THE DEVIL’S BREATH – A New Drug Threat!

I just thought people should be educated about this new drug menace before they become victims.

Prescription For Murder

Alternately known as the most dangerous drug in the world and the scariestMH900448711 drug in the world, Devil’s Breath is a powerful drug currently being dealt with on the streets of Columbia. It’s a strong hallucinogenic and an amnesiac. It’s highly addictive and can be deadly. Most importantly, it will only be a matter of time before this drug is making its presence known on the streets of the United States.

Devil’s Breath is usually made into a powder and it comes from the borrachero tree, a article-2143584-130FB037000005DC-752_634x514common tree in Columbia, which blooms with beautiful white and yellow flowers. The drug is said to be so powerful that within minutes of administration, people turn into zombie-like creatures. The victims remain coherent but become child-like and have no free will.

Columbian drug gangs are using this drug, and its interesting side effects, as an innovative and lucrative…

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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“Green Gold” to the Rescue of Nigeria

December 24, 2011 1 comment

The “Green Gold”-This is the name the cassava plant has earned for itself in Nigeria where it is being mooted as both the key to national food security and the development of rural industries. Today, cassava, with the scientific name “Manihot Esculenta”, is being seen as a better alternative to “black gold” (petroleum), in the nation’s quest to provide adequate food for its 150 million people and rid itself of rural poverty.

It is for this reason that the Presidential Initiative on Cassava (PIC) was launched almost 10 years ago by former President Olusengu Obasanjo, to provide political and scientific support for the mass cultivation of cassava in a country that is both the largest producer and consumer of the crop.

Nigeria has a landmass of 98.3 million hectares, out of which 74 million hectares is suitable for agriculture but less than half of this cropland is currently being cultivated. With 70 percent of its population living on a 100 naira (US $ 0.7) per day, a boost in agricultural productivity would impact positively on its socio-economic life since farmers make up between 60 to 70 percent of its population.

Chief Tola Adepomolu

Chief Tola Adepomolu, a cassava farmer at Kwara near Ibadan in the Oyo State and National Vice- President for “All Farmers Association of Nigeria” credits the establishment of the PIC to the foresight of cassava farmers. He says “In 2002, the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association under my leadership presented research findings on the potential uses of cassava, which had not been fully exploited, to the president and the minister for agriculture. Following a series of stakeholders meetings, the PIC was established”.

Chief Adepomolu says before then, cassava was considered a crop suitable for cultivation by women and food for the poor. However, research had indicated that the crop could be processed into several food products as well as ethanol to support industrial growth. Ethanol is utilised in a number of industrial processes including liquor blending, manufacturing of plastics, cosmetics, paint, petro-chemicals, textiles and adhesives.

Cassava was considered a crop for women

Peeled Cassava

Following the launching of the PIC, a number of instruments were put in place to prop up cassava cultivation. These included a ban on the importation of cassava products to protect cassava farmers from unfair competition from other countries that had the technology to produce cassava cheaply and dump its products on the Nigerian market. The government instituted a policy that stipulated that all flour millers should incorporate 10 percent cassava flour into wheat flour. This was to secure a stable local market for cassava, in view of the massive consumption of wheat products such as bread, cakes and biscuits so that farmers could earn a steady and respectable income.

The government also established the Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank, which came to be widely known as the farmers’ bank, to provide loans to cassava farmers to expand their farms. However, very few farmers could acquire loans from the bank due to insufficient funding, which constitutes one of the major shortcomings of the PIC.

“Only about ten percent of farmers received loans from the bank”, says Chief Adepomolu. Most of those who benefited were members of the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association who had already constituted themselves into cooperative bodies and thus were in a position to guarantee loans. When the population of farmers outstripped the resources of the bank, it simply stopped giving out loans. Other financial institutions refused to come to the aid of the cassava farmers.

Explaining why this happened, Chief Adepomolu says, “The Commercial banks are not interested in extending credit facilities to farmers because they do not have the kind of collateral that the banks normally demand. The commercial banks consider farming to be risky because in Nigeria we depend on nature- the sun and the rain- for our agricultural production. There are no irrigation facilities. There are so many things we do not have so commercial banks are not ready to take risks.”

Perhaps, the provision of high yielding cassava varieties for farmers under the PIC was the most successful part of the programme. At the launch of the programme, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) at Ibadan had already developed 43 improved varieties of cassava which were not yet widely accessible to farmers. Most of these new varieties were high yielding, resistant to most pests and diseases, including the dreaded cassava mosaic disease and also possessed significantly low levels of cyanide in their tubers.

