The Role of Research and Development in Agriculture

crop-trials

Crop Trials Being Carried Out

WHAT IS RESEARCH?

Research can be understood to be a series of Tests, Trials or Experiments. In other words to conduct research implies to inquire systematically about a given situation.

Research is important in the development of technology and implementation of new ideas. Most firms, universities and corporations have Research and Development Departments that steer companies into the future and remain competitive.

In agriculture, research is thought of mainly as trials and these are mainly conducted in the field.

Research can further be broken down into Research Programme and Research Project.  Programme involves many different kinds of research, while a project looks at one specific area.

Research can be categorised into 4 categories:

  • Exploratory – aimed at discovery of new ideas, techniques and machines.
  • Confirmatory – aimed at verifying some past findings based on the protocol that was used in the earlier research.
  • Diagnostic – aimed at identifying the cause of a given problem/or providing solutions.
  • Adaptive/modification – research aimed at changing or modifying the technology to suit a given environment or situation.

THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH

Existing technology and knowledge will not permit the necessary expansions in food production to meet needs. Low-income developing countries such as Zambia are grossly underinvesting in agricultural research compared with industrialized countries such as the USA, even though agriculture accounts for a much larger share of their employment and incomes. Their public sector expenditures on agricultural research are typically less than 0.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product, compared with about two percent in higher-income developing countries and two percent to five percent in industrialized countries.

Investment in agricultural research must be accelerated if developing countries are to assure future food security for their citizens at reasonable prices and without irreversible degradation of the natural resource base. Accelerated investment in agricultural research is particularly important and urgent for low-income developing countries, partly because these countries will not achieve reasonable economic growth, poverty alleviation, and improvements in food security without productivity increases in agriculture, and partly because so little research is currently undertaken in these countries. The negative correlation between investment in agricultural research and a country’s income level is very strong. Poor countries, which depend the most on productivity increases in agriculture, grossly underinvest in agricultural research.

Agricultural research has successfully developed yield-enhancing technology for the majority of crops grown in temperate zones and for several crops grown in the tropics. The dramatic impact of agricultural research and modern technology on wheat and rice yields in Asia and Latin America since the mid-1960s is well known. Less dramatic but significant yield gains have been obtained from research and technological change in other crops, particularly maize.

Large yield gains currently being obtained in many crops at the experimental level offer great promise for future yield and production increases at the farm level. In addition to raising yield levels, research resulting in tolerance or resistance to adverse production factors such as pests and drought, leading to biological and integrated pest control, and to develop improved varieties and hybrids for agroecological zones with less than optimal production conditions reduces risks and uncertainty and enhances sustainability in production through better management of natural resources and reduced environmental risks.

Accelerated agricultural research aimed at more-favoured areas will reduce pressures on fragile lands in less-favoured areas. Future research for the former must pay much more attention to sustainability than in the past to avoid a continuation of extensive waterlogging, salination, and other forms of land degradation. But, a continuation of past low-priority on less-favoured agroecological zones is inappropriate and insufficient to achieve the goals of poverty alleviation, improved food security, and appropriate management of natural resources. More research resources must be dedicated to less-favoured areas, those with agricultural potential, fragile lands, poor rainfall, and high risks of environmental degradation. A large share of the poor and food insecure reside in these agroecological zones.

The low priority given to research to develop appropriate technology for less favoured agroecological zones in the past is a major reason for the current rapid degradation of natural resources and high levels of population growth, poverty, and food insecurity. Much more research must be directed at developing appropriate technology for these areas. Out migration is not a feasible solution for these areas in the foreseeable future simply because of the large numbers of poor people who reside there and the lack of alternative opportunities elsewhere. Strengthening agriculture and related non-agricultural rural enterprises is urgent and must receive high priority.

Following on the tremendous successes popularly referred to as the Green

Revolution, the international agricultural research centres have recognized the importance and urgency of research to assure sustainability in agricultural intensification through appropriate management of natural resources. Thus management of natural resources and conservation and enhancement of germplasm are given high priority in current and future research by the centres.

Declining investment in agricultural research for developing countries since the mid-1980s by both developing-country governments and international foreign assistance agencies is inappropriate and must be reversed. While privatization of agricultural research should be encouraged, much of the agricultural research needed to achieve food security, reduce poverty, and avoid environmental degradation in developing countries is of a public goods nature and will not be undertaken by the private sector. Fortunately, while private rates of return may be insufficient to justify private-sector investment, expected high social rates of returns justify public investment. The major share of such investment should occur in the developing countries’ own research institutions; there is an urgent need to strengthen these institutions to expand research and increase the probability of high payoffs.

Research institutions in the industrialized nations have played an extremely important role by undertaking basic research required to support strategic, adaptive, and applied research by the international centres and developing countries’ own research institutions and by providing training for developing-country researchers. Collaboration among developed country research institutions and developing countries’ own research institutions is widespread, but further strengthening is required to make full use of the comparative advantages of each of the two groups for the ultimate benefit of the poor in developing countries.

