Two CGIAR research centres - International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) and the International Water Management Institute, (IWMI) - are collaborating
with farmers and national scientists in Asia to discover ways of producing rice with less water.
Much of Asia is already facing a water shortage. However, rice which needs more water than any
other crop in order to yield well, is and will continue to be the staple crop of the region.
Techniques, which are currently being developed, include wet-seeding of 'pre-germinated
seeds' which are sown directly onto puddled fields. This technique replaces the traditional
transplantation of young rice plants into flooded fields and is already proving popular in the
irrigated areas of Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Intermittent irrigation of rice has been
pioneered in China and IRRI and IWMI scientists are currently investigating the techniques involved
to determine how the technology can be applied to other countries. Other techniques also being
developed to reduce water use for cultivating rice include land leveling (fields maintained at same
level), weed management, and management of cracked soils.
If a patent application by FAO is
successful, coconut water could become the natural sports drink of the millennium. Coconut water is
high in salts, sugars and vitamins and most of it is consumed fresh since, once exposed to air, the
delicate characteristics of the liquid deteriorate and it begins to ferment. Processing the liquid
has been revolutionized by Mortin Satin, Chief of the Agricultural Industries and Post-harvest
Management Service at FAO. To retain its 'fresh' characteristics, a new cold
sterilization process was developed to avoid the detrimental effect of heat treatment on taste and
nutrients. The new technique involves microfiltration of the liquid through a medium, such as
porcelain or a polyacrylic gel, which retains all microbes and renders the filtered liquid sterile.
The patent for the process is expected to be endorsed this year. Meanwhile, FAO is also developing
a licensing policy to allow the process to be made freely available to a wide range of
manufacturers to ultimately benefit the many small farmers who grow coconuts.
The cocoa market continues to be volatile as the price of cocoa continues to
slide and producing countries come to terms with the dissolution of marketing
boards (see Focus on Cocoa 99-2). And
yet the cocoa industry is generally in good health due to improved quality
and increased processing at source. However, as the cocoa and chocolate
industry faces the continuing challenges of globalization, delegates will
convene at the 'International Cocoa and Chocolate Convention'
to be held in London later in the year to discuss the future of cocoa
production and processing. It has been organized by International Quality
and Productivity Centre (IQPC) and Daniel Kablan Duncan, Prime Minister
for Côte d'Ivoire has been invited to give the keynote address
on behalf of one of the main cocoa producing countries. John McIntire,
Principal Economist from the World Bank in Abidjan will also be speaking
at the convention.
Exchange of information and experiences within the fisheries research community is to take on a
new dimension with the development of the oneFish Community Directory. Created by SIFAR
(Support unit for International Fisheries & Aquatic Research), this open directory will act as
a gateway to a broad cross-section of information for those interested in fisheries and aquatic
resources research. The directory is currently under development and testing but will be online by
the millenium. Users will be able to access and add to research literature, books, projects, maps,
related websites and discussion forums. SIFAR will host a small editorial team to continuously
develop and manage the top two category levels of the directory and maintain the quality of
content. All categories below these, however, will be managed entirely by volunteer editors
operating within a predefined regulatory structure. Like SIFAR, oneFish is funded by a range
of donors, including DFID (UK), Norway, Canada, Iceland, The World Bank and UNDP.
The commercial rush to get GMO products to market has resulted in mistakes, misunderstandings and a backlash against plant technology, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation told Monsanto Board of Directors in late June. Professor Gordon Conway, author of The Doubly Green Revolution: food for all in the 21st century (see review in New Agriculturist 98/1) was speaking as leader of an organization that helped fund the work of CIMMYT and IRRI that led to the first Green Revolution and which has continued to support plant biotechnology research with $100 million and training of 400 plant scientists from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Promising advances that may help improve food supply for the poor are under threat from
increasingly passionate rhetoric, Professor Conway observed, but, while some of it is motivated by
simple anti-corporate sentiment, there are underlying genuine concerns about the ethical
consequences, fear about the environment and potential impact on human health. There needs to be a
change of policy by Monsanto, he said, including a commitment to drop the idea of
"terminator" seeds, more investment to strengthen plant science research in developing
countries and the acceptance of food labelling because consumers have a "right to know".
Professor Conway also advised Monsanto that "It would be better to treat the poor as equal
partners in an honest dialogue". (see In print Hungry for
A new report Policies for soil fertility management in Africa prepared for and published
by the Department for International Development, DFID (UK) reveals that Global Initiatives for
declining soil fertility may be raising donor and public interest but are potentially misleading
and problematic. The urgency of the perceived problem may be leading to 'poorly thought out
and hastily implemented initiatives' which makes it difficult for other alternative approaches
to be carried out. Such interventions have been seen to undermine rather than sustain livelihoods.
Using case studies from a range of countries, the report determines that a more cautious approach
is required, which acknowledges that there are problems of soil fertility but that these are
'local, specific, differentiated and dynamic' and will require mostly local efforts to be
addressed effectively. (For further information see In print)
A new centre for scientific research and resource management is to be created in the city of Tefé, in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazilian President Cardoso has endorsed the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Institute as a Social Organization after the signing of a Presidential Decree in June 1999. The Mamirauá reserve covers 1.124 million hectares and protects many endangered species in one of the world's few remaining flooded-forest areas. It was the first conservation unit created in Brazil to ensure local participation of traditional forest people in the management and sustainable use of natural resources in the reserve. The success of the Mamirauá conservation programme, which began with support of the Department for International Development, DFID (UK) has led to increased support from national and international agencies. Mamirauá is now the core of a much larger project to establish Ecological Corridors in the Brazilian rainforests.
