Tag Archives: Africa

The Role of Research and Development in Agriculture


Crop Trials Being Carried Out


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.


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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Aquaculture Production in Zambia

Zambia has big potential for fish farming with 37 per cent of its surface area suitable for artisanal and 43 per cent suitable for commercial fish production.

Aquaculture is the rearing of aquatic organisms in an enclosed water body under controlled conditions. Aquatic organisms may be plant life such as phytoplankton, lilies, and other forms of algae or animal life such as fish, crocodiles, oysters etc. Controlled conditions include physio-chemical water parameters (dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, phosphorous, etc), water level, as well as feed. The basic idea here is to imitate what is prevailing in the natural waters so as to achieve optimum yields.

Aquaculture is in its infant stage of development compared to agriculture. Fish farming in Zambia dates back to the 1950s when the first attempts were made to raise indigenous species of the cichlidae family, mainly tilapias, in dams and earthen fish ponds. A number of donors have subsequently taken an active part in assisting the government to encourage farmers to adopt aquaculture.

Common aquaculture technologies used in Zambia:

  1. Earthen Ponds

This technology involves the use of the sides, bottom, and dykes of a pond to form an ecosystem. Such a system promotes growth of natural food items and so fish benefits extensively from the natural food. Supplementary feed may not be necessary. Production varies depending on management system employed; regardless of pond size. Pond construction and maintenance is relatively cheaper. Examples of species suitable for culture include Oreochromis andersonii or O. niloticus.


Earthen Pond

  1. Concrete Ponds

Pond walls and bottom are made of concrete. Since the bottom is cemented, no ecosystem is formed and so no natural food production. In this case, formulated feed is what the cultured organisms rely on. It is expensive to construct and maintain; thereby mainly used for production of high value species e.g. carp fish.


Concrete Pond

  1. Raceways

This is a narrow long body of water. It depends on a continuous flow of water and so limited presence of algae, bacteria, or fungi. Only stubborn algae are scarcely found. Catfish, Tilapia, Carp are among species that can be cultured.



  1. Floating Cages

Cages may be made of planks or steel and are placed in running water- in a natural water body (lake, river, sea). Since space is limited, artificial feed supplement is necessary. To curb environmental degradation, positioning of cages, feed type, and frequency is cardinal. Examples of species cultured in this system include i.e. O. niloticus or O. andersonii.


Floating Cages

Cage farming is a relatively new practice in Zambia, which has attracted a lot of concern from the Environmental monitoring bodies such as the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA). Their main concern is regarding the negative impacts that the practice has on the natural water body and its resources. For example,

  • In the event of fish escaping from cages, such escapes may cause harm to the inhabitants and the ecosystem (especially if they are exotic species).
  • Uneaten feeds that find themselves on the river bed would cause water pollution;
  • Cages tend to divert or hamper natural water flow;
  • The site of cages may compromise the beautiful scenery of the water body, affecting tourism;
  • Cages would also affect navigation; etc.

There is therefore need to address such concerns before and during the project execution stage. Constraints and benefits must be compared to ensure that even as the farmer is gaining profits, the environmental damage is not compromised. In this vain, it is a requirement by the Zambian law that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) be carried out before project initiation to determine the possible impacts and propose remedial measures thereof.

  1. Tanks

Strong material such as planks, fibre glass, or plastic is used in construction. May be round, square, or rectangular in shape. Shape and size varies depending on purpose. Usually used for high value and delicate species such as breeders, juveniles, or ornamental fishes. Food is totally artificial and water should be allowed to run through or changed regularly.



  1. Conservation Dams

In most cases, the dam is originally intended for other purposes such as irrigation, livestock drinking, or human consumption. Instead of allowing the dam to serve only that intended purpose, fish may be reared in the same dam. In dams meant for livestock, animals fertilize the water (cow dung for instance), thereby promoting primary productivity, and thus natural food for the fish. Production is relatively low. Harvesting is not easy due to depth, stumps, and rocks. This kind of practice is commonly practiced in Southern and Eastern Province of Zambia. Species cultured mainly Tilapia, catfish.

Species Suitable for Aquaculture in Zambia

The commonly used species for aquaculture include the three spotted tilapia (Oreochromis andersonii), the longfin tilapia (Oreochromis macrochir) and the redbreast tilapia (Tilapia rendalli). The Kafue river strain of the three spotted tilapia is the most commonly farmed species, particularly in the commercial sector. Other species include the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii).

Challenges facing Aquaculture Production in Zambia

Lack of a national policy to guide aquaculture development, unfriendly investment policies, the absence of linkages between farmers, research/technology development and extension, and unfavourable investment climate. Long-term economic sustainability of Zambian aquaculture will depend on the development and implementation of a national policy that ensures the social and environmental sustainability of the industry.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

The entry of Zambian aquaculture into global prominence faces considerable challenges. There are, however, reasons for optimism. Despite high risks and investment costs, high and increasing demand and market value of fish are encouraging. If social and environmental sustainability issues can be successfully addressed, increasing market demand and higher prices should open opportunities for a range of producers and investors. Increasing productivity of both large and small-scale aquaculture will require major investments in research, development and extension as well as policy shifts. The strategies for addressing problems of the small-scale and larger commercial operations will probably be different.



