Monthly Archives: March 2015

Evergreen, Nipa and ‘push-pull’ presented at global innovations forum 2015


Agriculture as practiced in most parts of the world today will simply not feed a human population of 9 billion by 2050. Innovation in food production is needed, and it needs to be adopted on a wide scale.

Indeed, the purpose of the ongoing Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) 2015 has been to bring together global leaders, policy makers, researchers, manufacturers and community leaders to showcase and discuss the best agricultural innovations.The high-profile event was opened with keynote speeches by HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nayan of the United Arab Emirates, HRH King George Rukidi IV of Toro, Uganda, HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales,  and US Vice President John Kerry.

The agricultural innovations needed will necessarily raise productivity and water-use efficiency of crops, while protecting the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming.

At a GFIA Innovators Session on agroforestry, organized by Dr Dennis Garrity, Senior Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), several such innovations were presented. These low-cost and highly effective innovations promise higher crop yields, healthier soils and higher incomes for farmers, particularly the poorest smallholders in the developing world. The innovations also contribute to climate resilience for people and the planet.

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Green entrepreneurship: Empowering farmers for sustainable future


MWAZIPEZA CHANDA, Lusaka TRADITIONAL knowledge can help turn the tide against deforestation and poverty in Chongwe as more farmers become environmentally conscious and turn to ‘green farming’. Most communities in Chongwe’s farming area are experiencing low crop yields due to decreased soil fertility and unpredictable rain patterns over the years.
Rampant tree cutting has caused deforestation that has also seen dams and streams dry up, but farmers are now being advised to turn to their ancestors to once again see their crops thrive and their homesteads flourish. Through the Green Entrepreneurship project, an international non-governmental organisation, HIVOS, has established a training and empowerment programme to assist farmers undertake a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to farming.
“We want to move farmers from worrying about their crops to using tested and proven technologies that will assure them of an income,” HIVOS project manager Wesley Wakung’uma says.
The initiative is being undertaken in partnership with Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, the Dairy Association of Zambia and Micro Bankers Trust. Mr Wakung’uma says that through the Chongwe Green Society initiative, it is hoped that more farmers will take up sustainable farming to improve their productivity and incomes. The main idea behind the scheme is to encourage farmers using their available resources and proven practices to ensure better harvests while protecting their environment and ensuring the well-being of future generations.

Most farmers in Zambia concentrate on mono-cropping, usually of maize, but poor yields and delayed payments have forced many rural Chongwe inhabitants to turn to charcoal burning and trading to make ends meet. This has left a trail of destruction as erosion and desertification is taking hold leading to a perpetual cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.

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‘Climate-smart agriculture’ vital, researchers pontificate

AGRICULTURE across Africa must undergo a significant transformation to meet the multiple challenges of climate change, food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and environmental degradation,a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future has said.

According to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the envisaged transformation includes the adoption of ‘Climate-Smart Agriculture’ (CSA) which has been identified as a suitable way of addressing pressing environmental and developmental challenges facing the African continent.

Climate-smart agriculture is the result of practices and technologies that sustainably increase productivity, support farmers’ adaptation to climate change – and, where possible, reduce levels of greenhouse gases.

At the local level, climate-smart agriculture shields farmers from the adverse effects of climate change. It improves farm yields and household incomes, leading to stronger and more resilient communities.

Atthe national level, it helps deliver food security and development goals, while reducing emissions.

“CSA can also help governments to achieve national food security and poverty reduction goals,” said CGIAR during the World Environment Day commemorated on Tuesday this week.

In Africa, CGIAR says, a number of CSA practices have already been trialed and adopted through projects initiated by a assorted partnerships.

They include the East African Dairy Development project implemented by Heifer International in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Techno-Serve; World Agro-forestry Centre (ICRAF); African Breeders Service Total Cattle Management, and farmers.

Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa is coordinated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Others are Conservation Agriculture in Malawi and Zimbabwe, and the Africa Risk Insurance Mechanism.

These initiatives (and many others), says CGIAR, have yielded important lessons, and are transforming Africa’s agriculture into a more sustainable and profitable sector.

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Bean breakthrough bodes well for climate change challenge


Scientists are hailing a new breed of bean seed as a breakthrough, thanks to its ability to grow amid rising temperatures and yield more nutritional value, qualities they believe can thwart the anticipated destruction of nearly half of all bean production.

