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 

 

CIRCUMCISION AS HIV PREVENTION September 12, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Who says that male circumcision does not have any positive health value at all, that it is more of an esthetic practice than a medical one?

In the Philippines, ‘libreng tuli’ (free circumcision) is among the health services offered by NGOs and social service groups to community members. As President of the KAKAMMPI in 89-93, I led the conduct of this free service for the adolescent boys of Anakbayan in Paco district, (Old) Manila, and in Tondo district, (Old) Manila. Not only were the surgical operations simple and well accepted, they also somehow ensured my group’s relevance among urban poor residents of the beneficiary communities.

But there is the lingering question raised about the true health value of circumcision. With a recent development in HIV research, it seems that the issue is coming to a close finally. Circumcision could very well be very cost effective a way to prevent HIV, and Africa itself could save as much as billions of dollars of prospective medications via male circumcision.

See the exciting news below.

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news… The Kakammpi is a national organization of dependents of overseas workers, largely concerned with advocacy and community organizing.  As its president, I was involved in the drafting of a proposed law for migrants that was passed later, as the Omnibus Law for Overseas Workers.]

Circumcision for HIV prevention ‘cost effective’

Mohammed Yahia

11 August 2008 | EN | 中文

Photoshare

[MEXICO CITY] In addition to decreasing the transmission of HIV, circumcision is cost effective and can reduce the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, researchers have announced.

Researchers presented a mathematical model at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City last week (6 August) that showed that male circumcision programmes are economically feasible in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While they may cost more than US$900 million dollars to initiate, the budget for antiretroviral therapies would be cut considerably with the reduction in new infections.

“Calculations suggest that, over a 20-year period, two billion dollars would be saved,” said Bertran Auvert, professor of public health at France’s national biomedical institute INSERM.

Auvert also announced that HPV infection can be cut by around 40 per cent in men, as well as circumcision reducing HIV infections by 60 per cent.

“Circumcision could therefore be an indirect way of limiting the risk of genital cancers caused by HPV in women,” said Auvert.

According to Alvaro Bermejo, executive director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, studies in South Africa show a high level of acceptance of male circumcision. “We’ve seen high uptake and there are lengthy waiting lists right now,” he said.

But expansion of the practice in Africa has proved slow. “If it were a traditional biomedical product, like a pill, I think we would see roll-out much more quickly,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. “But you are dealing with a deeply cultural and social issue.”

For example, the elders of the Luo tribe, a large community in Kenya, have refused to endorse male circumcision as it is against their culture and they are not convinced it will decrease the rate of new infections.

And in Indonesia, Christians have been reluctant to get circumcised because the practice is associated with the coming of age for young Muslim boys, explained Karen Houston Smith, deputy director of Family Health International, Indonesia. “They feel this casts some doubt on the validity of their Christianity.”

Bermejo stressed that dialogue and information will be essential for any global strategies to roll out male circumcision.

And the messages need to be clear. “We need to be sure we are not putting women at risk. We need to be sure that men who do get circumcised don’t think that they can now stop using condoms” said Warren.

“But that doesn’t mean we should not be scaling up in a strategic and smart fashion that is addressing all of these other factors.”

 

FANTASIZE ‘SOLAR TOWER’? SEE NAMIBIA September 9, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Fellow of the planet, in case you may be of the mindset that towers only used for telecommunications facilities and military observation posts, the article contained here will make you modify your thought construct a bit.

From Namibia comes a very exciting news about solar towers. This is not just a tower that can supply the energy needs of a village or town, but an entire region. Funding alone would require $900 Million, which is more than the budget for a new 660-megawatt nuclear fission breeder. The added good news to this solar power project is that it is a ‘green’ project as well.

See the great news from Namibians that is contained below. Even at this moment, my adrenalin already propels me for a visit to the project site later.

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

Scientists propose ‘solar tower’ to boost Namibia electricity

Carol Campbell and Rodrick Mukumbira

11 August 2008 | EN

Artist’s impression of the proposed solar tower for Namibia

GreenTower

[CAPE TOWN / WINDHOEK] A huge solar energy tower has been proposed to boost the electricity grid in Namibia.

At one and a half kilometres high and 280 metres wide — bigger than two soccer fields back-to-back — the tower could provide electricity for the whole of the Namibian capital Windhoek.

But neither a date nor a site for the proposed tower has been confirmed, though it is expected to be close to Windhoek, says South African mechanical engineer Alan Dunlop from the pan-African intellectual property firm Hahn & Hahn, which is involved in the project. 

The operation of a solar tower involves heating air inside a vast transparent tent, several kilometres in diameter, at the base of the tower. This hot air rises inside a tall concrete chimney, driving wind turbines linked to generators. The tent can also be used to grow crops.

The proposed tower is about three times larger than anything similar on earth and though its running costs would be low, construction would cost at least US$900 million.

“One of the main reasons why commercial solar chimney power plants have not been built is that they have to be very large to be economically viable,” says Theo von Backström from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Engineers at the university say their research — including a dozen journal papers and 14 conference papers — indicates that a large-scale tower is possible.

