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News brief

 Cottoning on to better Pest Management  Shahtoosh shock
 Winner of the World Food Prize 1999  A-maizing success!
 Hawaii research centre for the Pacific  Agricultural markets Internet service
 Surplus grains for livestock  Viral epidemic in Malaysia: Bats take the blame
 Bacterial breakdown of pesticides  A hot topic: Chilli pepper germplasm
 Combating Botrytis and Fire Blight  Update on Hemp
 Waging war against Whitefly  Garden project bears fruit
 Natural piscicide for protecting prawns  Lentil lookalike is banned

Cottoning on to better Pest Management

A project for the development of a safe and sustainable strategy for the control of cotton pests has won an award under a scheme introduced by the Department for International Development (DFID) for its natural resources research programme managers. Farmers inspect cotton crop for damage by H.armigeraThe project was nominated by the Crop Protection Programme, which recognises the work of Dr Derek Russell and his team of the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) and collaborating Indian researchers in their efforts to help farmers combat pests affecting cotton and food crops. The award, the "Natural Resources Research Annual Award Scheme", was introduced by DFID for the first time this year as an acknowledgement of the research project which has made the best contribution to the elimination of poverty. Building on previous DFID-funded research, the researchers of this winning project have developed and tested an integrated pest management (IPM) 'package' of methods for farmers which encourage the build up of natural predators and target limited applications of insecticides for spraying against cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), a major cotton pest. The techniques have cut production costs and increased cotton yields which has enabled participating farmers to generate profits of 11,743 rupees per hectare compared with 2,540 rupees per hectare for other farmers. Farmer enthusiasm for the project has fuelled strong demands for the introduction of the IPM techniques into other areas. The award is granted to the research team in the form of additional research funding, which is to be distributed over the next three years.

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Dr Walter Plowright

Winner of the World Food Prize 1999

Dr. Walter Plowright, the highly-respected scientist responsible for creating a universal rinderpest vaccine which has remained effective, safe and affordable for over forty years, has been awarded the prestigious 1999 World Food Prize. Dr Plowright was nominated by the EMPRES group of the Animal Production and Health Division of the FAO for his work on the tissues culture rinderpest vaccines, now widely known as TCRV, which has made such a major contribution to food security. The economic losses due to this disease alone have, over the centuries and until recent times, been truly staggering. Just one outbreak of rinderpest, during the 1980s in Nigeria, was responsible for losses of more than $2 billion. Through the widespread use of the vaccine it is estimated that India has earned an extra $389 billion over the last thirty years and corresponding estimates for Africa, over the same period, amount to $47 billion and there are just two major examples. There remain just a few small pockets of rinderpest; in southern Sudan, southern Somalia, Pakistan and, possibly, Yemen. Complacency is now the greatest risk to total eradication but, had the Plowright vaccine not been available, rinderpest would not be the comparatively low risk it is today. (See 99/4 Developments 'The Final Push against Rinderpest?')

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Hawaii research centre for the Pacific

Hilo, Hawaii is to be the site of the US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Centre which will be managed by the US Dept. of Agriculture. US$ 5.5 million has been approved for the construction of the centre which is intended to address the critical research needs of crop production in the Pacific islands affiliated to the US. Farmers in American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will be given particular support in improving the quality of products for both local and export markets.

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Surplus grains for livestock

Bumper harvests in Japan this year are likely to add to its growing stockpile of rice. To avoid oversupply and to support local prices, the Ministry of Agriculture is to consider using 500,000 from an estimated 9.1m tonnes of rice to be harvested as feed for livestock. Filipino poultry farmers are to increase usage of local cornCorn is currently the main ingredient of animal feed in Japan.

In the Philippines, a ban on imports of chicken, pork and beef has led to a pledge from poultry farmers and feed millers to increase their usage of local corn in order to reduce stockpiles. The current corn glut has affected thousands of Philippines farmers. Many poultry breeders have been forced out of business as a result of cheap chicken believed to be imported from Australia. Others have opted for producing alternative crops in the face of depressed corn prices. However, the recent ban introduced by the Department of Agriculture in Manila has encouraged farmers to reconsider poultry production.

