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.

 

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 

 

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.

 

BRAZIL’S GM SOYA RESISTANT TO PEST August 26, 2008

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

USDA

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).

 

COMMUNITY-DIRECTED HEALTH CARE August 22, 2008

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

Flickr/CharlesFred

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

 

PHILIPPINES, INDONESIA, CHINA LEAD MAIZE DROUGHT-RESISTANCE August 19, 2008

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

Flickr/thisfrenchlife

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.

 

AGRI-INFRASTRUCTURE UPSCALE IN GHANA, MALI, MADAGASCAR August 18, 2008

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

USAID

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]

 

ACCESS TO ENERGY INCREASED VIA RADICAL STOVE August 15, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

England has launched an award system recently to innovators around the world who can revolutionize stove technology. The purpose of stove innovation is to increase access of people and market end-users to energy by utilizing fuel resources available in the locality, such as coconut and wood wastes.

Below is a heartwarming news about a stove innovation from South Asia that won the award. As reported, it surely has made energy available to many people in India which lacks sufficient energy due to the rapidly rising demand for fuel.

Enjoy your read!

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

 

Stove projects stir up energy award success

Katherine Nightingale

20 June 2008 | EN | ES | 中文

A TIDE cooking stove in use

Ashden Awards/TIDE

Innovators bringing sustainable energy to communities in developing countries were recognised last night (19 June) at an awards ceremony held in London, United Kingdom.

Projects from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Tanzania and Uganda were all awarded prizes of £20,000 (around US$40,000) at the annual Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy.

The Technology Informatics Design Endeavour (TIDE) project, which designs safer and more efficient wood-burning stoves, was crowned the overall Energy Champion, winning a £40,000 prize.

These TIDE stoves are a boon for an estimated eight million people working in small industries in southern India — for example, in textile dying, spice drying and street food vendors.

Svati Bhogle, chief executive of TIDE, said the award “gives us the motivation to venture into uncharted terrain, to first break new ground and then develop it into a beaten track”.

The stoves can use waste material such as coconut shells as well as wood. Improved heat transfer, insulation and combustion creates less heat and smoke, resulting in improved working conditions. They were designed with each industry specifically in mind, with users contributing to the development.

Bhogle said 10,500 stoves are now in use in 12 industry sectors, saving 140,000 tonnes of fuel and 200,000 tonnes of emitted carbon dioxide.

“There is a serious energy crisis in rural India, but access to energy and its efficient use, accompanied by well-conceived and well-implemented enabling mechanisms, has the potential to transform rural areas.”

Other stoves were prominent among this year’s winners. The Kisangani Smith Group in Tanzania designed a stove that uses compressed waste sawdust or rice husks, rather than expensive charcoal.

The GAIA association has opted to use ethanol fuel produced from the waste molasses of the sugar industry in their stoves, which they have distributed to Somalian refugees living in a large camp in eastern Ethiopia.

Elsewhere, both the Aryavart Gramin Bank in India and Grameen Shakti in Bangladesh — a 2006 winner and recipient of this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award — provide affordable loans for people without access to the electricity grid to install solar power in their homes.

The Ugandan project, Fruits of the Nile, harnesses the power of the sun to dry fruit.  Simple solar dryers, constructed from a wooden frame covered with plastic, let the light in, keep insects out and use natural convection.

Ashden also published a report, commissioned by the UK Department for International Development, analysing ten previous winners. More ways must be found to provide financial and human resources for innovative research and development, it concluded, with clear national energy policies to guide projects.

 

BIOPIRACY CONTROL VIA UN ROADMAP August 8, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good afternoon from Manila!

Controlling or regulating biopiracy is among the toughest tasks regarding intellectual property. Currently, there is an ongoing research by a corporate group to map the genome of Indigenous Peoples or IPs in the Philippines, the results of which will redound to improving the survival chances of the human species in general. The research is so surreptitious, however, that nobody knows who are the data gatherers and how is data collected.

That behavior is tantamount to biopiracy. Incidentally, the United Nations released a roadmap recently, which has direct implications on improving regulatory aspects of biopiracy. The news is contained below.

Enjoy your read.

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

UN roadmap paves way for curbing biopiracy

Hepeng Jia

13 June 2008 | EN | 中文

Yading Nature Reserve, China

USDA/pirateparrot

[BEIJING] Countries have agreed a roadmap for negotiating an agreement for the sharing of genetic resources, following a UN biodiversity conference.