Natural rainforest honey from the Solomon Islands, produced with assistance from NZODA (New Zealand Official Development Assistance), is now being exported to Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, and New Zealand and is also being sold in Melbourne, Australia. Branded as "Pacific Dew", the honey is produced by the Solomon Islands Producers Cooperative. Set up in 1989, it now has over 300 registered beekeepers with more than 3000 hives. Most beekeepers are part timers, who keep hives in order to supplement their incomes which are derived mainly from fishing and gardening. Women are also encouraged to enter the business. Coconut and mangrove flowers contribute nectar to the blend, along with many other rainforest species. The honey is proving particularly popular, as it is disease-free and organic: it is produced in a pesticide free environment, no sugar is fed to the hives and no heat is applied during extracting or packing. (see Focus on: Bees - all sweetness and light?)
Several countries in the Near East, including Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran are suffering from the worst drought for decades. Jordan, in particular, is in urgent need of emergency food aid and assistance, according to a recent FAO/WFP report. Cereal, fruit and vegetable crops have been devastated and many small-scale sheep and goat herders are facing financial ruin. The report recommends immediate support of the agricultural sector in order to revive Jordan's production capacity for next year. Proposals for assistance include the provision of seed and fertilizers, additional livestock feed and supplements and increased credit facilities for farmers to pay for necessary farm inputs and support services. Vaccines and training will also be made available to cover possible outbreaks of stress-induced diseases.
A range of organic waste materials, including cattle and chicken manure, straw and paper, can help detoxify land contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides such as DDT. Canadian scientists at AstraZeneca have shown that bacteria, which feed on organic wastes, can use enzymes to split away the chlorine element of the toxic compounds and render them harmless. Manure, waste paper and wood chips, spread on contaminated land, rotavated to thoroughly mix the organic matter with the soil, and then tilled and aerated at regular intervals can reduce DDT levels by 95%.
The technique is both less costly than conventional soil detoxification, costing 50 to 33% less, and uses natural waste material to clean the soil and add organic matter and its nutrients to the soil.
Seeds to replace those lost in the devastation of hurricane Mitch in Honduras and Nicaragua are being supplied by four CGIAR centres: CIAT, CIMMYT, CIP and IPGRI. With crop food and seed stocks destroyed, urgent action was required to help farmers in affected areas to get land planted with food crops with minimum delay. The four Centres, with access to seeds and planting material for the main crops grown in Central America, have coordinated their efforts with government and non-government organisations to multiply seed stocks and target distribution to the most needy areas. The work is being funded by USAID and CIDA.
Bees can deliver antidotes to fungal and viral pathogens in strawberries, pome fruits and clover, thereby reducing the need for and expense of spraying with agrochemicals. Simultaneously they can increase yields by their pollination activity.
Studies at Cornell University have shown that bumble bees and honey bees can carry spores of the beneficial Trichoderma harzanium which is deposited in the flowers where it out-competes the spores of Botrytis fruit rot. Strawberries are primarily wind- and gravity-pollinated but where bee hives have been introduced to strawberry fields the yield of fruit can increase by 18-26%, individual fruit weight can increase by 25-35% (fruit are larger to contain the greater number of seeds resulting from better pollination) and the fruit do not suffer from the grey mould of Botrytis, which can severely reduce the saleability of fruit.
Cornell entomologist Joseph Kovach is awaiting a patent for the "footbath" that he has
developed to fit across a hive entrance; it can be filled with any of a number of bio-control
agents in addition to Trichoderma, which are picked up by the bees as they exit the hive.
Jute, once a major natural fibre, has declined in importance in the face of competition from synthetics, the switch to bulk loading of previously bagged commodities, weather conditions that have reduced production in the Indian sub-continent and former growers switching to more remunerative crops such as fruit and vegetables. (See New Agriculturist Focus on 98-2). However, writing in The Public Ledger, Anthony Poole believes that if niche markets are developed the crop can continue to pay: a significant quantity of cocoa and coffee will continue to be shipped in bags, jute will still be in demand as a natural backing for carpets and increasing demand for designer shopping and handbags provide outlets for a durable material that can be easily and attractively woven, decorated and painted.
The Middle East, the most likely cradle of agriculture and a major centre of crop plant biodiversity, is to benefit from a joint initiative by scientists, extension staff and farmers in four countries, together with two international research centres. The four nations involved in the $8.1 million Agrobiodiversity Project set up by the UNDP's Global Environment Facility (GEF) are Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Over the next five years the project will work closely with farmers and other knowledgeable people in each of the countries to identify and maintain valuable landraces and wild relatives of cereals, legumes and fruit trees.
The genetic diversity of the region is under threat from land reclamation, overgrazing and the widespread adoption of a few modern varieties and the safeguarding of farmer-grown varieties and the wild relatives of a range of food plants will strengthen the food security of these vulnerable arid and semi-arid areas. ICARDA and IPGRI will work with scientists from the Arab Centre for Studies of the Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) based in Damascus.