Knowledge for Development

Related developments

Cucumber genome published: guide to pumpkin, melon and plant vascular system

The genome of the cucumber has been sequenced by an international consortium lead by Chinese and U.S. institutions. The annotated genome was published online November 1st by the journal Nature Genetics. The cucumber genome will give insight into the genetics of the whole cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins and squash, melon and watermelon, and be a platform for research in plant biology, said William Lucas, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Biology at the University of California, Davis. Lucas helped with the development and management of the project. "This is going to help a large community -- we can now go ten times faster than we could before," Lucas said. Lucas studies the vascular transport systems, phloem and xylem, that plants use to move nutrients, minerals and signalling molecules throughout the body of the plant. Pumpkins and cucumber are model plants for studying vascular transport, because their vascular system is large and easy to access. (Source: Daily Science, 3 November 2009)


Natural Dyes from Caribbean Medicinal Plants

This research activity is part of the 'Mood Indigo Caribbean - Dyeing for the Blues' project that is being conducted by Dr Sonia Peter, head of the Department of Chemistry, at the Barbados Community College in collaboration with the Barbados Fashion Alliance and funded by the UNDP. Selected plant species will be investigated for natural dye sources. The dyes will be subjected to a variety of analytical methods for chemical profiling and efficacy. As Indigo was once of economic significance to the island during the colonial period, the project aims to revive the interest in indigo within the local fashion industry. In addition, extracts from other indigenous plant species used in traditional medicine will be subjected to analytical investigation including chromatography and spectroscopy for suitability as sources. Novel agents will be explored for the indigo fermentation process and as aggregator for the dyeing process. All fabrics will be of natural fibres with a focus on Sea Island Cotton, which is known to be of high quality. Toxicity testing of the natural dyes developed is also planned. This is in an effort to green the sector of the local fashion industry that is involved in textile manufacture. (Source:, 28 January 2011)


Jute Mallow: A plant with many names and many uses

Researchers at Kenya University Botanic Garden are trying to re-establish jute mallow and similar vegetables as staples in the African diet. Jute mallow is a nutritious leafy vegetable with a long history and a variety of names (originating from Egypt, it is also called ‘Egyptian spinach’). The leaves are very nutritious, rich in iron, protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and dietary fiber. When cooked, the leaves exude a slimy jelly which many liken to the texture of okra, prompting the name ‘Bush okra’. The vegetable has almost as many varieties as it does names (more than 15 in total). The most widely cultivated species is Corchorus olitorius, but all of the varieties are all edible and widely cultivated. The jute mallow is harvestable three to four weeks after planting, can be re-harvested three or four times a season, and doesn’t require artificial fertilizer. Farmers can harvest six to ten tons per hectare and jute mallow can be planted in rotation with other crops, resulting in healthier plants that are more resistant to damage by pests. Unfortunately, despite these benefits, jute mallow has largely gone ignored by researchers, leading to a lack of quality seed, as well as indigenous knowledge about cultivation practices.(Source: Worldwatch Institute blog, 12 Mar. 2011)


Global honey bee colony disorder and other threats to insect pollinators

Global honey bee colony disorder and other threats to insect pollinatorsBy UNEP Division of Early Warning Assessment, 2010.This bulletin published by UNEP considers the latest scientific findings and analyses possible answers to the threats faced by insect pollinators. It asks the question: Has a ‘pollinator crisis’ really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline? As the bee group is the most important pollinator worldwide, this bulletin focuses on the instability of wild and managed bee populations, the driving forces, potential mitigating measures and recommendations. Currently available global data and knowledge on the decline of pollinators are not sufficiently conclusive to demonstrate that there is a worldwide pollinator and related crop production crisis. Data indicate that global agriculture has become increasingly pollinator dependant over the last 50 years and pollination is not just a free service but one that requires investment and stewardship to protect and sustain it.