The transplanting process can be a shock to rapidly growing seedlings especially when set out into the cold windy garden in the spring. This is especially true for transplants started in the greenhouse, cold frame, hotbed or home. These young seedlings can be made somewhat resistant to heat, cold temperatures, drying and whipping winds, certain types of insect injury, injury from blowing sand and soil particles and low soil moisture by a process termed “hardening.”
The term “hardening” refers to any treatment that results in a firming or hardening of plant tissue. Such a treatment reduces the growth rate, thickens the cuticle and waxy layers, reduces the percentage of freezable water in the plant and often results in a pink color in stems, leaf veins and petioles. Such plants often have smaller and darker green leaves than non hardened plants. Hardening results in an increased level of carbohydrates in the plant permitting a more rapid root development than occurs in non hardened plants.
Cool-season flower and vegetable plants can develop hardiness allowing them to withstand subfreezing temperatures. Unhardened cabbage seedlings have been reported to be damaged by temperatures of -2 degrees C (28 degrees F) while hardened cabbage will tolerate temperatures as low as -6 degrees C (22 degrees F).
Warm-season types of plants even when hardened, will not withstand temperatures much below freezing. If transplanted to the garden or field prior to the average last killing spring frost, such plants should be provided protection by hot caps or other such devices.
Any of the following can be used to harden transplants. A combination of all these techniques at one time is more effective.
1. Gradually reduce water – water lightly at less frequent intervals but do not allow the plants to wilt severely.
2. Expose plants to lower temperature than is reported as optimal for their growth. If biennials are exposed to cold for an extended period, they may bolt in lieu of developing properly. Note: Placing the plants outside during the day to encourage hardening and then bringing the plants back into the warm house during the night often reverses the hardening process. Plants could be placed in a cold frame or other area that does not freeze during the night hours without lose of the hardening process.
3. Do not fertilize, particularly with nitrogen immediately before or during the hardening process. A starter solution or liquid fertilizer could however be applied to the hardened transplants one or two days prior to transplanting into the garden or at the time of transplanting.
4. Gradually expose the plants to more sunlight. This results in the development of a thicker cuticle layer thereby reducing water loss.
Hardening is not necessary for all transplants. We recommend that with the exception of tomatoes, plants that are susceptible to frost should not be hardened. Overly hardened plants while withstanding unfavorable outside conditions are slow to get started and may never overcome the stress placed on the plant during the hardening process. We also recommend that plants be hardened for no longer than seven to ten days before planting to the garden site.


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 the weed infestation and (3) checks the water evaporation. Thus, it facilitates for more retention of soil moisture and (4) helps in control of temperature fluctuations, (5) improves physical, chemical and biological properties of soil, as it adds (6) nutrients to the soil and ultimately (7) enhances the growth and yield of crops. Further, reported that mulching (8) boosts the yield by 50–60% over no mulching under rain-fed situations.

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.

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 solarisation.
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.

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 nonmulched 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

Source: Best Management Practices for Drip Irrigated Crops
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Agriculture the Backbone of Africa

Agriculture being the backbone of most developing economies in Africa holds pregnant solutions to food insecurity and a spectrum of deficiency diseases affecting Africa. However this potential has not been tapped enough to make it rise to the occasion of a commercialized agriculture that can provide employment, continuously and adequately feed Africans and nurture economic growth in the individual countries.

To see this in print we need combined efforts between large and small scale farmers, government and educational institutions to provide thinking minds and dedicated personnel to act as movers of change. The farmers must convert the farming activities into enterprises worth investments of money, time and energy. This is unlike the garden-to-mouth philosophy that is not only a disgrace to a growing economy but also an injection of poverty to the society.

The government needs to make policies that not only support agriculture but also gets directly involved in it through parastatals. Subsidized fertilizers, pesticides and buying produce from farmers can offer direct support while policies supporting climate and environmental consciousness, rural development and artificial irrigation can support indirectly.

Educational institutions should promote research projects related to agriculture from students for capacity building in rural areas and take their students for academic trips to food processing companies to set them on fire of innovation.

According to statistics released by FAO, a child dies every six seconds from hunger, 14% of greenhouse gases come from agriculture and 74% of this is brought by developing countries where most of our African economies lie. This necessitates the need to be conscious of our environment and fast conversion of words to deeds, from the boardroom to the field.
With the above mentioned synergistic effect, we can transform our Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) into our main production zones by not depending on rain-fed agriculture but irrigating our farms. This will provide adequate food for us and feeds for our animals that will give us manure for organic farming thereby reciprocal benefits. Africa is endowed with lakes, dams and rivers to support this but people in their immediate environment die from hunger. Reclaiming our land by the government is another step along the journey. Production alone is not enough. We need food processing companies near these farms to bring the youth to rural areas and closer to the farms that will rejuvenate the spirit of agriculture from old and rigid people to young, innovative and aggressive minds that can elevate food security in the continent and reduce antisocial crimes and solve problems related to rural-urban migration.

Food scientists and technologists in these companies will complete the chain of production by processing the produce to finished products to avoid post-harvest wastage and ensure continuous supply throughout the country. The excess will be exported to earn our countries substantial foreign currencies to increase our net factor incomes and lead to positive balance of payments. With the new technological advancement, education and incentive systems in our individual countries, it can be done.SAM_3320

Africa the Cradle of Agriculture

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?