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

Abstract

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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Developing a clean system for sweetpotato and cassava: A Bio-Innovate Program initiative

Developing a clean system for sweetpotato and cassava: A Bio-Innovate Program initiative

In most of Africa, sweetpotato and cassava are the staple food and nutrition security crops that play a key role as food security and income generating crops particularly when the mainstream crops e.g. cereals have poor harvests. Cassava is versatile and can also be used for non-food purposes. Extracted starch and other derivatives are used as sweeteners, food, paper, biodegradable products and pharmaceutical industries among others uses.

The FAO estimates global harvest in 2012 at more than 280 million tons. In Africa, NEPAD has prioritize the crop as a “poverty fighter” as cassava is resilient enough to grow successfully under various agro-ecological zones where cereals and other crops cannot flourish – making it a suitable crop for poor farmers to cultivate under marginal environments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa has the lowest productivity (10T/Ha) compared to Asia and Latin America at 19T/Ha and 12T/Ha respectively, and yet, there is more surface area on cassava in Africa (12 MHa) compared to Asia (3.5 MHa) and (Latin America (3.0 MHa). However, diseases like cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD) caused by the cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) has devastated the crop reducing yields – in some cases decimating 60% of the crop.

That is not all. Access to clean virus free planting material is a challenge especially when farmers share diseased planting material from their yields, harvest after harvest. For sweetpotato, the International Potato Center defines the crop as the third most important food crop in seven eastern and Central African countries – outranking cassava and maize. It ranks fourth in importance in six Southern African countries and is number eight in four of those in West Africa.

The potential of sweetpotato crop to fight hunger and malnutrition in sub-Saharan African cannot be underestimated. Indeed HarvestPlus one of the Program’s partners has been working on orange fleshed sweetpotatoes fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition. The crop hardly requires much involvement beyond planting and can be grown in areas with minimal rainfall. Diseases like sweet potato virus disease (SPVD) have greatly reduced its productivity. This situation is exacerbated when farmers share diseased planting materials.

However, the production of these two crops has been on the decline. The Bio-Innovate Program has in the last three years under its “Enhancing Food Security through Improved Seed Systems of Appropriate Varieties of Cassava, Potato and Sweetpotato Resilient to Climate Change in Eastern Africa” project been working on developing a clean, virus free seed system for cassava, potato and sweetpotato crop in eastern Africa in addition to developing drought- and disease-resistant varieties that are adaptable to specific agro-ecological zones. In Kenya, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Genetic Technologies International Ltd (GTIL), a micro-propagation private company producing disease and pest-free planting materials, Mimea International Limited a private tissue culture agribusiness firm and Wakala-Africa, a seed company marketing quality vegetable and field crop seeds, partners in this project, have undertaken several activities geared toward delivering clean planting materials to farmers.

KARI has been working with regional partners in this project to developed low-cost tissue culture protocols for farm level production of quality planting materials, and have shared improved technologies for cassava and sweetpotato with their Kenya-based partners and farmers through a 3-tier model.

Dr. Ruth Amata a senior research officer at KARI is taking lead in all these activities. She is generating improved varieties at KARI’s laboratories. The private sector partners then bulk (further multiplication) the clean planting materials and dissemination to small-scale farmers in the region.

How does this collaboration work?

Dr. Amata generates virus free sweetpotato and cassava planting material, which she transfers to GTIL to multiply. GTIL then bulks up the vines at their facilities to strengthen the vines for planting in the farmers’ fields. GTIL then sells the clean planting material to contact farmers.

According to Mr. Edward Mbugua an agronomist who works with GTIL, they have been able to provide over 500 farmers in central and eastern Kenya access to clean vines since November last year.

Moses Njiriri a farmer in Ndeiya, Limuru in the outskirts of Nairobi is one of the beneficiaries under the project. According to Mr Njiriri, through his collaboration with KARI he has sold clean planting vines to fellow farmers in his locality.

Why is it important to establish a clean seed delivery system for sweetpotato anyway?

The current situation is that over 98% of planting materials are disseminated through farmer-to-farmer exchanges and sale of cuttings in local markets. This becomes a problem because diseases are transmitted through infected plant material and cause losses of up to 70% of the crop, severely reducing yields. This creates a cycle, which is repeated, in each planting season.

To further consolidate the gains achieved in the last three years of implementing this project, Bio-Innovate held a meeting in March 2014 that involved Farm Concern International (FCI) an Africa-wide Market Development Agency in this collaboration. What does FCI bring to the table? Farm Concern is working with smallholder farmers organized into commercial villages to add value to cassava and sweet potatoes and find markets for farmers produce. According to FCI, the biggest problem that they have encounter while working with famers is that crop productivity of these crops is extremely low.