Spicing up Jamaica's exports

Farmers in Jamaica have started to grow turmeric on test plots around the country with the help of the ministry of agriculture's export division. The plant grows wild in Jamaica, especially in western parishes, but this is the first time a concerted effort has been made to cultivate it for the US$ 133 million export market. Tests show that Jamaican turmeric contains at least 4 % curcumin, the chemical that gives the spice its yellow colour (the market-leading Indian turmeric is at 5 %). Turmeric is mainly used for colouring and mixed with other spices to make curry powder. Curcuma is a powerful antioxidant. (Jamaica Observer, 28/9/2011)


Prices of pollination-dependent produce to rise in the long term

In an article entitled ‘Spatial and temporal trends of global pollination benefit’, a German research team shows in which regions of the world pollination in agriculture plays an important role. Sixty major crops were taken into account in the study, enabling the research team to map the dependence of agricultural yields upon pollination worldwide. The results of the spatial analysis provide important information for nature conservation practice and political decisions. It would help design appropriate recommendations for regional agricultural policy protecting and valuing this essential ecosystem service. (UFZ via AlphaGalileo, 27/04/2012)


New avocado rootstocks are high-performing and disease-tolerant

Avocado, a significant fruit crop grown in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world, is threatened by Phytophthora root rot (PRR), a disease that has already eliminated commercial avocado production in many areas in Latin America and crippled production in Australia and South Africa. Research on developing PRR-tolerant rootstocks to manage the disease has been a major focus of avocado research at the University of California, Riverside. Now, a research team has released three rootstocks, available for commercial propagation by nurseries, showing superior tolerance to PRR. The research, to appear in the journal HortScience, describes the three avocado root-rot-tolerant varieties: Zentmyer, Steddom, and Uzi.(Physorg, 27/04/2012)


Samoan breadfruit makes a splash in the Caribbean

IPS reports on an effort by nonprofits and NGOs aimed at introducing the Samoan breadfruit variety to the Caribbean. Breadfruit, a staple in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years, has been popular in the Caribbean for over 200 years. What’s different about the trees being introduced this time around is that they are a Samoan variety called Ma’afala, previously unknown in this part of the world. Ma’afala was selected as optimal for mass propagation and distribution because it has the highest protein and mineral nutrition (iron, potassium, zinc) of 94 varieties studied, and is widely considered one of the tastiest of varieties. All the Ma’afala grown and distributed in the Caribbean today originates from the collection at the Breadfruit Institute, part of the Hawaii-based National Tropical Botanical Garden. (IPS, 7/6/2012)


The Plant List

The Plant List is a working list of all known plant species. Version 1 aims to be comprehensive for species of Vascular plant (flowering plants, conifers, ferns and their allies) and of Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). Collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden enabled the creation of The Plant List by combining multiple checklist data sets held by these institutions and other collaborators. The Plant List provides the Accepted Latin name for most species, with links to all Synonyms by which that species has been known. It also includes Unresolved names for which the contributing data sources did not contain sufficient evidence to decide whether they were Accepted or Synonyms.


Africanised bees make Trinidad and Tobago’s honey so sweet

An article explaining how Africanised bees enabled the revival of Trinidad and Tobago’s honey production. Africanised bees which many feared would have destroyed the country's beekeeping industry (because they colonized the island and overtook the European bees’ habitat) have instead helped put Trinidad and Tobago on the map as having the best honey in the world. Trinidad’s honey is regarded as being of very high quality, having won the top prize in two international competitions. Early 2001, the industry lost its impetus when new European Union regulations stipulated that honey must be tested in laboratories before it enters the European market. Numerous petitions were made to set up laboratories so that Trinidad and Tobago could again sell its prized honey in international markets. Presently the demand for honey is greater than the supply, and the local industry churns out an estimated three tonnes of honey every season. But to stimulate honey production so that the growing demands for honey are met, the Trinidad and Tobago Beekeepers Association have asked the ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs for access to forested areas to set up apiaries.(Source: Trinidad Express, 27 October 2010.)


Aizen: The Sahel’s Number One Famine Food

This article on the Nourishing the Planet blog describes planting native, food-producing, and drought-resistant trees and shrubs in and around crop fields to improve soil fertility and moisture and reduce erosion, including aizen (Boscia senegalensis) an edible species that has the potential to make conditions more bearable in the Sahel.


