The latest outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, which started in northeastern Kenya in November 2006, has claimed the lives of almost 70 people. The epidemic has been triggered by extensive flooding in the region. Teams from Medicine Sans Frontiere (MSF) are working in Garissa, Ijara and Tano River providing information, trying to locate infected people and treating patients. Only about one percent of people contracting Rift Valley Fever develop the severe form of the disease, but about half of these die. People become infected either by being bitten by mosquitoes or through contact with the infected blood or possibly from the ingestion of raw milk.
RVF, a mosquito-borne viral disease, can also cause serious economic losses
in livestock, particularly sheep and cattle, although other animals are
also susceptible. A Nairobi-based FAO team of experts from the region are
working with veterinarians in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, alongside WHO
and international aid agencies, to draw up emergency preparedness and surveillance
strategies. Current activities are also receiving technical support from
the Crisis Management Centre (CMC) (see FAO launches crisis management centre) recently set up to co-ordinate
rapid response to outbreaks of transboundary diseases, particularly those
that are transmissible to humans.
The International Coffee Organisation (ICO) says that coffee prices are
higher than they were in the late 1990s, at US$0.91 per lb. Demand is at
an all time high, with world consumption increasing by roughly one million
bags between 2005 and 2006. Ugandan farmers took advantage of high prices
such that export volume increased over the year by 38 per cent and was expected
to peak in December. But despite heightened demand, coffee supply has fallen
sharply in the last year, with production falling 12.5 per cent in Latin
America and 11.6 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. The ICO says that the drop
in supply is due to farmers growing other cash crops, because of previously
low coffee prices.
credit: © CGIAR
Research on bananas, leafy vegetables, cowpeas, and pearl millet and sorghum was amongst the innovative science highlighted at the awards conferred to scientists at the annual general meeting of the CGIAR held in Washington in December 2006. Awards included the Outstanding Scientist Award presented to Ram P. Thakur, a plant pathologist at ICRISAT for his research on downy mildew in sorghum and pearl millet. His work has led to the development of new, disease-resistant hybrids, including first-ever product of molecular marker-assisted selection breeding, which have helped to avert extensive economic losses and hunger in many parts of India. Bir Bahadur Singh (IITA) received the Outstanding Senior Scientist Award for his extensive research on cowpea, including development of a fast-maturing "60-day" cowpea variety.
Thomas Dubois (IITA) received the Promising Young Scientist Award for his
work on developing enhanced banana tissue culture planting material resistant
to pests and diseases, whilst an innovative campaign, led by Patrick Maunda
(Bioversity International) to promote the consumption of micronutrient-rich
traditional vegetables and increase supermarket sales in Nairobi was awarded
The Outstanding Communication Award. The King Badouin Award, presented biennially,
was given to CIMMYT for its maize breeding programme in East and Southern
Africa, which recognises the development of more than 50 new varieties now
planted on at least one million hectares in sub-Saharan Africa.
For further information on these and other awards: http://www.cgiar.org/awards/awardsindex.html
Trials at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have succeeded in prolonging the shelf-life of avocados. The new technology slows the production of the ethylene hormone, which is responsible for normal ripening of the fruit, increasing the shelf life of avocados from five to ten days. The technology is already helping to reduce losses of exported fruit. According to Benjamin Chege, a senior research scientist at the KARI Thika branch, at least 20 containers of avocado treated in this way have been exported to European markets. Prolonging shelf-life will also enable increased export of avocadoes by sea, a more cost-effective option for small-scale farmers.
The ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has endorsed measures aimed at three major challenges facing rice production in the region. The first measure is to develop a series of environmental production indicators, focusing on biodiversity, pollution, land degradation and water. The second is the launch of Asia's first digital extension service in agriculture; the Rice Knowledge Bank. The last measure targets future generations, by developing 'rice camps' to promote the rice sector. Despite its importance in the region, few young people consider rice farming as a career.
According to Dr. Robert Zeigler, Director General of the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) "To have ASEAN member countries endorse
these important activities at ministerial level is obviously a crucial step
forward." He added that this level of ministerial support has not been
achieved elsewhere, and that there are plans to expand the initiatives to
other countries in Asia, notably China and India. The initiatives, co-ordinated
and implemented by IRRI, were endorsed by ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture
and Forestry (AMAF) at a meeting in Singapore on 16th November 2006.
The Rice Knowledge Bank can be found at: www.knowledgebank.irri.org
A new initiative is transforming banana cultivars, by introducing a banana
xanthomonas wilt (BXW) resistant gene from sweet pepper. Priority has been
given to farmer-preferred varieties. Spearheaded by the International Institute
of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the initiative will test varieties for BXW
resistance and environmental and food safety compliance in each of the countries
where the genetically modified (GM) banana can be consumed. A recent impact
assessment on the effects of BXW has reported that uncontrolled spread of
the disease could cost the Ugandan economy up to US$200 million per year.
