Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


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.]


African agricultural research ‘neglected ‘ by donor policies

Christina Scott

24 September 2008 | EN


[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.



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’


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 


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.



Erle Frayne Argonza

We may as well dance a lot of samba today as many news about new breeds of agri-products that are resistant to pests and drought have been filtering in.

From down south comes the Brazilian news that invites samba dances in the streets, regarding new breeds of soya that are resistant to pests and related diseases.

Happy reading!

[04 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Brasil lanza dos variedades de soja transgénica

Catarina Chagas

22 junio 2008 | ES

La soya es el cultivo genéticamente modificado más cultivado en Brasil


Después de diez años de investigación, la Empresa Brasileña de Investigación Agropecuaria (Embrapa) lanzó dos variedades de soja genéticamente mejoradas para adaptarse a plantaciones en el norte y noreste del país, regiones de gran importancia en la producción agrícola.

Embrapa está vinculada al Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería y Abastecimiento y a la Fundación de Apoyo a la Investigación del Corredor de Exportación Norte.

Las variedades de soja BRS 278RR y BRS 279RR, además de presentar alta productividad y estar adaptadas a las condiciones climáticas locales, son especialmente recomendadas para áreas que tienen dificultad con las malezas, pues presentan alta tolerancia al herbicida glifosato.

Los investigadores afirman que la BRS 278RR es estable en varios ambientes, lo que permitiría plantarla en áreas de distinta altitud. A su vez, la BRS 279RR es especialmente resistente a plagas que causan problemas en la región.

Los investigadores crearon ambas semillas después del cruzamiento sucesivo de especies de soja, hasta alcanzar las características deseadas. Luego, hicieron pruebas para estudiar el desempeño de las semillas una vez plantadas en lugares con condiciones como las del norte y noreste de Brasil.

“Esta diversificación de semillas permite al agricultor elegir cómo manejar o diversificar sus modos de producción, permitiendo optimizar el uso de máquinas e implementos, tanto en la plantación como en la cosecha”, explicó a SciDev.Net el ingeniero agrónomo José Ubirajara Vieira Moreira, de Embrapa.

Lo anterior se debe a que ambas variedades tienen ciclos de crecimiento distintos y si el productor desea usar diferentes tipos de semillas, podrá sembrar y cosechar en tiempos diferenciados cada sector de su plantación.

Para otro especialista de Embrapa, José Francisco Ferraz de Toledo, el lanzamiento refuerza las nuevas e interesantes posibilidades de mercado de la soja transgénica.

“Con las nuevas tecnologías hay formas de introducir en la soja cualidades deseables de otras especies, abriendo nuevas oportunidades de avance de la agricultura”, dijo.

La soya genéticamente modificada está permitida en Brasil desde el año 2005, a pesar de las controversias alrededor del tema (ver Brazil delays GM crops and cloning bill  y Brazil says ‘yes’to GM crops and stem cell research).



Erle Frayne Argonza

Who says that community-based health care systems won’t work? In the Philippines this has been an on-going effort, with the University of the Philippines leading. Couples of communities were adopted by the U.P. Manila in other regions precisely to study the effects of intervention via community organization.

Below is a news caption about a study that shows the effectiveness of community-based health care. Community-based health care has already been revolutionizing access to health care by many poor folks in the south.

Enjoy your read!

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

Community-directed healthcare ‘effective’, finds study

Abiose Adelaja

23 June 2008 | EN

In the strategy, family members help deliver drugs and administer treatment, instead of patients visiting a clinic


Community-administered healthcare is effective in combating a range of illnesses including river blindness and malaria as well as micronutrient deficiencies, according to a study of over two million people in three African countries.

The researchers say restrictive health department policies on who can administer medications should be altered so that other illnesses can be tackled in a similar fashion.

Community-directed drug intervention (CDI) has proved successful in delivering the drug Ivermectin to treat river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis. In the strategy, family members help deliver drugs and administer treatment, instead of patients visiting a clinic.

The study looked at the effectiveness of CDI in strategies to fight river blindness, later pairing it with treatments against malaria, tuberculosis and micronutrient deficiencies, in Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda. Community dispensing of drugs, vitamin A supplements and insecticide-treated mosquito nets was compared with conventional delivery strategies over three years.

Researchers found that the number of feverish children receiving the right antimalarial treatment doubled, exceeding the 60 per cent target set by the Roll Back Malaria campaign. The use of insecticide-treated bednets also doubled.

Vitamin A supplementation coverage was also significantly higher in districts using CDI compared with those that did not. But community-directed interventions for tuberculosis proved only as effective as treatment from clinics.

