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News brief

 Facing up to Foot and Mouth

 Pesticide quality - a global survey

 Indian earthquake update

 Support for the gene revolution

 Taiwan's grafters grow tomatoes

 Using CDs to fight disease

 Fruit and Nut - the answer to Varroa?

 South African lions fall prey to TB

 Zimbabwe's maize stocks drying up

 Of mice and nematodes

 Cottoning on to a fungal cure

 Abba gives a potted lesson in physics and marketing

 Chasing away hunger in KwaZulu Natal

 Facing the camera

 Weak pulses and slow growth in India

 Stopping the rot in the fish trade

 Keeping secrets in the rice race

 Award for WARDA

Facing up to Foot and Mouth

A new outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) reported in Swaziland, in January, has led to the culling of all animals showing clinical signs of the disease in the northern Hhohho region, a zone traditionally free of the disease. This latest outbreak follows an earlier one in November 2000 (see News 01-1), which led to the nationwide slaughter of 2000 cattle. The current ban on beef exports will be lifted after three months providing no further cases of the disease are detected.

Border controls between Swaziland and Mozambique have been tightened after reports of smuggling of cattle into Mozambique from the Lubombo region of eastern Swaziland, where incidence of FMD has been particularly serious. Farmers in infected areas have been selling their cattle to smugglers for sale across the border, despite the ban in Mozambique on all beef imports from Swaziland and South Africa.

Restrictions in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa have now been lifted following a successful programme to control the outbreak of pan-Asian 'O' strain of FMD. However, a fresh outbreak of FMD SAT '2' strain was reported in Northern province, 250 km north of Johannesburg. This latest outbreak is suspected to have originated from FMD carrier buffalo which escaped from a local nature reserve. Meat exports from South Africa have now been suspended by all the leading markets, and the loss to southern African exporters has been estimated at around US$257.7 million.

From March 2001, Argentina has announced a change in FMD control strategy by ordering a 'border buffer zone' and a 'restriction zone' which will be categorised as FMD free zones where vaccination is practised whilst maintaining the great majority of the country's livestock as FMD free without vaccination. This approach will be continued until the risk of FMD is seen to be reduced. See OIE for further details.

For news of FMD in the UK see Think the worst first

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Indian earthquake update

In the short term, the greatest dangers threatening the people of Gujarat state are dirty water and poor sanitation. In some areas water sources have become saline and undrinkable, and many wells collapsed or filled with debris when the earthquake and subsequent tremors struck. The thousands of corpses still to be recovered could pose a threat of spreading epidemics of typhoid or cholera, but for the 25,000 or more people living in emergency camps, dysentery from dirty water supplies and poor sanitation is the more immediate problem.

As part of its £10 million allocation for the emergency, the UK Government's Department for International Development has offered £1 million to Oxfam for water and sanitation, helping to fund provision of tanks, pumps, tap stands and latrines at over 40 locations identified by the Gujarat State government. With an estimated 80,000 people injured and 350,000 left with nothing, the relief agencies have the difficult job of prioritising both the types of help most needed, and the areas that should be targeted.
Email: enquiry@dfid.gov.uk

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AVRDC scientist inspecting tomato plantsTaiwan's grafters grow tomatoes

Grafting tomato plants to eggplant roots can extend fruit production into Taiwan's hot wet season and offer the plants greater resistance to disease. As a result of on-farm trials and training sessions run by the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC), grafting has now taken root in Taiwan, and seedling production is doubling annually.

Prospects are good for both grafters and growers. Grafted seedlings sell for more than six times the price of normal ones, and produce better, more expensive varieties into the off-season when prices are higher.

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Fruit and Nut - the answer to Varroa?

Beekeepers on the Caribbean island of Tobago have been forced to tighten up their operations to cope with the devastating threat of Varroa mites, first observed on the island last August. They have since been trained to recognise and manage the pests, using both chemical strips and natural products such as grapefruit skins, bay leaves and nutmeg. So far controlling the mites using non-chemical means has worked well, but the coming dry months will pose a greater challenge, as bee numbers will be naturally lower, and the destructive potential of the mites correspondingly greater.

