Stories tagged: drought

Researchers Develop Genetic Map of Cowpea, Enable New Varieties

2154770647_9b78c82f46_mA team of scientists at the University of California, Riverside have successfully developed a genetic map of the cowpea. This development will enable further research into new and more resilient varieties of this staple crop, which is grown throughout many regions of the developing world.

Mapping the cowpea is notoriously time-consuming and difficult. But now production plans of new and improved cowpea varieties can begin to take shape. Continued development and research is a key part of the Farming First plan (read more about our sixth principle, which is to prioritise research initiatives).

Here’s how the researchers did it:

To build the map, the scientists first modified and then applied advanced genetic tools developed from human genome investigations that only recently have been applied to a few major crop plants.

But what exactly is a cowpea genetic map? Here’s an explanation:

The consensus genetic map of cowpea is a dense and detailed roadmap of its genome (a genome is a complete genetic blueprint). The map has approximately 1000 molecular markers throughout the genome. The markers, which are like signposts directing a motorist to a destination, are associated with traits desired for breeding and used to more deliberately design and assemble new superior varieties.

Cowpea is a staple for maize- and rice-based diets in Latin America and drought-prone areas such as Africa and Asia.

UN Agencies Team Up to Help Predict Future Food Shortages

Two UN groups are teaming up to help identify and respond to areas likely to be impacted by food shortages in the future.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has agreed to share data concerning floods, hurricanes, mudslides, drought and other forms of severe weather with the World Food Programme (WFP).

This information can help the WFP provide better and faster assistance to those living in areas impacted by climate-related disasters:

Severe weather, brought on by climate change, has a direct impact on people’s food security. Floods, hurricanes, mudslides, drought and other weather events destroy crops, homes, and lives – increasing hunger among the world’s poorest people.

Climate change is accentuating the suffering caused by political and economic instabilities in many countries.

A Closer Look at Mozambique’s Agricultural Production System

In Mozambique, differences in rainfall contribute to higher levels of poverty in drier areas.

Poverty levels in drier regions of the country range from 67 to 85 percent, said Professor Firmino Mucavele, Director for Academic Reform and Regional Integration at Eduardo Mondlane University in a presentation of his analysis of agriculture’s true contribution to the Mozambican economy.

Mucavele, a Food Agriculture Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) board member, outlined regional disparities within Mozambique, whose north and eastern districts receive as much as twelve times the amount of rainfall as the southern regions surrounding the Maputo capital.

Crop productivity is also connected to rainfall since irrigation infrastructure in the country is effectively non-existent. Of the 3.3 million hectares suitable for irrigation throughout the country, only fifty thousand hectares (or only a miniscule 0.13 percent) have this resource at their disposal.  Mucavele said:

The common denominator of the smallholder farmers is low productivity, limited ability of households to generate savings and food insecurity.

He added that access to key inputs is also low; only 2 percent of farmers use fertilisers and only 5 percent use pesticides. Underdeveloped capital markets and harvest losses averaging 40 percent also contribute to decreased productivity.

To boost the contribution of the agricultural sector, Mucavele made several key recommendations. He highlighted that the uptake of improved seeds and better production methods could boost crop yields; the yields from maize, which is Mozambique’s primary crop by volume, could be increased seven-fold, from 800 kilograms per hectare to as much as 6,500.  He also pointed out that introducing value-added processes to raw commodities could also boost export earnings, with milled maize fetching five times the price of whole kernels.

Lastly, a concerted effort to reform and support agricultural markets caould stem disruptive variations in crop prices and ensure Mozambique’s farmers a viable source of livelihoods.

Cautioned Mucavele: “Social, environmental and institutional stability depends on food security.”

DfID Funds Infrastructure, ‘Best Bets’ for Agriculture in Africa

The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) has recently launched its new report, entitled “Eliminating World Poverty: Building our Common Future.”

Two implicit dimensions are rreflected in this report’s title.  Firstly, the world already has many good solutions for reducing world hunger, but they simply need to be scaled up and funded in order to work at a broader level.  Secondly, while many markets are still fragmented and inefficient,these markets are increasingly part of a common globalised economy, in which we all participate.

Two interesting African initiatives highlighted in the report and being funded by DfID are the North-South Transport Corridor and the ‘best bets’ approach to agriculture.

The North-South Transport Corridor is a $1.2 billion project which will upgrade 4,000 kilometres of road and 600 kilometres of rail track.  The goal of the project is to free up bottlenecks in shipping and other transport, especially in parts of eastern and southern Africa.

DfID’s ‘best bets’ for agriculture will see funding going to “the innovations with the greatest potential to lift poor people out of poverty, and to getting these into widespread use.”  AS DfID sees it, these include:

  • tackling new pests which attack staple crops, such as virulent wheat rust and cassava viruses.  This will cost £20 million but could help protect almost three billion people who depend on these crops for their food
  • breeding drought-resistant maize for Africa.  This will cost up to £60 million but will help 320 millino farmers in Africa who are affected by drought and will indirectly benefit many more likely to be affected by climate change.
  • improving the vitamin content of staple crops. To develop these crops and get them into widespread use will cost around £80 million but it has the potential to help improve the nutrition of up to 670 million of the poorest people, many of them children.

Climate Expert Poll Warns of Major Risk to the World’s Breadbaskets

The Guardian newspaper has released the results of a poll asking climate specialists at a scientific conference in Copenhagen in March to predict climate changes throughout the 21st century.

Only 18 of the 182 experts thought that the climate would rise by less than 2C this century while the remaining 164 respondents forecasted higher changes and more serious repercussions.

Almost half (84 of 182) predicted a 3C-4C change this century, where:

global food production [would be] threatened as breadbaskets in Europe, Asia, and the US suffer drought, and heatwaves outstrip the tolerance of crops.

The poll suggests that continued attention needs to be paid on how to safeguard the world’s natural resources and how to create more innovative solutions for our food supply.

IFPRI Discusses How to Advance Agricultural Development through Knowledge and Innovation

Picture 6The March 2009 policy brief from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) discusses several key areas where increased knowledge and innovation can help progress the world’s level of agricultural development.

Like the Farming First plan, IFPRI’s recommendations include a farmer-centric approach with scaled-up investments and proactive policy changes for research, training, and institutional reform for the sector.

The report notes:

the rural poor draw on indigenous knowledge and innovate through local experimentation and adaptation…. Emerging issues such as high food prices, climate change, and demands for biofuels require complementary knowledge from formal agricultural research and development (R&D) and support from policies and other institutions.

The report continues:

Formal and informal knowledge and innovation must therefore be linked to accelerate sustainable agricultural development.

Sharing and scaling up local knowledge helps maximize agriculture’s potential to improve livelihoods.  For instance, researching drought and flood resistant crops can help those regions already being affected by climate change.  Equally, scaling up successful training and microcredit programmes improves small-scale farmers’ capacity to feed themselves and the rest of the world’s population.