University for Women Key to African Agriculture

“ARU was incubated by the Uganda Rural Development and Training Program (URDT), a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1987. It is the first African university dedicated to training women.  It is one of the first African universities to be incubated by a rural NGO and show great promise in the potential for growth among local organizations. ARU is one the first universities to focus on rural development and entrepreneurship considering that Africa is largely rural.”

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Nanotechnology in agriculture: prospects and constraints.

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Nanotechnology in agriculture: prospects and constraints.

Nanotechnol Sci Appl. 2014;7:63-71

Authors: Mukhopadhyay SS


Attempts to apply nanotechnology in agriculture began with the growing realization that conventional farming technologies would neither be able to increase productivity any further nor restore ecosystems damaged by existing technologies back to their pristine state; in particular because the long-term effects of farming with “miracle seeds”, in conjunction with irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides, have been questioned both at the scientific and policy levels, and must be gradually phased out. Nanotechnology in agriculture has gained momentum in the last decade with an abundance of public funding, but the pace of development is modest, even though many disciplines come under the umbrella of agriculture. This could be attributed to: a unique nature of farm production, which functions as an open system whereby energy and matter are exchanged freely; the scale of demand of input materials always being gigantic in contrast with industrial nanoproducts; an absence of control over the input nanomaterials in contrast with industrial nanoproducts (eg, the cell phone) and because their fate has to be conceived on the geosphere (pedosphere)-biosphere-hydrosphere-atmosphere continuum; the time lag of emerging technologies reaching the farmers’ field, especially given that many emerging economies are unwilling to spend on innovation; and the lack of foresight resulting from agricultural education not having attracted a sufficient number of brilliant minds the world over, while personnel from kindred disciplines might lack an understanding of agricultural production systems. If these issues are taken care of, nanotechnologic intervention in farming has bright prospects for improving the efficiency of nutrient use through nanoformulations of fertilizers, breaking yield barriers through bionanotechnology, surveillance and control of pests and diseases, understanding mechanisms of host-parasite interactions at the molecular level, development of new-generation pesticides and their carriers, preservation and packaging of food and food additives, strengthening of natural fibers, removal of contaminants from soil and water, improving the shelf-life of vegetables and flowers, clay-based nanoresources for precision water management, reclamation of salt-affected soils, and stabilization of erosion-prone surfaces, to name a few.

PMID: 25187699 [PubMed]

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Rising risk of failed seasons as climate change puts pressure on Africa’s farmers

With countries pushing agriculture to center stage, comprehensive report seeks ‘climate-smart’ approaches for vulnerable small-scale farms that produce most of Africa’s food

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (2 September 2014)—Small-scale family farmers across Africa— already struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperatures and more erratic rains—risk being overwhelmed by the pace and severity of climate change, according to the 2014 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR).The analysis, prepared by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), with contributions from several African scholars, provides the most comprehensive review to date of how climate change will affect Africa’s smallholder farmers and highlights the most promising paths to producing more food, even in the midst of very challenging growing environments.

“Smallholder farmers are the mainstay of food production across sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ms. Jane Karuku, president of AGRA. “As climate change turns up the heat, the continent’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor Africans—most of whom are farmers—depends on our ability to adapt to more stressful conditions.” Read more

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Can Open Data boost economic growth and prosperity?

What interventions are needed by governments – and by the World Bank – to stimulate and support the realization of the economic benefits of Open Data for everyone?  How do we prioritize what kind of data is needed?  These were some of the simmering questions that were posed at last Wednesday’s World Bank Live event.  A collaborative effort among World Bank global practices and units – Transport and Information & Communications Technologies (ICT), the Development Data Group (DECDG), Open FinancesExternal and Corporate Relations, and others – this global policy dialogue event served as an opportunity to listen in on leading experts explaining and debating the latest evidence of the economic benefits of Open Data and how it can be applied to advance socioeconomic growth in the developing world.

From the short videoconference presentations we heard from five country officials, we learned that Open Data is already making an impact.

Examples of Open Data’s use and impact in India, Russia, Macedonia, Ghana, and Mexico
We first heard from Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary (eGov) at the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of India.  “Ever since India launched its Open Government Data Platform, we’ve witnessed more government participation and interest – across ministries and state governments,” stated Kumar.  He also pointed to an often underappreciated result of open data programs: increased data sharing among government agencies.

“Open Data is a major source for growth in Russia, especially for Internet and IT companies,” commented Ekaterina Shapochka, Advisor to the Russian Minister of Open Government.  She also added that Open Data could help increase the quality of government services to its citizens.

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Energy Poverty-The Role of Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora

“Access to energy is absolutely fundamental in the struggle against poverty,” said World Bank Vice President Rachel Kyte. “It is energy that lights the lamp that lets you do your homework that keeps the heat on in a hospital that lights the small businesses where most people work. Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism, and there is no opportunity.”

Energy Poverty is a one of the major challenges we face in Sierra Leone. Energy poverty refers to the situation where large numbers of our people’s well-being is negatively affected by very low consumption of energy, use of dirty or polluting fuels, and excessive time spent collecting fuel to meet basic needs.