The two-week conference in Bonn, Germany, ended last month (30 May) with renewed promises from countries to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

The conference set out a roadmap for negotiations on access and benefit sharing (ABS) of genetic resources to help curb biopiracy. Delegates discussed and tentatively agreed a variety of options on elements for the future agreement that could be legally binding, non-binding or a combination of the two.

Participants hope to reach a global agreement on ABS at the next UN biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010.

Xue Dayuan, director of the China Institute of Environment and Resources Protection for Minority Areas and a member of China’s delegation to the conference, says the roadmap anchors the diverse debates over the issues and narrows down action to a set of suitable options that could be further explored.

But environmental groups have expressed scepticism, saying developed nations have failed to offer enough financial aid to developing countries for biodiversity protection.

Xue says previous efforts for biodiversity protection focused too much on funding from the developed world, and that countries should develop their economy first in order to fund their own, more sustainable, protection measures. 

“China, together with other fast-developing countries like India, could offer an exemplar in realising economic growth with relatively less destruction of biodiversity.”

According to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, China had established 2,531 natural reserves by the end of 2007, covering more than 15 per cent of its land.

China’s vice environment minister Wu Xiaoqing pledged a “strong commitment” at the conference to participating in global biodiversity protection.

Delegates at the conference also agreed action plans to expand nature reserves and launch the ‘Life Web Initiative,’ a network that aims to enhance partnerships to support the preserves. For example, an online database will help global funders match nature reserves to finance.

Germany pledged €500 million (US$775 million) over the next four years to aid global forest protection, particularly those in developing countries, and another €500 million each year after that.

Norway also announced plans to spend €600 million (US$936 million) on global forest conservation annually over the next three years.

 

RICE WASTE BIOFUEL OPTIMIZATION BY RESEARCHERS August 1, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Biofuels, more biofuels!

This is the message of a welcome news from researchers across the globe. The collaborative efforts today, aimed at optimizing biofuel research & development, are very encouraging across countries and continents.

Another welcome news about biofuels, done by researchers from Asia, can be viewed in the news below. The Middle Kingdom is as abreast about the thematic research as the other Asian countries, to say the least.

Happy reading!

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

 

Researchers boost yields of rice-waste biofuel

Jia Hepeng

2 June 2008 | EN | 中文

A farmer surrounded by rice straw after harvest

Flickr/agapbulusan

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have developed a new method that dramatically increases the yield of a clean biogas fuel from rice straw.

China is the world’s largest rice producer and the industry results in 230 million tonnes a year of surplus rice ‘straw’ — the stem and leaves left behind after harvesting. Farmers often burn the straw, increasing pollution and carbon dioxide emissions (see Stalk burning fuels China pollution woes).

Until now, using the straw to produce ethanol or biogas — a mix of methane and carbon dioxide — by anaerobic digestion with microorganisms has been disappointing. The complex structures of the straw’s cellulose and lignin components make it hard for the microorganisms to break them down.

Author Li Xiujin, an environmental engineering professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, explains that researchers soak the straws in alkali to kick-start the breakdown process.

But that method means recycling chemicals, disposing of waste solutions and heating to a high temperature — involving high facility investment and treatment costs, and a risk of environmental pollution, he says.

Rather than soaking the rice straw, Li’s team treated it with a small amount of alkaline solution containing six per cent sodium hydroxide.

They found that this significantly increased straw biodegradation, and improved biogas output by 64.5 per cent.

Li told SciDev.Net that farmers could make 20 yuan (US$3) additional profit from producing biogas by this method, which would encourage its uptake.

The research provides a boost for biofuels made from waste products — an important factor, given worries over biofuels’ impact on food security. And generating environmentally friendly biogas from farm waste instead of burning it will counter environmental concerns.

Jin Jiaman, director of the Beijing-based Global Environment Institute, welcomes the study, saying it could help tap biofuels in rural areas.

But it might not necessarily bring wider use of biogas, which would need government subsidies to install facilities and lay pipelines into rural households.

“The big labour input needed for processing straws could also dampen farmers’ zeal to use biofuels,” Jin told SciDev.Net.

The research was published online last month (14 May) in the American Chemical Society’s journal Energy & Fuels.

Link to the full article in Energy & Fuels 

 

GM COMMERCIALIZATION UPDATE IN EGYPT July 26, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Magandang araw! Good day!

 

From the Land of the Pharoahs comes a welcome news about genetically-modified crops. It has got to do with the commercialization of a Bt maize variety, a pattern that has already taken off in the Philippines.

