As armyworms return to devastate crops in Africa, Lancaster University’s Professor Ken Wilson reports on renewed efforts to bring a sustainable solution.
As we roll into 2017, my thoughts cast back to a whirlwind visit I made to Zambia at about the same time of year four years ago.
I witnessed a major outbreak of African armyworm caterpillars destroying the vital maize crops of local smallholder farmers and causing a country-wide food security crisis. As you can see in the video below, I met with the then Vice President of Zambia, Dr Guy Scott, and told him of our ongoing research, funded (PDF) by Global Food Security programme partners BBSRC and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) aimed at developing a locally-produced biological pesticide against this devastating plant pest.
Continue reading Natural killers: developing better biopesticides
Blackouts and water shortages can severely harm a nation’s food security. Resource allocation tools can help policy makers improve energy access while minimising hunger, says the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Louise Karlberg.
Last July, Zambia found itself in the midst of a crippling energy crisis caused by low water levels in the reservoirs for hydropower generation. Load shedding (cutting off supply to parts of the power grid) became the norm, sending politicians into a frenzy because electricity is the lifeblood of the economy.
The blackouts had many negative knock-on effects for food producers. For example, while some large-scale poultry farmers were able to switch to alternative energy sources, such as generators to power vital equipment such as refrigerators, many of their smaller-scale fellows were unable to make this investment and lost income. And dairy farmers were faced with a range of other challenges related to the load shedding, as their plants can take several hours to regenerate after each power cut.
Continue reading Energy and food production: powering the balancing act
Training female farmers to get the best from their land can reap benefits. IFDC’s former president Amit Roy makes the case for fertilisers and other innovations.
By 2030, the agriculture and agribusiness sector in Africa is predicted to become a US $1 trillion industry. Farming has long been hailed as the engine of the African economy, and over the next 15 years it is going to need a jump-start if it is to feed the rocketing population, particularly in urban areas. Many factors will fuel this growth, but fertilizer is going to be critical.
Currently, 65 percent of land in Africa is degraded and lacking in the essential nutrients crops need to grow. Yet much of the world’s remaining arable land is in Africa. Replenishing undernourished soils is a unique opportunity for African agricultural growth.
Continue reading If agriculture is Africa’s engine, let’s add fuel
The global child malnutrition statistics make for pretty grim reading. The World Health Organisation estimates that whilst over 42 million under-fives are overweight and obese, around one in five children in low income countries suffers from stunting caused by poor diets.
The sad fact is it is many of these children suffer from a double burden of malnutrition resulting in stunted growth due to poor diets followed by a higher propensity for obesity later in life.
Principles of agroecology can get us out of the food crisis in simple steps. Tree biologist Roger Leakey explains.
We hear doom and gloom about the now ever-present Global Food Crisis, exacerbated by worsening climate change, and it’s possible to conclude that there isn’t a viable solution. This is exacerbated by the dichotomy of views on ways to address the future of food. The menu seems to be either a genetically-modified silver bullet from biotechnology or, at the other extreme, pure organic farming.
Continue reading Trees of life for food security
In a video special, the University of Warwick Crop Centre’s Andrew Tock tells the story of plant clinics that help people produce more and lose less.
My feet had landed on African ground for the first time. Despite flying into Entebbe in the wee hours of a mid-January morning, it was really warm. Looking at the low, red-orange full moon, I couldn’t stop smiling and felt a bit giddy. I had a feeling Uganda just had this effect on people.
Continue reading Bridging the information gap for smallholder farmers
The doctrine that food prices should be kept as low as possible to end hunger is wrong, says former FAO agricultural economist Andrew MacMillan.
Most governments prefer to keep food prices “affordable” for their people. Many subsidise their farmers’ incomes to let them make a decent living while they sell their output for little more than it costs them to produce it. Countries justify these measures and relatively low taxes on foods as means of preventing poor people from suffering from hunger.
Continue reading Raising food prices to end hunger
The ‘white revolution’ could bring food security and economic benefits to Africa. Cesar Revoredo-Giha from Scotland’s Rural College reports from the field.
In recent years there has been talk of a ‘white revolution’ in milk production in Africa. Countries such as Tanzania and Uganda have looked to follow India in increasing per capita consumption of milk and dairy products.
We take the white stuff for granted in the West. It is so cheap and plentiful that it has even become derided as a source of modern ailments like allergies. But so long as you are not genuinely lactose intolerant, the balance of evidence favours milk as a good source of sugar, fats and nutrients. And in developing countries, this can be the difference between health and malnutrition.
Continue reading Milking it in Malawi
How can young agricultural entrepreneurs make the most of the continent’s opportunities? Sir Gordon Conway of Agriculture for Impact reports on the Montpellier Panel’s latest report.
The time has come to debunk a common myth about agriculture. It is not a dead-end profession that requires eternal, back breaking labour on a farm. At least, it does not have to be. With the right investments to support entrepreneurs in agriculture beyond the production stage, in processing, retail, marketing and even business management, profitable careers await Africa’s young population.
Continue reading Why Africa’s youth should not shun agriculture
Diet before conception affects a baby’s genes. Paula Dominguez-Salas from the MRC International Nutrition Group reports from the field.
In recent years evidence has been accumulating that nutrition during pregnancy can have a profound effect on the offspring. Our group, the MRC International Nutrition Group, works in maternal and child nutrition and is particularly interested in this ‘fetal programming’ idea, because a child’s health (and possibly even its children) could be effected throughout its whole life – not just its early years.
Continue reading Why a mother’s nutrition is so important