BrightWorld

Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom

DONORS TO AFRICAN AGRI RESEARCH COME ON FIRE October 5, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Magandang umaga! Good morning from Manila!

Africa seems to be the favorite destination today for aid funds from everywhere, most specially from European countries. We wonder whether this is Europe’s way of expiating its guilt over the European powers’ enslavement, plunder and colonization of Africa.

A recent issue concerning aid funds dovetails on agricultural research. While there are clear positive benefits to donated funds, there are gaps that must be addressed. This identification of a new problem is already a brightening news for the continent, as the problem can be addressed more squarely.

The news is contained below.

[Writ 05 October 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

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African agricultural research ‘neglected ‘ by donor policies

Christina Scott

24 September 2008 | EN

Flickr/MikeBlyth

[CAPE TOWN] A lack of emphasis on agricultural research in development policy over the last quarter of a century is one of the main reasons for the deterioration of African farming, according to a UN report released this month (15 September).

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Africa’s economic development also cites the small size of each country’s research stations, isolated researchers and high staff turnover as other factors that helped “prevent the attainment of a critical mass of scientific and technical staff”.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa there are problems with agricultural research, which determines the rate of technological change,” Sam Gayi, lead researcher of the report told SciDev.Net.

As a result, except for maize and more recently cassava, “most of Sub-Saharan Africa has no immediately applicable crop technology that might, with adequate price incentives, substantially increase the profitability of investments in agriculture,” the report concludes.

“Only a quarter of the total crop area of Sub-Saharan Africa is planted with modern crop varieties,” says Gayi.

Credit provision for farmers, as well as investment in infrastructure and research, were abandoned by donor-dictated development policies in many parts of Africa, with long-lasting detrimental effects, the report says.

The authors also criticise many state agricultural budgets for being skewed towards administrative costs rather than research.

They say gaps in communicating research and policy developments, combined with shortages of credit — particularly the dissolution of marketing boards that often gave cash advances to small-scale farmers — have made it more difficult for improved government policies to be translated into improved yields in the fields.

The report singles out Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and South Africa as countries that have managed to improve their agricultural exports. Côte d’Ivoire continues to benefit from “huge investments”, including government funds for research, made in the 1960s in a diverse range of crops.

The authors also say that restrictive standards on exports are placing a burden on African nations, who struggle to meet them.

“Several African countries do not have the technical capacity or resources to comply with the required standards,” says Hezron Nyangito, former director of the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) and newly-appointed deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.

KIPPRA research suggests that Kenyan farmers would have to increase agricultural spending tenfold and Uganda would need to spend about US$300 million to upgrade its honey-processing plants to comply with European Union standards.

 

SCREENING CROPS FOR CLIMATE TRAITS October 3, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Good morning!

 

Adapting food to climate change has been among the raging challenges of the times. This challenge is now being met head on by screening some specific crops for that purpose.

 

See the good news below.

 

[Writ 03 October 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.

 

 

 

World’s crops to be screened for climate traits

Katherine Nightingale

22 September 2008 | EN | 中文

A taro plantation. Crops will be screened for adaptable traits to climate change.

Flickr\Richard sihamau

An international foundation is funding a drive to screen thousands of crops for traits that will be useful in adapting food production to climate change.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing around US$300,000 of funding this year for researchers in 21 agricultural institutions in 15 countries across the developing world. Around US$200,000 will be spent next year with a continued commitment in the long term.

Crops from banana to sweet potato will be screened to identify material that plant breeders can use to produce varieties adapted to conditions associated with climate change.

Crop diversity is the biological foundation of agriculture, says Cary Fowler, executive director of the trust.

“Without it agriculture cannot adapt to anything: pests, disease, climate change, drought, energy constraints … nothing. With crop diversity we can have an agricultural system that — if we’re smart — is sustainable and productive, can feed people and fuel development.”

Researchers will screen the crops by growing them in different stress conditions — such as high salinity or high temperature — and assessing how well they grow.

