A new planting system developed by CIMMYT for wheat has been adopted by 90% of farmers in Mexico's Yaqui Valley, where the system originally evolved. CIMMYT scientists working in collaboration with researchers in Mexico have reduced the ecological impact of wheat cropping in irrigated environments by planting wheat on top of raised beds. Irrigation is applied between the beds in the furrows which improves water conservation and drainage. The beds are then re-shaped during cultivation for the next crop. Crop residues may also be incorporated at this time or chopped and left as mulch on the soil surface.
Machinery to form and re-shape the wheat beds is currently being developed in Mexico whilst a
Punjabi manufacturer in India has already built a prototype planter which plants up three rows
whilst re-forming the beds. CIMMYT is confident that the system will be adopted more widely as
additional machinery is developed and becomes available.
Hard on the heels of a recently signed deal with the multinational trading giant, Cargills, Côte d'Ivoire is now negotiating with UK processor, Mars, to build a cocoa-processing plant. Mars sources the bulk of its cocoa from Côte d'Ivoire. The global price of cocoa is falling and producer countries are anxious to restore foreign earnings by processing a higher percentage of the crop in country. The Côte d'Ivoire government will have to convince the processors that quality standards and quantity requirements can be met if it is to achieve its goal to process 50% of production by the year 2000.
The long-running dispute in the EU over whether non-cocoa fats may be permitted in chocolate could be settled to the disadvantage of producer countries. At a meeting of the EU scheduled for June, a compromise proposal to allow up to 5% of non-cocoa fat may be accepted, despite opposition from cocoa producers.
An innovative project which involves a novel use for wool should boost exports for New Zealand
at a time when world wool prices are in decline. King Country Trading, a private NZ company is
setting up a manufacturing business in China for building insulation made of wool. The insulation
material is to be produced at the same textile factory that already produces a profitable line of
wool duvets for the company. Although the material will be more expensive than other types of
insulation, it absorbs noise, is flame resistant and it does not give off toxic fumes. People are
also prepared to pay more for the wool insulation, as it is a natural product. The project, which
is supported by a loan from the Asia Development Assistance Fund (ADAF) should not only enhance
exports for New Zealand but also extend manufacturing opportunities for China and earn valuable
foreign currency for the developing Chinese economy. King Country Trading is now investigating the
possibility of manufacturing other products in China made from NZ wool.
varieties and agronomic practices have enabled Egypt to double the production of faba bean in
twenty years without increasing the area of land planted to the crop. Yields per hectare are now
the third highest in the world. The increased yield level is a result of 'improved production'
packages developed by ICARDA and the Egyptian national program. The improved faba bean varieties
used in the package are resistant to Chocolate Spot and Rust diseases, and to the parasitic weed
Broomrape. Planting of these resistant varieties has also significantly reduced levels of chemicals
traditionally used to control these pests and diseases.
A workshop, organised by DFID, to discuss land tenure issues in Africa was held 16-19 February 1999 at Sunningdale Civil Service College, UK. The workshop was attended by 80 delegates, most from African governments, NGOs and research institutions as well as donor and DFID representatives.
Discussions were based on papers presented by African delegates on a wide range of land tenure
related topics including issues of land and economic development, women's land rights and policy
and legal reform processes. The principal recommendation was that donors should now try to
facilitate the establishment of an African-owned network on land tenure and land policy which
should be used to further land tenure issues through regional meeetings and training. A workshop
report will be available on the internet. The proceedings of the workshop will form the basis of a
book on land tenure issues.
High rainfall has produced a heavy first crop of chillis in Malawi but the glut is likely to
reduce both prices and quality. Chillis produce most pungency and flavour when the season is hot
and dry and, since most are sun-dried, the longer than usual rainy season has also hindered drying.
Strategies for controlling
stemborer and striga problems in maize crops in Kenya are to be expanded to a regional level to
include similar projects in neighbouring countries. Collaboration between ICIPE, IACR-Rothamsted,
KARI and the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya has led to use of grasses to control stemborers.
Napier grass or Sudan grass, planted around crop perimeters are effective in trapping the insect
pests whilst molasses grass or leguminous silver leaf can be intercropped to repel stemborers away
from the maize crop. Silver leaf is also able to effectively suppress striga. All four plants are
of economic importance to East African farmers as livestock fodder and all have performed well in
on-farm trials. The new habitat management strategies are to be tested in four sites in different
agro-ecosystems in each of the four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The project is
to run for five years and is to involve a minimum of 300 participating farmers at each of the
sites. (See 98-6 Focus On "Sweet Smell of Success")
DFID has recently opened its new Aid Management Office in Kathmandu, Nepal. The office will be responsible for implementing an innovative programme of development in this fascinating and beautiful country.
The overall objective of the programme will be to help the Nepal Government and key institutions of civil society better to address the development needs of Nepal. The programme will build on previous work supported by DFID but will develop a new approach with a much longer time horizon.
With a per capita income of about US$200, and a low level of human development, Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries. The population of 21 million is increasing rapidly. Over half have less than $1 per day; many have low literacy and poor health and suffer the disadvantages of a caste system, powerful vested interests and political instability. Solving these problems will require a major increase in the capability and effectiveness of institutions in both state and civil society and the programme is intended to assist in poverty reduction.
