Knowledge for Development

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Policy: The art of science advice to government

In Nature Peter Gluckman, New Zealand's chief science adviser, offers his ten principles for building trust, influence, engagement and independence (Issue 507, March 2014). His own experience is of a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy in a small advanced economy. Other countries have different forms of government and different cultural histories of public reason; high-level scientific advice may be provided by individuals, councils or academies, or a combination. Nevertheless, these guidelines are relevant to all those providing advice to senior levels of government.   Gluckman’s ten principles are: Maintain the trust of many; Protect the independence of advice; Report to the top; Distinguish science for policy from policy for science; Expect to inform policy, not make it; Give science privilege as an input into policy; Recognize the limits of science; Act as a broker not an advocate; Engage the scientific community; and Engage the policy community.   (Nature, 13/03/2014)


Three years of Joint Programming on agriculture, food security and climate change with FACCE-JPI

The Joint Research Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI), jointly led by INRA and BBSRC, celebrates its 3-year anniversary with the launch of its first biennial Implementation Plan, show-casing the role of FACCE-JPI in the research on the interplay between agriculture, food security and climate change. The Plan addresses subjects that are central to FACCE’s ambitions, for example the improvement of agricultural soil quality, the sustainable intensification of European crop and livestock systems and plant disease epidemiology under climate change. It also foresees the creation of a network of experimental climate change studies on crop and grassland systems. After three years of activity and already five joint actions launched, FACCE-JPI is no longer working at the level of coordination of national policies, but more ambitiously on alignment and convergence of these, around a commonly agreed Strategic Research Agenda (SRA).   (INRA, 13/11/2013)   


New large-scale aquaponics project funded by the EU, aiming at optimized food and water management

The newly started collaborative project INAPRO (innovative model and demonstration based water management for resource efficiency in integrated multi-trophic agriculture and aquaculture systems) aims at achieving a real breakthrough towards implementation and commercialization of aquaponics systems. INAPRO’s project coordination is located at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin, Germany. INAPRO will build on the technological basis of an earlier project by IGB that developed a very efficient tomato-and-fish aquaponics system. Prototypes will be tested in Europe and China.    (AlphaGalileo, 10/02/2014)   


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)   


Regional assessment of organic carbon stock in agricultural soils

Scientists at the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the European Commission published an article on a modelling platform to estimate organic carbon stock in European agricultural soils in the Global Change Biology journal. Soil organic carbon is an essential indicator of good soil quality. It improves the physical properties of soil, notably by increasing its nutrient retention and groundwater protection capacities. To provide consistent carbon stock estimation at the European scale, the model computed almost 164 000 combinations of soil, climate, and land use data, resulting in new soil organic carbon datasets at the pan-European level. The platform provides a comprehensive modelling platform with comparable and harmonised European geographical and numerical datasets. It should prove to be a very useful tool to orient future policymaking decisions related to soil. JRC IES, 17/12/2013) 


A UK strategy for agricultural technologies

The UK Government recently released its UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies, which sets out how it plans to put Britain at the forefront of these technologies. It  involves building on the nation's strengths and investing £160m in new technologies, £70m through a new agri-tech Catalyst Centre and £90m through government  funding for Centres for Agricultural Innovation to explore and innovate in domains such as precision farming and no-till cultivation, GM crops, new anti-pest strategies  and even the use of drones and nanotechnology.     (NERC, 30/07/2013)   


Farmer’s choice of seeds in four EU countries under different levels of GM crop adoption

Researcher Angelika Hilbeck at the Institute of Integrative Biology of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology looked into the agricultural seed catalogues available to farmers in countries  with different degrees of GM crop adoption (Austria, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland). She and her colleagues estimated how much real-world choice in seeds maize farmers have in each  of the countries. The results show that, between 1995 and 2011, in the countries that did not adopt GM crop (Austria, Germany and Switzerland), actual restrictions and regulations of GM  crops have not decreased seed choices/cultivar availability for farmers. In contrast, they observed that in Spain, which has adopted GM maize, the seed market was more concentrated with  fewer differentiated cultivars on offer: the overall number of maize cultivars declined. The research also plotted the yields over the time period only to note that there was no reduction in yields  in non-adopting countries.(Environmental Sciences Europe 2013, 25:12 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-12)