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Bacterial breakdown of pesticides

A 'curtain' of bacteria is to be used in a revolutionary technique to de-toxify pesticide in groundwater. A strain of Pseudomonas soil bacteria has been discovered by a CSIRO Land & Water team to break down atrazine - the most widely used weed-killer in Australia - into harmless substances. The permeable barrier of microbes, which are harmless to other organisms, is to be tested on groundwater beneath a suburb of Perth. The test area will consist of a 400 metre underground plume of atrazine which is the result of a previous chemical spill. The CSIRO team hope to select further specific microbes which are capable of degrading other agricultural and industrial contaminants of groundwater.

Pesticide residues in soil are also of concern but biodegradation of non-residual pesticides in soil is often occurring so quickly that the chemicals are failing to protect crops. Retaliation by farmers using increased levels of pesticides is not only costly but accentuates the problem as the microbes 'gorge' themselves on the chemicals and breakdown occurs even faster. A national soil sampling and analysis programme in Australia is to explore the risk of the problem developing in different soils. The result will be a database of soils and production systems, with information for farmers on how to avoid enhanced biodegradation by choosing the appropriate chemicals, application rates and frequencies.

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Combating Botrytis and Fire Blight

Joseph Kovach, Cornell University, inserting dispenser into beehive
Credit: Nyaes/Cornell

Bees are the latest recruits in the biological war against disease in fruit crops. These industrious insects are being used to deliver beneficial bacteria, fungi or viruses to flowering crops. As bees exit the hive, they walk through a small trough of powder containing the biocontrol agent which is delivered in sufficient quantities to provide effective control against the disease. The inserts have to be replaced at least every week during the flowering period. IPM entomologist Joseph Kovach at Cornell University, USA has discovered that placing bees in strawberry fields for combating Botrytis fruit rot also results in much larger fruit size than if the strawberries are pollinated by wind alone (see News 99-3 Bees for biocontrol). In New Zealand, researchers at the Ruakura Research Centre have used bees to deliver bacteria to combat Fire Blight (Erwinia amylovora), a devastating bacterial disease which affects orchard crops. This effective biocontrol method could avoid further use of toxic copper-based sprays or the antibiotic, streptomycin, which is banned for agricultural use in much of Europe.

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Waging war against Whitefly

New techniques are being devised to prevent Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) sucking the life out of India's tomato crop, which is both a high value export crop and an important subsistence vegetable grown mainly by women. Whitefly is a double disaster for crops such as tomato and tobacco, causing serious crop losses through direct damage to the plants and by the viruses it carries as a vector, such as Tomato Leaf Curl Virus (TLCV). Preventing Whitefly from attacking tomato crops is a priority for many farmersDFID-funded research has shown that protecting young tomato plants with netting is a technique that has readily been adopted by farmers. Insect attack, and therefore virus infection, is prevented and yields are increased. It has also been demonstrated that tomato crops treated with fungal isolates (e.g. Beauvaria bassiana) in field trials gave similar or better yields than those achieved with a commercially available mycopesticide (Biorin) and the recommended conventional insecticide Hostathion (Triazophos). Screening of TLCV-resistant tomato genotypes over five generations has identified at least two lines suitable for promotion to tomato growers and farmers. These will be particularly suited to poor farmers who cannot afford to buy hybrid seed each year as these TLCV-resistant varieties have been shown to breed true.