Varieties with positive traits will be put into an open access database, says Fowler.

Some will also be entered into a ‘pre-breeding’ programme. Integrating one or two genes from an old or wild variety into a modern variety is costly and difficult, says Fowler, and pre-breeding produces early-stage, new varieties with the desired traits, so that plant breeders can get a ‘head start’ on producing varieties for farmers’ fields.

“Plant breeders often have to make quick progress so they’re loathe to get involved in the kind of cutting edge research to put exotic traits in [a crop]. So the pre-breeding at least gets that first set of genes into some kind of form that is easier for a plant breeder.”

Funded projects include a scheme in Papua New Guinea to screen over 20 varieties of the root crop taro for drought and salinity resistance. Taro is particularly important to the poor island communities of the Pacific region, as it need not be harvested for a number of years, making for a sustainable source of food and an ‘insurance policy’ at times when the prices of other staple crops become too high.

A programme in Bangladesh will screen varieties of the grass pea, a hardy crop that is often the only crop left in times of environmental stress and grown by the poorest communities.

Long-term consumption of grass pea can lead to paralysis, as the plant produces a neurotoxin — giving people a choice between starvation or paralysis. Researchers will search for varieties with low levels of this neurotoxin. 

 

HAIL SUPER-CASSAVA! HAIL AFRICA! September 30, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

If I were a Nazi youth, I’d say “Hail Hitler! Hail cassava! Hail cassanova!”

You see, the “superior race” may have failed to distinguish between ‘cassava’ and ‘Cassanova’, that between the two it is the former that brings life, while the latter drains one of life (pardon me Cassanova, please!).

Who knows, cassava could be among the formula to make the White pupils of America increase their aptitude and IQs that were found to be, well, less ‘superior’ than expected? And these White pupils should study science a lot, as they’ve been found wanting in Science and Math aptitude, in contrast to their Asian fellows who are, well, “monkeys with no tails” that perform the highest in the same subjects?

Surprisingly, Melinda Gates, an American White lady, is herself involved in ensuring the bright potential of cassava. The anti-hunger campaigns worldwide, including my own country’s, will benefit a lot from this development.

The great cassava news is contained below. I feel like wagging my tail!

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]   

Scientists target ‘super cassava’

Source: AllAfrica.com

12 August 2008 | EN | FR | 中文

Selling cassava in Indonesia

 

Cassava, the primary source of nutrition for 800 million people worldwide, is receiving attention from a project seeking to boost its nutritional value.

The BioCassava Plus project, supported by US$12.1 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involves researchers from Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

The scientists have been seeking to fortify a single 500 gram adult portion of cassava with essential nutrients, including vitamins A and E, iron and zinc.

Other goals include making the crop more disease-resistant, extending its shelf-life from one day to two weeks and reducing cyanide toxicity.

The scientists now claim to have “demonstrated proof of practice for all the target objectives in three years” since their 2005 start date.

The transgenic cassava plants have undergone a stringent biosafety approval process in the United States, and field trials are currently being carried out at a US Department of Agriculture site in Puerto Rico.

Next on the agenda are field trials in Kenya and Nigeria in 2009, before researchers attempt to combine the traits into a single plant.

Link to full article in AllAfrica.com 

 

FROM BEIJING: CLIMATE CHANGE MODELS NEED REVISION September 10, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

So many of our scientific models of ecological reality need gross revisions. I am aware for instance that the model for the ‘water cycle’ is badly flawed, yet the scientific community has not done much to revise it.

 

Here is another facet of reality—climate change—where the existing models are found to be flawed. From East Asian scientists, notably Beijing, come the observation that the existing models ‘ignore brown carbon’. It need not belabored that the models must be revised.

 

The news about the observations regarding the model is contained below. What is gladdening is that scientists were able to uncover the flaw, which will ensure revision of the model and the practical technologies coming out from the labs later.