Opportunities and limitations for functional agrobiodiversity (FAB) in the European context

Planned reforms in European agricultural policy could facilitate the implementation of functional agrobiodiversity (FAB) concepts in the sector. However, impediments to the adoption of FAB approaches still exist, mainly (i) translation of general knowledge to tailored, ready-to-use management practices, (ii) limited information on the effectiveness of FAB measures in terms of crop yield and quality, profitability, and reduction of agrochemical inputs, (iii) lack of appropriate financial accounting systems that allow fair accounting of the private investments and public benefits, and (iv) the implementation of FAB measures at the right spatial scales, which requires coordination among the various actors in a region. This paper explores the current and new legislation that may provide incentives to address these limitations. (via ELN-FAB Newsletter, April 2013)


Optimism emerges over European funding for African research facilities

Political momentum is growing in both Europe and Africa behind the idea that investment in research facilities is as important as investment in roads and schools for a country's development. This was the main conclusion to emerge from a two-day conference that took place as part of the meeting on EU Science: Global Challenges & Global Collaboration, which ended in Brussels early March 2013. Those attending the meeting agreed that research infrastructures should be a priority focus of bi-regional cooperation in science, technology and innovation between Africa and the EU. While it is essential for politicians to be able to demonstrate to their electorates the direct benefits to be drawn from investment in research infrastructure, it was emphasised that demand for investment in research facilities needed to come from African countries themselves. In addition, attenders stressed the need to ensure that spending on infrastructure is complemented by investment in 'human capacity development'. Additional comments on the conference: 'In Perspective: Focus cash on research infrastructure' (SciDev.Net, 11/03/2013) 


EU says more need to use science to cut fish quota

The WWF reported in December 2012 how EU nations have followed scientific advice in only 13% of their decisions on setting fisheries quotas over the last decade. The quotas EU nations set for their fisheries are on average 45% higher than the scientific recommendations. The consequences of this bad decision-making are depleted fish stocks. The EU is working on a wholesale reform of its policies to kick in during 2014, seeking to tackle the problem of discards and subsidies for boats, which can contribute to overfishing.   (, 14/12/2012)


Fostering breakthrough research: a comparative study

This comparative study of the research policy system of five countries, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland was commissioned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA). Worried that the international importance of Swedish research is declining, the KVA sought to understand the reasons and explore avenues to counteract the decline. Some reasons that were identified include: 1) the rapid increase in undergraduate education without adequate funding and the increasing separation of education from research; 2) the ongoing shift towards more strategic research and the increase in short-term external funding which has weakened the sector’s more challenging, investigator-driven basic research, which requires a longer-term view. The report recommended that the Swedish research universities take steps to improve conditions for research which a) give the universities more independence from government regulations and thus greater freedom; b) secure the universities’ long-term block funding for core, basic research; c) develop more efficient administration systems for operational sectors; undergraduate education, independent long-term academic research prioritized by the university, externally financed, targeted research and externally funded commercialization; d) establish internationally attractive research chairs and increase researchers’ national and international mobility and e) handle issues of intellectual property rights (IPR) more professionally.(KVA report via University World News, 16/12/2012)


The Paradoxes of Transparency: Science and the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management in Europe

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is the central scientific network within the massive set of bureaucracies that is responsible for Europe's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). While spending the past 25 years failing to sustain Europe's fish stocks, this management system also became adept at making the lives of its scientists miserable. Now it is being confronted by the complex challenge of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. If this combination of a multi-national bureaucracy, hard politics, and scientific uncertainty has made it impossible to maintain many individual fish stocks, how are decisions going to be made that consider everything from sea birds to climate change? The old political saw that ‘if you can't solve a problem, make it bigger’ has never been put to a test like this! Yet ICES has begun to rise in an impressive way to the scientific challenge of providing advice for an ecosystem approach within the world's most cumbersome fisheries management system. This book (PDF) lays out the results of extensive sociological research on ICES and the decision making systems into which it feeds. ICES is finding ways to provide effective advice in the many situations where scientific advice is needed but a clear, simple answer is out of reach. In spite of the difficulties, scientists are beginning to help the various parties concerned with management to deal with facts about nature in ways that are more useful and transparent.(Douglas C. Wilson, 2009)