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Natural piscicide for protecting prawns

Natural piscicide will protect shrimps from predatory fishA natural piscicide has been developed by Thai and Canadian researchers to protect shrimp and other shellfish falling prey to predatory and competing fish that invade coastal ponds. SWIMTOP is made from dried crushed leaves of a fast-growing shrub, Maesea ramentacea, which are easily cultivated and readily available to local Thai fishermen. The active ingredients of SWIMTOP are saponins which are absorbed through the fish gills, destroying the gill surface and disrupting the exchange of oxygen. Shellfish have a different physiology and are not affected. The fish poison is inexpensive, harmless to other organisms and breaks down quickly, leaving no toxic residues in the fish or water. SWIMTOP can be used in both freshwater and brackish water ponds and, at a sublethal concentration, fish become sluggish so that they can easily be removed from the ponds. A patent for SWIMTOP has been granted in Thailand and Canada and a company is currently being established to handle large-scale orders of the fish poison which is expected to replace teaseed cake, another natural fish poison, which is expensive and has been found to be unreliable.

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Shahtoosh shock

Shawls worth up to £10,000 may be the prize possession of New York's social elite but few realize that they are made from the pelt of an illegally slaughtered antelope from the Himalayas. The Chiru antelope, which inhabit the high Himalayan plains, numbered more than a million at the turn of the century but are now fewer than 75,000 (see Focus on 99-4 Pashmina Passion). However, a worldwide crackdown on trade in the shawls has led to many of New York's wealthiest women being served with court orders informing them that they will have to testify before a grand jury to reveal where and how they obtained their shahtoosh. In the UK, an investigation led by Scotland Yard's Wildlife Protection Unit has resulted in the seizure of 138 shawls in a London raid. To stop the widespread slaughter of the animals, international trade in Chiru wool has been prohibited under a United Nation's convention since 1975. But wildlife and conservation organisations have only recently been able to prompt governments to take decisive action.
From a report in The Daily Telegraph UK

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A-maizing success!

Quality Protein Maize (QPM) is making a big impact on the lives of many of China's rural poor. First introduced into China in 1976 by CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre), Chinese scientists have used local, temperate varieties to adapt and breed QPM materials suited to local conditions.Trial (QPM) maize, Kumasi, Ghana The resulting Chinese-CIMMYT hybrids yield around 10% higher than other yields. In addition, QPM hybrids contain higher levels of two essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophane, that provide additional nutritional value and particularly vital to the growth of children and non-ruminant livestock. While some of the grain has been used for family consumption, the majority of it has been used to improve pig production which has enhanced household food security and generated greater income for farmers to invest in other activities e.g. water harvesting schemes for supplementary irrigation. Over 20,000 families in Guizhou Province, many of whom own less than 0.7 ha and have an annual income of less than US$ 50, have also experienced similar improvements in household welfare with growing QPM.

In Africa, a significant portion of Ghana's maize is now the popular QPM open-pollinated variety 'Obatanpa'. Efforts are also underway, with the support of Sasakawa-Global 2000), to introduce a QPM hybrid 'Mamaba' which has a yield potential for Ghanaian farmers of 7-8 t/ha. SG 2000 has also been collaborating with CIMMYT and the National Maize Research Programme in Ethiopia to develop QPM from the best local maize varieties. It is hoped that, in the next crop season, a few Ethiopian farmers will be testing on-farm the improved QPM varieties, which are currently restricted to research centres.

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Agricultural markets Internet service

Reuters, the global information and news group based in London, has recently launched 'Reuters Inform' - an online news and information service. The service will provide the latest news and prices, information and data for global agricultural markets and will cost US$175 per month. A 14-day free trial is available at

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Viral epidemic in Malaysia: Bats take the blame

Bats have been found to be the most likely source of a viral epidemic which has resulted in the death of more than 100 people and the slaughter of over one million pigs in Malaysia during the first five months of 1999. Studies by the Queensland Department of Primary Industry's Animal Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia have found that in some bat populations in Malaysia as many as 25% had been exposed to the virus. The virus, which has been named Nipah after the village where it was first detected, is transmitted by direct contact from pigs to humans, causing high fever, aches, eventual coma and death. The virus first appeared late in 1998 but the outbreak was said to have come to an end by the World Health Organization in May 1999 after half Malaysia's pig population was culled. The Nipah epidemic has dealt a particularly devastating blow to exports after 11 workers from a Singapore abattoir contracted the disease, one of whom later died, after handling pigs imported from Malaysia. The Island State of Singapore subsequently banned imports of Malaysian pork. In 1998, exports to Singapore alone were worth RM436.5 million. Malaysian pig farmers have been warned to stay alert for further outbreaks of the disease.
(From a report in Far Eastern Agriculture)