 

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

Current climate models ‘ignoring brown carbon’

Sun Xiaohua and Jia Hepeng

15 August 2008 | EN | 中文

Smog over Bangkok, Thailand

Flickr/gullevek

[BEIJING] Scientists have found that air pollution from East Asia contains an abundance of ‘brown carbon’ particles and say that atmospheric models need updating to incorporate their effect.

Current climate models take into account two types of aerosol carbon — organic carbon and black carbon — that arise from the burning of fossil fuels or biomass.

Black carbon strongly warms the atmosphere by absorbing light, while organic carbon absorbs light at a negligible level and has no warming effect.

It has already been claimed black carbon plays a much larger role in global warming than estimates made by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (see Black carbon climate danger ‘underestimated’).

But this approximation is too simple, according to Peter Crozier, an associate professor at Arizona State University (ASU) in the United States, whose team published their research in Science last week (8 August).

According to the authors, the method that is currently used to measure the warming effect of different types of particle doesn’t take into account the wide variations that can occur between types of carbon from different sources.

They instead used a technique based on a specialised type of electron microscope to directly determine the optical properties of individual carbon particles, and found that samples taken from above the Yellow Sea, east of China, have an abundance of brown carbon particles.  

“Brown carbon has light absorbing properties that lie between strongly absorbing black carbon and materials that only scatter light and do not absorb,” co-author James Anderson, a research scientist at ASU’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, told SciDev.Net.

He adds that brown carbon both cools the Earth’s surface and warms the atmosphere, resulting in a complex role in global warming, hence the necessity to incorporate it into climate models.

Hu Guoquan, a senior scientist at the Beijing-based National Climate Centre, welcomes the study, saying it highlights the uncertainties of IPCC models.

“But more studies on the chemical structure and size of brown carbon particles must be done,” he told SciDev.Net.

In addition, Hu says, as many carbon aerosols pollutants are emitted by China or India — which have massive combustion of fossil fuels and biomass — judging their accurate warming or cooling effect must be done cautiously and avoid claims without sufficient scientific evidence, as this will contribute to determining the nations’ responsibilities in global warming.

Link to abstract in Science 

 

CHILE BIOFUELS THE DAY September 4, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Amigos y amigas, Buenos dias again!

 

Chile has boosted its own path to renewable energy by recently priming up its research & development efforts in biofuels. This is a long shot in the arm for Chile which had moved on to an ‘emerging market’ status over the last two (2) decades.

 

Below is the brightening news about Chile’s biocombustible development.

 

Happy reading! Venceremos!

 

[14 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

 

Chile enfatiza biocombustibles de tecnología avanzada

María Elena Hurtado

3 julio 2008 | ES

Los bosques sureños son materia prima ideal para producir combustibles líquidos

Instituto Forestal de Chile

[SANTIAGO DE CHILE] La asignación, en los próximos días, de hasta 6 millones de dólares a consorcios público-privados para la investigación, desarrollo y comercialización de biocombustibles de tecnología avanzada, o de segunda generación, confirma el anuncio sobre la prioridad que Chile dará a este tipo de biocombustibles que la presidenta Michelle Bachelet hiciera el 21 de mayo durante la exposición anual al Parlamento .

Los biocombustibles de segunda generación – que se obtienen de materias lignocelulósicas como los rastrojos o residuos de trigo y deschos de la silvicultura y madera – tienen la ventaja de no competir con los alimentos y aprovechar residuos. El proceso de conversión en bioetanol es más largo y complicado que el del bioetanol tradicional y costaría más que los demás biocombustibles

InnovaChile, dependiente del Ministerio de Economía, financiará hasta en un 60%, es decir hasta US$6.3 millones, a consorcios que propongan planes de investigación, desarrollo y comercialización de biocombustibles a partir de material lignocelulósico.

Los consorcios seleccionados deberán constituirse este año y obtener resultados en cinco años como máximo, aunque se espera que en tres años ya puedan entrar al mercado. Dos consorcios formados por empresas forestales y universidades – Bioenercel y ForEnergy – ya están desarrollando proyectos de estas características en el país.

