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Soil Scientist – Post-Doctoral Fellow (ICRAF)

Post-doctoral fellow – soil scientist

If you can contribute to ICRAF’s research on soil spectral methods, especially to further develop experimental and data analytical and interpretation methods that lead to new products, that provide actionable knowledge and evidenced-based policy for sustainable soil management, then you are the person we are looking for. For over a decade ICRAF has being working on soil infrared spectral methods for rapid prediction of soil functional properties. These methods are now being widely applied in land health surveillance schemes that employ a standardized protocol for landscape level measurement and mapping of soil conditions. The framework is being applied throughout sub-Saharan Africa under the Africa Soil Information Service (www.africasoils.net) as well as in an increasing number of land management projects. ICRAF has recently extended these techniques to include laser and x-ray methods under its new Soil-Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory, and is supporting a network of infrared spectroscopy labs across Africa.

Closing date is 30th April 2012 and more information can be obtained from: the World Agroforestry Centre. Applications for the position of Landscape Ecologist also close on 30th April.

The latest version of New Agriculturist on CD

The latest version of New Agriculturist on CD is now available. If you would like to request the latest edition of the New Agriculturist CD-Resource they would be pleased to send you a copy.
This new CD contains articles published in the online journal New Agriculturist, up to April 2011.

This is an invaluable resource for anybody with an interest in agriculture in Kenya. Past articles have included:

Making the most of mighty moringa

Growing demand for Kenya’s khat

Wastewater irrigation empowers Kenya’s urban farmers

Commercialising biotech crops – the global picture

The food miles debate

The impact of Rift Valley fever in Kenya

To request a copy – please send your name and full postal address to post[AT]wrenmedia.co.uk or o.frost[AT]wrenmedia.co.uk or fill in the online form.
If you have any comments/feedback on how you have used the CD resource – they would much appreciate them: so remember to carry your camera.


KENYA: Rice and Improving the Yields in Kenya

KENYA: Improving yields key to boosting rice farmers’ livelihoods

Photo: David Hecht/IRINAHERO, 3 March 2011 (IRIN) – After spending Ksh35,000 (US$437) on his 0.4 hectare rice plantation – preparing the land, paying for water, transplanting the rice and hiring casual labour – Vincent Opiyo hopes to make Ksh65,000 ($812) when he sells the rice, which takes about three months to mature.

“I expect to harvest 25 bags [50kg each] from this [land] but I know I could get more if I were to improve the yield,” Opiyo, 49, father of eight, told IRIN at the Ahero Rice Irrigation Scheme in Nyanza province.

In addition to the high costs of inputs, the farmers, who are “licensees” on trust land, struggle to access credit as they lack title deeds.

Were it not for what he earns working for the National Irrigation Board (NIB) – which runs the Ahero scheme – Opiyo would not meet the needs of his family from farming.

“Poverty is very high among many farmers under the Ahero scheme because they never make enough to cover needs such as school fees and payment for medicine when children fall sick; look at the structures we live in, most of them are semi-permanent,” Opiyo said.

“Many of us do not even own a cow or some goats. Our father managed to [send] us to school from the proceeds of his [1.6ha] of rice, but for us, his children, it is no longer enough.”

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
The average yield of Basmati rice at Ahero is 13-25 (75kg) bags per 0.4ha when it should be 20-30 bags

Low yields, better prospects

According to NIB, the average yield of Basmati rice at Ahero is 13-25 (75kg) bags per 0.4ha when it should be 20-30 bags; while the yield for Sindano rice is 15-30 bags, when it should be more than 30 bags.

At the start of operations in 1969, the Ahero Irrigation Scheme had 519 farmers, each with 1.6ha held on trust by the government. The farmers have since sub-divided their farms among their children but they are not allowed to sub-divide below 0.4ha or sell the land.

In 2009, a farmer-oriented funding arrangement, known as the Revolving Fund, was set up to support the farmers’ production and marketing efforts.

Jacob Ongere, a farmer at the Ahero scheme and an extension officer with the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN that with the Revolving Fund and the government’s Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP), things were now looking up.

“The profit that farmers are making is still way below average but we hope this will change with more funding and support in sectors such as marketing and capacity-building,” he said.

Through the Revolving Fund Office, Ongere said, the Ahero farmers hope to boost their livelihoods by “exploiting agronomical practices” to improve their yields – transplanting on time and using pesticides and fungicides.

Source: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=92086

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Sutherlandia frutescens and HIV drug safety trials

by: Munyaradzi Makoni [CAPE TOWN]

Sutherlandia frutescens, Flickr/Erick Lux

A traditional medicine that may relieve symptoms in AIDS patients is to undergo safety and efficacy tests in South Africa.

The department of science and technology (DST) has awarded 10 million rand (US$1.4 million) for the study of Sutherlandia frutescens, which is often called the ‘cancer bush’ and is credited with wide-ranging powers to alleviate symptoms.

The phase IIb trial will be conducted at the University of the Western Cape’s South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute (SAHSMI), which has been conducting scientific and clinical studies on the plant for seven years.

