Stories tagged: Africa

Agroecology in Action: Harnessing the Power of Orphan Crops

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer of Mars, writes on Farming First about how orphan crops can benefit African farmers and the wider world.

Africa has thus far missed out on having its own ‘green revolution’. One reason for this is that it has no large, homogenous ecosystem, such as India’s Deccan Plateau. Any approach to boost productivity and food security must fit Africa’s myriad, small and distinct ecosystems.

The term agroecology refers to using ecological processes in agriculture, and maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems. Pursuing an agricultural revolution that makes use of African crops that are already adapted, already grown and eaten by local farmers, would therefore be a good place to start.

At the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) our goal is to improve these varieties –  “orphan” in that they have received very little scientific attention – so that they are more nutritious, higher yielding and hardier in the face of weeds, pests and the changing climate that is already altering Africa’s smallholder cropping systems. We do this by working to sequence the genomes of 101 of these important African orphan food crops and making the data publicly available, and training African scientists to make rapid improvements to them, benefitting smallholder farmers and consumers across the continent.

This plan was hatched back in 2011 by myself at Mars, Incorporated, Ibrahim Mayaki at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). It quickly won the backing of the African Heads of State meeting at the African Union Assembly. Today the consortium contains 15 government organisations, scientific and agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organisations.

The AOCC’s African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), based at ICRAF in Nairobi, will have trained 84 of its target 250 African plant scientists to work on the genome ‘maps’ by the end of 2018.

This approach could benefit the 600 million who constitute Africa’s rural population, most of whom grow much of their own food.

How does this relate to agroecology?

First, more than a quarter of the chosen species are trees, such as the baobab, the leaves of which contain twice as much calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than a banana. Many of these tree crops are native to their ecosystems and provide other benefits, such as shade, water management and food for wildlife. Our work serves to preserve and improve these species, so they can continue to perform these important natural functions.

Second, many of the crops being sequenced have been in their given regions for a few centuries, are non-invasive and do not harm the local ecosystems. A cornerstone of agroecology is to maintain balance in ecosystems. Protecting and improving native crops will lead to increased diversity on farms, which will contribute to this goal.

Finally, using genetic interventions to make these crops more resilient and adaptable to a changing environment often means farmers need to apply fewer additional inputs to them in order to harvest a bumper crop.

Africa seems unable to get enough of the orphan crops approach. Two members of the 2017 class have started a continuing education program for MS-level scientists in their home country of Ethiopia.  Four graduates from West Africa are collaborating to raise funding for training more than 70 graduate students on breeding of orphan crops. Members of the 2017 class are establishing an African Plant Breeders Association to cover the whole continent.

The benefits of orphan crops

The AfPBA and its lab have some of the best sequencing equipment in the world, certainly the best in Africa. Students – and these students are already among the best plant scientists in their countries – can use the equipment, but graduates also continue to have access to it.

One great benefit of this approach to education is that it is either done locally by AfPBA graduates or in Nairobi. The plant scientists are not taken to Europe or the United States, only to stay and contribute to Africa’s brain drain.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) decided recently to join the consortium. This has led to an ambitious letter of intent between the two organizations. It calls upon the two to work together to assist FAO member countries to develop and implement appropriate policies, regulations and laws that facilitate the genetic improvement of orphan crops; to strengthen institutional and human capacities of FAO member countries activities for research and development, especially in molecular genetics, plant breeding and seed delivery systems, and to advocate for enhanced crop diversification, crop rotations, associations and crop sequencing in a way that orphan crops are integrated and can become part and parcel of sustainable cropping systems.

We believe this could help spread the benefits of orphan crops throughout the planet. Already there has been talk of a Chinese Orphan Crop Consortium and an Indian Orphan Crop Consortium.  

As The Economist’s science editor commented after a visit to our facility last year:

“Bananas, mangoes, pineapples and pawpaws are all tropical fruit that have gone global. If some of Africa’s orphan crops, suitably improved by genetic knowledge, were to follow suit, the benefits to African farmers would be huge.”

This future is within grasp, and can be done by harnessing the power of what nature already has to offer.

 

Farmers Need Long-Term and Short-Term Solutions to Combat Fall Armyworm in Kenya

Fall Armyworm has arrived in Kenya to stay, but while the government develops a long-term strategy, farmers need ready and accessible solutions now.