“Aunque la superficie forestal chilena podría abastecer una industria de combustibles de segunda generación…lo más conveniente para el país es continuar plantando los abundantes terrenos forestales todavía disponibles pero con nuevas especies especialmente seleccionadas para uso energético, y de ese modo, evitar una competencia entre los dos tipos de uso de material prima,” comentó a SciDev.Net el Subsecretario de Agricultura, Reinaldo Ruiz.

Hasta fines del 2007 Chile -junto con Ecuador y Venezuela- eran los únicos países sudamericanos que no tenían leyes que promovieran los biocombustibles (Venezuela por ser productor de petróleo).

Pero Chile se ha estado poniendo rápidamente al día. En marzo de este año el Congreso aprobó una ley sobre energías renovables no convencionales que incluye los biocombustibles. En mayo se autorizó la mezcla de bioetanol con gasolina en 2 por ciento y 5 por ciento del volumen resultante de la mezcla. También se eximió a los biocombustibles del impuesto a la gasolina y el diesel, y las empresas estatales de cobre y petróleo – CODELCO y ENAP – empezarán a usar biodiesel en sus maquinarias para evaluarlo.

Finalmente, el 30 de junio se creó la Comisión Asesora Interministerial en Materia de Biocombustibles que asesorará a todos los organismos públicos involucrados en esta materia, fijará directrices, propondrá orientaciones estratégicas y prestará apoyo para implementar políticas.

 

SAHARAN AFRICA’S AMBITIOUS S & T DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS: SOME UPDATES September 2, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

In the sub-Saharan region, so many exciting developments are going on that deserve our attention. Among these are gigantic projects that are funded by the billions of dollars.

Below is a news briefer about Kenya, Nigeria, and the entire region concerning both ongoing projects and assessment reports about problems that need to be addressed.

Happy viewing!

[14 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

Sub-Saharan Africa news in brief: 19 June–3 July

3 July 2008 | EN

Kenyan and Nigerian researchers will bioengineer improved cassava

CGIAR

Below is a round up of news from or about Sub-Saharan Africa for the 19 June–3 July 2008.

Kenya and Nigeria plan bioengineered cassava trials
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture will next year begin field trials in Kenya and Nigeria on long-lasting cassava roots fortified with vitamins, minerals and protein, bioengineered to resist damaging viruses and requiring less processing time. Kenya’s Agricultural Research Institute and Nigeria’s Root Crops Research Institute will provide support.
More>>

DRC benefits first from US$5 billion African hydropower project
Aluminium smelters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will, in 2010, be the first to receive power from a US$5 billion hydroelectric project on the Congo river. The project, planned since 2003 and jointly owned by the energy ministries of Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Namibia and South Africa, should be complete by 2015.
More>>

Yaws disease remains a threat
The crippling and disfiguring yaws disease remains a threat in developing countries, including those in west and central Africa, despite almost being eradicated in the 1960s.
WHO specialist Kingsley Asiedu says[171kB], the disease needs to be considered a priority once again — especially since one injection is all a cure needs. More>> [138kB]

South African telescope bid receives boost
Africa’s chances of hosting the Square Kilometre Array — the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world — has received a boost with South Africa’s approval of the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill. The bill gives the country’s science and technology ministry the power to protect astronomical research regions, including the proposed South African site for the array, from development.
More>>

Non-recommended drug use raising resistance fears in Mozambique
Researchers have expressed ‘concern’ that Mozambican authorities continue to treat malaria with a combination of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) and artesunate drugs. All neighbouring countries have abandoned antimalarial drug combinations using SP due to drug resistance problems. Conditions are now ideal for artesunate drug resistance and may even endanger second-line drugs.
More>> [205kB]