All appropriate aspects of science, including molecular biology-based research, must be mobilized to solve poor people’s problems. Almost all of the investment made in genetic engineering and biotechnology for agriculture during the last 10 to 15 years has been focused on solving problems in temperate-zone agriculture such as herbicide resistance in cotton, longer shelf life for perishable products such as tomatoes, and a variety of other problems of importance in the industrialized nations. If we are serious about helping poor people, particularly poor women, and if we are serious about assuring sustainability in the use of natural resources, we must use all appropriate tools at our disposal to achieve these goals, including modern science. For example, modern science may help eliminate losses resulting from drought among small scale farmers. Drought-tolerant varieties of maize that poor farmers can grow could potentially be developed, along with crop varieties with tolerance or resistance to other adverse conditions, including certain insects and pests.

While some argue that it is too risky to use genetic engineering to solve poor people’s problems because we may be unaware of future side effects, we believe that it is unethical to withhold solutions to problems that cause thousands of children to die from hunger and malnutrition. Clearly, we must seek acceptable levels of biosafety before releasing products from modern science, but it is critical that the risks associated with the solutions be weighed against the ethics of not making every effort to solve food and nutrition problems.

Effective partnerships between developing-country research systems, international research institutions, and private and public sector research institutions in industrialized countries should be forged to bring biotechnology to bear on the agricultural problems of developing countries. Incentives should be provided to the private sector to undertake biotechnology research focused on the problems of developing-country farmers. Failure to expand agricultural research significantly in and for developing countries will make food security, poverty, and environmental goals elusive. Lack of foresight today will carry a very high cost for the future. As usual, the weak and powerless will carry the major burden, but just as we must all share the blame for inaction or inappropriate action so will we all suffer the consequences.

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Overview of the Fisheries Sector in Zambia

Introduction

While agriculture is the most important source of livelihood, Zambia has 15 million hectares of water in the form of rivers, lakes and swamps, which provide the basis for extensive freshwater fisheries. However, demand for domestic fish for consumption still outstrips production. The sector, because of its mostly rural setting, continues to contribute significantly to rural development in terms of employment and income generation and reducing poverty. It is estimated that the sector supports more than 300 000 people deriving their livelihood directly as fishers and fish farmers, or indirectly as traders, processors and other service providers.

The contribution to GDP of fisheries and aquaculture as a subsector of the agricultural sector has averaged 3 percent out of the 18 percent share that agriculture, forestry and fishing contribute to GDP.

Zambia has 15 million hectares of water in form of rivers, lakes and swamps. The fisheries of Zambia are classified into major and minor fisheries (which include fisheries of small water bodies). There are 11 main fisheries; four belong to the Congo River basin and seven to the Zambezi River basin. The fisheries in the Congo basin include Bangweulu, Mweru-Luapula, Mweru Wantipa and Tanganyika. Kafue, Kariba, Lukanga, Upper Zambezi, Lower Zambezi, Itezhi-tezhi and Lusiwashi belong to the Zambezi basin. The Congo basin fisheries accounts for approximately 43 percent of annual production. Fishing in Zambia is carried out by two distinct groups: industrial operators and traditional or artisanal fisheries.

However, the future of the sector now depends on raising the scale of operations. This will require attracting investments in the sector to help realize the country’s fisheries and aquaculture potential, by transforming the agricultural output mix, thus supporting the country’s food needs and contributing significantly to growth of exports.

1.0 Demand and Supply for Fish

Population density, supplies and income determine the demand for marketed fish. The current estimates for annual fish production from capture fisheries ranges between 60 000 and 70 000 tonnes, with an estimated 5 000 produced through aquaculture. The national demand for fish is conservatively estimated at 120 000 tonnes/year, and this gap between supply and demand is foreseen to increase further with population growth. Investment opportunities therefore exist to produce more fish on a sustainable basis with the development of aquaculture and rational management of capture fisheries. Industrial fishing activities are limited to Lake Tanganyika and Kariba, and are associated with production of kapenta.

2.0 Fish Exports

Exports in limited quantities are usually carried out by individuals for target markets. Regional export markets are mostly for consumption, while international markets trade in ornamental species. Regional destination markets include Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of South Africa and Zimbabwe. At international level, and specific to live fish for ornamental purposes, the common destinations are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, UK, Germany, Russia, Sweden and the United States of America.

Table 2.3.8.a: Exports of Fish Products from Zambia to the rest of the World (in USD ‘000’)

Product 2007 2008 2009
Live Fish 287 266 636
Fish, cured or smoked and fresh meal fit for consumption 76 836 241
Fish, fresh, whole 16 66 2
Fish, frozen, whole 9 76 33
Fish fillets and pieces, fresh, chilled or frozen 0 1 32
TOTAL 388 1,245 944

Source: COMTRADE, 2010

Table 2.3.8.b: Fish Exports and Import in Zambia for the Period 2000 – 2010

Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Exports (metric tonnes) 263.46 239.47 1,810.22 665.59 394.40
Imports (metric tonnes) 4,625.55 4,241.55 3,240.70 2,784.09 3,622.97

Source: Department of fisheries, 2009

Zambia’s current supply of fish does not meet the domestic demand and as such the market is a ‘sellers’ market and therefore requires little additional effort. Since health and safety requirements for exports to regional and other fish markets are not restrictive, anyone with cold storage, packaging and transportation facilities can export.

 INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN THE FISHERIES SECTOR

1.0 Cold storage and fish Haulage

The long distance between catchment and consumption areas and limited cold storage and transport facilities means that 65 percent of production is dried, most of which is kapenta, smoked or simply sun-dried, and rarely salted breams. This creates immense opportunities in cold storage and haulage of fresh fish using refrigerated trucks.

