Knowledge for Development

Related developments

Coconuts used to capture carbon

The Maldives government has launched the project together with a UK-based company, Carbon Gold. The pilot project aims to produce biochar using bio-waste, including coconut shells, which are abundantly available in the archipelago. Biochar is produced through the “slow cooking” (pyrolysis) of plant wastes. The resulting black char is rich in carbon and can be mixed with soil as a fertiliser. President Mohamed Nasheed, who earlier announced a target of going carbon neutral by 2020, has welcomed the new partnership. ‘Biochar has a crucial role in helping us achieve carbon neutral status as well as providing an economic and environmental boost to our people,’ he said. (Source: BCC news, 3 September 2009)


Agricultural Innovations for Sub-Saharan Africa: Online survey

The Worldwatch Institute is collecting examples of agricultural innovations that farmers and others might consider using in sub-Saharan Africa. They are inviting input from farmers, agricultural scientists, government officials, and non-profit organizations. The goal is to draw attention to the sorts of innovations that may need additional financial or policy support. The findings will be shared with farmer organizations, development agencies, international funders, private foundations and agricultural research institutions, including the CGIAR centers and National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) centers throughout Africa. Many of these innovations will be featured in the 2011 edition of State of the World, Worldwatch's annual book. You can contribute by taking their online survey.


Mobile apparatus sees science go global

A mobile phone application will help professional and “citizen” scientists collect and analyse data from “in the field”, anywhere in the world. The EpiCollect software collates data from certain mobiles - on topics such as disease spread or the occurrence of rare species - in a web-based database. The data is statistically analysed and plotted on maps that are instantly available to those same phones. The approach is outlined in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. The software has been developed for so-called smartphones that run Google's Android open-source operating system. Researchers can report back to the EpiCollect database with results from experiments they do in the field, and “citizen scientists” can send back photos or videos of certain species from their own backyards. The phones’ GPS system automatically logs users’ locations, and the data is then plotted by location using Google Maps. Then anyone can access the database online, or from their phone. (Source: BBC News, 16 September 2009)


Benin farmers unite against effects of climate change

Farmers in Benin are implementing their own research findings to boost the soil fertility and moisture retention of their plots. The experiment is part of the project Strengthening the Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change in Rural Benin (PARBCC) - established in late 2007 - which aims to create a three-way conversation between farmers, meteorologists and the government, and help farmers make informed choices about when to sow and harvest crops. One of the long-term goals of the programme is to teach the farming community in Benin to mobilise itself to take action against the effects of climate change. Some 300 farmers are enrolled in sixty “field schools” across the country, working with researchers to help Beninese farmers cope with droughts, tropical storms and other hazards related to climate change. The project's aim is to develop, test and implement farming strategies suited to local conditions. These include mulching, planting pits, adopting integrated crop management and using organic fertilisers. (Source:, 13 October 2009)


Mobile phones fight disease and poverty – An interview with Whitney Gantt (ICT innovation technical officer at the Grameen Foundation)

At the beginning of this year, three different banana diseases were attacking East Africa, devastating farms around the region and exacerbating the prevailing food crisis. To help prevent the spread of such diseases, it is vital that smallholder farmers have access to comprehensive information about crop conditions in the region. As it is, such information is often incomplete or unavailable. The agricultural challenges in Uganda are numerous, but the country’s agricultural scientists now have the potential to confront some of the obstacles that smallholder farmers are facing. An AGCommons Quick Win Project (Community Level Crop Disease Surveillance), which was part of the much larger Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) Project being implemented by the Grameen Foundation, has played a small but valuable role in testing a mobile crop monitoring system that will ultimately allow research institutions to target data collection and interact directly with smallholder farmers in the field. AGCommons spoke with Whitney Gantt, an ICT Innovation Technical Program Officer with the Grameen Foundation and the leader of the recently-completed Quick Win Project. (Source: AGCommons, November 2009)


Cheaper catalyst to make hydrogen fuel from sunlight

Solar panels coated with a newly-developed and inexpensive metal catalyst could become a cheap source of solar energy for the developing world, according to a study. Two years ago, scientists achieved a major breakthrough, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight and a cobalt catalyst. They found a way to efficiently store the sun's energy as fuel. Now, researchers have used a cheaper nickel-borate catalyst that could be used instead of cobalt to make inexpensive and efficient solar power storage – ‘the “fast food” equivalent of energy systems’, said the team, which published its research last week (10 May) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Source:, 17 May 2010)