Couple counselling can help cut HIV risk, African research reveals
Counselling for couples could cut the rate of HIV transmission between partners in long-term relationships by up to 60 per cent, researchers say. Based on the results of their study, conducted in Lusaka, Zambia, and Kigali in Rwanda, they say all African governments should urgently scale up HIV testing, condoms, circumcision and antiretroviral drugs for cohabiting couples.
More>>*

Africa lagging on Clean Development Mechanisms
Only 25 of the 1,090 registered Clean Development Mechanism projects in developing countries are in Africa, with 11 in South Africa. Projects in the mechanism aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but companies in South Africa have complained that the amount of time to set up projects is double that stated in provided guidelines.
More>>

Namibia moves to boost hydropower
Namibia is negotiating with Angola to store water alongside the Kunene River during the rainy season to help boost its electricity capacity through hydropower. Namibia’s only hydroelectricity station, the Ruacana power plant, stops in the dry season when the river runs dry. Analyst Moses Duma says Namibia also has a good market for wind, solar and gas power.
More>>

South African satellite wait continues
South Africa is still waiting to launch its Sumbandila environmental monitoring satellite. A delegation from Russia’s civilian space agency Roskosmos is due to visit South Africa to discuss alternative options after the Russian government blocked the planned launch last year. Meanwhile, South Africa has held its first two public consultation sessions on a proposed space strategy.
More>>

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Compiled by Christina Scott. Additional reporting by Frederick Baffour Opoku, Onche Odeh and Sharon Davis.

If you would like to suggest a story for this news in brief, please contact the Africa News Editor Christina Scott (christina.scott@scidev.net). 

 

 

AFRICA & SOUTH GETS INDUSTRIAL BOOST VIA EGYPT’S INITIATIVE

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Good morning!

 

South-south cooperation has been intensifying in the past years. The coverage of such cooperation has been from basic research to financing projects, and onwards to project implementation.

 

In Africa, industrial cooperation and research has been boosted anew with the efforts of Egypt to install an industrial center. This center will largely cater to African stakeholders.

 

The news item is contained below.

 

Happy reading!

 

[14 August, 2008, Quezon City, Manila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

South–South industrial centre opens in Egypt

Wagdy Sawahel

3 July 2008 | EN | 中文

The centre will provide technical and industrial support, including training, to less advanced countries

SciDev.Net/Catherine Brahic

[CAIRO] Egypt has opened a US$10 million centre for transferring technology and promoting innovation-based industrial development among African countries.

The South–South Industrial Cooperation Centre (SICC) was opened this week (1 July) to coincide with the 11th African Union Summit held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, between 30 June and 1 July.

The African Union, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Egypt’s Ministry of Trade and Industry are funding the Cairo-based centre, Hany Barakat, head of technological development sector at the ministry, told SciDev.Net.

SICC is part of a UNIDO scheme to establish South–South cooperation centres in countries that have highly developed technological or industrial capabilities to provide technical support to less advanced countries.

The first centre opened in India in January 2007. A similar centre is to be set up in China, with further centres in Brazil, Iran and South Africa also envisioned.

Barakat says the aim of the centre is to promote South–South cooperation in science, manufacturing, technology and industrial innovation as well as providing assistance to African countries in their efforts to strengthen their scientific, technological and innovative capacities.

He says the centre is a direct action of the African Technology and Innovation Initiative (ATII) that African heads of state approved at the January 2008 African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The initiative will set up five African networks to develop skills and resources at all stages of the industrial manufacturing process, from product design through to certification of international standards and exports.

“ATII aims at changing Africa, which accounts for only two per cent of global manufactured products, from natural resource-based economies towards manufacturing-based economies,” says Barakat.

The new centre can be considered the first step towards the establishment of the African network of technology transfer and innovation centres that will serve the African continent, says Barakat. In the future, focal points or branches of SICC could be established in different African countries.

An Arab network for technology transfer and innovation promotion is also being set up, says Barakat. So far, seven countries — Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia — have joined. The network will help Arab companies improve quality and competitiveness by harnessing science and adopting new technologies, and provide professional training.