This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) define agroecology as “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. In practice, this means simulating natural ecosystems and using low inputs to increase productivity.
In 2011 the UN reported that by using agroecological methods, projects carried out in 20 different African countries were able to double crop yields in 3-10 years. The projects also recorded a reduction in the use of pesticides, leading to savings for the farmers. The agroecological approach has multiple benefits, beyond these economic gains. It also takes into account social and environmental issues, including soil fertility, water availability and climate change. Continue reading →
Nineteen plant doctors from the eastern and central region of Uganda are equipped and ready to give good advice to farmers – by Jane Frances Asaba and Joseph Mulema in Kampala, Uganda and Phil Taylor in UK
As Plantwise Uganda continues to roll out more plant clinics, the need for training of plant doctors to ensure effective, affordable, locally-accessible and safe advice to farmers has become increasingly urgent. Partners and individual plant doctors are demanding more training and access to information to keep up with the need from smallholder farmers for good advice against crop pests.
Farmers and vets across Africa are increasingly using mobile phones to issue alerts about potential pest and disease outbreaks. The recent introduction of mobile phones that use the open source Android operating system or the iPhone iOS operating system and include GPS and Google Maps have provided new opportunities for developing mobile phone applications, allowing communication between field workers and their project databases. ‘Smartphones’ offer computer like functionality and internet connectivity with built in Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers that give a detailed location reference.
Mobile phone applications can be installed on the phone to issue early warnings of pest and disease outbreaks. In Kenya, where three out of four people are reported to have a mobile phone, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College and local NGO VetAid to support pilot testing of a mobile phone application called EpiCollect, developed by a research team led by David Aanensen at Imperial College London. EpiCollect is a generic software developed for Android and iPhone which allows multiple data records to be entered and stored on a mobile phone and linked to a central web application that allows mapping, visualisation and analysis of data from a central database. The latitude, longitude and altitude of the current position of the user is returned from the GPS unit of the phone.
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.
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.