The PIC supported the multiplication and distribution of these new varieties to cassava farmers to boost their yield as well as training on new agronomic practices required for their cultivation.

Dr Gbassey Tarawali

“Improved varieties normally come out with a package of farm management practices that guarantee their maximum output. These include the timely application of fertilizer, pesticides and weeding around the crops”, says Dr Gbassey Tarawali, a researcher at the IITA.

Consequently, Cassava farmers all over Nigeria were clustered to make it easier for researchers to reach them with information on the right agronomic practices and inputs for the new cassava varieties. One of such practices was the use of herbicides to control weeds, since this was less laborious and cheaper.

However, the use of herbicides was a complex technology for most farmers. If the herbicides are too concentrated, they kill off young plants and when they are over diluted, they became ineffective and fail to kill off the weeds. Rather than leaving farmers to their fate, the IITA organized weed control groups, made up of young people who received training on how to use the various herbicides and were linked to chemical companies from where they could purchase herbicides. It thus became the duty of these weed control groups to move from one cassava farm to another spraying off weeds as and when required.

The introduction of new cassava varieties coupled with the right agronomic practices led to a twofold and even sometimes threefold increments in cassava yields- from 10 tonnes per hectare to between 20 to 35 tonnes per hectare- depending on the variety and management practices adopted. But even then, there is still room for improvement: “In Zimbabwe, farmers can harvest up to 60 tonnes per hectare from these same varieties due to good management practices backed by mechanization” says Dr Tarawali.

Cassava being processed into gari

A year after the PIC was launched cassava production rose from 28 million metric tonnes per annum to 36 million tonnes, rising to a peak of 46 million metric tonnes a few years later. Nigeria also began exporting ‘gari’ and cassava ‘fufu’ flour to overseas countries.

The sudden increase in cassava production resulted in a glut necessitating the establishment of the Cassava Value Chain Project. Under the project, mobile graters were used to reach cassava farms in remote areas that lacked modern processing centres. Explaining why there was the need to grate cassava on farms, Dr Tarawali says, “By grating, you reduce the weight of the cassava by 70 percent because most of the weight is moisture. This reduces the cost of transportation and also helps prolong the shelf life of cassava, which is a highly perishable crop”.

More cassava processing centres, mostly manned by women, were also established to process cassava into “gari”, tiny granules that can be used to make a variety of dishes. Most of these processing centres provided employment for the marginalized such as widows, unskilled and out of school youth with some employing up to 400 people thus reducing unemployment in Nigeria.

People peeling cassava in a processing factory

A further boost to processing was achieved by the establishment of the Cassava Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) jointly funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Shell Oil Company and the USAID. CEDP operates mainly in the Niger Delta Region where the PIC was officially launched as a competitor to “black gold”. Eleven states benefited from the programme including Imo, Abia, Delta, and Cross River States.

One processing centre, Olubori Enterprises, is located on the outskirts of Abeokuta. Mr. Ayo Olubori, an agricultural engineer and Managing Director of Peak Product Enterprises said he started his business purely as a cassava processing enterprise but ventured into the fabrication of cassava processing equipment following its high demand under the PIC. “The PIC was really a boost to cassava business in this country. It was rural empowerment, poverty alleviation and technological development at a go and opened the eyes of Nigerians as to what we can get from cassava”, he says.

Mr Olubori started his business in 1996 processing cassava into starch and flour with no equipment and only his son, wife and siblings as workers in his factory. However, the demand for cassava flour and starch was in excess of what he could supply through sun drying. Drawing on his technological expertise as an engineer, he designed a self-fabricated equipment to boost his output, an undertaking which earned him a favourable career as a fabricator under the PIC.

People who visited his factory demanded to have similar processing equipments made for them upon seeing his own and this demand was further enhanced by the PIC since cassava processing equipment was in short supply.

Mr Olubori thinks the PIC heralded a new era in the cassava industry, especially for fabricators, saying, “Before the PIC we had no challenges, we had no drive, no urge or pressure on us to come out with improved flash dryers or other processing equipment. But with the advent of the PIC, feedback from buyers helped us to improve upon existing technologies.’’

A flash dryer undergoing the process of fabrication

Just 18 months after the commencement of the PIC, the number of large scale processors using modern equipment rose from less than five to over a 100. The expertise of Mr. Olubori was in high demand and he installed over 85 functional flash dryers in Nigeria.