Radio remains the most popular and effective medium for communication to rural people in Fiji, according to a report from the University of the South Pacific. Farmers questioned responded that radio kept them updated with agricultural information and news of activities, and remained relatively low cost. Indeed, radio is arguably still the least cost of the mass media and enjoys almost 100 per cent penetration in rural areas throughout the Pacific region.
Despite its often perceived limitation of being a "one way" form of communication, radio continues to appeal because it is so widely and readily available in scattered and remote communities, and because audiences can listen while simultaneously doing something else: no "down time" need be sacrificed while listening. The same extent of and reasons for popularity were quoted by rural people in a recent survey conducted in Bangladesh funded by DFID.
In the Fiji study farmers were asked to rank 16 different extension methods, though not TV, which is not available in many rural areas. In Bangladesh radio was declared the most valuable source of agricultural information, topping TV and extension officers.
The UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) has revised its successful Renewable Natural Resources Knowledge Strategy to include both bilateral and multilateral components. The bilateral component is organized as twelve research programmes covering livelihood systems in agriculture, forestry, livestock and fisheries. These programmes are managed by institutions contracted by DFID to deliver development objectives over a ten year period. The multilateral component entails working with and influencing the international renewable natural resources research community, in particular through the CGIAR. The overall objective is to eliminate poverty by providing new opportunities for the poor. The Knowledge Strategy is designed to ensure relevance, uptake and impact of programme outputs.
A new technique for growing wheat under harsh conditions promises to increase grain yields by up
The AUS-aid funded research aims to improve stress
tolerance of wheat during the growth stage known as 'grain filling'. The joint project, which
is being developed by scientists at the University of Western Australia and Agriculture Western
Australia, is seeking to identify the physiological mechanisms that confer high yields when wheat
plants are exposed to stresses such as heat and drought. Preliminary data indicates that a new
wheat cultivar from Western Australia is particularly high yielding under drought conditions, with
stem carbohydrates being correspondingly high. Scientists at UWA are continuing to examine other
co-factors which correlate to high stem carbohydrates to provide plant breeders with simple,
non-destructive indicators in order to develop new selection criteria for cereal germplasm
Three Samoan cultivars identified with strong resistance to Taro Leaf Blight have been
multiplied and distributed to farmers in Samoa where the disease devastated the crop, the national
staple, four years ago. However, the adoption of these varieties has been hindered by factors such
as general appearance, palatability, acidity, and cooking qualities. Consumers in the local market
continue to seek out
traditional Taro Samoa, rather
than the multitude of exotic varieties currently being promoted to farmers. Scientists at the
University of the South Pacific (USP), Western Samoa are currently collaborating with other
organisations to overcome the problem of taro leaf blight in the region. Activities in Samoa
involve breeding and screening of progenies for resistance to leaf blight and evaluation of exotic
taro varieties from Palau. To complement this TAROGEN (Taro Genetic Resources) project, the
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has initiated a project which
involves the virus indexing and DNA fingerprinting of taro germplasm.
A small fruited, heat tolerant hybrid tomato is proving a popular choice for use in the famous
Thai papaya salad,
Somtam. It is one of two hybrid varieties recently released in Thailand from a joint
*AVRDC/TVRC breeding programme. The small pink oval-shaped fruits suffer little cracking and are in
strong demand with chefs and consumers. The second variety, an open-pollinated cherry type, is
moderately heat tolerant with small red oblong fruits. Despite suffering from heavy cracking in the
rainy season, this variety is particularly popular with farmers and seed agencies are finding it
difficult to keep up with demand.
A combination of bad weather and the continuing economic crisis in Indonesia is expected to result in a decline in cocoa exports this year. The value of cocoa is expected to drop by 8% along with a similar decrease in coffee, rubber and palm oil exports from Indonesia. However, the Indonesian Cocoa Association has projected an overall rise in cocoa production in Indonesia by 2005 as plantations are extended and higher yields are obtained from previously unproductive areas. Indonesia is currently the third largest cocoa exporter after Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.
Meanwhile West Africa has experienced mostly favourable weather conditions as La Niña has continued into this year. The Public Ledger reports that cocoa harvests in the region are expected to be good. Nigeria, in particular, is set to harvest its largest cocoa crop since 1992/3 as favourable climatic conditions have led to an early mid-crop harvest which will add to the high main crop harvested in February. New varieties introduced into the south-east of the country have contributed to the increased output.
Other key producing areas are likely to experience minor to major weather problems which will
limit output. Overall, world production is likely to be higher than last year, but a deficit
between production and consumption is still expected for the third successive year. (see
Focus On cocoa)
"The rate of extinction of plant species is continuing at an alarming rate", warned
Dr. Geoffrey Hawtin at a recent ceremony to mark the 25th Anniversary of the International Plant
Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) in Rome. In the past several decades, thousands of different
varieties of rice, wheat, maize and other vital crops have disappeared. And, despite growing global
awareness about the importance of genetic resources conservation, this trend continues as genes
that could be vital for breeding better and stronger crops are lost irretrievably. Outlining
IPGRI's new strategic plan, Dr Hawtin said that the Institute hopes to stimulate the sustainable
use of plant genetic resources, increase its activities on the conservation of forest diversity and
on wild plant species, and expand co-operation with a broader range of partners.