Samuel Wanji, a researcher at the University of Buéa who conducted the southwest Cameroon part of the study, says the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control — linked to the WHO and with 19 health ministers on the board — has given the go-ahead to extend the use of CDI for river blindness in countries that have lower, but still significant, levels of the disease.

The expanded programme will investigate whether CDI works as well in places where disease infection is less intense, and is scheduled to begin before the end of the year. Dispensing of other medications will be added as the programme progresses.

“The study’s approach is very useful for increasing access to health and will reduce the burden on health facilities,” says Hans Remme of the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease.

But a shortage of drugs and other materials remains a drawback, according to a WHO report of the study.


Link to WHO CDI report



Erle Frayne Argonza

We peoples of Southeast Asia have been caught up in the cycles of droughts and heavy rains for as long as our memories can recall. The El Nino comes every now and then, bringing either a rainy season or too dry a spell for an entire crop season, thus endangering our own agricultural production.

Biotechnology innovations incidentally are very dynamic in the region, or in East Asia as a whole. The breeding of maize varieties that are resistant to drought has been among the forefront of research & development. Below is a news caption of the R&D efforts in maize by exemplar countries Philippines, Indonesia, and China.

Happy reading!

[31 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

A-maizing: Asia’s drought-resistant maize varieties

Source: CIMMYT

16 June 2008 | EN | 中文


Maize is a staple crop in South-East Asia, both as a food and animal feed. But the farmers that grow the crop often live in drought-prone areas, where poor soil and disease exacerbate poor harvests.

To counter this, the Asian Maize Network was created, funded by the Asian Development Bank and led by CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre).

The network, running from 2005–2008, brings together scientists from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties — and deliver them to farmers.

Genetic material from drought-tolerant varieties was supplied by CIMMYT and funds put into setting up testing programmes in all five countries.

The first varieties have already been released for further testing in individual countries, and many more are in the pipeline, with the eventual aim of providing them to poor farmers at affordable prices.

The scientists involved say the project has helped them both in terms of capacity and partnership building. Many agree that the training and working with researchers from other countries has given them a new perspective on their work.

“I’m motivated to see that what I’m doing will really help farmers,” says one.



Erle Frayne Argonza

Consistently following ‘physical economy’ practices would mean a sustained construction and renovation of agricultural infrastructures. Conversely, the sustained destruction of such infrastructures will lead to rapid agricultural decay, such as what’s happening in the USA.

Africans know their physical economy principles well, and practice them precisely by boosting agricultural infrastructures. Below is a news item that captures relevant efforts in Ghana, Mali and Madagascar.

Enjoy your read!

[30 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

Ghana, Madagascar, Mali get agricultural revamp

Bandé Moussa Sissoko & Rivonala Razafison

19 June 2008 | EN


Small-scale farmers in Ghana, Madagascar and Mali are the first beneficiaries of a multi-billion dollar project to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure.

The project, part of the efforts to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals tackling poverty, will later be expanded to other developing countries.

Kofi Annan, of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), signed a memorandum of understanding this month (11 June) with the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Under the agreement, infrastructure will be established or improved, agricultural research will be strengthened, and seeds and other technologies will be distributed to small-scale farmers.

Mosa Justin of Madagascar’s Millennium Challenge Account, which distributes MCC money, says the joint project will work with researchers to better distribute seeds in three different zones: maize in Antsiranana, rice and butter beans in Menabe, and maize and rice in Boeny.

The Malagasy agriculture ministry has also signed a partnership with private fertiliser companies to increase production. “There is a need to create a fertiliser map according to the type and variety of soils, and then a blending plant to make the most appropriate fertiliser,” says Justin. Fertiliser use in Madagascar is currently one twelfth of the African average.

In landlocked Mali, the Millennium Challenge Account has begun a large rice irrigation project in the central Alatona region, which relies on water from the Niger river delta.

Project director Tidiani Traoré says work will begin on extending the Sahel Canal by 23 kilometres, building a new 63 kilometre canal and boosting the banks of the Malado Fala — an ancient dry stream bed used as a natural canal — by December this year.

About 16,000 hectares of farmland — roughly half the Alatona region — will receive improved irrigation, Traoré told SciDev.Net.

Traoré says plans also include formalising land titles, education about land tenure rights, increasing farmers’ access to agricultural advice and training in fish, livestock and financial management.

The Mali project also aims to construct a bridge and tar the first 81 kilometres of road from the rice paddies in the Niono inland delta, which floods annually, by October 2008.

Ghanaian plans include starting a dialogue between the private and public sector on how best to work together in getting seeds of new crop varieties to farmers fields.

Link to Memorandum of Understanding between MCC and AGRA [16.5kB]



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