Sutherlandia is popular with traditional healers, who use it to treat a host of ailments from weight loss to aches and pains. But critics say there is a lack of scientific evidence to support their claims and those of companies that already market products containing the plant.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Sutherlandia promotes appetite, weight gain, sleep, exercise tolerance and an overall sense of well-being in patients suffering from HIV and AIDS, and studies indicate that it improves CD4 blood cell counts and decreases the viral load. Some believe it may even delay the progression from HIV to AIDS.

A small, unpublished phase IIa trial showed that a preparation using the dried leaf of Sutherlandia was well tolerated with no side effects.

The study’s principal investigator, Doug Wilson, told the South African newspaper BusinessDay that the research is likely to be finalised later this year.

Wilson said that, even if the results were positive, much more work would be needed before consumers would find a Sutherlandia treatment for HIV on pharmacy shelves. Researchers would need to identify the active ingredients before they could start drug development, he added.

Tommy Makhode, the DST’s chief director for communications, told SciDev.Net that his department’s interest stems from the fact that South African researchers developed the formulation that would be registered with the Medicines Control Council if the trial is successful.

Quinton Johnson, director of SAHSMI, said that several challenges, from regulatory delays to public-service strikes, have slowed their research, which began in 2003.

“We continue to experience significant opposition to our work from the mainstream research and pharmaceutical communities, who seem to misunderstand the importance of building bridges between various knowledge systems in support of better public health,” he told SciDev.Net. As a result, he said, his work receives limited funding and academic understanding.

“It has impeded the growth and development of the field focused on the science of herbal traditional medicine,” added Johnson, who is also South African director of the International Centre for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies.

Most people use traditional medicines, said Johnson, so collaboration to understand this indigenous health system is in the interests of public health.

[retrieved from: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/-i-sutherlandia-i-plant-begins-hiv-drug-safety-trials.html%5D

KENYA: Wheat stem rust hits Rift Valley farmers

MAU NAROK, 28 October 2010 (IRIN) – Wheat stem rust, Ug99, continues to threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers in Kenya’s Rift Valley region as controlling it pushes up production costs.

First identified in Uganda in 1998 and reported in 1999, hence the name, the fungus Ug99 was noted in some Kenyan wheat varieties in 2001; by 2003, all Kenyan varieties had been identified as susceptible.

“We have received a lot of reports from farmers this season especially complaining that despite spraying their crop it has been affected by the rust,” Hillary Kiprotich Ngeno, the Mau Narok divisional agriculture extension officer, told IRIN. Mau Narok, in Njoro District in Rift Valley, is a major wheat-growing region.

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN

Wet and misty conditions, following successive rainfall seasons since November 2009, are making Ug99, which is spread via wind-borne spores, even harder to control.

“Before, we would spray the wheat field twice but now we are being forced to apply the chemical up to five times. This is adding to our expenses,” Joseph Mburu Njoroge, who has leased 4.5 hectares to grow wheat, at a rate of 5,000 shillings (US$62) for about half a hectare, told IRIN. “The land is also degraded and you have to apply fertilizer. You need some extra business on the side to meet these costs.”

The cost of a litre of fungicide, about 2,800 shillings ($35), which is enough for a hectare of wheat, and that of hiring a tractor for mechanized spraying, at about 1,200 ($15) per hectare, is pushing up production costs by about 40 percent. Small-scale farmers who account for 80 percent of wheat growers are especially hard hit.

Yield loss

According to a crop breeder with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Njoro, Peter Njau, farmers are embracing disease control measures to avoid heavy crop losses. Spraying fields when infestation is already too high or using the wrong products are some of the problems.

“Wheat rust may account for yield losses of between 50 to 70 percent if uncontrolled. When the wheat has Ug99, farmers think it is ready for harvesting but all they get is chaff and no wheat,” Njau told IRIN, adding that in 2007 some farmers had been caught unawares and heavy wheat losses were experienced.

Infected plants produce fewer seeds, and in severe infections, may die.

KARI, through Cornell University, is among the centres working to develop Ug99-resistant wheat varieties with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are working to prevent the spread of Ug99 to Asia, which is estimated to produce 26 percent of the global wheat crop,” said Njau.

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Side by side: A Ug99 infested wheat crop on the right
and a more resistant variety on the left
at the KARI centre, Njoro, Kenya

For decades, wheat had been protected by a single rust-resisting gene but the rust has evolved to overcome this genetic barrier, enabling the disease to spread.

In 2005, for example, he said, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative screened about 11,000 wheat varieties, of which less than 2 percent were found to have some resistance.

“We are developing varieties that in these other countries can act as a buffer,” added Njau. Ug99 was reported in Ethiopia in 2003 and later found in Sudan, Yemen and Iran.

“We have produced two varieties that are ready to go for trial. The varieties are undergoing resistance testing,” said Njau. KARI is collaborating with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in adult plant research.