2.0 Aqua-culture

Zambia is a country richly endowed with natural resources ideally suited to aquaculture production. Aquaculture promotion in Zambia has a long history, dating back over forty years. Considerable work by the Department of Fisheries in cooperation with international assistance agencies and NGOs in promoting aquaculture practices in the country has resulted in some 6 000 small-scale farmers now operating over 13 000 fish ponds throughout the country. At the same time, 16 large commercial fish farmers have taken up the activity in the Copper belt, Lusaka and Southern Provinces, where ideal conditions for such business exist. The subsector produces about 5 000 tonnes per year of fish. Of this, 75 percent comes from small-scale aquaculture, while commercial fish farmers produce the other 25 percent. Aquaculture is expanding in all nine provinces of the country, and as a result, Zambia is now one of the largest aquaculture producers in sub-Saharan Africa.

This presents immense investment opportunities as the government has stepped up efforts to promote aquaculture as it believes that exploitation of opportunities in aquaculture will reduce pressure on capture fisheries and provide opportunities for increased incomes for the rural poor. Further, the development of commercial-scale aquaculture will contribute positively to economic growth.

Other emerging research opportunities include the ecology of exploited species, fisheries ecology, bio-economics, fisheries economics, limnology, fishing gear, fishing technology, systematics and fisheries law. Fisheries research in Zambia has mainly dealt with the two areas of fish biology and ecology.

3.0 Education

Training in fisheries aims at meeting the aspirations of the industry and to provide skilled workers capable of participating in development programs. The Department of Fisheries has been providing tertiary training since the early 1990’s, however the level of training is limited and does not meet the needs of the growing industry technologies. Most of this training is provided through the extension services provided by the department of fisheries. Investment opportunities are therefore available for the private sector to meet this industry and technological gap.

1.0 Fish Ornaments

Owing to the large variety of types of fish in Zambia, opportunities exist for the processing of fish for ornamental purposes. The rare and beautiful fish which are less than 20 centimetres long can be bread and kept in aquariums for sale.

2.0 Fishmeal

Owing to the fact that the demand for fish in Zambia is greater than the supply, it is very rare that fish is processed into fishmeal for the production of animal feed. The little fishmeal that is produced is on a subsistence level and comes from the residue that remains from the sun-drying of fish.

Fishing Regulations in Zambia

The Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is mandated through the Fisheries Act, Cap 200 of the Laws of Zambia, to manage the fisheries resources of the country. In order to ensure the sustainable utilization of the fisheries resources in line with the provisions of the Act, the following control measures are employed:

  • Annual Fishing Closure, from 1 December to 28 February the following year. This coincides with the rainy season and was introduced to protect the breeding of the commercially preferred species (mostly Tilapia species) whose breeding peaks in this period. The flooded plains provide ideal breeding grounds and nurseries for the juveniles.
  • Mesh size restriction of not less than 50 mm for all stationary gillnets. This restriction allows for new recruits to attain a minimum size before being exploited.
  • Introduction of permanently closed areas as sanctuaries and breeding grounds for commercially important species.
  • A complete ban on use of some destructive fishing methods such as forcefully driving of fish into set nets (locally known as kutumpula), use of explosives, use of weirs targeting migratory fish, and beach seine nets operated in shallow waters, which incidentally destroy fish nests and foul the water by stirring up silt.

Conclusion

Zambia has the potential for further development of the fisheries sector. If this sector is fully developed, it has the potential to contribute to the economic growth of Zambia.

With increasing global demand and greater local consumption of fish, there is a strong commercial market in the area and income earned from this sector would be higher than that earned from agriculture.

It can also transform the lives of smallholder farmers in rural communities thereby improving household income and food security.

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Plant Breeding, Genetic Engineering and Quality of Cultivars

INTRODUCTION

AMONG the variety of agricultural and technical factors that determine the quality of field crops, fruit and vegetables, the choice of a specific cultivar by the grower, i.e., the choice and combination of genes controlling economically important traits, may be considered the most initial step for defining quality and productivity. It is the factor that determines farmers’ potential output long before any other agricultural measures are taken and even before the seed is sown in the field or greenhouse. As a consequence, the breeding of a cultivar that is adapted to specific demands of the farmer and the consumer may be considered as a preharvest factor per se, even if certain quality characters of this cultivar apply to postharvest stages.

The classical approach for breeding cultivars is to select suitable phenotypes or mutants, which are then crossed, selfed, cloned or combined with populations depending on their reproductive biology (Table 2.1). A major drawback of this approach is that for most agronomically important traits, the phenotypic variance is the base for selection, which, however, is not only composed of the genotypic variance but also comprises an environmental component as well as interactions between genotypes and environment. This tends to obscure selection progress and is one of the reasons why breeding for quantitatively or polygenically inherited traits is so tedious and time-consuming.

