The first patent to be granted to a UN organization has been awarded to FAO
for the production of bottled coconut water. Biologically pure, coconut water
contains salts, sugars and vitamins in the same electrolytic balance as human
blood. With all the functional characteristics required of a sports drink, the
export of bottled coconut water will be particularly beneficial to many
small-scale farmers in tropical countries, says Mortin Satin of FAO, who
developed the product together with an Italian food technologist. A cold
sterilization processing method has also been developed, which will allow
manufacturers to bottle coconut water without losing its flavour and
nutritional characteristics. The beverage industry has already shown interest
in the product and it is hoped that consumers will shortly recognize the
benefits of this unique drink.
The rapid development of draught animal power in the inter-Andean valleys of
Bolivia is just one of several achievements that have recently been recognized
by the Colegio de Ingenerios Agrónomos de Bolivia (Bolivia's
Institute of Agricultural Engineers) in an award presented to the International
Development Group, SRI. Through participatory approaches, an analysis of
problems faced by rural communities has been the starting point for each of the
five DFID-funded projects included in the award. In addition to the development
of draught animal power equipment, IDG has also initiated research on soil and
water conservation and sustainable weed management on hillsides, a decision
support computer programme for draught animal feeding as well as hillside
conservation vegetative practices to provide forage for draught animals. These
current projects continue the 30 years of work by IDG in rural development
projects in Latin America.
Access to information on
agricultural machinery should soon become more widely available with the
development of a global hub/gateway currently being developed by Agmachine.com.
The global network for up to 40 independent agricultural machinery websites
worldwide will develop from the existing Worldwide Agricultural Machinery and Equipment
Directory, which was launched in 1997. To date the directory contains over
1300 manufacturers located in 60 countries of whom over 800 have direct website
links. The strength of the directory lies in its main categories and
sub-categories, which allow farmers to readily source manufacturers of
machinery inputs for both crop and livestock production. Access to
comprehensive information on agricultural machinery is a major constraint in
many countries, particularly in developing regions. However, it is hoped that
through the rapid development of internet access that the Global Network will
be able to take into account national languages and interests by providing a
broad spectrum of information relating to agricultural machinery and equipment.
Over eighty years of taxonomic expertise in helping to identify plant pests
from around the world is the foundation of a diagnostic facility, which is
helping to support crop protection at a national level in developing regions.
With support from DFID, the Plant Disease Diagnostic and Advisory Services of
CABI Bioscience are provided free to researchers, extension services and
farmers in DFID priority regions. Eric Boa, in charge of the service,
emphasizes that identifying a pest is only the first step in managing a
problem. The service supplies information on all known aspects of a pest or
disease from CABI's wide-ranging information resources, including the Crop
Protection Compendium. CABI Bioscience staff interpret the results of diagnosis
and provide advice based on their wide experience of crop protection in
developing countries. Specific initiatives to provide in-country training to
improve the delivery of national diagnostic services and to encourage adoption
of advice are currently being developed in Bolivia, Uganda and Bangladesh.
However, Mark Holderness, in charge of sustainable pest management at CABI
Bioscience encourages development workers and scientists seeking advice on crop
protection or plant pest diagnostic services to get in touch.
Indianmeal moth, the most prevalent and damaging insect pest of stored commodities in the United States, has developed resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and is also developing resistance to some synthetic pesticides. Meanwhile other potential pesticides are coming under increasing regulatory restrictions. However, the Indianmeal's nemesis may be a parasitic wasp, Habrobracon hebetor, which attacks the larvae of many agriculturally destructive moths, and is being studied as a control agent for Indianmeal by the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. H.hebetor shows promise as it feeds rapidly and is already commercially available for pest management programmes. However, the development of an artificial diet for the wasp would make it more economical to produce in the larger numbers required.
Novel techniques for control of fruit flies on mango and other fruit
trees in Pakistan has won this year's DFID's Research
Strategy Annual Award Scheme. In the past, fruit fly control in Pakistan
has rarely been managed by groups of fruit growers in order to get benefits
of scale. However, through work funded by the DFID Crop Protection Programme,
Dr J. Mumford and Dr J. Stonehouse
at Imperial College, University of London, with colleagues in Pakistan,
have developed simple low-cost community-based management programmes to
provide co-ordinated fruit fly control over relatively small village areas.
The basis of the fruit fly control has been the use of small, wooden blocks
soaked in a combination of chemical lures (pheromones) with small amounts
of insecticide. These have been shown to last the whole season without
the need for re-application of the chemicals and are cheaper and less
vulnerable to weather and theft than conventional insect traps. The use
of these blocks in mango orchards was shown to reduce losses from 20%
to zero. If the same reductions could be achieved nationally, it has been
projected that the annual saving at farm-level would be £70 million
for guava, mango and melon alone, with additional impacts for home consumption,
and for fruit scavenging among poor communities. The results have potential
application for other regions and new projects are currently being developed
for Africa and Asia.
Quality Protein Maize (QPM) scientists Dr Evangelina Villegas and Dr
Surinder K. Vasal of CIMMYT have been awarded the Millennium World Food Prize.
