Could Food Insecure Africa Have Found a Saviour in Farming God’s Way?

Proponents term it the long awaited messiah that food-insecure Africa has been yearning for! ‘Farming God’s way’ promises to end fertilizer woes of resource-poor farmers in the continent by providing a cheaper and less labour intensive farming method.

Elizabeth showing how high and dense her "Farming God's Way" - farmed maize has got (A Rocha Kenya)

Elizabeth showing how high and dense her “Farming God’s Way” – farmed maize has got
(A Rocha Kenya)

Food security remains the number one major challenge that citizens across the African continent contend with. While the Green Revolution of the 1960s allowed erstwhile food deficient regions of Asia and Latin America to triple crop yields, food production in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has remained stagnant and in many instances it has even declined. According to IFPRI, among the factors fuelling the continent’s low agricultural outputs include poor resource endowments, minimal use of inputs (fertilizer, improved seeds and irrigation) and adverse policies undermining agriculture. Additionally, continuing environmental degradation, crop pests, high population growth and low levels of investment in agricultural infrastructure has further aggravated the resource limitations of agriculture in Africa.

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Herbicide Resistance Gene In Black-Grass and Rye-Grass Identified

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and Syngenta funded scientists at the University of York and University of Durham have discovered a gene called AmGSTF1 that plays a key role in controlling multiple herbicide resistance in black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) and annual rye-grass (Lolium rigidum). Now the gene that confers resistance has been identified, it is hoped that chemicals that inhibit the gene may be able to be used in future to make herbicides effective against resistant weeds.

Black-grass and rye-grass are widespread weeds which cause problems in cereal and oilseed rape farming. Management using herbicides is becoming increasingly difficult since both black-grass and rye-grass can acquire a single defence mechanism that confers resistance to multiple herbicides- known as multiple herbicide resistance. The genetics of multiple herbicide resistance have been poorly understood until recently, however scientists have now discovered that a gene producing an enzyme called glutathione transferase (GST) is responsible for multiple herbicide resistance. Scientists created transgenic thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plants with the GST producing gene inserted which were resistant. GSTs are known to detoxify herbicides, but project leader Professor Rob Edwards of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York believes that the gene they discovered works as a kind of ‘master switch’ that activates a range of protective mechanisms in the plant. When resistant plants with the GST gene are sprayed with GST inhibiting chemicals, they become susceptible to herbicides. This demonstrates the potential for using GST inhibiting compounds in future herbicide formulations to manage resistant rye-grass and black-grass. These weeds are currently very difficult to manage due to their widespread herbicide resistance.

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Black Rot Disease Hits Uganda

A photograph of a cabbage leaf showing symptoms of black rot. Image by USDA Forest Service via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 3.0)

A photograph of a cabbage leaf showing symptoms of black rot. Image by USDA Forest Service via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 3.0)

Vegetable farmers in the Kayunga and Mukono districts of Uganda are reporting crop losses due to black rot disease. One farmer, Twaha Kahooza of Kyampisi village, Kayunga Sub-county, says he had planted four acres of cabbages and was expecting about Shs18m (about £4,500 or US$7,000) from the harvest, however he only managed to get Shs5m (about £1,200 or US$2,000).

Black rot is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris and is one of the most destructive diseases of cabbage and other crucifers such as  broccoli, brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, collards, kohlrabi and mustard. The disease is usually most prevalent in low lying areas where plants remain wet for long periods. The disease is characterized by a yellow V-shaped lesion at the leaf margin which turns brown as the leaf area expands. The disease can also affect seedlings and can enter the plant through insect feeding or injury to the plant. Management of black rot in crucifers includes obtaining certified, pathogen free seed, ensuring there is enough space between plants and crop rotation.To read more about black rot and black rot management visit factsheets on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank.  

To read a Plantwise Factsheet for Farmers written in Uganda click here. 

To find out more about Plantwise plant clinics running in Uganda, click here

References:

‘Farmers count losses over black rot disease in cabbage’, Fred Muzaale, April 2013, Daily Monitor 

Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease Spreads To Uganda

Maize plants showing Maize Lethal Necrosis disease © CIMMYT via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Maize plants showing Maize Lethal Necrosis disease © CIMMYT via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Maize Lethal Necrosis disease, which was first reported in Kenya and Tanzania, has now spread to Uganda, raising concerns for food security in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture has warned that Maize Lethal Necrosis has been reported in districts in eastern Uganda, including Busia and Tororo.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Research Organisation, Robert Anguzo, has said that Ugandan scientists are working in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) to find management solutions to the disease.

More information about the pests and viruses associated with Maize Lethal Necrosis and the management of the disease can be found on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank

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Monitoring and Management of Desert Locusts in Africa

An adult Desert Locust © AtelierMonpli via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA-3.0)

An adult Desert Locust © AtelierMonpli via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has this month warned that Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarms are invading cropping areas of northern Sudan. The swarms originated from winter breeding areas on the Red Sea coastal plains and subcoastal areas in northeast Sudan and southeast Egypt. The situation requires close monitoring as more swarms are expected to form in the coming weeks that could move into parts of  Sudan and southern Egypt. If no further rains fall and the vegetation dries out, some of these swarms could move into the interior of both countries and also cross the Red Sea to the coast of Saudi Arabia.