In other words 60% plus of our people reply on expensive and unsustainable alternatives such as kerosene, batteries and candles for their lightning needs. Until the grid expands, which will require of hundreds of million of investment, the majority of our people would have to adopt sustainable alternatives. Solar lanterns is one such alternative.
Burning money: In Sierra Leone, for example, poor families spend between 5-8 USD a month of kerosene, batteries and candles combined. This amounts to 96 USD a year! This is unacceptable when many people, 60% live on less than 2 dollars a day.

At the same time Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora remit some 55 millions dollars every year back to their family and friends home. A large proportion of these remittances goes to household consumption. Very little is saved. As so many families are off grid, spending on kerosene, candles, batteries, diesel for lighting constitute a significant expenditure for many families. Given the alternative of solar, this is a real waste of money.
Unintentionally your remittances are contributing to Energy poverty and financing poor health. In addition, many of our children are not able to properly study because they reply on Kerosene lamp or candles.

Burning of fossil fuel like kerosene, oils, woods and coal are the biggest sources of indoor pollution. Indoor pollution causes half as many deaths as malaria, nearly as many casualties as TB, and half as many as HIV/Aids. Indoor pollution is leads to thoracic infections and lungs diseases. World-wide some 4 million people die every year from indoor pollution-the majority woman and children. Of the 4 million it is estimated 800,000 are children, majority in Africa and Asia.

Think about investing in a solar lantern for your relatives and friends back home. You can mitigate the effect of climate change by contributing to the use of more sustainable lighting alternatives.
The savings from not buying kerosene will free up funds for other household items or even schooling; reduction from the serious effects of indoor pollution; better light for studying purposes; safer home environment and more.

Visit to learn more. We have charts, diagrams and calculations showing the case study. For example, every year on average each Sierra Leone spends $97 on Kerosene, candles and batteries. A solar lantern costing $50, with a phone charger has no running cost and the battery can last from 3- 5 years. This means after year one you can potentially realize savings of $97 every year and you get better health!


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How Hybrid and Private Clouds Solve Problems for Schools with Limited Connectivity


The use of digital content is an exciting concept for schools in developing communities. Schools all over the world, especially those in developing countries, are adopting videos, ebooks, and interactive software to supplement the learning experience. However, schools with limited Internet (including some access to the Internet but sporadic and/or low bandwidth) face unique challenges. They cannot access content online consistently. Additionally, if the content is hosted locally on one’s own computer, how does this content get updated and made available to all in low bandwidth situations?

These problems have existed for a long time. The typical approach is to install a server somewhere within the school and use it to host content. Often these are either expensive Windows servers or complicated-to-maintain Linux servers. On top of that, there’s still the issue of getting these servers updated content. It’s typically an inefficient or non-intuitive process.

As one of Inveneo’s Project Engineers I’ve experienced these problems first hand while working in Tanzania. I was hoping there would be a better way to handle these issues and I believe there is: utilizing the private cloud or the hybrid cloud.

Public cloud systems such as Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Google Drive, and so forth are great for scalability and maintenance because you do not host them. You don’t have to run your own server to get these services to work. By using the Private Cloud you get to own the infrastructure (unlike Amazon or Dropbox). That means you are responsible for the equipment and maintenance. This may sound complicated, but there are devices out that make this very simple and can be reasonably cost effective, particularly when considering my favorite device families to use – Synology DiskStations. Synology DiskStations have been marketed widely towards small, medium, and large business as well as home users as a NAS (network attached storage) solution that offers file backup and fault protection (RAID) solutions. Even better, it’s set up to flourish in limited connectivity scenarios. Synology DiskStations are remarkably easy to set up (you don’t use a command line once), and it opens the door to many options that schools in developing communities can utilize.

Highlights of some of the most useful features for ICT4E:

1) Syncing of Content

Dropbox has gained a lot of fame by syncing content from a folder on a computer to their servers. This is great if you have multiple devices and want access to the same content. Synology has actually borrowed this idea, and you can set up your own private file sync locally! For example, if you have 50 laptops (or even tablets) in a school and you want to distribute a new video to each of the devices, you can simply add it to your Synology. It will automatically get downloaded and distributed to all the machines that have the Synology Cloud Station client installed.

Now consider the situation where the new content that you’d want to distribute is a video produced by someone else not near the school. You can simply link up the Synology unit to a Dropbox or Google Drive account and it will download over time in the background while connectivity is available. Once the content has been downloaded, it will then sync to all the devices locally (just like before).

2) A High Level of Scalability

If you’re working across a number of schools and each school wishes to have the same content made available, you can simply configure the DiskStations to be able to sync with one another.

Synology also has a wide variety of DiskStation devices that have different hardware specifications that are able to meet the needs of most environments. These range from simple and cost-effective ARM-based processors with limited memory to powerful Intel Xeon processors that carry up to 8GB of memory.