Table 2.1. Approaches in Plant Breeding

Classical Breeding

• Selection of phenotypes

• Intercrossing, selfing, vegetative cloning of favourable phenotypes

• Inbred line or population or clonal varieties

Marker-Assisted Selection

• Mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL) (e.g., solids content and pH of

tomato pulp, chips quality of potato, β-glucan content of barley)

• Selection of genotypes instead of phenotypes

Genetic Engineering

• Gene suppression by antisense or cosuppression

• Expression of foreign genes (constitutive or tissue-specific)

• Overexpression of native genes

 

In addition, a combination of positively acting polygenes of one specific genetic background is difficult if not impossible because of recombinational dispersion of genes in each sexual generation. Biotechnology and molecular biology have provided exciting new tools to the plant breeder, which may help to circumvent some of the obstacles in the breeding of complex traits.

BIOTECHNOLOGY AND PLANT BREEDING

Plant breeding has been impacted during the last two decades by a number of technological developments that may enrich plant breeders’ repertoire to achieve breeding progress more quickly or conveniently or even allow them to design plant traits that were impossible to create by classical breeding methods. Besides classical breeding methods, biotechnological breakthroughs like in vitro fusion and regeneration of plant cells, and marker-assisted selection (MAS) of monogenic traits as well as the tracing of quantitative trait loci (QTL) by use of molecular genomic markers have gained increased importance for plant breeding (Table 2.1). In tomato, e.g., QTL for quality traits such as soluble solids content, fruit mass, fruit pH, and fruit shape have been mapped (Grandillo et al., 1996). In potato, traits such as chip colour, tuberization and tuber dormancy may be traced by molecular markers. For these characters, between 5 and 13 QTL have been identified. In some cases relatively high individual effects of a single QTL were found. Also, the total phenotypic variation of a given trait that could be accounted for by combined assessment of these QTLs was in the range of 50% or higher, which demonstrates the potential of molecular markers as a selection tool for tracing quantitatively inherited traits.

Limitations of MAS relate to the fact that applicability of these markers often depends heavily on the specific experimental population in which they were identified, as well as on the extent of marker polymorphism, linkage disequilibria and linkage phases among the individuals under selection. In addition, specific marker technology and know-how is required for routine marker-assisted selection programs, rendering the cost efficiency of MAS uncertain for crops that are not of major economic importance.

As a more recent achievement, transformation methods enabling the transfer of any isolated gene into virtually any important cultivated plant species have opened the toolbox of genetic engineering as a novel opportunity to the plant breeder. Plant transformation technology allows breeders to circumvent some restrictions of classical breeding methods.

In particular, gene technology offers the breeder the following promises:

  1. The manipulation of native and the introduction of foreign specific genes not only allow for modification of simply inherited traits like herbicide tolerance and virus and insect resistance, they also open new horizons for directed adjustment of even traits that display very complex inheritance in native systems. Thus, in some instances approaches of factorial instead of quantitative genetics may be sufficient for the breeder to cope with the improvement of specific quality or even yield-determining characters.
  2. Genetic engineering provides “added value” by transferring specific genes to cultivars that have been subject to intensive breeding efforts and, thus, are highbred already with respect to yield, uniformity, disease resistance, and so on. This aspect cannot be underestimated since any modern cultivar is defined by a complex of characteristics that have been assembled during years or decades of breeding work. In classical breeding new or better characteristics have to be introduced by crosses, giving rise to sexual recombination and, as a consequence, to dispersion of the valuable trait complexes in the progeny. In addition, undesired genes from the donor cross parent are also introduced, which have to be eliminated by successive backcrosses to the cultivar parent. It is for this reason that plant breeders tend to prevent the introduction of “exotic,” i.e., agronomically unadapted donor genotypes into their highbred elite gene pools. The addition or modification of single genes to elite lines by genetic engineering would help to alleviate these difficulties.
  3. Genetic engineering speeds up the breeding process and provides better cultivars to farmers and consumers with less effort of labour and time. There is expectation that the concerted use of biotechnological methods may substantially shorten the breeding cycle for a given crop, which presently is in the range of 10–15 years or, for some woody fruit species, extends to 25 years. This time span appears quite large if one considers the need for the breeder to adapt his breeding goals to the rapidly changing requirements by growers, industry, traders and consumers.

CONCLUSION

It should be stressed, however, that biotechnological methods such as genetic engineering are not, and most probably will not become, self-sufficient in breeding better cultivars. Rather, they may provide additional tools to the breeder who will still have to apply classical breeding methods, which continue to constitute the backbone of plant breeding.

The genetic engineering approach relies on (1) a detailed knowledge of the biochemical pathways that generate the quality trait, (2) the isolation of genes that have an impact on these pathways, and (3) the transfer and expression of one or several of these genes into crops in order to specifically modify the trait of interest. A number of strategies are available to genetically engineer a trait.

First, if the plant to be modified expresses a gene leading to undesirable characteristics, this gene may be shut down by introducing the same gene once more into the plant but in the opposite direction so that transcription of the native gene is neutralized by its antisense counterpart.

Gene silencing can also be achieved by introducing a truncated version of the native gene in either direction, a phenomenon that is called cosuppression. Second, if expression and not suppression of genes is desired, then novel genes that are not originally owned by the plant may be introduced from any source organism and may be expressed either constitutively or specifically in a tissue or developmental stage. Finally, the plant’s own genes may be expressed more abundantly by inserting additional copies of them or by combining these genes with different promotors which drive gene expression more efficiently than the gene’s native promotor.

REFERENCES

Shewfelt, R. L. 1985. Postharvest treatment for extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Food Technol., 40(5): 70–72,74,76–78, 80 and 89.