However, the rush to install modern processing equipment such as flash dryers following its implementation still failed to provide enough processing equipment to meet what was required for the PIC to function smoothly. For Mrs Bola Adeyemo, it was a typical case of ‘putting the cart before the horse’ since this was an indication that the PIC was carried out without any thorough planning.

According to her, in rushing to implement the initiative without first putting in place supporting infrastructure such as processing centres and good roads to ease transportation of the tubers to marketing centres, the PIC was doomed to fall short of its objectives right from the beginning of its implementation.

A former banker and a farmer, Mrs Adeyemo is the Managing Director of Agro Allied Limited at Ibadan which cultivates a variety of food crops including cassava. When the PIC was launched, she jumped on the bandwagon, putting 25 hectares of land under cassava cultivation only to realize she could not process her produce due to a shortage of processing centres.

Undaunted, she bought her own processing equipment and a generator to power it since she had no access to electricity. Midway, she abandoned her decision to process her produce into gari and cassava chips when she realized she was running at a loss, allowing the cassava to rot on her farm.

Mrs Bola Adeyemo

Mrs Adeyemo’s experience, which undoubtedly was experienced by other farmers, point to certain factors that hinder agricultural development in Nigeria –mainly the lack of adequate infrastructure and other forms of support for agriculture. The lack of feeder roads to transport farm produce to marketing centres has being a major hindrance to agriculture for decades in a country where post harvest loses range between 20 to 40 percent. Coupled with the lack of processing facilities, inadequate sources of energy, low mechanization, the absence of irrigation facilities and inadequate supply of potable water, the agricultural sector constitutes one of the most poorly resourced sectors in the country.

Having such resources in place would not only have made the PIC more successful but would have ensured the success of any endeavour in agriculture.

For Mr. Ninji Lucas, an engineer and fabricator of cassava processing equipment, based in Lagos, the main shortcoming of the PIC was its failure to establish a technological base for the programme. “The PIC had good intentions but along the line there was something wrong with the whole process. There was no grant for research on the fabrication of cassava equipment which constitutes a key component of the programme”, he says.

A worker fabricating cassava equipment at Ninji Lucas' factory

However, while the PIC did not fund any research undertakings, it spurred on research at his company, Ninji Foods Limited, due to the high demand for processing equipment that it generated.

‘‘I invested over 25 million naira in research and development on cassava processing equipment at the height of the initiative which in turn boosted my business by over 50 percent. But then I was expecting to reap profit for the next 20 to 30 years on my research and development only for the PIC to come to a stalemate.’’

Back at the IITA, Dr Tarawali pores over data on cassava cultivation that was emailed to him by extension officers on the field on his computer. He says ‘‘I Have just received information that a farmer harvested 30 tonnes of cassava from his one hectare farm and has sold it to a company at 10,000 naira per tonne. That means he made 30,000 naira from just one hectare of cassava which is more than what the drivers at the IITA earn per month. Our drivers only earn 10,000 to 20,000 naira per month.’’

Dr Tarawali believes that cassava does hold the key to the enhancement of food security in Nigeria and the enrichment of the rural population but also agrees that a lot more needs to be done for this to be realised.

‘What I want tot tell our leaders is that agriculture cannot do it alone. Government has to provide the enabling environment. Increasing cassava yields and production is not enough. What about roads, water, electricity and medical facilities?

There is no doubt that the PIC did chalk some limited success in Nigeria in spite of its shortcomings. It did not wipe out poverty but it did enhance food security; it did not halt unemployment but it did take some marginalised people off the streets. This means that re-launching an improved version of the programme that addresses the lapses that undermined it when it was first launched would make the programme more successful.

The Sheanut Tree, The wonder tree

January 4, 2011 46 comments

The miraculous sheabutter

“Can you borrow me some sheabutter?’. This is the commonest product that people ask for immediately the hammattan season starts in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of Ghana. These three regions experience the severest form of hammattan brought on by the North East Trade Winds blowing across the Sahara Desert. The hammattan takes a heavy toll on the human skin, drying it up and cracking it as well as the human hair which becomes very dry and brittle and starts to break or fall off. It is not uncommon to find people bleeding from cracked lips during this period or their hair falling off due to its brittleness because of the dry weather. But thanks to the moisturizing power of sheabutter, the situation can be brought under control. It is for this reason that those who did not stock the butter in preparation for the hammattan have to borrow some to use while they replenish their own stock.