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A hot topic: Chilli pepper germplasm

Heirloom, or landrace, hot pepper varieties are being 'rescued' in the Caribbean with the objective of collecting valuable genetic material for conservation and for incorporating important traits from these varieties into a comprehensive breeding programme. Capsicum in fruit - GrenadaAs part of a Caribbean-wide project, being organised by a network of regional and international agencies, Mr Herman Adams, plant breeder with the Caribbean Agricultural Research Institute (CARDI), is currently collecting landraces from throughout the region with assistance from the Ministries of Agriculture and private farmers. Scotch Bonnet peppers dominate the Caribbean market at present, either fresh or used in pepper sauces, but they are susceptible to virus diseases and to common pests, such as mites and whitefly. Other popular varieties such as Wirri-wirri, Garlic pepper, Seven bud, bird peppers and the milder flavour peppers are expected to contribute valuable pest and disease resistance to future breeding programmes. The breeding programme will also select varieties suited for the production of non-traditional products. The hot pepper germplasm collection in Barbados includes over two hundred varieties but Mr Adams is eager to learn of the location of other Caribbean heirloom or unusual hot pepper varieties that are increasingly becoming less common.
Email Mr Adams, CARDI Barbados Office

An international non-profit organization devoted to education, research, publication and archiving information related to Capsicums or chilli peppers is 'The Chile Pepper Institute'. Organized and supported by under the College of Agriculture and Home Economics of New Mexico State University, the Institute seeks to preserve chile germplasm, of both cultivated and wild species, and to further the studies of Capsicum diseases.

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Update on Hemp

The harvesting of industrial hemp is to become more efficient with the development of new machinery. Hemcore, a UK-based company, has developed the machine in association with German combine harvester manufacturer, Claas to cut stalks down to a suitable length of between 30-40 cm. These can still be used in fibre production but are not long enough to become entangled. They also dry and rett (rot) more quickly. (See Focus on 99-4 The New Age of Hemp)

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Garden project bears fruit

Women farmer picks chillis from household plot, BangladeshPoor rural households in Bangladesh are to benefit from funds provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) for a project which is to make more effective use of small garden plots to grow vegetables and trees. The SHABGE project (Strengthening Household Agriculture through Bari Gardening Extension) is to be undertaken in conjunction with CARE and is to build on previous experience of CARE projects which, largely through use of formerly tested technologies, have produced a worthwhile and sustained impact for rural households. Nutritional and income benefits are to be achieved through targeting the poor, particularly women, and lessons learnt during the course of the project will be disseminated to a wide range of Government and NGO partners to help strengthen their capacity to provide agricultural extension to poorer households.

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Lentil lookalike is banned

Bangladesh has recently banned imports of vetch (Vicia spp.) after newspapers reported that the pulse is toxic and caused harmful effects on the health of consumers. Private traders import the majority of vetch from Australia. Concerns over the false marketing of vetch as 'lentils' has already resulted in an import ban of vetch in several other countries. The global market for vetch is relatively small in comparison with other pulse crops, with the majority of grain used in livestock feed products. However, it is widely accepted that vetch may be safely used for human consumption if the soaking water is discarded, thereby removing the accompanying toxins. But concerns relating to the suitability of vetch for human consumption in 1992 resulted in a virtual collapse of the Australian vetch export industry, where it is grown as an alternative cereal rotation crop. There is now an Australian national breeding program aimed at reducing the levels of all the anti-nutritional factors in vetches as well as the development of a lentil/vetch verification test kit to help importing countries stamp out any substitution which may occur once shipments have left Australia.

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