularly strong for small and isolated farmers without good alternatives.’ Adding that ‘Efforts to disseminate no-till and other technologies to small farmers in developing countries should therefore focus on identifying and alleviating the constraints that result in crop stubble being so valuable as feed to these farmers. Otherwise the cost of no-till adoption of no-till technology may simply be too high.’(ILRI Clippings, 21/8/2012)


Cameroon: Moving toward ‘investment-grade’ food security

This analysis by Adam Sneyd featured on Africa Portal provides insight into how Cameroon managed the recent food crisis and what kind of agricultural investment will render the country more food secure in the future. This informative and reference-rich article is well worth a read.(Africa Portal, 20/6/2012)


Organic agriculture could help Africa fight poverty

During the 2nd African Organic Conference held in Lusaka, Zambia 2-4 May 2012 on the theme ‘Mainstreaming Organic Agriculture in the African Development Agenda’ participants agreed that organic agriculture is becoming a key component of sustainable development. Research has shown that the adoption of organic agriculture practices significantly increases yields and food security and makes producers less vulnerable to international input price volatility, and promotes environmental sustainability, among other benefits. In this regard, a declaration adopted at the conference welcomed the institutionalisation of AfroNet (African Organic Network), the umbrella organisation uniting and representing African organic stakeholders. The declaration calls upon the African Union to mainstream organic agriculture into all areas of its work, including the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).(Excerpt from ICTSD, 13/6/2012)News:


Trees breathing new life into French agriculture

by recent agronomic research. Christian Dupraz, a researcher at the National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) in Montpellier, has been studying this type of mixed farming for the past 20 years. He believes in the importance of switching to ‘agro-ecological’ systems that do not depend on the petrochemical industry. ‘The fertility of French land is due to its forests, which have enriched it with carbon. Planting trees can replace chemical fertilisers’, he said.(The Guardian, 21/8/2012)


Farming and biodiversity can coexist

This paper points the way towards multi-functional agricultural systems that maintain agricultural productivity while simultaneously conserving biodiversity. In a new research paper titled Intensive Agriculture Erodes β-diversity at Large Scales, Stanford University scientists show that low-intensity tropical agriculture can maintain regional species differences at levels similar to those of intact forest. Farms rely on birds for pollination, fruit dispersal and pest control and the presence of intact, biodiverse lands near a farm guarantees society certain natural benefits, including water purification and nutrient cycling. Costa Rica is already one of the first nations to adopt a ‘payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) scheme. Acknowledging the value of keeping undeveloped land near agricultural areas, the policy compensates farmers for leaving part of their lands out of production. The paper’s new finding offers further support for the practice.(Stanford News Service, 22/6/2012)


Organic agriculture worldwide: Market growing, agricultural land remains steady

The World of Organic Agriculture – Statistics and Emerging Trends 2012 documents recent developments in global organic agriculture. The book includes contributions from representatives of the organic sector from throughout the world and provides comprehensive organic farming statistics that cover surface area under organic management, numbers of farms and specific information about land use in organic systems. The book also contains information on the global market for organic food, the latest developments in organic certification, standards and regulations and insights into current status and emerging trends for organic agriculture by geographical region. This comprehensive standard reference book includes statistics from 160 countries. (FiBL,14/02/2012)


Study highlights food risk hotspots

The poorest societies may be more able to adapt to the threat climate change poses to food supplies than their slightly richer peers, a new study suggests. We might assume getting richer would always make a country safer from drought and famine, but that turns out not to be the case. Instead, the very poorest countries seem to become more vulnerable in the early stages of a transition to modern agriculture. There's a crucial period before the benefits of modernisation start to kick in, during which they are more vulnerable to problems like drought than when they started. For example, switching from pastoral farming to settled agriculture can bring benefits to local people in the long-term, once they can introduce new techniques like higher-yielding, drought-resistant crops and modern machinery. But these need investment to work, and it takes time for poor farmers to build up the necessary capital. In the meantime, most land has been parcelled up into private plots and is now crisscrossed by fences, so people can no longer respond to drought as their pastoralist ancestors would have - by simply moving their herds somewhere with more water. (NERC Planet Earth Online, 1/6/2012)