 

The contentious issue here concerns the entry of Monsanto, the agri giant, in the control over the patent of the food variety. Let the Eqyptians deal with the matter themselves, but for now I am of the opinion that the corn variety is a good news altogether for our fellows in the great Land of the Pharoahs.

 

Let Isis make us dance with delight over this welcome news!

 

[22 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to the SciDev news summaries.]

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Egypt approves commercialisation of first GM crop

Wagdy Sawahel

13 May 2008 | EN

Flickr/simpologist

[CAIRO] Egypt has approved the cultivation and commercialisation of a Bt maize variety, marking the first legal introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops into the country.

A report last month (16 April) from the US Department of Agriculture, noted that the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture had “approved decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee and Seed Registration Committee to allow for commercialisation of a genetically modified Bt corn variety”.

The endorsement was based on a series of field trials conducted between 2002 and 2007 for the variety MON 810, produced by biotechnology company Monsanto. Bt crops produce a toxin that guards against pests.

The variety to be distributed, Ajeeb-YG, is a cross between MON 810 and an Egyptian maize variety with resistance to three corn borer pests, developed by Monsanto scientists in South Africa — currently the only African country planting GM crops commercially.

Cairo-based company Fine Seeds International is partnering with Monsanto to distribute the variety in Egypt.

Ahmad Yaseen, an agricultural engineer at Fine Seeds, says the seeds will be available this month to farmers in ten Egyptian governorates.

Yaseen said the seeds will initially be imported from South Africa, but “starting from next year, Ajeeb-YG will be produced in Egypt”.

Amr Farouk Abdelkhalik, an Egyptian biotechnologist and regional coordinator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa, says the new variety “points to the potential agronomic and environmental benefits of Bt maize in Egyptian cropping systems and accordingly the reduction of the massive use of pesticides”.

“We should develop our own GM plants using our genes and technology to protect small-scale farmers,” he added.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a plant biotechnologist at the National Research Centre in Cairo, expressed concerns about the long-term effects of the crop.

He says research on the issues surrounding GM crops “must be conducted in Egypt, and an in-depth assessment must be carried out to examine the impact of GM plants on small-scale farmers”.

Egypt currently has no official biosafety legislation, though a regulatory framework exists. Hisham El-Shishtawy from the National Biosafety Committee secretariat told SciDev.Net that the existing framework follows the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and encompasses ministerial decrees regulating the registration of GM seeds. 

 

BIOFUELS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR FOOD PRICE INFLATIONS July 25, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Buenos dias a todos!

 

From Chile / South America comes the good news that biofuels are not chiefly responsible for inflationary patterns in grains/food. As I’ve always been explaining in various articles, the problems with food inflation today are largely the product of speculations by predatory financiers across the globe.

 

The news item below brightens the R&D efforts on biofuels. While indeed certain financiers have cashed in on the biofuel craze and led to price increases in corn, as the case has been demonstrated in the United States, the speculative aspect of the investment has got nothing to do with the biofuel itself as a factor behind food inflation.

 

Happy reading.

 

[21 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to the SciDev reports.]

 

 

Biocombustibles ‘no son culpables por alza de alimentos’

Paula Leighton

15 may 2008 | ES

El precio del arroz ha sufrido un alza en Chile

Wikipedia / David Monniaux

[SANTIAGO] En medio del debate internacional sobre la posibilidad de que los biocombustibles incidan en el incremento a los precios de los alimentos, una encuesta realizada en Santiago de Chile muestra que sólo un bajo porcentaje de entrevistados así lo considera. 

De acuerdo con la encuesta difundida el pasado 2 de mayo, en la que investigadores del Centro de Estudios Sociales y Opinión Pública (CESOP) de la Universidad Central entrevistaron a 300 habitantes de la ciudad, sólo el 16,3 por ciento atribuye el alza de precios al uso de plantaciones para biocombustibles.


Cerca de la mitad de los entrevistados (45 por ciento) culparon al calentamiento global y el 33 por ciento a la especulación de países ricos.

 
El 94,3 por ciento de los entrevistados considera que existe una crisis alimentaria. Esta percepción coincide con alzas registradas en los últimos meses en el país en alimentos como trigo, soja y arroz. En supermercados capitalinos este último cereal duplicó su valor a fines de abril ante anuncios de una escasez mundial.

 
Para Luis Gajardo, decano de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad Central, en las creencias de los chilenos se conjugan elementos como la percepción de una crisis energética y la falta de información precisa sobre el impacto real del calentamiento global.


Detrás del alza de alimentos como el arroz, agrega “hay también una reacción ante anuncios catastrofistas de la prensa que han llevado a muchos a comprar más allá de sus necesidades, generando un fenómeno de ‘profecía autocumplida’”.
 