From a distance, Wycliffe Ngoda’s two acres of shiny green maize crops look healthy and lush. But the tell-tale holes in the leaves and debris on the stems give away an increasingly dangerous secret hidden in more and more maize fields across Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa. The rampant Fall Armyworm caterpillar is once again threatening harvests across the continent for a second year.

The pest, which arrived in Africa from the Americas in 2016, affected around 50,000 hectares of maize in Kenya alone last year, costing 25 per cent of the crop, according to government officials.

This year, the losses could be as high as 50 per cent, threatening Kenya’s food security and farmers’ economic security in a country where the average annual consumption of maize surpasses 100kg per person. Continue reading

Fishing for Market Opportunities in Nigeria

Fish farming is a huge industry in Nigeria, but smallholder farmers face several obstacles. Elisa Burrows, Partnership Manager at Fintrac, writes how offering financing for them can open up a world of opportunities.

In the Kano and Sagamu regions of Nigeria, suitable water resources and high market demand mean that aquaculture presents a profitable opportunity for smallholder farmers to expand their farming activities. Yet few farmers take advantage of this opportunity because they lack the technical knowledge fish farming requires and because there are few hatcheries that supply fish to small-scale farmers. To help change this, Chi Farms, a Nigeria-based livestock and aquaculture business, is working with smallholder farmers – primarily women – to develop this business opportunity.

The market opportunity for fish farming in Nigeria is huge. Nigerians consume nearly 2 million tons of fish per year, and the country’s growing population ensures demand will continue to boom. Demand far outweighs current national production, making it necessary to import fish from all over the world. However, in recent years the price of imported fish has increased significantly because of the devaluation of the Nigerian naira. Even though fish is a key ingredient in many Nigerian dishes and an important and efficiently produced source of protein (for every kilogram of fish feed, a kilogram of fish is produced), only half the fish consumed by Nigerians is sourced locally. To increase local production, Chi Farms is partnering with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a Fintrac-implemented USAID program that invests in private sector partnerships to commercialize agricultural innovations in smallholder markets, to increase Chi Farms’ capacity to supply fish to farmers and build teams of aquaculture specialists to provide extension services. Continue reading

FEB222017
Enabling Positive Outcomes for Nutrition in Africa

22nd February 2018

Dakar, Senegal

The Malabo Montpellier Panel invites you to a policy seminar on the theme:

 “Enabling Positive Outcomes for Nutrition in Africa”

**By registration only**

Please RSVP via email to ifpri-dakar[@]cgiar[dot]org or by phone: 338699800. 

The event will focus on enabling positive outcomes for nutrition across Africa, drawing extensively from the findings of our report, Nourished: How Africa can Build a Future Free from Hunger and Malnutrition.

Agenda

  • Registration
  • Keynote (15mins) H.E. Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Minister of Agriculture, Republic of Senegal **invited
  • Moderated discussion (60mins)

Speakers:

  • Dr Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director, IFPRI (chair) – Introduction
  • Sir Gordon Conway, Professor for International Development, Imperial College London – The state of malnutrition in Africa
  • Abdoulaye Ka, Director, Cellue de Lutte contre la Malnutrition (CLM), Senegal.
  • Nachilala Nkombo, Country Director, WWF Zambia – Global and continental policy processes and institutional reforms
  • Paul Ilona, Nigeria Country Manager, HarvestPlus – Getting nutritious crops to farmers and rural communities: experience from Nigeria
  • Audience Q&A (30mins)
  • Press conference & cocktail reception

 

How Fall Armyworm Can Be Beaten in Africa

B.M. Prasanna, Director of the Global Maize Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), believes that the fall armyworm on the move in sub-Saharan Africa can be beaten. In this guest blog for Farming First, he outlines the actions that must be urgently taken to protect African harvests from the plight of this pest.

Fall armyworm is one of the most destructive insect pests worldwide, and it is on the move. In 2015, this pest migrated for the first time to Nigeria. As of today, its devastation has been reported in 30 countries in Africa.

Estimates in September 2017 showed that just in six African countries, the pest has devastated almost 1.5 million hectares of maize crops. Without proper management, over the next one to two years, fall armyworm is expected to cause up to six billion dollars worth of damage across affected maize growing regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is it such a majorly concerning pest? The first, most important reason is that fall armyworm is very highly poliphagus – which means the pest can attack not just one or two crops, but as many as 80 different plant species. Second, it can migrate very fast. Each moth population can travel up to 1,500 km.

