As the locust control attempt enters a critical phase, FAO reported a 'remarkable' donor response to the crisis. Numerous swarms are moving across West Africa, and have reached the Cape Verde islands, southwest Libya, northwest Mauritania and southern Western Sahara. Large swarms are expected to move from West to Northwest Africa in the coming weeks. So far 875,000 hectares have been treated in West Africa, but significant damage to crops has nonetheless been reported. But donor response has accelerated in the last month, with about US$64 million received or committed so far. www.fao.org
The world is adding seven times as much nitrogen to the environment than a century ago, mainly as fertilisers. And by 2030 not only will the production of arable land have to be doubled to feed the population, this will have to be achieved with much reduced water availability since two-thirds of the world population will then be in water-deficient areas. Preliminary results of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) were announced early October by Robert Watson, World Bank Chief Scientist and Co-Chair of the MA. The MA has been conducted over three years and has involved hundreds of scientists in assessing how people interact with the environment. The full results will be presented to the UN in March 2005.
Kenyan veterinary surgeon turned eco-campaigner, Wangari Maathai, has won the Nobel Peace Prize. She founded the Green Belt Movement 30 years ago to motivate rural women to plant trees, and famously opposed past-President Moi's plans to fell a forest to build a luxury hotel in Nairobi. Opposing the privatisation of public land, she suffered physical assault and arrest, but persevered, inspiring her supporters to develop plant nurseries and plant over 30 million trees to date. Accepting an earlier award in London a decade ago, she observed that if everyone took care of the environment in their immediate vicinity, the world environment would take care of itself.
The Russian government has decided to approve the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, after delaying for several years. Once Russian parliament has ratified the Protocol, the treaty could come into force within 3 months, as the required 55 per cent threshold will be reached: this says that the agreement can become international law when ratified by countries together responsible for 55 per cent or more of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions. The Protocol has been in jeopardy since the US declined to sign in 2001. Once in place, the agreement will require 36 industrialised countries to cut their emissions, so that combined emissions are cut by 5 per cent of 1990 levels by 2008-12. Developing countries, many of which have signed, are not bound to specific targets, and indeed many do not contribute significantly to greenhouse gases. But many climate scientists believe that cuts of 60 per cent are in fact what is needed; and what is more, many countries are already well behind targets set for the end of the decade. Others believe that Russia's eagerness to sign is connected to strengthening EU support for Russia joining the World Trade Organization.
A review of 76 studies on organic farming and biodiversity has revealed that organic farming is, without doubt, beneficial to biodiversity. The review, the largest so far, showed positive effects of organic farming at all levels of the food chain, from bacteria to mammals. Ninety-nine comparisons were carried out across the different groups of organisms; 66 found clear benefits, 25 had mixed results or showed no difference, and eight found negative effects. The reviewed studies were from Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the US. And as some studies were carried out shortly after farms switched to organic farming, the benefits may not have had time to develop, according to researchers. The study was carried out by researchers from English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is published in Biological Conservation.
FishBase, a comprehensive database and information system on the world's fishes has been awarded the CG Science Award for the Outstanding Scientific Support Team. Developed over the past 16 years by the Scientific Support Team of the WorldFish Center, FishBase has evolved into an internationally recognized global public good for all involved in aquatic biodiversity and fisheries management. Updated monthly on the web in 13 languages, FishBase holds information on over 25,000 fish species and is also available on CD-ROM and DVD.
The work of the WorldFish Centre was also recognised in the Science Award for Outstanding Partnerships. In collaboration with 11 NGOs and private organisations, the Community Based Fisheries Management Project in Bangladesh works with over 20,000 households around over 100 water bodies. The central aim of this DFID-funded project has been to empower communities to make informed and appropriate decisions on the use and management of the fisheries upon which they depend.
Fish also featured in the Outstanding Journalism Award, which was presented to Natasha Loder, Science and Technology Correspondent, for the Economist in London for her article on how aquaculture may meet the world's demand for fish (See 'The promise of a blue revolution' August 7th, 2003).
DFID supported research was recognised in the Award for the Promising Young Scientist presented to Dr Lava Kumar of ICRISAT for his work on Sterile Mosaic Disease, as well as in the Outstanding Communications Award presented to the Smallholder Dairy Project for its work on Kenya's informal milk industry.
The CGIAR King Baudouin Award was awarded to the Rice Wheat Consortium. The Consortium was established in 1994 as an Ecoregional Initiative of the CGIAR in the Indo-Gangetic Plains and is led by CIMMYT.