Seed varieties

The new varieties are helping to develop defences against the rust but more needs to be done outside laboratories to enable commercial seed production and to persuade farmers to use them, say researchers. Wheat is grown on more than 240 million hectares globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the Mau Narok region, some farmers have opted to grow barley instead of wheat, because of lower wheat output; barley also has a ready market as farmers are contracted by a malting company which also supplies them with inputs. But the price is fixed as there are few markets for barley.

“You also can’t hoard barley until prices improve… where will you take it and you cannot bake bread for your children to eat?” asked Njoroge.

With local wheat prices projected to be favourable due to a depressed global production, Njoroge says he will stick to wheat farming a while longer. “Wheat farming can be very profitable if you are able to sell a 90kg bag for about 2,500 shillings [$31].

“But selling is difficult because the price here depends on the brokers. Sometimes we listen to the radio and hear much higher prices than we get being reported. We need to be able to sell our wheat directly to the government,” he said. “Instead of the government buying wheat from outside, it should instead buy our wheat at better prices.”


Related stories:

YEMEN-HORN OF AFRICA: Government combats wheat killer disease

GLOBAL: Killer wheat fungus a threat to global food security?

GLOBAL: Gates Foundation moves to fight killer wheat disease

Theme (s): Economy, Food Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations] Copyright © IRIN 2010.
Source: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=90907

AFRICA: Not spending enough on food

Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN
Not enough food to go around

JOHANNESBURG, 21 June 2010 (IRIN) – “Africa is now facing the same type of long-term food deficit problem that India faced in the early 1960s”, says a paper by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a US-based think-tank.

In the early 1960s India faced a major food crisis.

African countries are not spending enough on agriculture and the overall productivity of the continent has dropped since the mid-1980s, said the paper which looked at trends in public spending on agriculture in Africa.

“Since the 1960s, Africa has lost ground in the global marketplace. Its share of total world agricultural exports fell from 6 percent in the 1970s to 2 percent in 2007,” said the paper entitled, Public Spending for Agriculture in Africa: Trends and Composition.

The paper was produced by researchers who work with IFPRI’s Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS).

Spending money on food production is critical in Africa, where 70 percent of people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income.

There are also going to be more people to feed in Africa in the next few decades. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is expected to grow faster than elsewhere by 2050, increasing by 910 million people, or 108 percent; East and Southeast Asia’s population is set to rise by only 228 million, or 11 percent, according to UN projections.

Ten percent target

In 2003, the continent adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and countries committed to allocating 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture.

Only eight African countries have reached or surpassed the 10 percent target, according to CAADP.

Erratic weather could be turning the screws on food security in Africa as well. Drought-hit Niger features in the eight countries to have allocated the required 10 percent of their budget to agriculture to become food secure, but failed rains have driven more than three million of its people into food insecurity and pushed Niger back onto the list of food aid dependent countries where it last featured in 2004.

The other countries to reach the 10 percent target are Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

There has been a 75 percent increase in the amount governments spend on agriculture from 2000 to 2005 but the CAADP target “remains unmet because of the very low initial base and the declining trends prior to 2000”, says the IFPRI paper.

The researchers used another measure – agricultural Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) – to assess the amount countries spend on agriculture. Babatunde Omilola, ReSAKSS coordinator explained how it was calculated. “This measure of government spending on agriculture weighs in the size of the sector in the overall economy and takes into account factors such as revenue generated and its impact on poverty reduction.”

“With the exception of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, African countries have spent less than 10 percent of their agricultural GDPs on agriculture in recent decades.”

Africa spends 5-7 percent as a share of agricultural GDP on food production, whereas Asia spent 8-10 percent. But the range in spending in Africa is quite considerable. “For example, Botswana had the highest percentage in 2005 at 60 percent, while Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana spent less than 2 percent in the same year.”

Meanwhile, donor funding for agriculture in Africa has dropped dramatically – from 15 percent in the 1980s to 4 percent in 2006- but the amount countries allocate from aid to food production also varies quite considerably. In 2007 Botswana and Nigeria spent less than 1 percent of all aid received on agriculture. However, Burkina Faso in 2006 spent 8 percent of its total aid on agriculture.

How countries are spending

Photo: Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System
How African countries are faring on the CAADP target – this is based on ReSAKSS’ 2010 assessment

Source and further information: IRIN.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Production – Independent Smallholders and Group Certification

RSPO is inviting your comments on the three documents below. These documents are designed to establish the process by which independent smallholders, organised as groups, can achieve certification as producers of sustainably produced fresh fruit bunches to RSPO Principles and Criteria:

* RSPO Standard for Group Certification
* RSPO Accreditation and Certification Requirements for Group Certification
* RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production: Guidance for Independent Smallholders under Group Certification

RSPO P&C Guidance for Independent Smallholders consultation draft.doc 185.5 KB
RSPO Standard for Group Certification consultation draft.doc 689 KB
RSPO Accreditation and Certifcation Requirements for Groups consultation draft.doc 267.5 KB

Comments on the first two documents should be sent to: agung@biocert.or.id, biocert@biocert.or.id, Perpetua@proforest.net.
Comments on the last document should be sent to: marcus@forestpeoples.org, norman@sawitwatch.or.id