Sheabutter is derived from the sheanut tree, with the botanical name Butyrospermum parkii or Vitellaria paradoxa and is a common wild tree that grows extensively in the dry Savannah belt of West Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east. The sheanut tree also thrives along the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands. Apart from Ghana, the tree can be found in 18 other countries including Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo Uganda, Zaire and Guinea. In Ghana, it grows extensively in the Guinea savannah but is less prolific in the Sudan Savannah. It covers a landmass of about 77,670 square kilometers in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of Ghana. A few sheanut trees are also found in the Brong-Ahafo, Ashanti, the Eastern and Volta Regions in the southern parts of the country.

The Sheanut Tree

 The fruit consists of a green fleshy mesocarp, which is sweet when eaten and in very ripe fruits seems to melt on the tongue when the fruit is bitten. It is also used to make jam. The mesocarp has a high nutritional value and contains between 0.7 to 1.3g of protein and 41.2g of carbohydrate. The fruit pulp is also a rich source of ascorbic acid and contains196.1mg/100g in comparison with an orange, which contains only 50mg/100g. The iron and calcium content of the mesocarp of the sheanut compares favorably with that of raspberries. Sheanuts contain 1.93mg/100g of iron as against 0.92mg/100g in raspberries. Sheanuts also contain 36.4mg/100g of calcium as against 26mg/100g for raspberries. Apart from these micro nutrients, sheanuts contain the B group vitamins and a sugar level of about 3 to 6 percent which is equally distributed among glucose, fructose and sucrose. Even the flowers of the sheanut tree are consumed by some ethnic groups that make them into edible fritters.  The nuts are cracked to remove the outer cover leaving the endocarp or kernel which is roasted and ground into a paste from which sheabutter is extracted. The nuts also serve as toys for children, who use them to play a game known as “maranda”, the common name given to the nuts in Ghana.

The flowers of the sheanut tree are edible

All parts of the sheanut tree are of immense value. In some communities, the leaves are used as medicine to treat stomachache in children. In Ghana a decoction of young leaves is used as a vapor bath for the treatment of headaches and also as an eye bath.  When the leaves are put in water, it forms a frothy opalescent liquid, which is used to bath the head of the patient. A leaf decoction is also used as an eye bath. Because the leaves contain saponin, they lather in water and are suitable for washing. The leaves of the sheanut tree are used as a preservative and in the processing of dawadawa, a local spice in Ghana. They are used to cover dawadawa after processing for a period of time for it to ferment. The leaves of the sheanut tree are also believed to offer spiritual protection. Hence, in some African communities when a woman goes into labor, the branches may be hung in the doorway of her hut to protect the newborn baby from evil. Some communities also use its branches  for covering the dead prior to their burial.

          In Nigeria, the roots of the sheanut tree are used as chewing sticks   especially in the savannah areas. The roots and the root bark are sometimes ground into a paste and taken orally as a cure for jaundice in Ghana as well as the treatment of diarrhoea and stomachache. The root bark is also boiled and pounded and used for the treatment of chronic sores in horses. Nonetheless, the tree can also be employed by the unscrupulous for foul means. Among the Jukun tribe of Nigeria, the roots are mixed with tobacco to produce poison.

In Ghana, the bark of the sheanut tree is boiled and taken as a beverage and there are claims that this beverage can treat diabetes.

However, scientific studies indicate that infusions of the bark has selective anti-microbial properties. It has been found to be effective against Sarcina lutha and Staphylococcus mureas. However, the bark infusion does not treat mycobacterium phlei.

In Senegal and Guinea, worm infested cattle have been treated with infusions of the bark which are crushed together with the bark of Ceiba pentandra and salted. Ailments ranging from diarrhea and dysentery to gastric problems and even leprosy have been treated with bark infusions in Guinea Bissau.  In the Ivory Coast, a bark decoction is used in baths and other therapeutic sitz-baths to ease child delivery of women in labour. It is also drunk by lactating mothers to boost the flow of milk. This practice, however, is abhorred in Northern Nigeria where the concoction is considered to be lethal. A bark infusion has the capacity to neutralize the venom of the spitting cobra when used as an eye wash. It is also used in Ghana as a foot bath to help extract jiggers.

