Knowledge for Development

S&T Organisations / Web resources

New centre to boost knowledge on underutilised crops

An international body for gathering and promoting knowledge about underused crops is to be established in Malaysia. Crops for the Future will encourage investment and research into neglected and underused plant species — such as Africa's baobab and marula trees — for the benefit of the poor and the environment (Source: Brendan O'Malley, SciDev, 26 November 2008).


African Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre (ABCIC)

ABCIC was established in 2010 as a non-profit regional organization enhancing the conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity for posterity, environmental preservation and sustenance of livelihoods for the African rural communities. ABCIC primarily focuses on agrobiodiversity and adopts an integrated approach that carefully balances conservation imperatives with the sustainable use through facilitating and promoting production, product development and enhancing marketing of biodiversity products through a value chain approach. ABCIC bridges the gap between international agricultural and biodiversity research organizations and community level NGOs by blending good scientific principles and concepts with practical application of technologies at the community level using efficient and flexible style of work.


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)


Ecosystem services from agriculture and agroforestry: Measurement and payment

Reference: Bruno Rapidel, Fabrice DeClerck, Jean-François Le Coq and John Beer; Ecosystem services from agriculture and agroforestry: Measurement and payment; Earthscan Editions, 2011.A book about payments for the ecosystem services rendered by farming systems, presenting the methodological difficulties associated with the quantification and marketing of such services, and practical case studies. Farming systems are no longer assessed solely based on the food they supply, but also on their capacity to limit environmental impact, and their contribution to the attenuation of and adaptation to climate change. They have to internalize the costs and advantages of their impact on the environment. Payments for ecosystem services have to encourage and promote sustainable practices through financial incentives. The authors demonstrate that while this is simple in principle, it is much more complex in practice. The first two chapters present the methodological problems associated with the quantification and marketing of the ecosystem services rendered by agriculture, including agroforestry. The third and last part presents case studies of the implementation of payments for ecosystem services and trials in central Europe and South America. It draws some lessons from the sustainable, effective development of compensation mechanisms for environmental services rendered.


The Agroecological Knowledge Toolkit (AKT5)

The Agroecological Knowledge toolkit (AKT5) software was developed by the Bangor University (Wales, UK) in conjunction with the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University ( The Bangor University of Wales is a leading institution in the development of a knowledge-based systems methodology to acquire and use local knowledge in research and development. The AKT5 system is primarily concerned with gathering local ecological knowledge (LEK). Local ecological knowledge refers to what people know about their natural environment, based primarily on their own experience and observation.It was designed to provide an environment for knowledge acquisition in order to create knowledge bases from a range of sources. It The AKT5 allows representation of knowledge elicited from farmers and scientists or knowledge abstracted from written material. The use of formal knowledge representation procedures offers researchers the ability to evaluate and utilise the often complex, qualitative information relevant stakeholders have on agroecological practices.Visit:


Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry

This project promotes high quality food, fiber, and healthcare crops grown in diverse agroforestry systems to provide family farms both subsistence and commercial opportunities. Specialty crops provide a rapidly growing economic opportunity for farmers and gardeners who are interested in diversifying their crops and who are willing to innovate their production methods, post-harvest processing, and marketing. Farm and Forest Production and Marketing (FFPM) profiles for 32 crops detail essential information for crop development: horticulture and botany; the roles for each crop in mixed-species agroforestry; nutrition and food security; commercial products, product quality standards; location and size of markets; post-harvest processing; opportunities for local value-added processing; and the potential for genetic improvement.The project supports: integrating trees and crops (agroforestry) commercial and non-commercial plantings of all sizes, including homegardens small-scale commercial operations suitable for small lots local food production for happier and healthier communities traditional crops community food self-reliance. Project outcomes include increased adoption of specialty crops, micro-enterprise development, local food production, and sustainable multi-crop agroforestry systems, thereby supporting economic and ecological viability of our communities.



If agricultural development is to be successful and biodiversity is to be conserved, then accurate knowledge of the identity, geographic distribution and uses of plants is essential. Unfortunately, such basic information is often only partially available for professional stakeholders, teachers, scientists and citizens, and often incomplete for ecosystems that possess the highest plant diversity, i.e. Mediterranean and tropical regions.Pl@ntNet will contribute to filling this void by: Developing cutting-edge transdisciplinary research at the frontier between integrative botany and computational sciences, based on the use of large datasets, knowledge of and expertise in plant morphology, anatomy, agronomy, genetics, taxonomy, ecology, biogeography and practical uses. Providing free, web-based and easy-access software tools and methods for plant identification and the aggregation, management, sharing and utilization of potentially all kinds of plant-related data. Promoting citizen science as a powerful means to enrich databases with new information on plants and to meet the need for capacity building in agronomy, botany and ecology.


MAPFORGEN: An online atlas for the conservation of forest genetic resources

MAPFORGEN (Mapping Forest Genetic Resources) is a project to evaluate the conservation status of 100 socio-economically important woody species (trees, palms, shrubs and bamboos) from different eco-regions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The final product with all the gathered information will be a publicly available on-line Atlas with GIS-based threat, distribution and in situ conservation analyses. Additionally, with the help of experts the main risks faced by the prioritized species will be described and threatened populations and distribution of high-vulnerability areas identified. The information in this Atlas will not only increase the visibility of the conservation status of forest genetic resources native to Latin America and the Caribbean but will be a useful resource to support national and international forest and conservation programmes. It will also be the basis for further studies on the intra-specific level. MAPFORGEN is a joint initiative of Bioversity International and the Centro de Investigación Forestal of the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (CIFOR-INIA, Spain) in close collaboration with the Latin American Forest Genetic Resources Network (LAFORGEN).


