Roundtable brings high-tech farming ideas to India’s risk-prone ecologies

David J. Spielman joined the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in 2004, and is currently a senior research fellow based in Washington, DC. His research agenda covers a range of topics including agricultural science, technology and innovation policy; seed systems and input markets; and community-driven rural development. His work maintains a regional emphasis on East Africa and South Asia.

This post is re-blogged from the IFPRI blog.

Rice field in Bihar, India

Rice field in Bihar, India. Credit: Jim (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

Imagine agriculture in India as a high-tech, highly mechanized venture. Picture a rice farmer taking soil samples with a handheld meter to gauge nutrient and moisture needs, calibrating planting along plot contours with GPS-guided tools, placing rice in precise rows using a mechanical transplanter, and doing this with the backing of reliable, customized financing. Now picture this farmer as a woman—because most of the men in her village have migrated to the cities in search of better opportunities.

It sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t correspond with our image of poor rice farmers toiling in knee-deep water under the hot sun and monsoon rains, prey to the local moneylender.

But this future is nearer than we realize, and it was the focus of a roundtable on “Sustainable Intensification in South Asia’s Cereal Systems: Investment Strategies for Productivity Growth, Resource Conservation, and Climate Risk Management” held on May 19 in New Delhi. Read more of this post

Experimenting with Aquaponics farms in Nairobi

by Daniel Moore, danieljamesmoore.wordpress.com

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Some people say my business partner Jacquie and I are a little bit crazy. We are starting an aquaponics farming business in Nairobi, Kenya in the midst of poverty, pollution, power cuts, and corruption. We are doing this because we want to improve food security, job opportunities and create new business around the developing world. We could have found an easier startup (an oxymoron in and of itself) but we were both passionate about this issue and wanted to prove that a profitable farm could be built in an  urban context. Let me take you back a couple of years for a little more of my story.

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Keeping an eye on banana disease

The bacterial disease Xanthomonas wilt causes banana fruit to rot.

The bacterial disease Xanthomonas wilt causes banana fruit to rot © Pascale Lepoint / Bioversity International

Dr. Fen Beed is an experienced plant pathologist based at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He leads research for development activities to mitigate the impact of diseases of maize, soybean, cowpea, cassava, banana and vegetables and promotes plant diseases on problematic weeds.

The first and critical step to manage a disease is to diagnose the causal agent(s). Once this is done, appropriate control methods can be deployed, based on available knowledge or on results generated from targeted research. IITA led an initiative to define the factors required to create a functioning disease surveillance network across a region.

The initiative targeted the two most serious threats to banana in the Great Lakes region of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); namely banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum (Xcm), and banana bunchy top disease (BBTD), caused by the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). BXW and BBTD are established in several countries in SSA where banana production is of critical importance. Countries included were Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In order, to strengthen both national and regional communication pathways, representatives from both national research organisations and national plant protection organisations agreed to form a network for regional surveillance of BXW and BBTD. The specific objectives were to share information on the diagnosis and management of these diseases and to map their distribution across locations that were of strategic importance to the region. Read more of this post

New technology for detecting pests and diseases

by Keron Bascombe, Technology4Agri

IPM Scope for identifying diseases

IPM Scope – a new technology to aid identification of plant diseases © Spectrum Technologies

Much of farm enterprise activity is spent dealing with pests and diseases which significantly lower the yield of produce. For many producers this warrants the use of pesticides of many kinds to deter a wide variety of pests and insects that can either destroy crops or act as vectors that cause disease. Excess use of pesticides can not only harm the plant and its soil (or soil medium) but it is potentially harmful to those labourers applying the chemical and in the long run to those consuming the crop.

In this regard, early detection of pests and disease is paramount when operating a medium to large scale agri enterprise, as pesticide application can be minimised if pests are found before they get out of control. There are numerous technologies, ranging from simple applications to complex innovations, that can be used to identify harmful insects and the like. Currently, some of the more high-tech tools are quite expensive, especially for farmers in developing countries. However, as demand and use increases in countries such as the United States, these tools will become more accessible worldwide. Read more of this post

Helping to Secure Crop Yields Globally with Land Drainage

by Tim Sissons of William Morfoot land drainage, experts based in the East of England.

Water drainage on farmland

© William Morfoot

Along with a combination of other factors, agriculture, and therefore food production depend on the proper management of water to enable crops to develop properly and yields to be healthy.

Globally, ecosystems and environments vary greatly and even the most experienced crop producers can see a drop in yields when dealt a particularly nasty deal by Mother Nature.

To provide them with sustainable agricultural development and to help secure their harvest, farmers often rely on land drainage systems to help them cope with a deluge of rain or even a lack of it.

Although it may seem like an odd statement, a sustainable land drainage system is as important in areas of low rainfall as it is in those where rainfall is high. In the first instance a correctly installed land drainage system can help to minimise soil salinisation and in the second it is necessary to prevent the water logging of soils which can lead to a whole host of difficulties.

In 2002, the FAO estimated that salinity had damaged about 20 to 30 million hectares of irrigated land, resulting in loss of crops for a number of those working in the agricultural industry globally – upsetting food security. A build-up of saline happens more regularly on irrigated land due to the addition of salts in irrigation water where natural drainage is insufficient.

Land drainage is also pivotal for securing the quality of soils, as waterlogging prevents crops accessing the vital nutrients needed to grow to their full potential.

So how is land drainage relevant across the world? And how do different ecosystems use land drainage systems to their advantage? Read more of this post

The Model Plant

Arabidopsis thaliana

Arabidopsis thaliana is a model organism for plant science research

Charis Cook works for GARNet, a BBSRC-sponsored network that supports plant scientists in the UK by, among other things, linking researchers to each other and to the research councils, and providing an information hub for plant scientists. GARNet also has its own blog. Before working for GARNet, Charis was at Royal Holloway, University of London, as a post-grad student and then a post-doctoral researcher.

Arabidopsis thaliana, an unassuming Brassicaceae species with a short life cycle and tiny white flowers, was the subject of nearly 4000 peer-reviewed journal articles in 2011. A. thaliana is also the starting point of much of the research featured on the Plantwise blog, as plant molecular biology depends heavily on resources built on research on this small plant. Read more of this post

Crop wild relatives help adapt agriculture to climate change

Wild Sunflowers (Credit: Luigi Guarino, Global Crop Diversity Trust)

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has begun work to collect seed from the wild relatives of 26 crop plants as their genetic diversity may enable us to adapt agriculture to future climates. Guest blogger Dr Ruth Eastwood is Crop Wild Relatives Project co-ordinator, based at RBG Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, UK.

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