Thailand is preparing to vaccinate poultry in areas near outbreaks, and plans to hold 100 million doses of vaccine for use over the next two years. Until recently, Thailand had rejected vaccination, since there is a risk of the virus spreading and even evolving in vaccinated birds. But Thai authorities have decided that if vaccination is accompanied by stringent monitoring, spread of outbreaks into surrounding areas will be more easily and quickly controlled. Eleven people are known to have died of the disease in Thailand this year, and the first case of human-to-human transmission of the disease is believed to have recently occurred in the country.
A new invention has managed to overcome insect pesticide resistance in the field, and may hold great promise for use in developing countries. The product, developed by scientists from Rothamstead Research in the UK and NSW Agriculture in Australia, and in partnership with Italian company Endura SpA, is designed to solve the problems encountered with simultaneous delivery of enzyme inhibitors and pesticides. The theory is that enzyme inhibitors overcome resistance mechanisms leaving the insect susceptible to the pesticide, but with simultaneous application the pesticide was inactivated before the inhibitor had the chance to work, while separate applications several hours apart are not economically feasible for farmers. The new product delivers two burst releases of chemicals - the enzyme inhibitor followed 4-5 hours later by the pesticide. Researchers reported 100 per cent mortality in trials with whiteflies in southern Spain, where resistance is normally high. They hope their invention, which can be used on food and non-food crops where pests have a metabolic mechanism of resistance, will provide cheap and effective pest control particularly for developing country farmers.
Transgenic drought-resistant wheat developed by Egyptian scientists could turn desert into farmland. The wheat, which contains the HVAI1 gene from barley, needs just one irrigation where eight were previously needed. Developed by researchers at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute, the wheat has had field trials over three seasons and if biosafety testing proves it to be safe it could be the first GM product on the Egyptian market. Scarce water is an increasingly important constraint to agriculture around the world, so drought-resistant varieties hold great promise. At the moment Egypt is able to grow just 38% of the wheat it needs because of scarce water.
A pioneer of low-cost water storage and application technologies is among 25 laureates for 2004 recently announced by the California-based Tech Museum of Innovation. The annual awards, which began in 2001, aim to accelerate scientific breakthroughs and their application for the benefit of humanity by recognising innovators who develop and apply new and existing technologies. Paul Polak and his team at International Development Enterprises have developed a range of irrigation technologies affordable by poor farmers, to help them make optimum use of scarce water. Other laureates include CARE for software developed to assist financial management for local governments in Ecuador; Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha (SSS) for mobile boat-based internet units to help riverside farmers in Bangladesh; and Dr BB Singh of IITA for cowpea seed multiplication work in northern Nigeria. Five of the laureates will be chosen to receive a $50,000 cash honorarium on November 10 at a ceremony attended by representatives of Silicon Valley and the United Nations.
The recent US decision to rejoin the International Coffee Organisation is seen as good news for coffee producers around the world. As the world's largest consumer of coffee, the US will be an important new member of the ICO, which is working in an increasingly difficult environment. Coffee prices are at their lowest for 30 years and many developing countries have seen exports, and small producers, suffer. It is hoped that the US will play a major role in ICO plans to improve coffee quality, sustainable coffee production, promotion of coffee consumption, and diversification programmes to help less competitive producers switch to other crops.
The first draft genome for the cow has been released by the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project. This output of the US$53 million project will be followed in 2005 by a more detailed sequence, and by comparisons with human and other sequenced organisms. The bovine sequence will help health and disease management of cattle and improvement of beef and dairy products, and comparisons will also help medical researchers learn more about the human genome. The result of an international effort, the sequence can be found on public databases including GenBank at NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information, EMBL Bank at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's Nucleotide Sequence Database and the DNA Data Bank of Japan
A recent discovery at the Sainsbury Laboratory may change current thinking on plant disease management practices. Scientists there have found that the rice leaf blast fungus, previously thought to infect plants only through the leaves, can adapt its infective mechanism to penetrate via the root system. Rice is the staple food for half of the world's population, and rice blast is one of its most damaging diseases, causing losses of about 157 million tonnes of rice each year, so the results are extremely important for rice researchers and farmers. But if it turns out that other plant pathogens have the same ability, the implications for disease management generally may be momentous. For example, fungicides applied to leaves may, instead of controlling the disease, simply cause the pathogen to switch to root-infecting behaviour. In the recent research, reported in Nature, genetically engineered blast-resistant rice was found to be resistant to both leaf and root infection.
1st November 2004