Participatory research and on-farm management of agricultural biodiversity in Europe

Participatory research and on-farm management of agricultural biodiversity in EuropeBy Michel Pimpert, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), May 2011.Drawing on experience in Europe and the wider literature, this paper, by Michel Pimpert at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), offers some critical reflections on how–and under what conditions–the EU might support the development of innovative participatory approaches for the management of agricultural biodiversity in Europe. Recommendations are offered on how to address three challenges in particular: 1) Transforming knowledge and ways of knowing for the local adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity and resilience in the face of climate change and uncertainty; 2) Scaling up and institutionalising participatory research and innovation in plant breeding, varietal selection, and agroecological research; and 3) Policy reversals for the participatory management of agricultural biodiversity.Do not hesitate to discuss this new publications on our blog page about PARD.


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.


Global plant database set to promote biodiversity research and Earth-system sciences

The world's largest database on plants' functional properties, or traits, has been published. Scientists compiled three million traits for 69,000 out of the world's +/- 300,000 plant species. The achievement rests on a worldwide collaboration of scientists from 106 research institutions. The initiative, known as TRY, is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany and promises to become an essential tool for biodiversity research and Earth-system sciences. Plant traits – their morphological and physiological properties – determine how plants compete for resources, e.g. light, water, soil nutrients, and where and how fast they can grow. Ultimately they determine how plants influence ecosystem properties such as rates of nutrient cycling, water use and carbon dioxide uptake. A major bottleneck to modelling the effects of climate change at ecosystem and whole-earth scales has been a lack of trait data for sufficiently large numbers of species. The first release of the TRY database was published this week in the journal Global Change Biology. The availability of plant trait data in the unified global database promises to support a paradigm shift in Earth system sciences. Indeed, analyses of the TRY database demonstrate for the first time on a global scale that most of the observed trait variation is represented by differences among plant species. (Eurekalert, 1/07/2011)


Crops for the Future Research Centre

The Crops for the Future website provides a range of information on publications, courses, projects and news relating to underutilised indigenous crops.The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is to co-host the Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC) in partnership with the Government of Malaysia. The centre is specifically designed to evaluate underutilised crops from around the world. It is at the heart of an international effort to seek out which crops have the potential to be grown for human sustenance or on a commercial basis for food, pharmaceuticals or biomaterials in the climates of the future. With 18,000 indigenous species in its region and funding of nearly $40m from the Malaysian Government, CFFRC has been given the mandate to carry out research on a whole range of underutilised crops. Whilst the research centre may be completed over the next 18 months, CFFRC activities will start almost immediately using facilities already available at The University of Nottingham campuses in Malaysia and the UK. (via AlphaGalileo)


UNCCD May-June 2011 newsletter

The latest updates from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) focus on food security and agricultural resilience in dryland regions. This newsletter offers an analysis of the major policy shifts needed to combat food insecurity and desertification, in the wake of the G8 Summit vision statement on the matter. It also gives an account of the MERET programme, conducted jointly by the Ethiopian government and the UN World Food Programme, meant to improve resilience to drought through environmental rehabilitation. Of interest too is the interview of Allan Savory, founder of the Centre for Holistic Management and the Savory Institute, who sees biodiversity loss as the main cause of desertification and debunks common land management myths. He explains the scientific principles behind his holistic approach to desertification. Finally, the newsletter presents Qatar’s food security programme, meant to tackle chronic water scarcity and exploit arable land in dryland ecosystems to enable self-sufficency in food production.


New European research programme to define policy for the sustainable management of soil

A new research programme led by European research institutions with funding from the European Commission will help to define a policy for sustainable management of soils, with a view to adopting a legally binding Soil Framework Directive, such as exists for air and water. The Ecological Function and Biodiversity Indicators in European Soils (EcoFINDERS) programme, which launched in January 2011, brings together 22 institutional European research partners, including the University of Cambridge, to formulate how best to manage the health of soil. The goal of EcoFINDERS is to design and implement soil strategies aimed at ensuring the sustainable use of soils. (Univ. of Cambridge, 14/7/2011)


Learn Grow: a database on 24 000 edible plants

Tasmanian agricultural scientist, Bruce French, has spent 30 years on a voluntary mission to document information on the food plants of the world, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. French has established a plain English database approaching 25 000 edible plants. The database contains descriptions, countries and climatic zones of the plants’ origins, photos and drawings of entire plants and edible parts, and cooking methods. The database includes nutritional information on each plant. The information in the food plants database can be reproduced in a number of formats including CD, DVD, books and PowerPoint presentations.


Resources to track botanical literature on the Web

The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog posted a useful reminder to anyone looking online for scientific resources on ethnobotany and germplasm collection. The post has a link to a webpage maintained by the University of Kent listing a comprenhensive compilation of online databases, search engines, checklists, image galleries, etc., meant for students in ethnobotany. This page is an overview of where to find complete plant names, conservation status and uses, citations and references managers.For the germsplasm collector, also points to the Crop Genebank Knowledge Base and its page on 'Published sources of information on wild plant species' which is synthesis of new knowledge, procedures, best practices and references for collecting plant diversity. It explains how and where to check taxonomy/species name, digitized botanical literature and flora guides.(, 9/10/2012)


Measuring farmland biodiversity

A team of European and African researchers, hoping to fill the gap in information about the status and evolution of farmland biodiversity, recently invented and piloted a new toolbox, the 'BioBio indicator set', which measures 23 different instances of biodiversity across a variety of farm types and scales in Europe. Applications were also tested in Tunisia, Ukraine, and Uganda, where they proved a feasible starting point for adapting the toolbox to the agricultural context of different countries. In an agricultural context, biodiversity - genetic, species and habitat diversity- and its characteristics are particularly important, yet not much is known about farmland biodiversity and how it is sustained.     (Solutions,10/2013)