Dr Villegas is the first woman ever to receive the World Food Prize. QPM is
currently grown in 11 countries and it is contributing to the transformation of
agriculture in some of the poorest regions in the world (see
News 99-5). Data from 32 locations
across Africa, Asia and Latin America show the QPM hybrids provide a 10%
average increase in yields in comparison to other commercially produced
A trilateral project to fatten cattle in Uganda, using special, undisclosed, feed supplements that reduce the quantity of methane gas produced by rumen fermentation, has met with environmental protest rather than approval. The Uganda Government has been negotiating with the Canadian TransAtlanta company and American Global Livestock Group to develop the Cattle Feed Project in three phases: first, market verification and confirmation of the sales potential for the feed supplement; second, the construction of a small production facility, field testing and sales promotion; and finally scaling up production and sale of the supplement.
Estimates indicate that rumen gases contribute 22% of all greenhouse gases emitted in Uganda, and it has been claimed that the supplement will reduce these emissions and also improve the efficiency of digestion, giving improved feed conversion and weight gains. The environmentalists' objections are based on two factors. Firstly, that the project has been negotiated by the government without discussion with stakeholders and on the basis that it has exclusive rights over the project. Secondly, with BSE in mind, there is a fear that there may be health risks from feeding the supplement. Lack of transparency and accountability in the project appear to be the main objections raised by lawyers representing ACODE, Advocates Coalition for Development.
Wheat production has plummeted in Zambia despite good soils for wheat and ample water. For the 2000/2001 season, production is predicted to be 55 thousand tonnes, down 60% from the 90 thousand tonne harvest three years ago. The main causes are escalating production costs - 60% of costs are spent on transport, irrigation and machinery, while electricity charges consume a further 28%. Depressed production is also blamed on highly subsidised wheat imports from Zimbabwe and South Africa, which has flooded and undermined the Zambian market.
Zambia is said to have the capacity to produce up to 200 thousand tonnes of wheat, more than enough to meet the national demand of 120 thousand tonnes and the Zambian National Farmers' Union is proposing that the Government introduce tax incentives and reduce fuel and electricity costs for farmers to help them match subsidised production in neighbouring countries.
High production expenses and lower prices are also affecting maize production, Zambia's staple crop. Prices for 50kg of grain are currently US$5.00 compared to US$8.00 last year.
Potato cyst nematodes (PCN) can persist in land through the survival of
'volunteer' potato plants that emerge in the subsequent crop, even
though that crop itself is not host to PCN. Research at the UK Institute of
Arable Crops Research (IACR) estimates that some 20% of sugar beet fields in
the UK are infested with volunteer potatoes and, although these are usually
killed with a selective herbicide, the herbicide does not act quickly enough to
prevent the PCN larvae completing their lifecycle and thus perpetuating the
population. The IACR suggests that if the following crop were a genetically
modified glyphosate resistant variety, it could be sprayed with this fast
acting herbicide, which would kill the potatoes before the PCN larvae could
reproduce. Two applications of glyphosate have been shown to reduce PCN eggs in
the soil by between 28 and 38%, whereas in a conventionally herbicide treated
situation the number of PCN eggs increased by 170%.
New high-yielding varieties of cowpea with resistance to major pests and diseases, that are suited to both sole cropping and intercropping, offer African farmers scope for producing high value crops for commercial processing. At the third World Cowpea Research conference at IITA in Ibadan, Nigeria in September cowpea breeder B.B. Singh described the progress made during the past five years, while Charles Lambot, of Nestle in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, predicted clear opportunities to develop industrial products using cowpea.
Cowpea has not been an attractive option for food companies in the past
because grains are often of low quality as a result of pest and disease attack
and because there has been the risk of pesticide contamination. Pest and
disease resistant varieties would simultaneously cut production costs for
farmers and yield undamaged and uncontaminated grain. To speed the production
of new varieties, biotechnologists are investigation genes that encode plant
and bacterial proteins that kill insect pests of cowpea.
The classical landscape of the Mediterranean littoral - vineyards, olive groves and citrus orchards - is under threat from a drying climate and severe soil erosion. Output from these holdings could halve within 50 years, according to Diego de la Garcia of Spain's Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology in Seville. In parts of the region, soil erosion has reached a state of irreversibility, he warns, and estimates that typically a hectare of farm land in Andalusia, in the south of the country, is losing 50 tonnes of topsoil each year - 50 times the rate of soil renewal though weathering. Earlier this year the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the European Environment Agency launched a three-year study into Mediterranean desertification.
In recent months Texas farmers battled one of the worst outbreak of
grasshoppers in 30 years, and in October 2000, FAO issued a desert locust
warning for Northern Mali. However, early reports in Niger of the largest
aerial spraying of a bio-pesticide ever conducted in Africa, indicate that
Green Muscle, provides complete control of locusts and grasshoppers for
up to three times longer than current chemical insecticides. The government of
Niger, the first African government to integrate the new bio-pesticide into its
pest control programme, plans to use the bio-pesticides on 300,000 hectares of
agricultural land currently treated with chemicals. Green Muscle is currently
based on a fungal strain, Metarhizium anisopliae, which is indigenous to
Africa. However strains from various origins can be used to produce the
bio-control, making localized formulations possible. Scientists foresee the
fungal formulation having widespread potential beyond Africa, including the
United States, Argentina, Australia, Indonesia, Spain and Russia. A private
company in South Africa is the first to receive a licence to mass produce the
bio-pesticide. Negotiations are currently under way with other manufacturers,
which should help to further reduce costs. (see also
Mycoinsecticide for grasshopper and
locust control 98-6)