More effective and efficient support of Learning and Innovation Networks for Sustainable Agriculture (LINSA)

The overall objective of this FP7 project is to identify effective and efficient approaches for the support of successful LINSA (Learning and Innovation Networks for Sustainable Agriculture) as drivers of transition towards Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) for sustainable agriculture and rural development. In order to achieve this objective the project will: Explore LINSAs empirically as bottom-up drivers of transition Improve understanding of barriers to complex learning processes and developing recommendations on how to avoid / remove them Create open learning spaces for actors outside the project by sharing and disseminating project findings Identify institutional determinants that enable or constrain existing AKS in supporting effective LINSA in the context of changing knowledge and innovation policies Develop a conceptual framework for innovation for sustainable agriculture and rural development. The study will be carried out in 3 fields: (i) consumer oriented networks, (ii) non-food oriented networks and (iii) purely agricultural networks or networks for sustainable land use. Strategic objectives of the projects are to contribute to more effective research-practice linkages in the complex innovation and value chains, and to a policy framework for innovation in agriculture.


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)


PURE 1st annual newsletter: Testing innovative crop protection systems

PURE, a project supported by the EU on integrated pest management, is compiling data on various crop protection systems across the EU. Its first annual newsletter, along with several publications, has been published and covers the subject of innovative IPM solutions related to wheat, maize, field vegetables, pomefruit and grapevine cropping systems. The webpage has a link to resources from the ENDURE project that assess major specific crop-pest problems.(PURE Newsletter, 27/8/2012)


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)


Research into mild preservation techniques for food products

These days, food can be kept a lot longer than in the past. But techniques such as pasteurisation and sterilisation also affect the quality of the products. The nutritional quality suffers, the product has less aroma and the flavour and smell of the food sometimes deteriorate. New, milder preservation techniques go a long way to preventing this loss of quality. Wageningen UR Food and Biobased Research have joined forces with a group of Dutch companies in the food industry to explore the application of these techniques.(Wageningen UR, 2/7/2012)


New project and call for evidence at EASAC: ‘Planting the future: opportunities and challenges for sustainable crop development’

EASAC – the European Academies Science Advisory Council – announced late July 2012 the new project to address genetics and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, covering science and technology in the context of EU food security and EU-global relationship. It is meant to explore the implications of alternative policy decisions on bioscience strategies in agriculture. One of the work streams is to collect evidence on the applications of molecular biosciences in agriculture in African countries.EASAC invites contributions of written evidence to this project, to be submitted by 30 September 2012.(EASAC, 24/7/2012)


Climate-smart agriculture: Possible roles of agricultural universities in a strengthened Norwegian climate change engagement in Africa

In addition to industrial emission control, Norwegian efforts to restrict climate change have focused on mitigation through forest protection (REDD+) and clean energy (Energy+). A third area of attention is climate-smart agriculture. Producing food in a more ‘climate smart’ way is seen as having three advantages: 1) Providing food for an increasing population, 2) maintaining food production under a changing climate, and 3) reducing greenhouse gas emission from agriculture while absorbing carbon in vegetation and soil. This report explores how Norway can support Africa’s efforts to make agriculture more climate-smart through support to African universities.(Via Eldis, 2012)


The CASCADE project: Making drylands more resilient by studying catastrophic shifts

Resilience of landscapes is sometimes stretched to a tipping point and adverse changes then follow quickly. At the moment, little is known about the connection between environmental stresses and catastrophic shifts. CASCADE will investigate a range of dryland ecosystems in southern Europe to study a range of physical and socio-economical drivers and obtain a better understanding of sudden shifts in drylands that may lead to major losses in biodiversity and concomitant ecosystem services. By focusing on vulnerable drylands as the target ecosystems, it builds further on existing knowledge regarding shifts in these ecosystems. CASCADE will improve our understanding of the biogeochemical mechanisms underlying sudden and catastrophic shifts, and of the key biotic and abiotic factors influencing these processes. The CASCADE approach will develop a common-ground participatory approach that will serve as the basis of the sustainable management of the ecosystems, the biodiversity within these ecosystems, and the services provided by the ecosystems.(via Wageningen University, 18/6/2012)


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