Biopesticides and their role in modern pest management in West Africa

The West African regional workshop on biopesticides was held in Ghana, March 2012 to mark the first successful registration of commercial environmentally friendly biological pesticides in the country. The workshop marked the culmination of a long-term research initiative by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, UK and collaborators that develops and promotes the use of new safe effective biological pesticides in West Africa. Pest control in Africa has so far depended upon the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. However, fears concerning the affect on workers' health, increased pest resistance and the negative environmental impact of these chemicals has led to the development of safer, more environmentally acceptable and cost effective biological control alternatives. Read about this issue on NRI’s website. (NRI; 13/4/2012)


Africa crop tool launched: Interactive 43-nation guide on what to plant, when and where

FAO has launched a quick reference calendar covering 43 major African countries that advises which crops to plant when, according to the type of agricultural zone from drylands to highlands. The web-based tool, developed by FAO experts, covers more than 130 crops from beans to beetroot to wheat to watermelon. It is aimed at all donors, agencies, government extension workers and non-governmental organizations working with farmers on the continent. There are 283 agro-ecological zones covered in the calendar, representing the vast richness and variety of the African ecology as well as challenges of land degradation, sand encroachment and floods.(Source : FAO, 11 November 2010)


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)


Global action on pollination services for sustainable development

The Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture provides guidance to countries and relevant tools to use and conserve pollination services that sustain agro-ecosystem functions, and to formulate policies that will ensure sustainability of these ecosystem services. To this effect, the Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture addresses a range of issues – some examples include: knowledge management of pollination services; the preparation of profiles from around the world, for best practices for the management of pollination services; working with other institutions to overcome the taxonomic impediment to pollinator conservation and use; and exploring other issues such as pollinator diversity and abundance on farms as well as linkages to climate change.


Crop Wild Relatives and Climate Change

This resource is being developed by the project ‘Adapting agriculture to climate change: collecting, protecting and preparing crop wild relatives’. This Project is led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK, and is supported by the Government of Norway. It is being implemented through partnerships with national and international crop conservation and use programmes, universities and other research institutions, and in accordance with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Many individual scientists, herbaria, genebanks and specialist institutes are contributing advice and information to the Project and this website. The Project aims to collect the wild relatives of 26 key crops, conserve them in genebanks, and prepare them for use in plant breeding programmes in time to breed new crop varieties adapted to new climates.


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)


Online GIS platform to provide data on Ghana's agricultural sector

The new online GIS platform aims to provide agricultural related spatial datasets in a user friendly platform and offers data for six commodity value chains: Mango, Citrus, Maize, Rice, Soybean and Cashew. The platform also provides agricultural commodity prices, crop production, agricultural imports and exports figures and Ghana's agricultural budget and in this way the platform pulls together factual data, statistical data and interactive maps. While most data are free, there is a fee for premium datasets.  (FAO AIMS and Ghana Business News, 4/04/2013) 


Global project launched to tackle invasive pests of tomato and other fruits

A new project has been launched to promote the development of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for the sustainable control of the leaf miner Tuta absoluta and the spotted wing fly Drosophila suzukii, invasive pests of tomato and fruit crops respectively. Called Ameliorating the Sustainable Control of Invasive Insects (ASCII) ENDURE initiated and supported the project through its mobility programme and cooperation with partners outside Europe initiatives.(ENDURE, 03/06/2013)


New generation of natural food colourings are replacing traditional synthetic colours

At the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), speakers described how natural colours used centuries ago are making a  resurgence in response to consumer preferences, manufacturers' needs and the promise that these antioxidant-rich substances may have health benefits. The  natural colours industry for foods and beverages is gaining in value and one major change is the appearance of root crops like black carrots and purple sweet  potatoes, which are grown specifically for the this growing industry. These undervalued and underutilised (until now) crops have become primary agricultural products,  compared to fruits such as grapes, which are grown for other purposes and used as secondary colours.    (EurekAlert, 08/09/2013)