Even if markets are found for the produce, farmers will not be able to meet the market demands thus making it difficult for the value addition industry to consider these crops as reliable raw materials. FCI is tackling the productivity problem by impressing on farmers on the need to buy and use clean planting material and links them to private sector actors like Mimea and GTIL as a basis of livelihoods improvement through trade. Mimea International Limited will work with GTIL in multiplication of clean sweetpotato planting material and provided these materials to Farm Concern International (FCI) who will then tap into their huge network of farmers to sell these clean planting material.

Farm Concern International will participate in this initiative by leveraging its commercial village-processing project, and is funded to the tune of $144 million to acquire clean cassava and sweet potato seeds for these commercial villages for selected locations in both Kenya and Tanzania targeting over 75,000 farmers.

This inception meeting serves as a forum for the partners to share, discuss and combine previous achievements and activities in creating seed systems for sweetpotato. According to Dr. Allan Liavoga, Bio-Innovate’s Ag. Program Manager the success of this initiative – slated to end in December 2014, will be a model seed system that can be replicated in the region leading to a vibrant private sector driven micro-propagation industry and the famers have access to these materials.


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Agroforestry systems can repair degraded watersheds

NAIROBI, Kenya. (27 March 2014) —-Agroforestry, combined with land and water management practices that increase agricultural productivity, can save watersheds from degradation.

A study conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in the Gabayan watershed in eastern Bohol, Philippines, has shown that agroforestry systems create a more sustainably managed watershed that allows people living there to benefit from the ecosystem. The benefits include higher crop yields, increased income and resilience to climate change.

Land use in the Gabayan watershed features a mosaic landscape that includes pasture, maize and some forest fragments. Credit: World Agroforestry Centre/David Wilson

Agroforestry is an integrated land-use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms.

The study, called Modeling the effects of adopting agroforestry on basin scale surface runoff and sediment yield in the Philippines, uses a computer-based Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to simulate the effects of different land uses on watershed hydrology and the ecosystem services provided by the Gabayan watershed. The tool predicts the environmental impact of land use, land management practices, and climate change.

Watersheds are areas of land with streams and rivers that all drain into a larger body of water, such as a bigger river, a lake or an ocean. Watersheds not only supply water for domestic use but also provide a multitude of ecological and cultural services, including water for irrigation and industry, shelter, habitats for biodiversity and, in very poor areas, sources of livelihoods.

Over the years, however, many watersheds throughout the world have suffered from intensive resource extraction and mismanagement. In countries like the Philippines, several watershed areas in the country are now degraded due to deforestation and soil erosion.

The Gabayan watershed incorporates a heavily degraded, multi-use landscape covering over 5000 hectares hosting about 60,000 people whose livelihoods depend on subsistence agriculture

Farmers here have reported environmental problems, such as floods, droughts, reductions in water quality and increases in soil erosion and downstream sedimentation of irrigation networks.

“The degraded watershed has been largely deforested and replaced with extensive agricultural and grasslands over the last half century”, says David Wilson, the lead researcher. “It has disrupted the evenness of river flow, resulting in alternate flooding and drought episodes, an accelerated level of soil erosion as well as downstream sedimentation”.

SWAT was used to simulate the impacts of current land-use practices and conservation agriculture with agroforestry in strategic locations. The study results showed a significant reduction in sediment yield (20%) and sediment concentration (35%)in the Gabayan watershed under agroforestry and conservation agriculture.

The study was therefore able to provide scientific evidence that agroforestry, combined with improved land management practices, are an effective land-use strategy for the watersheds.

“Specifically, the use of restored areas that have vegetation next to water resources and contour planting in grasslands appear to be the most effective techniques to reduce sediment transfer to the watershed river network”, says Wilson.

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The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and working in 24 countries in Africa, Asia and South America, is the world’s leading research institution on the diverse role trees play in agricultural landscapes and rural livelihoods. As part of its work to bring tree-based solutions to bear on poverty and environmental problems, the Centre’s researchers – working in close collaboration with national partners – have developed new technologies, tools and policy recommendations for increased food security and ecosystem health. For more information, visit http://www.worldagroforestry.org

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Crop intensification and organic fertilizers can be a long-term solution to perennial food shortages in Africa

Growing more food on the same size of land is key to increasing food production in Africa to meet the needs of an ever-growing population

Farmers in Africa can increase their food production if they avoid over dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and practice agricultural intensification – growing more food on the same amount of land – using natural and resource-conserving approaches such as agroforestry.

According to scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), crop production in Africa is seriously hampered by the degradation of soil fertility, water and biodiversity resources. Currently, yields for important cereals such as maize have stagnated at 1 tone per hectare. Climate change and increasing demand for food, animal fodder and fuel is likely to worsen the situation.

To meet the needs of an ever growing population, scientists say farmers can increase production and conserve natural resources by turning to agricultural intensification through agroforestry, an integrated land use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms.