The sheanut tree produces copious amounts of sap which can prove invaluable in the gum and rubber industry. This latex when heated and mixed with palm oil produces glue.  It is even chewed as a gum by children who also play with the balls that are made out of the gum. Bobo musicians in Burkina Faso use this gum to fill up cracks on their drums and punctures on their drumheads. However, latex from sheanuts contain between 15 to 25 percent carotene which according to present technology makes it inappropriate for the commercial manufacture of rubber.

The brownish husks that are separated from the nut to release the kernel also have the ability to purify water and can remove substantial amounts of heavy metal from aqueous solutions.  They are also pounded and used for plastering traditional mud houses to beautify them and promote their lifespan by making them impervious thus reducing their absorption of moisture.      

While the tree has so many uses, it is well known for the production of sheabutter. Sheabutter production involves various stages, beginning with de-pulping, to get rid of the fleshy fruit. This is achieved by fermentation which is enhanced by initial boiling or burying the fruit.  Following de-pulping, the nuts are sun-dried for five to ten days. When temperatures are below 50 degrees Celsius, drying can go on for several days but at 50 degrees Celsius, the desired moisture content of six to seven percent is archived between four to five days. The nuts are de-husked through trampling, pounding them in a mortar using a pestle or crushing them using two stones to get rid of the brown cover leaving only the kernel.

Roasted sheanuts

The kernel is then crushed and baked or roasted over carefully monitored heat to prevent it from being charred since charred kennels would lower the quality of sheabutter produced by reducing its fat content. Roasting promotes fat concentration and latex coagulation and prolongs the shelf life of the nuts. Those that attain a moisture content of seven percent after roasting can be stored for two years.

Extracting butter from the baked kernel involves grinding it into a fine powder which is then mixed with warm water. The resulting semi-solid mixture is then kneaded or stirred continuously to form a paste. The paste is left standing and with time oil collects on it which is collected periodically, finally leaving behind a brown residue after all the oil has been collected. 

Roasted Sheanuts that have been ground

       

Sheabutter serves as a moisturizer and is naturally rich in vitamin A, E and F in addition to some other vitamins. It is thus able to sooth, balance and hydrate the skin. It also contains collagen which reduces wrinkles and other signs of aging while the essential fatty acids contained in vitamin F help to revitalize and protect damaged hair and skin. It thus promotes skin renewal, increases circulation and speeds up the healing of wounds.  It is estimated that about eight percent of the fat in sheabutter is medicinal and even as far back as 1728, its medicinal properties were recognized and used by Africans. The low melting point of sheabutter which is between 32 to 45 degrees Celsius and close to body temperature coupled with the presence of allantoin, which stimulates the growth of healthy tissues in ulcerous wounds, makes it ideal as a base for ointments and medicines. The butter is thus a healing balm whose uses are a myriad. According to Mr. Saibu Dawuda Wanzam, a Circumciser, sheabutter is the sole medicine used to treat the wounds of newborn babies following circumcision. “After an infant male is circumcised, melted sheabutter is applied to the wound which heals within three to four days. It is important that the mother applies melted sheabutter to the wound every 30 minutes to one hour to hasten its healing”, he says.

Sheanuts made into paste ready for oil extraction

The butter is also applied to the umbilical cord of new born babies to hasten its healing. It is also the preferred body cream for new born babies among educated and illiterate mothers alike in Ghana, who believe that the baby creams found on the market have been adulterated or contain chemicals that are not suitable for baby skin. It is especially useful for massaging the bodies of babies during their daily bath. Sheabutter is deemed pure and contains natural moisturizers and vitamins that give babies a smooth skin. Scientific studies that involve measuring moisture on the skin using a corneometer suggest that sheabutter leads to a consistent increase in moisture levels of users for over four hours. No wonder it is the best defense for the skin during the hammattan season  

Sheabutter is also an important part of the diet of people living in the areas where it grows and it is used for frying and making stews. It is sometimes smeared on Tuo Zaafi (TZ), the staple food of people in the three northern regions of Ghana to prevent the meal from drying up and forming a dry upper crust during hammattan.

The left over residue after the oil has been processed is used to decorate traditional mud houses. This thick brownish residue is also mixed with clay to harden it and make it stronger before it is molded into mounds for building.

 However, recent research carried out at the Tamale Polytechnic by Hajia Adiza Sadik and one of her students at the HCIM department led to the production of chocolate bars and chocolcate spread from the residue using the same recipe used to manufacture chocolate. According to Hajia Sadik, the residue that is either thrown away or used as animal feed contains a lot of vitamins  and the production of shea chocolate bars and shea chocolate spread could enhance the utilization of the  sheanut tree and provide additional jobs and income for rural women.