Terra preta found in Asia

Indigenous people of the Amazon produced rich agricultural soil by adding charcoal, manure, and animal bones to the otherwise nutrient-poor dirt of the world's greatest rainforest. The inputs allowed early indigenous people to farm their terra preta, or dark earth, sustainably in the Amazon. To date such practices are only known from the Amazon and parts of Africa. Mongabay reports in a recent paper in the open access journal Forests scientists in Indonesian Borneo documents the first evidence of terra preta in Asia. (Mongabay, 14/5/2012)


Productive farms can be 'greener than organic': study

A study, led by Oxford University scientists, compared the environmental impact of different farming systems. Results of the study show farms that aim for high food production using environmentally-friendly practices could be better for the environment than both organic and conventional farms. The researchers found that ‘integrated’ farms that maximised crop yields whilst using environmentally-friendly techniques – such as crop rotation, organic fertilisers, over winter cover crops, and minimal use of pesticides – would use less energy and generate lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production than both organic and conventional farms. (Physorg, 15/02/2012)


Products from savannah generate 39% of total household income in northern Benin

According to a study by the German Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), the value derived from the savannah amounts to 39% of the average annual income of a rural household in northern Benin. The authors also found that poorer households are more dependent on savannah biodiversity than wealthier ones. The Convention on Biological Diversity of the United Nations (CBD) and most recently the TEEB (‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’) study have shown that the amount of economic contribution nature and environment make to society can be measured. Scientists from the German Biodiversity and Research Centre have now analysed the value of the savannah in northern Benin and determined how much income is generated by the exploitation of non-timber forest products in the region. (AlphaGalileo, 25/10/2011)


Kenya farmers adopt new method to grow more rice with less water

Kenyan rice farmers are switching to the System for Rice Intensification (SRI) developed by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya. SRI is expected to improve production by more than 50 % while reducing water use by about 25 % to 50 % (allowing for the saved water to be used to expand the production area). Farmers will use only 25 % of seeds used in the conventional paddy system and save on input costs. One of the disadvantages of the new system, however, is that it requires more weeding since weeds tend to grow more rapidly under un-flooded conditions. The extra effort is compensated by increased yields of one to two tonnes per hectare. (African Agriculture, 26/9/2011)


Organic farming can be more profitable in the long-term than conventional agriculture

Organic farming is more profitable and economically secure than conventional farming even over the long-term, according to a new study in Agronomy Journal. Using experimental farm plots, researcher T. A. Delbridge et al. at the University of Minnesota found that organic beat conventional even if organic price premiums (i.e. customers willing to pay more for organic) were to drop as much as 50 percent. Conducted over 18 years, the study found that a conventional farm, rotating corn, soy, oat, and alfalfa over 4 years brought in less than half of the revenues an organic farm netted. (Mongabay, 1/9/2011)


Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa

Organized by IFPRI, in conjunction with the African Union Commission and UNECA, the subthemes for this conference on agricultural productivity are: Science, technology and innovation in agriculture Rural service provision and access to factors and inputs for production Food reserves, markets, trade, and regional integration Investments, institutions, and policies for supporting agriculture Agriculture, nutrition, and health linkages Agriculture and climate change mitigation and adaptation Capacity development for agriculture through education and training Role of agriculture and the rural nonfarm sector in economic growth and national poverty reduction Regional value chains development as a pathway for increased agricultural productivity A call for papers has been issued for this conference, setting a deadline for abstract on June 30, 2011 (the deadline for articles is August 31, 2011 and the last date to register is September 15, 2011). More information is available on the IFPRI website website. Download the conference flyer and the concept note.

Tuesday 01 November 2011 - Thursday 03 November 2011