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Zimbabwe's maize stocks drying up

Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union has warned that stocks of maize currently amount to around 200,000 tons, which could mean that by the end of June only about 25% of monthly consumption will be met. The CFU also predicted that the annual harvest from June is likely to reach 1.28 million tons, well below the annual consumption of 1.8 million tons.

Output has been hit in the last year by harassment and theft, as well as the failure of the Grain Marketing Board to pay farmers on time. The commercial sector planted less than 50% of that planted the previous year while smallholder farmers planted 18% less.

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Cottoning on to a fungal cure

Farmers inspecting cotton cropResearchers developing disease-resistant cottons have discovered a way to protect the plants from fungal attack. Scientists working for the US Agricultural Research Service in New Orleans have inserted a synthesized protein (D4E1) into the cells of cotton seedlings. As plants develop, it has been found that the protein inhibits the germination of at least 25 different fungi and bacteria. This is good news for the cottonseed industry which generates between $500-$700 million a year from products like edible oil and high-protein meal. The new discovery may help to limit the use of chemical fungicides in protecting plants against attackers such as Aspergillus flavus, a fungus which contaminates cottonseeds with the aflatoxin poison, causing substantial losses in income for farmers.

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Chasing away hunger in KwaZulu Natal

A five-year 'Chase away hunger' programme will be launched this April in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Focussing on remote and unproductive districts, 200 million rand will be channelled by the KwaZulu Natal Agricultural Development Trust, into projects that promote small-scale farming and cash generation.

One part of the programme is the settling of new commercial farmers onto state land. Another major project is a flood irrigation scheme near Weenen, which will bring 600ha of land into arable production. Further proposals support cluster development of agribusiness around community gathering points, such as schools, clinics and stores. Over one thousand submissions have been made, for projects that include nurseries, community gardens, poultry production, and small piggeries.

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Weak pulses and slow growth in India

Chickpea being processed by a family, Andra PradeshIn India, production of pulses and Soya bean has stagnated, and coupled with the increasing population, this has cut per capita availability by a third in the last twenty years. The country would need to double its current production levels to attain self-sufficiency, but recently the area under Soya has been declining, despite the crop being an excellent source of protein and oil. Better harvesting, threshing and storing could boost production levels by 15%, and there is a lot of potential for value addition through processing.

The Indian government has allocated nearly half a million tonnes of wheat and rice for distribution under food for work programmes, in response to slow industrial growth and the failure of the monsoon in many states. Meanwhile, farmers associations have criticised the government for buying food grains from other countries, thereby reducing local earnings. The government defends the imports as reducing the pressure on consumers, and checking the black market in agricultural produce.

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Keeping secrets in the rice race

Myriad Genetics and Syngenta, the partnership which has discovered the genetic sequence of rice has angered academics and crop developers by refusing to allow free public access to their data. The partnership has agreed to answer specific questions about the sequence but, because they are withholding the complete picture, critics accuse them of slowing down the development of improved grains. Pressure has now increased in China and Japan for a publicly-funded research effort which could make the information available to all.

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Backpack spraying witout protective clothingPesticide quality - a global survey

Around a third of all chemical pesticides marketed in developing countries fail international quality standards, posing a serious threat to human health and the environment, according to a recent WHO/FAO survey. The 'dumping' of pesticides which contain chemicals banned or heavily restricted in developed countries is one part of the problem, and pesticides found to be harmful are not generally recalled. In addition, many pesticides being sold in developing countries contain excessive quantities of active ingredient or toxic contaminants.

Poor labelling and insufficient experience among retailers is also common. Labels often lack adequate information on application levels or safe-handling, and many farmers are unaware that spraying their crop makes it unfit for consumption for a certain period. Eating it too soon can lead to accumulation of toxins in the body, causing chronic conditions such as brain-damage, heart and liver problems and cancers. The FAO and WHO have agreed to co-operate in a joint programme to develop specifications for pesticides.

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Support for the gene revolution

Researchers at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, have been awarded state-of-the-art equipment worth over £500,000. The new gene sequencer and analyser will be used in their work on marker assisted selection, which enables selection of plants for breeding based on DNA characteristics rather than on performance in lengthy field trials. It will operate 24 hours a day and process around 150,000 DNA samples a year, bringing benefits to researchers working on the genetics of grasses, clovers and oats in 24 separate projects.