IITA has also reported that other options need to be developed to fight
the disease. In Uganda, while up to 85 per cent of farmers are aware of
recommended measures to manage the disease, such as disinfecting farming
tools and removing male flowers, only 35 per cent of farmers use them.
See also: Points of View 06-5: Banana bacterial wilt
A recent international workshop to address the needs of foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease in endemic regions has recently been held in Agra, India. Whilst most of the western world is free of the disease, FMD continues to be endemic in many developing countries resulting in large losses of livestock, which particularly affects the livelihoods of millions of small-scale livestock farmers. At the national level, opportunities for international trade in livestock and livestock products, especially to more lucrative markets, are severely constrained. Whilst vaccines for FMD are available, these are generally not applicable for use in endemic regions.
The workshop, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust and the European Union was
attended by more than 50 participants, mostly FMD experts and representatives
of relevant international and regional organisations, pharmaceutical companies
and institutions which make FMD vaccines. Working through a strategic planning
process, workshop participants considered the profile of an 'ideal' vaccine
for endemic settings and developed research action plans in four focal areas:
immunology, vaccine design, epidemiological and agricultural economic tools,
and people and processes. A report of the meeting will soon be available
and made accessible electronically.
Further information: www.endemicfmdroadmap.net
Ten new varieties of maize have been recommended for full or pre-release
into the community by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) based
in Nairobi. The varieties were released after annual national performance
trials to evaluate new varieties in diverse conditions. Improved qualities
include high yielding, maize-streak virus resistant hybrids for release
in mid-altitude areas of Kenya, open pollinated varieties to be released
in the dryland areas of Kenya, and an open pollinated variety for frost
prone areas of Kenya.
More information about these varieties can be found on the African Crops Network
The European Space Agency (ESA) has released mid-project results of TIGER,
an initiative which provides African nations with satellite data they can
use to overcome water-related problems. TIGER research has allowed over
150 African organisations to study water resource management by providing
data, training and tools. Highlights of research discoveries in the last
four years include the detection of a previously unknown fault in Morocco
and an improved understanding of land use dynamics in Cameroon, where landslides
are on the rise. The initiative has also demonstrated tailored information
collection systems, in subjects such as wetland and flood plains monitoring,
water resources mapping, soil moisture charting and epidemiology. The African
Development Bank's Tefera Woudeneh endorsed the project, calling TIGER "a
tremendous leapfrog from the traditional data collection and information
management systems, which will enormously facilitate availability of quality
data for the development, management and monitoring of water resources."
Edible only by cattle throughout history, cottonseed has now been rendered safe for human consumption by US scientists, a discovery that may lead to a new source of nutritious food for as many as 500 million people per year. Research team leader Dr. Keerti Rathore says the transformation of cottonseed from poisonous to nutritious, is due to the reduction of a toxic substance called gossypol, which occurs naturally in all parts of the cotton plant, except the root. Rathore's team used "RNAi" technology to prevent the gene for gossypol production in the cottonseed from being expressed, reducing the substance to a level considered safe for consumption by both the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The gossypol level in the rest of the plant is unchanged, which is extremely important as the presence of the toxic compound in the leaves and stems prevents attack from pests and disease. Rathore says about 44 million metric tons of cottonseed are produced worldwide each year, containing 22 per cent high-quality protein. The research was conducted at Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Texas A&M University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Plains Research Center, all located in College Station, Texas. Rathore says widespread commercial production should be achieved within about ten years.
credit: © CIP
The International Potato Centre (CIP) has reported that farming communities in Peru continue to use toxic pesticides without protection. In five hotspots of hazardous pesticide use, an average of 25 per cent of farmers interviewed have suffered severe poisoning, mostly from organophosphorated pesticides, used to control soil-borne insect pests and nematodes. The study discovered that the most widely used pesticide in Huancayo, in the central highlands of Peru, is metamidofos, a pesticide classified highly toxic by the World Health Organisation.
The report warned that in general, farmers use minimal protective clothing
and often have family members, including children, near them in the fields
when applying dangerous pesticides. One solution, it said, is to eliminate
the hazardous pesticides from small scale farming systems while education
is increased; some companies producing the chemicals are running their own
training programmes. The study concluded that another solution is to introduce
integrated pest management (IPM). In Asia and Africa, pesticide use has
declined by 71 per cent in rice and maize production systems where IPM is
employed, without reduction in yields.
Further information: www.cipotato.org
President Obasanjo of Nigeria has launched a committee to investigate and
promote indigenous knowledge about herbal medicines. The President, who
has backed research to protect the country's indigenous knowledge of herbal
medicine, said that revenue generated from traditional medicine products
could reach US$1 billion over the next ten years. The committee announced
that a national policy on traditional medicine would be launched in 2007,
and has commissioned a book to be released in September. The book, which
is funded by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, will consist
of 1,050 research reports by Nigerian scientists.