This approach brings ecosystems, livelihoods and agriculture together. Replenishing soils, improving biodiversity and lessening agricultural pollution. It also decreases threats to food security and earned farming incomes – according to Sammy Carsan, a tree domestication scientist with ICRAF and lead author of a recent article on agroforestry and agricultural intensification.

In many parts of Asia, intensification has been achieved through the use of greater inputs such as chemical fertilizers, but it has come at a cost – causing soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and pollution which has impacted on food security and income earned from farming.

While growing more food on the same area of land is key to increasing sustainable food production and meeting the needs of an ever-growing population, farmers should avoid intensification that relies on heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Chemical fertilizers increase production in the short-term, but with time soils become increasingly degraded and broken down until there is very little organic matter or nutrients left. When soils are in this state, crops are unable to utilize the fertilizer and production is low.

“A long-term solution to intensification in Africa should not purely be based on an imported intensification model but instead consider approaches that can maintain the quality of the available resource base through ensuring nutrient cycling, organic matter build-up, biodiversity improvements and water quality regulation,” says Carsan,

Agroforestry practices provide appropriate technologies for maintaining resilient farms and ecosystems that make up the landscapes that provide food and livelihoods across rural Africa.

Source: EurekAlert

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Agroforestry can ensure food security and mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa

Agroforestry can help to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation while at the same time providing livelihoods for poor smallholder farmers in Africa.

Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) say agroforestry – which is an integrated land use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms – could be a win-win solution to the seemingly difficult choice between reforestation and agricultural land use, because it increases the storage of carbon and may also enhance agricultural productivity.

In a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, scientists say that in most parts of Africa, climate change mitigation focuses on reforestation and forest protection however, such efforts to reduce deforestation conflict with the need to expand agricultural production in Africa to feed the continent’s growing population.

Agriculture in Africa is dominated by smallholder farmers. Their priority is to produce enough food. Under such circumstances, any measures that will be put in place to mitigate the effects of climate change should also improve food production.

“This mixture shows the role that agroforestry can play in addressing both climate mitigation and adaptation in primarily food-focused production systems of Africa” says Dr. Cheikh Mbow, Senior Scientist, Climate Change and Development at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and lead author of the article.

“It has been demonstrated by science that if you develop agroforestry it has the potential to buffer the impact of climate change. For example, a farm with trees will suffer less to the impacts of climate change because it will absorb some of these impacts so agroforestry is a good response to develop resilience of agrosystems to the challenges brought about by climate change” he says.

The report however notes that for farmers to incorporate trees in their farms there is need to revise the cultivation methods and provide them with some support to ensure swift adoption.

Agroforestry is one of the most common land use systems across landscapes and agroecological zones in Africa but need much more adoption in order to increase the impact on food security. With food shortages and increased threats of climate change, interest in agroforestry is gathering for its potential to address various on-farm adaptation needs. “The failure of extension services in poor African countries limits the possibility to scale up innovations in agroforestry for improved land use systems “.

The scientists conclude that agroforestry should therefore attract more attention in global agendas on climate change mitigation because of its positive social and environmental impacts.

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Achieving food security for one million sub-Saharan African poor through push-pull innovation by 2020.

Achieving food security for one million sub-Saharan African poor through push-pull innovation by 2020.

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014;369(1639):20120284

Authors: Khan ZR, Midega CA, Pittchar JO, Murage AW, Birkett MA, Bruce TJ, Pickett JA

Abstract

Food insecurity is a chronic problem in Africa and is likely to worsen with climate change and population growth. It is largely due to poor yields of the cereal crops caused by factors including stemborer pests, striga weeds and degraded soils. A platform technology, ‘push-pull’, based on locally available companion plants, effectively addresses these constraints resulting in substantial grain yield increases. It involves intercropping cereal crops with a forage legume, desmodium, and planting Napier grass as a border crop. Desmodium repels stemborer moths (push), and attracts their natural enemies, while Napier grass attracts them (pull). Desmodium is very effective in suppressing striga weed while improving soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and improved organic matter content. Both companion plants provide high-value animal fodder, facilitating milk production and diversifying farmers’ income sources. To extend these benefits to drier areas and ensure long-term sustainability of the technology in view of climate change, drought-tolerant trap and intercrop plants are being identified. Studies show that the locally commercial brachiaria cv mulato (trap crop) and greenleaf desmodium (intercrop) can tolerate long droughts. New on-farm field trials show that using these two companion crops in adapted push-pull technology provides effective control of stemborers and striga weeds, resulting in significant grain yield increases. Effective multi-level partnerships have been established with national agricultural research and extension systems, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to enhance dissemination of the technology with a goal of reaching one million farm households in the region by 2020. These will be supported by an efficient desmodium seed production and distribution system in eastern Africa, relevant policies and stakeholder training and capacity development.

PMID: 24535391 [PubMed - in process]

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