Cassava: Rooting out hunger in Africa -- and making Darwin proud

Scientists in Nigeria and six other African nations are experimenting with a fast-yielding, disease-resistant species of cassava. The results so far are glowing: the new plants stand taller, and appear stronger and more vibrant. When their tubers are pulled from the ground, they resemble fat, oversized fingers. The cassava stems are not genetically-modified. They were obtained through a conventional process of breeding and selection over more than a decade. Researchers at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria, are distributing the stems to local farmers free of charge. They hope to get the improved cassava into 75,000 farms by the end of the year to increase yields in seven selected Nigerian states. The first results have been promising, scientists and farmers say. The project is financed by USAID and targets about 400,000 farmers in seven African nations: Sierra Leone, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Nigeria. (Source: The East African (newspaper), 16 September 2010)


In drought-prone Sahel, scientists roll out innovative system for producing vegetables

Dov Pasternak, an agricultural scientist with the Niger hub of the India-based ICRISAT, announced new progress in disseminating an innovative system for irrigated vegetable production called the ‘African Market Garden’. Speaking at the African Green Revolution Forum that took place 2-4 september 2010 in Accra Ghana, Pasternak explained that ‘the “African Market Garden” combines efficient drip irrigation to save water, energy and labor with improved crop management to boost farmers' vegetable yields and economic returns.’ The centrepiece of the new system is a, low-pressure drip irrigation unit, which is installed in a field that comprises clusters measuring 500 square meters. The African Market Garden drastically reduces one of the main limitations of traditional vegetable growing - its excessive labor and energy requirements. In addition to the reduced drudgery for women and lower production costs, the system of community market gardening makes the new system more accessible to farmers by better enabling them to manage the set-up costs. (Source: Sciencedaily, 5 September 2010)


Intelligent irrigation saves water and fertiliser without reducing yield or quality

Results of the European FLOW-AID project coordinated by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture in the Netherlands, show that sensors and decision-support software can help horticultural growers worldwide to reduce their water consumption by 60 percent and use 30 percent less fertiliser without sacrificing yield and quality. The project brought together scientists and developers from industry from eight countries. The FLOW-AID research results have been discussed during the international Horti Fair in Amsterdam in October 2010. (Source:, 15 October 2010)


Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty in West Africa - IIED publication

Michel Pimbert, Boukary Barry, Anne Berson and Khanh Tran-Thanh, 2010. Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty in West Africa. IIED, CNOP, Centre Djoliba, IRPAD, Kene Conseils, URTEL, Bamako and London.In West Africa the agricultural research system is dependent on external funding and is externally oriented, which tends to make it detrimental to family farming. The products of agricultural research increasingly rely on the use of imported fertilisers and pesticides, and the use of traditional seeds and organic manure is declining. This approach increases farmers’ dependence on the system, and on external inputs, and increases their likelihood of becoming indebted. Cultivable land is being degraded by the use of chemical products and poor agricultural practices. Farmers and other food producers are beginning to raise their voices to ensure that agricultural research better meets their needs.(Source: IIED, October 2010)


Crop Advances Depend On Deciphering Data

James Carrington, incoming president of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, USA, said in an interview that technology has greatly accelerated the available knowledge of plant genetics, and that researchers now face the challenge of sifting through and applying it to improve yields. Computer technology has created a mountain of data on plants, but researchers still understand ‘relatively little’ about how crops work, noted Carrington. ‘We don’t yet have the knowledge to understand what these genome sequences mean,’ he added. Now that the capacity to generate massive sets of data is readily available through modern computers, these datasets have to be mined so as to acquire information and knowledge on how crops can be made more productive. (Source: Danforth Plant Science Centre, 12 November 2010)


India unveils coastal saline crop initiative

A pilot project to see if cash crops can be grown in the salty ground of India's coastal areas has been launched. Dr Selvam - who works for the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, which runs the project - said the aim was to see whether sea water could be considered a social resource, and if so in what way it could be used to increase food production. The project area will house dozens of species of halophytes - or salt-loving plants - that can be used for producing cash crops. Halophytes can be used to produce edible oils, medicines, vegetables, and cattle and fish feed. Saline water plants can also be used to produce fine chemicals, biofuels and even building materials. Field studies conducted in the US and East Africa have suggested that halophytes such as sea asparagus can be grown as commercial crops. Backers of the scheme say it could transform agricultural production in coastal areas which are becoming increasingly saline not only in India but in other parts of the world as well.(Source: BBC, 11 January 2011)


CABI Special focus on the "Plantwise Initiative"

Plantwise” is a collaborative project, led by the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI, UK), that will combine self-sustaining networks of free, community-based ‘plant clinics’ with a central Plantwise Knowledge Bank, creating a global vigilance system that will help prepare farmers to fight the pests and diseases that can ravage their crops.The project received funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to support the training of plant doctors and establishing hundreds of clinics in 40 countries over the next five years: the programme is to deliver a wide range of agricultural advice and services, and strengthen local and regional plant health networks. The plant clinics will follow the model already established by CABI in fifteen countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The clinics advise farmers on all aspects of plant health in the way a doctor does for humans. They are run by local technical people, known as plant doctors, who set up the clinics in rural marketplaces or other places where farmers congregate. Farmers drop by with samples of their plants to get the problem identified and to learn what to do about it. Studies of clinics in Bangladesh and Bolivia have shown that, as a result of the clinics, farmers have increased crop yields and spent less money on inappropriate or excessive use of pesticides, increasing their average household income and improving livelihoods. The plant clinics will operate in conjunction with the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, a prototype of which is due to launch in mid- 2011. (Source: CABI, April 2011)