Shewfelt, R. L. 1999. Fruit and vegetable quality, in Fruit and Vegetable Quality:

An Integrated Approach, R. L. Shewfelt and B. Brückner, eds., Technomic

Publishing Co., Inc., Lancaster, PA.

Shewfelt, R. L., Erickson, M. E., Hung, Y-C. and Malundo, T. M. M. 1997. Applying quality concepts in frozen food development. Food Technol., 51(2):

56–59.

Simmonds, N. W. 1979. Principles of Crop Improvement, Longman, London.

Sloof, M., Tijskens, L. M. M. and Wilkinson, E. C. 1996. Concepts for modelling the quality of perishable products. Trends Food Science Tecnol., 7: 165–171.

Steenkamp, J. B. E. M. 1989. Product Quality: an Investigation into the Concept and How It Is Perceived by Consumers. Ph.D. thesis, Agricultural University

Wageningen, The Netherlands.

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Benefits of Bee keeping

A white eyed drone

A white eyed drone

Pollination

Bees are active pollinators. Most plants require effective pollination for their survival.

Bees are the most preferred pollinating insects. Extensive and proper pollination can bring about larger harvests of fruits, vegetables, and crops.

Having bees nearby can bring a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of vegetables, fruits, or flowers you and your neighbours grow.

Research shows that the dollar value of pollination by domesticated bees and beekeepers to a range of agricultural crops in the U.S.A. alone is measured in the millions of dollars per year.

Stress Reliever

Although there may not be any specific scientific claims to prove it, yet, beekeepers feel bees help them reduce their personal stress levels. Visitors enjoy just watching the bees coming in and going out of their hives with all their hustle and bustle.

Educational

Beekeeping is very educational for adults and children. You can learn many things from watching bees as they follow specific patterns of work.

Different categories of bees have assigned duties. Keeping a regular watch on beehives, observing bees, drones, and worker bees going about their work can teach us valuable lessons on work and time management.

Gifts

Beekeeping helps you to be able to shower your friends and relatives with various exclusive gifts at a fairly low cost. Gift items from your beehives could include bottled honey, beeswax, cosmetics, home-made candles and even lip balm.

Health Products

You can use the bee products available from your bee colonies to maintain your health. A regular supply of fresh, pure honey collected from your own beehive is just the start.

Many people believe that propolis (a glue produced and used by bees to maintain their combs) is good for you.

The Role of Research and Development in Agriculture

crop-trials

Crop Trials Being Carried Out

WHAT IS RESEARCH?

Research can be understood to be a series of Tests, Trials or Experiments. In other words to conduct research implies to inquire systematically about a given situation.

Research is important in the development of technology and implementation of new ideas. Most firms, universities and corporations have Research and Development Departments that steer companies into the future and remain competitive.

In agriculture, research is thought of mainly as trials and these are mainly conducted in the field.

Research can further be broken down into Research Programme and Research Project.  Programme involves many different kinds of research, while a project looks at one specific area.

Research can be categorised into 4 categories:

  • Exploratory – aimed at discovery of new ideas, techniques and machines.
  • Confirmatory – aimed at verifying some past findings based on the protocol that was used in the earlier research.
  • Diagnostic – aimed at identifying the cause of a given problem/or providing solutions.
  • Adaptive/modification – research aimed at changing or modifying the technology to suit a given environment or situation.

THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH

Existing technology and knowledge will not permit the necessary expansions in food production to meet needs. Low-income developing countries such as Zambia are grossly underinvesting in agricultural research compared with industrialized countries such as the USA, even though agriculture accounts for a much larger share of their employment and incomes. Their public sector expenditures on agricultural research are typically less than 0.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product, compared with about two percent in higher-income developing countries and two percent to five percent in industrialized countries.

Investment in agricultural research must be accelerated if developing countries are to assure future food security for their citizens at reasonable prices and without irreversible degradation of the natural resource base. Accelerated investment in agricultural research is particularly important and urgent for low-income developing countries, partly because these countries will not achieve reasonable economic growth, poverty alleviation, and improvements in food security without productivity increases in agriculture, and partly because so little research is currently undertaken in these countries. The negative correlation between investment in agricultural research and a country’s income level is very strong. Poor countries, which depend the most on productivity increases in agriculture, grossly underinvest in agricultural research.

Agricultural research has successfully developed yield-enhancing technology for the majority of crops grown in temperate zones and for several crops grown in the tropics. The dramatic impact of agricultural research and modern technology on wheat and rice yields in Asia and Latin America since the mid-1960s is well known. Less dramatic but significant yield gains have been obtained from research and technological change in other crops, particularly maize.

Large yield gains currently being obtained in many crops at the experimental level offer great promise for future yield and production increases at the farm level. In addition to raising yield levels, research resulting in tolerance or resistance to adverse production factors such as pests and drought, leading to biological and integrated pest control, and to develop improved varieties and hybrids for agroecological zones with less than optimal production conditions reduces risks and uncertainty and enhances sustainability in production through better management of natural resources and reduced environmental risks.