3) Easy Remote Management

With DiskStation Manager 5.0+, it’s possible to set up outside access to the units utilizing Synology’s QuickConnect feature and their Cloud Station Server client. There aren’t any complicated port-forwarding router configurations. If you desire a more advanced setup, you can choose to set up your Synology as a VPN server. They even provide free DDNS services.

4) An “App Store”…for Servers?

These devices have a growing list of applications that you can simply login to the device and select for a one-click install. Some applications include Moodle, Asterisk (for VoIP), antivirus software, and WordPress. See the full list here.

5) No Monthly Fees

A lot of cloud services have a monthly or annual payment business model. This is not the case for the services provided by Synology.

These devices are incredibly exciting, and I am really impressed with the direction that Synology has taken. The user interface is incredibly easy to navigate when comparing it to products that can do similar things. They’ve found a way to make servers simple without losing a lot of functionality.

The most similar products to the Synology DiskStation family are from QNAP, which I’ve heard very good things about as well, but I had some complaints about the UI.

For more information on the Synology DiskStation please visit the Synology website.

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Finger millet genomics project to provide researchers with better tools for variety production

Finger millet is a staple food for South Asia and East Africa where it has been grown widely for thousands of years. The importance of finger millet as one of the solutions to food security cannot be underestimated considering the many uses of the crop in a farmer’s household. It is a source of food for many households across eastern Africa and beyond, used in brewing traditional beer and the straw as animal fodder. Such versatility makes finger millet an ideal food security crop.

Benta Auma Ochola from Siaya County, Gem District, Sagam area is a farmer who has embraced modern finger millet farming practices as well as improved finger millet varieties. On her four-acre piece of land at Marenyu sub-location, Benta farms maize, sweet potatoes among other food crops and keeps animals.

In 2012, Prof Matthew Dida a researcher on the sorghum and finger millet project from Maseno University in Kenya introduced her to finger millet farming and she has not looked back. That year she harvested 67 gorogoros (two kilogram tin farmers use when measuring grain) equivalent to 134 kilograms, on a quarter of five-acre shamba (land). In 2013 she increased land under finger millet to half an acre buoyed by the good yields from the previous year and harvested 80 gorogoros.

This year she wants plans on increasing acreage under finger millet as her yields gets better and better. “By selling one gorogoro at Kshs. 150 (Kshs. 75 per kilo equivalent to $0.87), I am making more money from finger millet than I used to do from maize,” Benta beamed enthusiastically.

Prof Dida who has been implementing this project has been educating farmers about modern farming technologies whilst providing them with high yielding finger millet varieties.

Benta has been planting Maseno 60D and P224 improved varieties. These varieties are superior over the traditional varieties as they flower in 60 days and are ready to harvest in 80 days compared to other commercial varieties, which take up to 120 days.

“Maseno 60D passed the National Performance trials in 2012/2013 and is currently undergoing DUS testing by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) before being released officially as a finger millet variety,” Prof Dida explained. “We plan on disseminating these varieties to as many as 10,000 farmers in Kenya and across the region.”

Benta’s story is one that can be scaled out to a wider community with significant impact. However, it has taken the researchers many years to develop these varieties, a situation that needs to change if we are to bring these agricultural innovations quicker to the marketplace to address farmers’ productivity challenges. The conventional breeding methods although effective tend to take a long time because they are not very precise. Modern tools including genomics would augment and hasten varietal development process.

In March 2014, Bio-Innovate Program initiated a finger millet genome sequencing project to complement the work on the identifying, developing and delivering millet varieties to smallholder farmers in the eastern Africa region project that has been on-going for the past three years funded by the Program.

Sequencing a genome in layman’s language is “decoding” a genome to understand what each gene does. This will be the first ever of such work ever done on finger millet. Genome sequencing will give finger millet breeders a map that can be used to easily locate and identify genes responsible for progressive traits in finger millet varieties to assist the breeding process.

Bio-Innovate has partnered with the African Orphan Crop Consortium to initiative the sequencing of finger millet genome. This initiative is being coordinated by The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) regional team based in Nairobi in partnership with Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, University of California, University of Georgia (UGA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

The knowledge gained and molecular tools developed in this work will be transferred to breeders in the eastern Africa region to be routinely used in their breeding program. Finger millet has had low research investments and the genetic potential of this crop has not been fully exploited to address the productivity constraints affecting the smallholder farmers – especially drought and diseases, with productivity averaging 0.4 – 2 tons/ha against a potential of 5 – 6 tons/ha from research done in Kenya.

“The sequencing of the finger millet genome is important because it allows for the development of molecular tools to complement the conventional breeding currently used by the breeders.” Dr Allan Liavoga stated.

The combination of conventional and advanced technologies will lead to more efficient breeding process that deliver far superior varieties to the smallholder farmers in a comparatively shorter period of time. This is expected to significantly improve the productivity of finger millet and mitigate climate change, consequently enhance the competitiveness of this orphan crop – contributing to food security and improved livelihoods in East Africa with potential spillover effect in sub-Saharan Africa.

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