Solar power for crop irrigation

For fruits, cereals and leguminous plants such as oranges, wheat, beans and olives to grow in hot and dry climates, they must be irrigated regularly. And very often the water used comes from deep wells. In Egypt, many farmers currently use diesel generators to water their fields. A model project in Upper Egypt shows that other methods are possible. Here, a photovoltaic stand-alone system takes care of irrigating a wheat field. Concentrator photovoltaic system (CPV) modules – which, due to their higher degree of effectiveness and their particular construction, require far less space than traditional PV modules – supply the energy, while Fresnel lenses concentrate the rays of the sun onto pinhead-sized multi-junction solar cells. With the aid of a tracking motor, the CPV cells, which are attached to a pillar, follow the sun precisely to achieve an optimized yield of solar light. They supply the energy for a submersible pump that pumps the water up from a well that is 105 feet deep and for a small desalination unit that satisfies farmers’ potable water requirements. The CPV cells also supply the energy for PV-module trackers, the monitoring and control system and an air-conditioning unit that cools the utility room of the facility.(Frauenhofer-Gesellschaft via AlphaGalileo, 2/8/2011)


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)


Innovative fish trap design reduces by-catch

A WCS (World Conservation Society ) marine project to reduce by-catch in Kenya and Curacao through a low-cost, low-tech fish trap design has won top honour in a contest sponsored by Rare, in partnership with National Geographic.The contest, ‘Solution Search: Turning the Tide for Coastal Fisheries’, promotes fish traps with rectangular gaps that permit small, juvenile fish to escape. The wining project entitled ‘Bycatch Escape Gaps for Fish Traps’, reduces by-catch by 80 percent. It offers coastal fishers a low-cost, low-tech means of maintaining sustainable fisheries in coastal East Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions using traditional fish traps. Solutions submitted for the contest included the implementation of no-take zones, introduction of innovative fishing gear and the development of alternative livelihoods.(WCS via Mongabay, 11/01/2011)


Integrated pest management means more profit for cabbage farmers in Fiji and Samoa

Cabbage farmers in the Sigatoka Valley, in Suma, Fiji, have seen their incomes increase by 20–30% since adopting integrated pest management (IPM) farming techniques. The farmers are part of an IMP project promoting effective and environmentally friendly approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. The project, which started in 2006 in both Fiji and Samoa will conclude in 2012. The project will extend to other vegetables and be replicated in Tonga, Solomon Islands and Kiribati, as well as Fiji and Samoa. (SPC, 10/01/2012)


Improved indigenous vegetable seeds boost household incomes, nutrition

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), the Centre for Biosciences International (CABI) and the Kenya Seed Company launched in 2009 the following project: ‘Scaling up farmer-led seed enterprises for sustained productivity and livelihoods in Eastern and Central Africa’. This note is an overview of the project and of the initial results. The project provided training to farmers on minimal use of pesticides, harvesting, seed extraction, and seed marketing. The outcome of this effort was a seed yield increase by about 60% to 70% for the farmers that participated in the training. (ASARECA, 17/01/2012)


Enhancing pro-poor innovations in natural resources and agricultural value chains (EPINAV)

The 4-year 72 million programme ‘Enhancing Pro-poor Innovations in Natural Resources and Agricultural Value-chains’ (EPINAV), is a successor to the Programme for Agricultural and Natural Resources Transformation for Improved Livelihood (PANTIL) which emphasized scaling up proven technologies. Activities funded include programme coordination, impact assessment, student training, exchange programmes and institutional compensation for involvement of researchers. It is coordinated by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Sokoine University is one of the partner institutions. The focus is on Tanzania, where agriculture, including forestry, livestock and fisheries remain the main source of livelihoods for more than 80% of its population. Research will focus on innovation systems and climate change adaptation in agriculture and natural resources as well as policy and good governance. The research projects and project overview can be accessed on the link provided.


New coconut press technology adopted in the Pacific

International markets for virgin coconut oil have expanded rapidly over the past decade. Solomon Island business owner Dr Dan Etherington in collaboration with Australia’s CSIRO and colleagues from the Australian National University (ANU), developed an all-weather cottage industry technology for countries in the Pacific region that produces coconut oil of ‘remarkable’ quality. A March 2012 training workshop introduced coconut oil producers to ‘organic agriculture’ certification and quality control process based on the principles of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP). (Crawford Fund, 03/2012)