Sheanut Chocolate

One would have thought that given the numerous benefits of the sheanut tree, the tree would be cultivated on large farms in the northern parts of Ghana. However, this is not the case. The tree grows wild in the bush at the mercy of bushfires and charcoal burners because the best charcoal comes from the sheanut tree. However, Mr Peter Kale, a former manager of the Church Agricultural Inputs Project in Tamale thinks the sheanut tree can be cultivated.

Mr kale said sheanuts require a unique way of planting in order to germinate. “If you plant the whole seed underground which is the norm with other plants, it would not germinate. The eye of the seed should face up and should not be covered by soil. Thus, the seed should be half-buried in the soil.”

“It is for this reason that when the nuts are thrown around haphazardly after eating they germinate after a season but would not germinate when they are carefully planted in the traditional way which gives the impression that they can only grow in the wild,” he said.

A sheanut tree cut down for firewood

“A tree would normally fruit after six to seven years if it has not been subjected to severe bushfires but those that have been subjected to severe bushfires become stunted and may require up to 10 years to fruit”, Mr Kale explained.

The tree flowers between late February and April and if it is not exposed to bushfire, the flowering is good leading to a bumper produce. Bushfires during the flowering period make the flowers to wither and drop off. However, early bushfires around early January do not impact much on its fruiting since the heat is less intense and flowering has also not started.  With the inception of the rains, the fruits develop and mature around late May to June.

Scientific research into the tree has been going on in Ghana at the sub-station of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) at Bole in the Northern Region which was established in 1976 by the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board (GCMB). Research on the tree was prompted by the need to find a substitute for cocoa in the confectionary and cocoa butter industry. The institute has been able to foster the vegetative propagation of the sheanut tree and also reduce its maturity period from 20 to seven years.      

Sheabutter processing and extraction remains the major economic activity of most rural women. Given its medicinal, cosmetic and nutritional values, it is on high demand internationally and is exported to earn foreign income for rural women. It is for this reason that a sheabutter processing factory was commissioned by Mr John Mahama, Vice President of Ghana, in the year 2010 in the Northern Region of Ghana.

A woman selling sheabutter in a cool dark room

Sheabutter covered in paper and plastics to keep it from melting

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times

In 2010, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 38 posts. There were 43 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 66mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was November 23rd with 21 views. The most popular post that day was New Technologies to Help African and Asian Farmers Revitalize Agriculture.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were statistics.bestproceed.com, en.wordpress.com, counter.bestproceed.com, mail.yahoo.com, and mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for bernice agyekwena, children dancing, new technologies in agriculture, school infrastructure education, and siltation along a river.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

New Technologies to Help African and Asian Farmers Revitalize Agriculture September 2010

2

The Menace of Sachet Water Plastic Bags in GhanaThe EPA Has a Solution June 2010
3 comments

3

Methane Gas from Tamale Landfill Fuels Global Warming. May 2010

4

Allanblackia, a Boost to the Cosmetic Industry May 2010

5

Is the Cultural Practice of Male Circumcision Justifiable? February 2010

Categories: Uncategorized

New Technologies to Help African and Asian Farmers Revitalize Agriculture

September 19, 2010 1 comment

 

Increasing food production in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will increase global food secuirity

Sixty technologies that have the potential to stimulate revolutionary increments in agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been identified by the National Research Council of the United States.

Eighteen out of the 60 technologies which were identified by the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the council at the request of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been recommended as most worthy of immediate attention.

This was contained in a report issued by ‘The National Academies’ which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, The National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

Labeled as “Tier1” tools and technologies, the report proposed that these 18 should be given the highest priority in terms of being developed into specific applications in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

 “These technologies largely already exist and have been proven successful, but they are new from the perspective of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia because applications specific to the needs of farmers in these regions have not been developed or widely used”, the report said.

The strength of the various technologies arise from their potential ability to help manage the resource base supporting agriculture, namely soil and water, and their capacity to improve the genetic profile of crops and animals. They are also capable of reducing biotic constraints such as diseases, pests and weeds and also supply farmers with sources of affordable renewable energy.

Consequently, ‘Tier1’ tools and technologies will address the problems of poor soil quality and water scarcity in the two regions through controlled grazing, mulching with organic matter, applying manure and biosolids to improve soil fertility and the use of cover crops in a rotation cycle. Other techniques include agro forestry, contour farming, hedgerows, terracing and the use of plastic mulch for erosion control among others.