 

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND AGRICULTURE (FROM INDIA) July 24, 2008

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND AGRICULTURE (FROM INDIA)

 

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Putting together nanotechnology, biotechnology and bio-informatics is a new challenging area of R&D in the field of agriculture.

 

The experts of India, with the co-sponsorship by the state, are now into the next exciting phase of developing food production via this new integration methodology and practice. The implications of the new practice on quality control are legion, to say the least.

 

Happy reading.

 

[21 July 2003, Quezon City, MetroManila. Via SciDev update reports.]

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India looks to nanotechnology to boost agriculture

M. Sreelata

16 May 2008 | EN

Nanotechnology could help water delivery systems for farming

Flickr/IRRI

The Indian government is looking towards nanotechnology as a means of boosting agricultural productivity in the country.

In a report released in April, the Planning Commission of India recommends nanotechnology research and development (R&D) should become one of six areas for investment.

The commission recommends policies to and carries out financial planning for government departments. The report was written by a subgroup of the commission, and will be incorporated into India’s eleventh five-year plan, for 2007–2012.

The authors recommend ways to harness nanotechnology, biotechnology and bioinformatics to transform Indian agriculture, including creating a national institute of nanotechnology in agriculture.

The report says nanotechnology such as nano-sensors and nano-based smart delivery systems could help ensure natural resources like water, nutrients and chemicals are used efficiently in agriculture. Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also help monitor the quality of agricultural produce.

The report proposes a national consortium on nanotechnology R&D, to include the proposed national institute and Indian institutions that are already actively researching nanotechnology.

It also recommends that Indian universities and institutions develop suitable graduate and postgraduate programmes to train young scientists in nanotechnology.

Vandana Dwivedi, coordinator of the subgroup and an advisor in the Planning Commission, says implementing all the report’s recommendations will take time, though she hopes to see some of the aspects rolled out in the 2007–2012 five-year plan. No specific initiatives on nanotechnology have yet been announced.

But not everyone is impressed by the government’s plans. India should be cautious about rushing for technologies, says M. S. Swaminathan, a former head of the National Commission for Farmers and widely considered the father of India’s green revolution. 

“If technology has applications, it has limitations too. Right from the beginning it is advisable to have a national regulatory commission on nanotechnology so that people don’t get into litigation later,” he told SciDev.Net.

Swaminathan believes transferring existing technologies to farmers should take priority, saying, “We should first disseminate ordinary technology to the farmer. Even the basic know-how has not reached fields yet. The gap between scientific know-how and field level do-how remains as wide as ever.”

 

 

BRIGHTER PROSPECTS FOR RICE CULTIVATION IN CHINA July 23, 2008

BRIGHTER PROSPECTS FOR RICE CULTIVATION IN CHINA

 

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Good day!

 

Let me now shift my attention a bit and diversify our BrightWorld updates with news from across the oceans.

 

Here is a news, culled from the SciDev Forum materials sent to its members. The search for high-yielding varieties of grains is a continuing one, and had definitely not reached a dead end yet in biotech innovations.

 

Happy reading.

 

[19 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

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Scientists find ‘yield-improving rice gene’

Jia Hepeng

14 May 2008 | EN | 中文

The newly discovered gene may help improve rice yields

Flickr/Cbcastro

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have identified a rice gene that could simultaneously control the crop’s yield, plant height, and number of days to flowering.

Publishing their study in Nature Genetics online this month (4 May), researchers from Wuhan-based Huazhong Agricultural University (HZAU) say the gene could play a role in improving rice productivity.

The scientists found that in individual rice breeds, the three traits appear strong –– or weak –– simultaneously.

“This fact makes us infer that the three traits were controlled by a single gene,” says Xing Yongzhong, one of the lead authors and a professor at HZAU.

Previous studies have found that a region on chromosome seven of rice can regulate all three traits but the specific gene involved had not been discovered.

The HZAU scientists mapped the relevant gene site on chromosome seven and located the specific gene named Ghd7. They discovered that shorter rice plants with fewer grains per cluster of flowers and earlier flowering do not have the gene Ghd7.

When they transferred Ghd7 into Ghd7-free varieties of rice, they found that time to flowering was increased by 105 per cent, they grew around 70 per cent taller, and the plants had more rice grains per cluster of flowers.

Numerous rice genes have been reported to control such traits alone, but Ghd7 is notable because of its large, multiple effects on an array of traits, write the authors.