It has also been shown that solar chimney power plants can produce power at night. The water used for crops is heated during sunny weather and this heat is released back into the air during the night or during cloudy weather to keep the turbines going. No extra water is required — an important issue for a desert country such as Namibia.

Pretoria-based physicist Wolf-Walter Stinnes, the brains behind the Namibian tower, worked on a pre-feasibility study for a similar solar chimney in South Africa’s Kalahari desert up until 2000.

Stinnes said the project was dropped because its power was too expensive compared with coal power.

But given the price of oil and the issues raised by climate change, there has been renewed interest in solar chimneys in countries such as Australia, Egypt, India and Morocco.

According to a report in Engineering News, the Namibian government has agreed to cover half the costs of the US$780,000 pre-feasibility report once private funding has been obtained.

But Joseph Iita, Namibia’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, warns: “We are only prepared to work with serious investors and, despite so many investors showing interest in the field of energy generation, we haven’t seen any project taking off.”

 

MOST EFFECTIVE DRUGS FOR HIV/TB NOW OUT! September 8, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Tuberculosis could be a way to contract HIV, and cases encountered in the field are replete with this route to the dreaded disease.

From Cape Town comes a welcome news about a wonder drug that is most effective for treating patients who become sick of HIV precisely thru the TB way.

The good news is contained below.

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

Scientists reveal ‘most effective’ drug for HIV/TB patients

Carol Campbell

15 August 2008 | EN | 中文

Efavirenz capsules

Flickr/MikeBlyth

[CAPE TOWN] The antiretroviral drug efavirenz has been recommended for tuberculosis patients who then contract HIV.

Researchers compared the effectiveness of the antiretroviral drugs efavirenz and nevirapine in 4,000 South African HIV patients. Some already had tuberculosis (TB) and were taking rifampicin.

Nevirapine — the cheaper of the two drugs — was found to be less effective in patients with existing TB, with higher HIV loads in their blood than those on efavirenz.

HIV-infected patients who were already on antiretroviral drugs when they subsequently developed TB were unaffected, highlighting the complexity of treating concurrent HIV and TB infections.

Researchers from the Western Cape provincial health department, Médecins Sans Frontières and the University of Cape Town (UCT) published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (6 August).

Study leader Andrew Boulle warns that the research is not a rejection of nevirapine, which is popular in the developing world because of its low cost, simplicity of use and its safety for pregnant HIV-infected women.

“Four out of five of our patients in the study continued to do well on nevirapine,” said Boulle, a public health specialist from the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at UCT.

The long-standing anti-TB drug rifampicin slows down the liver’s ability to process nevirapine, making the anti-HIV drug less effective and causing an increase in virus levels.

Efavirenz is only slightly affected by rifampicin, said Katherine Hildebrand, another UCT researcher. But it costs twice the price of nevirapine. “We need to get the price of efavirenz down in places with high HIV/TB co-infection,” she told SciDev.Net.

The research also disproves earlier assumptions that people with both TB and HIV may need increased doses of efavirenz. Researchers found that efavirenz in normal doses was ideal for HIV patients regardless of whether they had TB or not.

“Efavirenz should be used unless there are compelling reasons not to use it. Unfortunately many developing countries do not have access to efavirenz which is more expensive,” said Gary Maartens from UCT medical school’s clinical pharmacology division. Botswana and South Africa both use efavirenz extensively.

Link to abstract in Journal of the American Medical Association

 

 

VOUCHER SYSTEM FOR DISEASE: US EXEMPLAR September 5, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

The United States seems to have come a long way in strengthening the institutional aspects of development concerns, by way of voucher systems. I still remember the voucher system instituted as intervention scheme to salve education ailments early this decade, and I hope evaluation studies were conducted to measure the levels of success of that intervention from state to state.

 

Here comes another voucher system by the United States, this version being applicable to tropical diseases. Accordingly, it is a boost for tropical disease drugs, which is welcome news for many developing countries. Among diseases that are eligible to the system are sleeping illness, leprosy and malaria.

 

The news is contained in an article below.

 

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

 

 

 

US voucher system to boost tropical disease drugs

Source: Intellectual Property Watch

14 August 2008 | EN | FR

A patient with malaria, one of the tropical diseases eligible for the scheme

Flickr/.ash

The United States is set to launch a prize system to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for tropical diseases.

Sixteen tropical diseases, including sleeping sickness, leprosy and malaria are listed as eligible for the scheme.

Under the system, companies producing a drug or vaccine for a tropical disease can apply for a Priority Review voucher, which allows them a shorter approval time for another drug at a later date.

The shorter approval process would take approximately six months instead of ten, meaning that drugs could hit the market sooner and potentially be more lucrative. Thus, the vouchers are estimated to be worth around US$300 million.

Companies can also take advantage of the Orphan Drugs Act, under which drug developers receive tax credits, a waiver of the US Food and Drug Administration’s user fee and seven years market exclusivity on drugs that have no economic viability.

The first vouchers can be legally issued from 27 September 2008.

But the wording of the voucher law needs tightening up, say commentators, and some aspects — such as a rule stating that drugs can’t contain active ingredients that have been approved in another application — could restrict eligibility.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently drawing up guidelines on how the law will work in practice.

Link to full article in Intellectual Property Watch