Fall armyworm attacking crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

Fall armyworm attacking crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

In case of America, where fall armyworm has been present but under control, it usually migrates to warmer weather in the winter. But in Africa, the weather conditions are quite conducive for the pest to remain in certain countries for a long time. This means fall armyworm is here to stay in sub-Saharan Africa. So we need to know how to adopt from various practices that have been followed elsewhere, tailor them to African agro-ecologies and sustainably manage the pest.

Raising farmer awareness on effective pesticide use and cultural control

The first, most important action that must be taken, is to raise awareness among farming communities on how to make wise decisions on application of pesticides. It is critical to apply the right kind of pesticide, at the right stage. This is when the larvae is within the first three of its six stages of development – in the final three stages larvae have become very big, and can protect themselves from coming into contact with the pesticide.

We must also create awareness amongst extension agents and the farming communities on what exactly this pest is, how not to panic, how to recognize the early stages during the early crop growth, and apply the right types of pesticides.

There are also certain cultural control efforts which need to be validated and quickly disseminated. For example – each larvae lays as many as 1000 to 1500 eggs each month, and these are laid in batches of around 200-300 eggs. These could be very easily recognized even with the naked eye on the leaves. If a farmer is trained to understand how to recognize those egg masses, then destroying them means you are destroying 300 potential larvae. So understanding what these egg masses look like, and quickly collecting and destroying them will be key.

Stepping up research on control measures and host plant resistance

The second most important aspect is to urgently carry out strategic research on control measures, such as biological control options. For example, there are many pesticides derived from naturally occuring bacterias and viruses that could be helpful, such as Basilothrongulences  pesticides, Neem based bio pesticides, as well as egg and larvae paracetoids that are known to be very effective against fall armyworm outside Africa. So the capacity to quickly validate these options, to scale them up and release them is an extremely important action.

In a more long-term approach, institutions like CIMMYT are also intensively working on host plant resistance. Making use of historic research, we are now extensively testing maize and wheat varieties against the fall armyworm populations in Africa and we have got some very promising sources of resistance which we will be validating very soon.

But this will not be immediately available, the seeds for resistant varieties need to be identified, validated, and then systematically seed needs to be scaled up and deployed. But we must remember, this pest is unfortunately here to stay for decades. So we are running a marathon here, not a 100 meter sprint. We must conserve our energy to ensure we reach the finish line, employing both short and long-term solutions.

Fall armyworm found on crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

Fall armyworm found on crops in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: CIMMYT/M. Shindler

A manual for action

CIMMYT, in partnership with USAID and a number of research and development partners, national and international partners is working to produce a comprehensive manual on fall armyworm pest management in Africa. It will focus on six topics: how to apply integrated pest management to fall armyworm management; fall armyworm monitoring and surveillance; cultural control and sustainable agro-ecological approaches for fall armyworm management; biological control options; host plant resistance and sustainable pesticide use. The manual will be available in January.

There is a tremendous coordination effort at the local, regional and continental level that is required in the years to come in order to make these things happen.

This pest is not to be treated as some localized problem, because of its rapidly migrating capacity. So monitoring and surveillance methods across the continent need to be intensified, we need to take advantage of digital tools or applications for the farmers to actively send messages about the pest in different parts of the countries or provinces, and how best to communicate with them about control measures. We must also urgently plug research gaps that examine the efficacy of certain interventions, and also ensure the best pesticides are registered and available for use across all countries.

All these things mean there has to be a very strong investment in research and development and in active outreach program and coordinated networking. I estimate that it could cost in the next four to five years no less than 200-300 million dollars per year.

CIMMYT is ready to stand with others; IITA, ICIPE, CABI, national programs, and the private sector, to beat this pest – with a unified and systematic approach, it can be done.

OCT202017
The African Fertilizer Summit – 10 Years On

20 October 2017

Des Moines, Iowa

A high-level panel debate assessing Africa’s progress in increasing fertilizer use, 10 years on from the landmark African Fertilizer Summit. The panel will review the success of the historic Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for an African Green Revolution and discuss how to drive greater and faster progress in addressing nutrient deficiencies in African soils, in order to support economic growth, social development and climate change responses. Read more >>