Accelerated agricultural research aimed at more-favoured areas will reduce pressures on fragile lands in less-favoured areas. Future research for the former must pay much more attention to sustainability than in the past to avoid a continuation of extensive waterlogging, salination, and other forms of land degradation. But, a continuation of past low-priority on less-favoured agroecological zones is inappropriate and insufficient to achieve the goals of poverty alleviation, improved food security, and appropriate management of natural resources. More research resources must be dedicated to less-favoured areas, those with agricultural potential, fragile lands, poor rainfall, and high risks of environmental degradation. A large share of the poor and food insecure reside in these agroecological zones.

The low priority given to research to develop appropriate technology for less favoured agroecological zones in the past is a major reason for the current rapid degradation of natural resources and high levels of population growth, poverty, and food insecurity. Much more research must be directed at developing appropriate technology for these areas. Out migration is not a feasible solution for these areas in the foreseeable future simply because of the large numbers of poor people who reside there and the lack of alternative opportunities elsewhere. Strengthening agriculture and related non-agricultural rural enterprises is urgent and must receive high priority.

Following on the tremendous successes popularly referred to as the Green

Revolution, the international agricultural research centres have recognized the importance and urgency of research to assure sustainability in agricultural intensification through appropriate management of natural resources. Thus management of natural resources and conservation and enhancement of germplasm are given high priority in current and future research by the centres.

Declining investment in agricultural research for developing countries since the mid-1980s by both developing-country governments and international foreign assistance agencies is inappropriate and must be reversed. While privatization of agricultural research should be encouraged, much of the agricultural research needed to achieve food security, reduce poverty, and avoid environmental degradation in developing countries is of a public goods nature and will not be undertaken by the private sector. Fortunately, while private rates of return may be insufficient to justify private-sector investment, expected high social rates of returns justify public investment. The major share of such investment should occur in the developing countries’ own research institutions; there is an urgent need to strengthen these institutions to expand research and increase the probability of high payoffs.

Research institutions in the industrialized nations have played an extremely important role by undertaking basic research required to support strategic, adaptive, and applied research by the international centres and developing countries’ own research institutions and by providing training for developing-country researchers. Collaboration among developed country research institutions and developing countries’ own research institutions is widespread, but further strengthening is required to make full use of the comparative advantages of each of the two groups for the ultimate benefit of the poor in developing countries.

All appropriate aspects of science, including molecular biology-based research, must be mobilized to solve poor people’s problems. Almost all of the investment made in genetic engineering and biotechnology for agriculture during the last 10 to 15 years has been focused on solving problems in temperate-zone agriculture such as herbicide resistance in cotton, longer shelf life for perishable products such as tomatoes, and a variety of other problems of importance in the industrialized nations. If we are serious about helping poor people, particularly poor women, and if we are serious about assuring sustainability in the use of natural resources, we must use all appropriate tools at our disposal to achieve these goals, including modern science. For example, modern science may help eliminate losses resulting from drought among small scale farmers. Drought-tolerant varieties of maize that poor farmers can grow could potentially be developed, along with crop varieties with tolerance or resistance to other adverse conditions, including certain insects and pests.

While some argue that it is too risky to use genetic engineering to solve poor people’s problems because we may be unaware of future side effects, we believe that it is unethical to withhold solutions to problems that cause thousands of children to die from hunger and malnutrition. Clearly, we must seek acceptable levels of biosafety before releasing products from modern science, but it is critical that the risks associated with the solutions be weighed against the ethics of not making every effort to solve food and nutrition problems.

Effective partnerships between developing-country research systems, international research institutions, and private and public sector research institutions in industrialized countries should be forged to bring biotechnology to bear on the agricultural problems of developing countries. Incentives should be provided to the private sector to undertake biotechnology research focused on the problems of developing-country farmers. Failure to expand agricultural research significantly in and for developing countries will make food security, poverty, and environmental goals elusive. Lack of foresight today will carry a very high cost for the future. As usual, the weak and powerless will carry the major burden, but just as we must all share the blame for inaction or inappropriate action so will we all suffer the consequences.

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CROP ROTATION AND SOIL FERTILITY

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Crop rotation in practice

Introduction

Crop rotation is “The practice of alternating the annual crops grown in a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence so that the crops of the same species or family are not grown repeatedly without interruption on the same field”. -US National Organic Program definition-

OR leaving soil in the best position it can be for continuing/next crops – that includes cover crops, rotations, green manures, catch crops etc.

BENEFITS OF CROP ROTATION

  • Preventive Pest Management
    Crop rotation may limit the growth of populations of agricultural pests including insects, nematodes, and diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi through regular interruption and replacing crop host species with different plant species that do not serve as hosts. The use of specific crop and cover crop rotations may also be used to control pests through allelopathy, an interference interaction in which a plant releases into the environment a compound that inhibits or stimulates the growth or development of other organisms.
  • Reduced Weed Competition
    Carefully designed crop rotations may also serve to outcompete problematic weed species through shading, competition for nutrients and water, and/or allelopathy.
  • Distribution of Nutrient Demand Placed On Soil by Crops
    Different crops place different nutrient demands on the soil.
  • Making Efficient Use of Nutrient Inputs
    Cropping species that access nutrients from different depths within the soil horizon may make the most efficient use of nutrient inputs. Efficient use of agricultural nutrients may further prevent nutrient losses/leaching and associated environmental pollution.
  • Nitrogen Fixation
    Annual cover crop rotations using nitrogen-fixing (legume) cover crops may contribute significant amounts of nitrogen to succeeding crops as well as adding organic matter to the soil.
  • Improving Soil Quality
    Cover crop rotations allow soils to remain undisturbed for various periods of time during which the processes of soil aggregation can take place. The use of a perennial grass rotation lasting 6 months to one year or more may significantly contribute to organic matter accumulation, stimulate soil biological activity and diversity, and improve soil physical properties.
  • Increased Crop Yields
    The rotation effect – Yield of crops grown in rotation are often higher than those grown in monocultures, even when both systems are supplied with abundant nutrients and water. Growing a diversity of crops in a given year spreads out labour needs throughout a season. The diversity of crops reduces the economic risks caused by variations in climate and/or market conditions.