Integrated Water Management techniques comprising an array of efficient on-farm water capture, storage, pumping, field application and drainage techniques are expected to redress water scarcity in both sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in conjunction with other water management technologies such as tube wells, on-site storage tanks and more efficient irrigation systems.

Sub-surface drip irrigation in which tubes buried in the ground will supply water directly to the root zones of plants remains the most efficient form of irrigation but it is very expensive.

‘Tier1 ‘tools and technologies are also expected to address climate and weather predictions in view of the crucial role they play in agricultural productivity. “Increased climate and weather prediction capabilities would be a transformative development for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. If farmers could more accurately predict a drought or the onset of the tropical rainy season, they would be better equipped to make pivotal timings and management decisions”, the report noted.

Consequently, weather models, data bases and monitoring devices will be built for the two regions taking into consideration the ability of farmers to readily receive and utilize the information generated.

Under the “Tier 1’ Annotated Crop Genomes tools and technologies which describe the genetic details of plants, a baseline information database on the genetic diversity of local crops in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will be established.

Determining the genetic sequence and gene functions of plants useful to farmers in these regions will enhance the improvement of various species of crops. Present development in the rate of DNA sequencing will ensure the rapid establishment of the genetic code of key crops cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This will in turn guarantee the speedy identification and function of genes based on their similarities to existing rice and sorghum sequences and the emerging maize sequence. Using a variety of genomic tools, the functioning of genes in these plants under different environments can then be analyzed.

Under “Tier 1” Genome- based Animal Breeding, the report says. “Genomic tools can also be used to help animal breeders increase the quality of their livestock”. It asserts that it is feasible to generate reference genomes, which are complete genetic sequences that can be used to study and compare the genetic traits of animals such as the Asian water buffalo, goats, hair sheep and other animals normally raised by subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

This can be accomplished by taking DNA samples from several animals throughout the two regions whose traits will be critically observed and documented. This information will provide breeders with a picture of the genetic diversity presented by the animal population. Through a process of association between DNA and traits, the theoretical genetic pedigree of farm animals with the most desirable traits can be constructed by breeders who will then utilize this knowledge to speed up conventional breeding methods.

Since over 40 percent of the attainable yield of the eight most important food crops are lost to disease and insect pests, their control remain one of the biggest challenges to agricultural productivity. Furthermore, invasive plant species such as Striga, also known as witch weed, prevalent in grain and legume fields in Sub-Saharan Africa, Echinochloa, a herbicide resistant weed in rice and Phalaris, a major weed in wheat in South Asia undermine both crops and native diversity in the two regions.

Viruses such as Cassava Brown Steak, Cucumber Mosaic Virus, African Cassava Mosaic Virus and Cotton Curl coupled with major insect pests such as weevils, stem, fruit and grain borers and insects that serve as vectors for transmitting diseases all contribute to undermine productivity.

Several tools and technologies under ‘Tier1’ which were designed to mitigate these biotic threats have been proven effective but have not yet been implemented in the regions. These include ‘Plant –Mediated Gene Silencing’, ‘Biocontrol nd Biopesticides’ and ‘Disease Suppressive Soils’. 

Plant-Mediated Gene Silencing involves targeting and interfering with the interactions between plants and their pests at the genetic level. This is achieved by inducing plants to transfer pieces of genetic material to these other organisms. The rationale behind this is based on newly discovered molecules, known as small RNA which play a role in plant development and resistance to stress. This method has shown promise for the control of viruses, nematodes, and certain insects.

Biocontrol and Biopesticides utilize natural strategies to fight diseases, pests and weeds. With Biocontrol, the specific Natural enemies of a pest are released to fight it. With Biopesticides, pesticides utilize toxins that are produced naturally by some organisms instead of synthetically produced chemicals.

These will be complemented by Animal Vaccines to control diseases such as brucellosis, leptospirosis, bovine virus diarrhea and other respiratory and intestinal diseases in young breastfeeding animals to ensure that livestock productivity is enhanced under ‘Tier 1’ tools and technologies.   

Consequently, various approaches to vaccine development will be promoted, including the use of attenuated bacteria which utilizes bacteria whose potency has been reduced and DNA vaccines in which animals will be injected with genetically engineered DNA to generate a specific immune response.        

