Stories tagged: R&D

Potential Benefits of Nanotechnology in Tackling Poverty

According to the recent policy brief by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on Agriculture, Food, and Water Nanotechnologies for the Poor, the field of nanotechnology – research and development that involves measuring and manipulating matter at the atomic, molecular and supra-molecular levels – could lead to the development of potentially revolutionary technologies across industries including agriculture and food.

Potential technologies in the pipeline have the potential to make agriculture more efficient, increase yields and product quality, thus helping to tackle the problem of nutrition insecurity.  For example, nanoporous materials capable of storing water and slowly releasing it during times of drought could increase yields, and nanoscale agrichemical formulations can increase efficiency and decrease losses into the environment.

However, the policy brief concludes that if we are to ensure that these promising nanotechnologies reach the global poor, more work still needs to be carried out to overcome challenges such as risk perceptions, market acceptance, cost and access and market risks.

According to IFPRI, more information needs to be collected around the potential economic benefits and risks associated with nanotech adoption, and assessments of specific technologies could help governments to make the appropriate policy decisions regarding potential safety, social and economic effects.

New World Bank Research on Carbon Capture in the Soil

y186885761472171 (1)The World Bank recently released some interesting research into carbon capture in soil. The report looked at exactly how much carbon is in soil, and the repercussions that happen as a result.

Cesar Izaurralde, a soil scientist at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is quoted in a Reuters news piece as saying that farm management and carbon capture go hand-in-hand:

We know farm management has a very significant influence on how much carbon is in the soil … I think in the next two to three years the research community will have the tools ready.

Measuring how to count carbon, both in terms of how much is already there and what the capacity for storage is, is a challenge, as the Reuters article highlights:

Uncertain accounting is a critical obstacle in harnessing the potential of the agricultural sector and especially soils, which in theory could cut annual global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10 percent from present levels by 2030.

Currently, there are two World Bank-funded trial projects happening in Kenya which are looking to understand how to lock carbon into the soil. Johannes Woelcke, the World Bank’s team leader in Kenya, talked about the projected carbon savings from the trials.

The Kenya trials … will cut carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 130,000 tonnes annually, involving 90,000 small-scale farmers.

Soil’s contribution to carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be a discussion point at the Copenhagen climate meeting in December. Reuters reported that the Copenhagen meeting may result in further incentives for farmers to apply low-carbon techniques on farms, possibly targeting the 2 billion poor living on small farms.

Benefits of Satellite Technology on Crop Yields Explored

Some farmers are looking to the skies for help in boosting their crop yields. In an article appearing in The Economist this week, the spotlight is shone on farmers using satellite-based intelligence to find out how to best manage farm production to get the best yield.

Precise prescriptions for growing crops can be obtained quickly, and less expensively, by measuring electromagnetic radiation reflected from farmland. The data are collected by orbiting satellites.

For the farmers that utilise the satellite technology, the amount of data available to them about their crops is great:

The spectrum of this radiation—which can be in the form of either natural sunlight or artificial radar—can reveal, with surprising precision, the properties of the soil, the quantity of crop being grown, and the levels in those crops of chlorophyll, various minerals, moisture and other indicators of their quality. If recent and forecast weather data are added to the mix, detailed maps can be produced indicating exactly how, where and when crops should be grown.

It is very new technology. However one country seemingly leading the way in utilising this technology is France, according to The Economist.

More farmland is analysed by satellite there than in any other country, according to Infoterra (a subsidiary of EADS Astrium, a European space giant), the firm that is France’s largest provider of such information.

Computer mapping of farmland, also known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), can also help farmers to establish land ownership and in turn encourages long-term investments such as irrigation infrastructure to boost yields.

Ryk Taljaard of Geo-Logic Mapping noted that this technology is extending into Africa and is helping farmers make more accurate and cost-effective orders for inputs such as seed, fertiliser and sprays.

The Economist article also reports that the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi has begun cataloguing more than 100,000 samples of African soils with the aim of incorporating this information into existing satellite technology.

Dearth of Agriculture Research Funding Hits Farm Productivity

y5579e0iLast week The Associated Press shined a light on the global fall in agricultural research funding. In the article, the impacts of this fall are outlined.

Philip Pardey, professor of science and technology policy at the University of Minnesota, talks about the decline:

The ultimate consequences of the productivity slowdown are that we’re going to move away from a 50-year trend of declining real prices of food to moving back into a trend for increasing food prices.

Making agriculture R&D a top priority is key to ensuring, as Professor Pardey says, that food prices don’t increase.

However rising food prices have been a recent trend, according to the United Nations:

The U.N. World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran said in Canberra on Monday that most of the developing world is paying more for food despite drops in commodity market prices during the global economic slowdown, with 200 million people joining the ranks of the hungry in the past two years.

By pushing on with greater agriculture investment funding, more can be done to battle against global food shortages and ensure more efficient food production.

New Research Maps Critical Drought-tolerant Molecular Structure

New research coming out of the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego, has determined the molecular structure for a drought-tolerant plant hormone called abscisic acid.

In drought conditions, plants begin to produce more of this hormone, which creates a number of changes to their physical structure. Their seeds lie dormant in the ground in order to wait out the dry period.  They slow their growth in order to conserve energy.  Tiny pores in their leaves are closed in order to prevent water from being lost.

Understanding how abscisic acid works in plants can help scientists replicate this phenomenon for farmers whose crops are suffering from drought conditions.  R&D such as this can help agricultural producers adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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.