Xing told SciDev.Net that the gene could be incorporated into varieties with traditional breeding. “Although we have used the genetically modified method in the study, we need not adopt this method in the practical seeding because the gene is identified from the rice itself.”

The team of scientists also studied the status of Ghd7 in 19 rice varieties from rice growing in a wide geographic range in Asia and found five different versions of the gene.

“We are exploring the subtypes of Ghd7-containing rice that are most suitable to their growing regions, so as to cultivate the most appropriate high-output rice varieties,” Xing adds.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Institute of Biotechnologies of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, welcomes the study as a major scientific breakthrough.

But he says that usually, multiple genes regulate the traits related to rice yields, and whether the Ghd7 could play its claimed role in promoting yields needs further research and seeding tests.

Link to full paper in Nature Genetics

 

LOBSTERS, CRABS, FISH CAGES – BALLESTEROS VENCEREMOS! June 8, 2008

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Writer was former Livelihood Coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements, PAC Gonzaga, from July 1981-June 1982. In Jan. 82 he was designated Acting Deputy Provincial Manager, concurrent with the livelihood post.]

Let me go through with my continuing journey as a young development professional, and transport you this time to the town of coastal town of Ballesteros in Cagayan. This town is famous for its crustaceans, notably crabs and lobsters. Let me stress here that the crabs and lobsters were huge by size compared to the ordinary, making them worth writing.

In the last quarter of 1982 my agency then, the MHS, finally recruited, trained and deployed Municipal Staff Assistants or MSAs. It was a great relief to acquire the “new kids on the block”, as it lifted so many burdens from us provincial staff, both technical and communicative (information dissemination of the KKK). From Ballesteros came this lanky young male staff (name now escapes my memory), with long ‘babalo’ chin. He was a no mean staff, to recall.

Mr. Bubbles (that’s how I jokingly call ‘babalo’ long chin folks) brought to my attention right away the huge potentiality of expanding crustacean production in his town. Unfazed by his rather dynamic explanation, who was almost gyrating like Elvis Presley during his presentation, I arranged for some consultations with fish farmers there (crustacean producers who operated onshore) as well as municipal fishers (who operated offshore). I simply wished to verify what my staff had reported to me then.

I found out that my staff did presented information in as truthful a manner as possible, verifying every millimeter of his report to the dot. I then arranged a visitation to the coastal area to see for myself what things were in there. To my own shock (I do get this feeling in the field at times), I realized that their ‘gears’ for fish farming was appallingly primitive (hmmm this is what I got for being an acculturated Big City boy in Manila: culture shock at local life). They used guava twigs that were planted below the sea level, after which the fish farmers would pick them up, with the ‘victims’ riding on the twigs.

As usual, my team’s task was to conceptualize what innovation to introduce there. That’s why our job is called ‘development’. To recoup from my initial shock (I really had to criticize myself silently), I quickly arranged for consultations with the technical staff of the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources) who became our constant partners in the area (they were so elated at our arrival there), as well as the professors of the Cagayan State University (CSU) –Gonzaga branch (agriculture & fisheries campus). From the consultations and research of my staff, we pieced up information about the techno-component that would be simple to operate and utilize local resources for inputs.

Since we already had municipal fishing with bagoong making in Gonzaga, my team, with the nod of our BFAR partners, decided to focus crustacean fish farming in Ballesteros. So we had this double task of convincing the municipal fishers in the town to sideline as fish farmers if they wish to benefit from the KKK enterprise finance program there.

Our simple innovation introduced to them was the ‘fish cage’, or ‘crustacean trap’. It was made of wooden and tree branches, with grill-fashioned openings to let the smaller crabs & lobsters get in, where they’d stay and feed. As soon as they grew in size, it was difficult for them to go out if at all (experiments have shown they don’t go out as they acclimatize to the domicile). Simple indeed, but so sensible as it increased the yield of the marine farmers.

We also had to convince the fish farmers to apply as individual proponents. The parameters in the area were different from that of neighbor Gonzaga where offshore fishing was the primary engagement. It was more fruitful if each individual would work on his ‘crustacean yard’ (by the sea), though collectively they would have to secure the area together (there are always thieves everywhere, remember).

Project approval was fast for this one. I don’t recall now the exact figures per project. But my recall is sharp regarding the approval, financing, re-training of fish farmers, take-off, and the most important: taste of the final result. The lobsters and crabs using the traps were even larger than the previous pre-trap days! I’m sure you’d agree with me that these crustaceans warm up the heart and brighten your day when you see, feel and taste them.

 

 
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