TEN BASIC PRACTICES OF CROP ROTATION
Rotate the location of annual crops each year. This is especially true for crops in the Solanaceae family (e.g., peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.). Do not follow one crop with a closely related crop species, as pests and diseases are shared by closely related crops. When growing a wide diversity of crops, attempt to group crops into blocks according to the following criteria:

  1. Plant family
  2. Similar timing/maturation periods
  3. Type of crop (i.e., root vs. fruit vs. leaf crop)
  4. Crops with similar cultural requirements (e.g., irrigation, plastic mulch, dry farmed, planted to moisture crops, etc.)
  5. Follow nitrogen-fixing cover crops and/or legume forage crops (e.g., clover, alfalfa) with heavy feeding crops (e.g., corn) to take advantage of nitrogen supply.
  6. Follow long-term crop rotations (e.g., 1-year perennial rye rotation or pasture rotations) with disease-sensitive crops (e.g., strawberries).
  7. In diverse annual production systems, heavy-feeding crops (crops with high nutrient demands) should be followed by medium-light or shallow-rooted crops, followed by deep-rooted crops.
  8. Always grow some crops that will produce and leave a large amount of residue/biomass that can be incorporated into the soil to help maintain soil organic matter levels.
  9. Grow deep-rooted crops (e.g., sunflower, fava beans, etc.) that may access nutrients from lower soil horizons, alleviate soil compaction, and fracture sub-soil, thus promoting water infiltration and subsequent root penetration.
  10. Use crop sequences known to aid in controlling weeds.
  11. Use crop sequences known to promote healthy crop growth (e.g., corn followed by onions followed by Cole/Brassicaceae crops) and avoid cropping sequences known to promote pests and diseases (e.g., monocultures in general or peas followed by potatoes specifically).

SUMMARY

In conclusion, crop rotation is primarily about a cultural system that is based on natural principles. It is about building a fertile living soil and an environment that supports the healthy growth of plants and natural biological control—a situation where synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are unnecessary and even counterproductive.

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USES OF MULCHES IN SOIL MOISTURE CONSERVATION

456575INTRODUCTION
Mulch is a protective covering, usually of organic matter such as leaves, straw, or peat, placed around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture, and the growth of weeds. The word mulch has probably been derived from the German word “molsch” meaning soft to decay, which apparently referred to the gardener’s use of straw and leaves as a spread over the ground as mulch.
Mulching;

  1. reduces the deterioration of soil by way of preventing the runoff and Soil loss
  2. minimizes weed infestation
  3. checks water evaporation. Thus, it facilitates for more retention of soil moisture
  4. helps control temperature fluctuations
  5. improves physical, chemical and biological properties of soil
  6. adds nutrients to the soil
  7. enhances the growth and yield of crops
  8. boosts the yield by 50–60% over no mulching under rain-fed situations.

CLASSIFICATION OF MULCHES
Advancement in plastic chemistry has resulted in development of films with optical properties that are ideal for a specific crop in a given location. Horticulturists need to understand the optimum above and below ground environment of a particular crop before the use of plastic mulch. These are two types:

  • Photo-degradable plastic mulch: This type of plastic mulch film gets destroyed by sun light in a shorter period.
  • Bio-degradable plastic mulch: This type of plastic mulch film is easily degraded in the soil over a period of time.

COLOUR OF FILM
Soil environment can be managed precisely by a proper selection of plastic mulch composition, colour and thickness. Films are available in variety of colours including black, transparent, white, silver, blue red, etc. But the selection of the colour of plastic mulch film depends on specific targets. Generally, the following types of plastic mulch films are used in horticultural crops:

  1. Black plastic film: It helps in conserving moisture, controlling weed and reducing outgoing radiation.
  2. Reflective silver film: It generally maintains the root-zone temperature cooler.
  3. Transparent film: It increases the soil temperature and preferably used for solarization.

Apart from the above classification there is another way of classifying Methods in mulching:

  1. Surface mulching: Mulches are spread on surface to reduce evaporation and increase soil moisture.
  2. Vertical mulching: It involves opening of trenches of 30 cm depth and 15 cm width across the slope at vertical interval of 30 cm.
  3. Polythene mulching: Sheets of plastic are spread on the soil surface between the crop rows or around tree trunks.
  4. Pebble mulching: Soil is covered with pebbles to prevent transfer of heat from atmosphere.
  5. Dust mulching: Interculture operation that creates dust to break continuous capillaries, and deep and wide cracks thus reducing evaporation from the exposed soil areas.
  6. Live vegetative barriers on contour key lines not only serve as effective mulch when cut and spread on ground surface, but also supply nitrogen to the extent of 25 to 30 kg per ha, besides improving soil moisture status.

