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New Technologies to Help African and Asian Farmers Revitalize Agriculture


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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  1. January 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

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