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Using CDs to fight disease

In an attempt to promote a code of practice in dealing with animal disease emergencies, EMPRES has developed a multimedia programme outlining Good Emergency Management Practices. The programme, which gives guidelines for procedures, structures and resources that enable early detection of disease, prediction of likely spread, prompt limitation, targeted control and elimination, is currently available both on CD, and on the FAO/EMPRES website.

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Lions falling prey to TBSouth African lions fall prey to TB

Twelve lions have been shot and others are threatened after an outbreak of Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB) in Mpumalanga, South Africa in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease to livestock. Managers of surrounding game reserves have refused to follow suit, arguing that lions contract TB from their prey, and therefore killing all the lions would still not end the outbreak, which is thought to have come from the Kruger National Park. BTB was first detected in the Kruger in 1990 and currently affects about 50% of herds.

A BCG vaccine is currently being evaluated on a test herd in the Park but it could take time for results to confirm whether this would be a satisfactory approach for future control of TB within the reserve.

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Of mice and nematodes

The refusal of mice to eat the seeds of a Costa Rican tree, Lonchocarpus felipei, has led to the discovery of a natural nematicide. The compound, DMDP, is phloem-mobile which means that if sprayed onto the leaves of a plant it will spread to the roots. This method of control is therefore faster and more cost-effective than current nematicides, which are applied to the soil. In addition, the compound can be applied at much lower levels than existing nematicides and, as a natural botanical compound with low toxicity, it is hoped that DMDP will be registered more quickly and be available for use within three years. In compliance with the UN Convention of Biodiversity, the development of DMDP will be used to benefit Costa Rican conservation efforts.
Email: mary.clark@btgplc.com or www.btgplc.com

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Abba gives a potted lesson in physics and marketing

A Rolex 2000 Award for Enterprise has been given to Nigerian teacher Mohammed Bah Abba for his 'pot in pot' desert cooler. The new design, consisting of two clay pots, one inside the other, separated by a layer of damp sand, can preserve vegetables for up to a month. 'Farmers are now able to sell on demand rather than rush sell because of spoilage, and income levels have noticeably risen', says Abba.

He markets his invention using a video play, shown on a makeshift cloth screen, and estimates that three-quarters of the rural families in Jigala state are using it. He aims to cover the whole of northern Nigeria by 2005, and is keen to set up a website for exchange of information on traditional rural technology.

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Facing the camera

In a bid to tackle the problem of false identity papers and non-payment, farmers obtaining loans from the OMNIA company of South Africa, will now be photographed. Farmers representatives have said that the system is disgraceful, but OMNIA, which is the largest supplier of fertilizer to Zambia, insists that the photos are to be used in creating a database which will allow them to give better service to honest farmers. 'Zambia has no database for farmers, therefore we thought we could help those who pay their loans quickly to get agricultural inputs on time', said Dr. Maurice Jangulo, managing director of OMNIA.

Non-payment of loans has been a problem in Zambia for some time. Both the LIMA bank and the National Marketing Board collapsed because loans were not repaid. The National Farmers' Union has asked that a fast track commercial court be established to deal promptly with cases of bad debtors in the farming sector. However, the union has also warned that until the Agricultural Credit Act is strengthened, credit agreements will not be adhered to.

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Stopping the rot in the fish trade

A new 'toolkit' has been launched to help in the assessment and control of post-harvest fish losses. Research in East and West Africa found that some traditional processing and transportation methods led to high wastage and loss of income. The new kit, developed by the DFID-funded Post Harvest Fisheries Research Programme, consists of both written manuals and computer programmes. It covers such issues as icing, sanitation and insect infestation, and is designed to have applications for both small-scale and large commercial operators.

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Award for WARDA

A rice hybrid which combines the hardiness of African plants with the productivity of Asian varieties, has won the 2000 King Baudouin International Research Award. Large-scale testing by the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), who developed the variety, has shown its yield to be three to four times that of the varieties it is set to replace.

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