EFFECTS OF MULCHES ON SOIL MOISTURE CONSERVATION
Water is essential for growth and development. It is also a major cost in agricultural systems. The success of many agricultural forms relies on conservative and efficient use of water. Moisture retention is undoubtedly the most common reason for which mulch is applied to soil.
Ingman claimed that the use of things made with plastic or plastic components have become a routine part of our daily lives. In a similar way, over the past 50 years world agricultural systems have rapidly adopted the use of many types of plastic products to grow the food we eat because of the productive advantages they afford. Plastic use in agriculture (plasticulture) continues to increase every year in the ever-diminishing supply of petroleum. There is a common lack of awareness regarding what plastic mulch is, and also a lack of applied research of its use in agricultural communities. However, the use of plastic mulch may actually be one of the most significant water conservation practices in modern agriculture: quite possibly surpassing the water savings of drip irrigation. Even though most of the world’s use of freshwater is spent for irrigation purposes, little research explores how plastic mulch use as a water conservation practice may influence the current and future status of water resources. He used a multidisciplinary approach to understand why Chinese farmers on the margins of the Gobi desert continue to use plastic mulch, and in particular, how its use may relate to water conservation. Next, the study asks to what extent the plasticization of agriculture may influence the income and standard of living for agricultural communities. He was able to prove the role of plastic mulch in conserving soil moisture.
Mulch is used to protect the soil from direct exposure to the sun, which would evaporate moisture from the soil surface and cause drying of the soil profile. The protective interface established by the mulch stops raindrop splash by absorbing the impact energy of the rain, hence reducing soil surface crust formation. The mulch permits soil surface to prevent runoff allowing a longer infiltration time. These features result in improved water infiltration rates and higher soil moisture. An auxiliary benefit of mulch reducing soil splash is the decreased need for additional cleaning prior to processing of the herb foliage. Organic and inorganic mulches have shown to improve the soil moisture retention. This increased water holding ability enables plants to survive during dry periods. The use of plastic mulch can be improved if under-mulch irrigation is used in combination with soil moisture monitoring.
The influence of rainfall events is not as great when plastic mulch is used, necessitating active irrigation management. Under mulch, irrigation of vegetable crops has been shown to improve crop yields more than overhead irrigation systems.
Mulch enables the soil moisture levels to maintain for longer periods. In some cases while providing improved moisture conditions within the soil, the mulch changes microclimate so that it uses more water, thus negating the initial benefits. Plastic mulch conserved 47.08% of water and increased yield by 47.67% in tomato when compared to non-mulched control. Plastic mulching resulted in 33 to 52% more efficient use of irrigation water in bell pepper compared to bare soil.
The conservation of soil moisture through mulching is one of the important best management practices (BMP). The microclimatic conditions are favourably affected by optimum degree of soil moisture. When soil surface is covered with mulch helps
to prevent weed growth, reduce evaporation and increase infiltration of rainwater during growing season.
Different mulching materials helped bell pepper (C. annuum cv. California Wonder) to perform better at water deficits from 25–75% and plastic mulch had highest water use efficiency. Treatment receiving mulch recorded significantly higher net returns and benefit – cost ratio (1.80) compared to control as a result of soil water conservation. A 34–50% reduction in soil water evaporation was observed as a result of crop residue mulching. Mulch slows down evaporation and reduces the irrigation requirement. Liu et al. [31 to 34] also reported that mulching improves the ecological environment of the soil and increases soil water contents.
Plastic mulch helps prevent soil water loss during dry years and sheds excessive
water away from the crop root zone during periods of excessive rainfall. This can
reduce irrigation frequency and amount of water.

Rerences

Kamal G. S, PhD, Megh R. G, PhD, PE R. P. R, PhD. Best Management Practices for Drip Irrigated Crops – Research Advances in Sustainable Micro Irrigation. Volume 6

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Africa the Cradle of Agriculture

Various vegetables grown on the continent

Various vegetables grown on the continent

Africa is credited to be the cradle of agriculture, despite this being the case the continent lags behind when it comes to Food Security.

This “Year of agriculture and Food Security” in Africa must take its relevance. Agriculture must become a true rallying point for change on the continent and beyond as we seek to achieve, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘an Africa where there would be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Therefore, there is need for African governments to spearhead innovations in agriculture if we are to attain Food Security in Africa. There is no doubt that meaningful agricultural innovations can and will create Food Security in Africa.

Approximately 65 percent of Africans rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. And despite the wide variety of crops, animals and farm practices across the continent, Africa has the lowest levels of agricultural productivity in the world.

History tells us that nations that have succeeded in taking their people out of poverty have done it on the back of an agricultural revolution that involved systematic improvements in production, storage, processing and use. Increase in agricultural productivity, has, from the time of the European industrial revolution contributed immensely to fast tracking the structural transformation of economies.

The effect of the agricultural revolution on the economies of Brazil, India, and China give an illustration of how the surplus from increased agricultural productivity can fuel industrial growth.

The majority of African farmers have not benefited from initiatives and programs aimed at improving farming techniques, better farm equipment, seeds, fertilizer, post-harvest technology, agricultural financing and so on. Why has minimal level of success been attained so far?

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