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Former Child Fisherman Now An Ambitious Schoolboy

For the first 11 years of his life, Promise Akwetey spent most of his time accompanying his father on his fishing expeditions, which is the main source of income for communities living along the river banks of the Volta Lake.  Among the Ewe tribes living here it is the norm for fathers to pass on their trade to their sons and ensure that they learn it well. Hence, children as young as four years accompany their fathers on their fishing trips in order to become conversant with the trade by the time they reach their teenage years.

Children relaxing after a fishing expedition

 A typical fishing expedition begins at the early hours of the day, around 3.am to 4. am and by nine to ten o’clock, most of the fishermen would be at the river bank with their catch where the women would be waiting to buy the fish to process and sell on the market. Once he arrived from his fishing expedition, Promise would help his parents with odd jobs around the house and would normally also spend hours helping his father to mend his fishing net for his next trip.

 

But while Promise never complained about the kind of trade his life had given him, probably because he saw no hope of escaping from this daily life of drudgery and monotony, deep in his heart, he harboured dreams that went beyond fishing. Thus, three years ago, when word got to him that a school had been opened in his community by an organization that wanted to help children to go to school, Promise seized the opportunity immediately. Now a class three pupil at the age of 14 at the Kortokope D.A Primary School, Promise dreams of entering the medical profession one day. Promise is not alone in his dreams. His school mate, Tokoli Adinortey 13, also harbours dreams of becoming a medical doctor one day. Unlike Promise, Tokoli was given out to another family by his parents to assist them in fishing. Narrating how he spent the first eleven years of his life, Tokoli said he used to go on fishing expeditions with other children in his foster family. One day, Royal Health Organisation visited his community and distributed school uniforms, schoolbags, exercise books and other school items to children in the community. Even though the community had already put up a school block, Tokoli and other boys in his foster family were not attending school but this gesture by Royal Health Organization was enough to whip up their enthusiasm in education. “School is good, it is better than fishing” said Tokoli who has been a school boy for the past two years.

                       

 

School children dancing

While the school children seem just content with the opportunity to school, perhaps, because most of them have never had that experience and there are no other schools in the vicinity to compare with, their head teacher, Clement Oklu thinks otherwise. “The children normally fish in the morning before coming to school hence they come to school late and exhausted and sleep in class instead of paying attention to their teachers” he complained. He said the school has a population of 163 children, out of which 120 were once child fishermen. “But despite their enrolment in school they still continue to fish to assist their parents to make ends meet because of the abject poverty prevalent in this area.” He was of the view that, the only way to wean off children totally from fishing is to provide alternative means of livelihood to parents to augment what they earn from fishing. He said the school lacked adequate structures for teaching and for accommodation. The classrooms have no furniture and children sit on the floor to study while teachers have neither tables to lay their teaching materials nor chairs to sit on.

Felix Komla, a native of Ablogah, whose two sons used to fish along with him which was the normal practice in the community until recently, said they no longer accompany him on his fishing expedition and are now in school. He said in the past he and his sons used to set off in their canoe at 3.30 am at dawn and return at 10.am. But unlike other parents who insist on their sons joining them to fish before going to school, Mr komala says  “I have totally stopped my children from fishing since I have come to realise it is child labour, which is an abuse that would not benefit them in future. I do not want my children to do that kind of job again. When they wake up in the morning they go straight to school. I stopped them because we the old men have been doing the fishing; we have not been getting anything from it.”

 Mr Komla attributed his decision to stop his children from fishing to the intervention of Royal Health Organization which organized

Children in a drama on child labour

 a series of courses for them. “Through these courses, we were made to realize the folly of sacrificing our children’s future by engaging them in fishing instead of sending them to school.”  He said the absence of his children from his expeditions has not affected his “catch”. He is also able to support them in school with proceeds from his fishing and from farming cassava which is processed into gari and sold on the market.

             

Madam Comfort Amusu, who collaborated Komla’s story said her own son used to go fishing with her husband. However, following the intervention of Royal health Organization, her son is now in school. “My son did not have the necessary school materials. It was Royal Health Organization that provided him with a school uniform, school bag and some school books to enable him to go to school.” She said the organization also trained some community members in hairdressing and tailoring to enable them have alternative sources of earning an income.

Women selling fish along the volta lake

Promise, Tokoli and the sons of Felix and Comfort are a few of the 600 children who were enrolled in school following an intensive education on the Rights of Children and Responsibilities of Parents by Royal Health Organisation, an NGO working to promote the welfare of children among other things with support from IBIS. A 1000 others were prevented from being contracted as fishermen through the interventions of the organisation.