The new seed was launched on Wednesday by scientists from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. As well as being more resilient to heat, the bean has a higher iron content.

About 400 million people rely on beans for subsistence, according to CGIAR. But by 2050 nearly half of the world’s bean production could be wiped out by rising temperatures if new seed varieties are not rolled out immediately.

“Beans are not very well adapted to high temperatures because they originated in the cool hills and mountains of central America, Mexico and South America. So pushing them down into the warmer areas has always been a challenge,” said Steve Beebe, a researcher at CGIAR, based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia.

In 2012, CGIAR researchers began to test more than 1,000 types of beans in a bid to find “heat beater” beans able to grow amid high temperatures and drought. Scientists cultivated test plots on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and in greenhouses, before eventually discovering 30 heat-tolerant bean types that can withstand a 4C increase in temperature. CGIAR said it used natural breeding to discover the seed.

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The ‘unlikely hero’ that transforms lands and livelihoods in Uganda


Poor soils make people poor. The people living in the area that borders Lake Victoria in Uganda know this for a fact: They have seen maize yields on their small plots of land dwindle, as they can often not afford the fertilizer the nitrogen-hungry crop requires to grow strong. Income and nutrition levels drop. The community faces a struggle to escape from poverty.

Yet a Humidtropics intervention led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture that takes an integrated approach to tackling the triple challenge of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation all at once has offered hope, by turning to an unlikely hero: soybean. With the help of partners such as the national research organizations of Uganda, development partners such as World Vision and Bioversity International and with help from the local government the humble soybean has helped to transform lands and livelihoods.

As a legume, soybean naturally fixes nitrogen to soil, a nutrient sorely needed in the degraded lands of this region. This leaves the land capable of nourishing maize crops planted either at a later date or alongside the soybean. During a trial period in the Kiboga district, soybean yields were abundant, but this presented new challenges. Farmers did not know how to process this new crop, and as demand for soybean seed increased, so did the challenge for farmers to access quality seeds, since the local market is poorly developed.

To combat this, Humidtropics researchers enlisted the help of both the public, and the private sector. In September 2014, Makarere University taught local groups how to multiply quality seeds and how to utilize soybean in the household.

One man who participated in this training, Majid, is a school headmaster. After what he learned about the uses and nutritional quality of soybean, he decided to include soy in the maize porridge the children at his school were served at breaktime and lunch. Local government learned about the lessons and brought the headteachers of district schools together to make it a practice adopted across the region. This strategy is now being adopted in schools across the area to improve the nutrition levels of children and subsequently their performance at school.

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Where the wild vegetables are: Moroccan food from the forest


Winter has arrived in Morocco. From December to March, there is a lot of rain (more than the rest of the year) – and widespread availability of wild vegetables. Although wild foods, especially wild vegetables, have held an important place in Moroccan culinary practice for generations, up until recently, they have been largely overlooked by research and policy initiatives. But, two recent publications have changed this. In one recent publication, Nassif and Tanji, reported almost 80 species of edible vegetables in Morocco.

A study  published by CIFOR last April showed that in a community in the Rif Mountains, 84 percent of households had used wild vegetables in the last seven days and wild vegetables were eaten up to four times a week. This work suggests that rural Moroccan communities are using their agricultural landscapes in diverse ways. Wild vegetables are collected from fields, field margins, roadsides and streambeds: diversity within the landscape ensures local communities have access to more than just staple crops.

The study also looked at the geographic distribution of knowledge and use of wild leafy greens across three sites in Morocco and found significant variation, not only between regions, but also between villages in the same region. For example, in the north, Calendula arvensis and Erodium moschatum are regularly consumed, while women in the High Atlas Mountains to the south say these species are not eaten, even though they grow there as well.

In the north, women in one village call the genus Calendula “Karn kebsha,” while in a village only 40 kilometers away, it is called “Mesk azara.” There was a greater overlap in the knowledge of wild vegetables among villages that use the same market. We think that this is because markets act as a site where knowledge is transmitted and a place where social and cultural values, tastes and dietary habits are shaped. We conclude that markets could have an important role in preserving the diversity of rural agricultural systems and landscapes in Morocco.

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