Locusts belong to the Acrididae family (in the order Orthoptera which includes grasshoppers and crickets) and when triggered by certain cues such as increased crowding with other locusts have the ability to change their morphology, behaviour and physiology over several generations. This phase change occurs from a solitary to a gregarious phase, eventually causing the locusts to form dense hopper bands and swarms. One of the most serious locust pests is the Desert Locust.

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New Type of Invasive Whitefly Recorded In South Africa

The whitefly Bemisia tabaci (USDA image PD USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons)

The whitefly Bemisia tabaci (USDA image PD USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons)

A species of whitefly that transmits cassava mosaic virus has been detected in South Africa for the first time. The whitefly, Bemisia tabaci is a cryptic species complex containing some important agricultural pests and virus vectors. The term ‘cryptic species complex’ means that Bemisia tabaci is considered to be a complex of at least 24 different species that look almost identical but are in fact genetically different.  Researchers from a range of organisations including the University of Johannesburg, the University of Witwatersrand and ARC-Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute conducted surveys to investigate the diversity and distribution of Bemisia tabaci species in 8 provinces in South Africa. The study aimed to update the information regarding the different Bemisia tabaci types present in the country.

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Parasitic Witchweed defeated in Kenya

Striga Weed in a rice field © AfricaRice (License CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Striga Weed in a rice field © AfricaRice (License CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Striga, a parasitic weed (also known as Witchweed,) has long been a problem in African nations; causing farmers to lose billions of dollars’ worth of crops annually. To make matters worse, the weed flourishes in conditions that characterise that of poor farming communities (small plots, mono-cropping, lack of oxen and natural manure and lack of agricultural inputs.)

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What CABI Is Doing To Tackle Major Coffee Rust Outbreaks In Central America

Guatemala has declared a state of agricultural emergency after coffee rust fungus has affected approximately 193,000ha of coffee, equating to 70% of the national crop. As a result of the outbreak, Guatemala is releasing $13.7m (£8.7m) in emergency aid to help farmers buy pesticides and to inform farmers on ways to manage the disease. Honduras and Costa Rica have already declared national emergency and El Salvador and Panama are also affected.

Coffee is a major export crop in many Central American countries and it is thought that this disease outbreak, which has been called “the worst seen in Central America and Mexico” by John Vandermeer, ecologist at the University of Michigan, will lead to big job losses. The Institute of Coffee in Costa Rica has estimated that the latest coffee rust outbreak may reduce the 2013-2014 harvest by 50% or more in the worst affected areas.

To find out more information about coffee rust view our Plantwise Knowledge Bank- Coffee Leaf Rust PDF booklet.

Symptoms of Coffee Rust (Hemileia vastatrix) © Carlos Roberto Carvalho, Ronaldo C. Fernandes, Guilherme Mendes Almeida Carvalho, Robert W. Barreto, Harry C. Evans (2011): Cryptosexuality and the Genetic Diversity Paradox in Coffee Rust, Hemileia vastatrix. PLoS ONE 6(11): e26387. {{doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026387}} (CC-BY 2.5)

Symptoms of Coffee Rust (Hemileia vastatrix) © Carlos Roberto Carvalho, Ronaldo C. Fernandes, Guilherme Mendes Almeida Carvalho, Robert W. Barreto, Harry C. Evans (2011): Cryptosexuality and the Genetic Diversity Paradox in Coffee Rust, Hemileia vastatrix. PLoS ONE 6(11): e26387. {{doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026387}} (CC-BY 2.5)

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A Sting In The Tale- EFSA Assesses The Risks of Neonicotinoids To Bees

Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bumblebee Bombus terrestris foraging © Kintaiyo (License CC-BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bees represent a proportion of the insects that contribute to the pollination of crops, and the potential impact of observed declines in bees on crop yields, as well as their importance as pollinators of wild flowers, has resulted in significant attention and controversy in determining the causes of bee declines. No single factor has been found to explain the decline in pollinators, and it is thought to be due to a range of interacting effects such as climate change, bee pests and diseases, pesticide use, and habitat loss. More recently, some studies have implicated neonicotinoid insecticides in the pollinator decline, although to date evidence from different studies is conflicting and the topic remains highly debated.

In April 2012 the European Commission demanded a re-examination of the risks posed by the neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid and clothianidin, primarily produced by Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. A report published on Wednesday by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risks posed to honeybees by these three neonicotinoids.

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Why food losses are even greater than the Global Food report by IMechE says

by Daniel O’Hara

Harvested tomatoes with boll worm symptoms

Post-harvest losses are only part of the food waste problem © CABI

Yesterday saw the release of a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers which highlighted the shocking level of waste within the global food system.

The report, ‘Global Food – Waste not, want not’, claims 30-50% (or 1.2-2bn tonnes) of all food produced is wasted. In the context of a rapidly growing global population this amount of waste simply isn’t acceptable. The report also notes the waste that lies behind the front-line statistics. For each item of food wasted the resources which have gone towards producing it are wasted too. In a world of water shortages and energy crises this inefficiency can be devastating.

Despite its strengths, the report is limited in one respect. It fails to examine the entire food production process and does not take into account one of the biggest causes of food waste – pre-harvest crop losses. Although the report notes that “frequently poor weather conditions or attacks by pests of all types reduce the quality or quantity of crop harvested” it fails to properly account for the huge global losses which occur. Read more of this post

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