News / Africa

Researchers Developing New Techniques to Improve Food Security In Africa

A man distributes bread to children at St. Ambrose church in Angree, Abidjan, a temporary refuge for people fleeing from clashes between forces loyal to incumbent president Gbagbo and his rival Ouattara (File Photo - March 1, 2011)
A man distributes bread to children at St. Ambrose church in Angree, Abidjan, a temporary refuge for people fleeing from clashes between forces loyal to incumbent president Gbagbo and his rival Ouattara (File Photo - March 1, 2011)

Agricultural researchers from five African countries and Australia met in Kenya's capital recently to discuss how to improve food security in Eastern and Southern Africa. Under a four-year joint program called SIMLESA, researchers aim to increase the quality and quantity of maize and legume crops through the use of new or improved technologies. This, in turn, is expected to raise farmers' incomes and make more food available in local and international markets.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest incidence of hunger, with some one-third of the population estimated to be undernourished.

Maize is a crucial staple crop for most Sub-Saharan Africans, especially the poor. Yet the continent imports 28 percent of its required maize from countries outside of Africa.

Helping farmers increase the quantity and quality of their maize and other food legumes is a key goal of the four-year program SIMLESA, or Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume, cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Funded by the Australian government, scientists from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania are experimenting with a range of technologies to boost yields in the face of droughts, diseases, and pests in their countries.

Dr. Bekele Shiferaw, SIMLESA's chair and a director at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, says key among them is the development and distribution of high-yielding, drought-tolerant maize. These varieties are designed to withstand fluctuations in water supply.

"We are also developing another type of maize, which is called quality protein maize for Africa," said Shiferaw. "It is using a conventional breeding approach enhancing the nutritional value of maize by bringing in genes which provide higher levels of lysine and tryptophan, which are essential amino acids required for children, mothers, and so forth."

Dr. John Dixon, regional coordinator for Africa at the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, says breeding crops to withstand drought, diseases and pests, and increase nutritional content and yields, is an important part of a food security strategy.

He says scientists can do this by examining genetic markers in plants.

"Genetic markers are like [what] doctors use now in medicine to identify people who may be at risk of a certain disease," he said. "We can do the same with plants and we can use genetic markers to identify which plants might be very efficient in using water, or which plants might be resistant to a particular plant disease. By using these genetic markers, we can reduce the numbers of years it takes breeders to develop new and better cultivars of crops."

Dr. Dixon says this is not to be confused with genetically-modified crops, which introduces foreign genetic material into an existing plant.

Once scientists identify a plant's strength, they can then recommend that crop to farmers and work with seed companies to make the seeds available to farmers. In each country, researchers are partnering with local agencies and farmers to develop and implement the various technologies.

Researchers are also looking at how crops grown at the same time or in a particular sequence affect one another.

Dr. Marianne Banziger, a deputy director general at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, explains how legume crops help maize to grow.

"There is a good interaction between the legume and the maize because the legume puts the nitrogen fertilizer - one type of fertilizer - into the ground for the maize to use," she said."So, if you grow maize after legumes, if you grow maize after groundnuts, if you grow maize after other kinds of legumes, the [maize] yield tends to go up."

Legumes such as pigeon pea, common bean, soybean, and groundnuts form another important cornerstone of SIMLESA's food security strategy. Rich in protein, iron and vitamins, researchers are urging maize farmers to grow more of these crops as sources of food security and cash for the family.

SIMLESA chair Dr. Bekele Shiferaw says this is where Africa has tremendous potential.  

"South Asia is a major importing continent for legumes produced in Africa. Pigeon peas and chick peas, which are grown by small-holder farmers in this region, are exported," said Shiferaw. "Many small-holder farmers organize into cooperatives. They export chick peas to India, to Bangladesh, to Pakistan, so there is a very well-developed export market for these legumes."

For instance, Ethiopia is one of sub-Saharan Africa's largest chick-pea producers, exporting up to 60 tons of chick peas every year to Asian countries. Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania also export pigeon peas to these markets.

SIMLESA researchers also aim to introduce to farmers agricultural techniques that conserve the environment.

Chief among them is so-called "minimum" or "zero tillage,"  techniques, where seeds are planted with minimal soil disturbance or without plowing. Such techniques are used widely in industrialized countries. The undisturbed soil, often covered by crop residues, retains moisture, reduces soil erosion, and cuts down on labor.

SIMLESA chair Dr. Shiferaw says what is ideal for most small-scale farmers is a "jab planter," a hoe or stick that puts seed directly into the ground.

"We are developing different types of small-scale equipment using local manufacturers to actually integrate the conservation agriculture system into what has traditionally been the plow culture in Easter and Southern Africa," said Shiferaw.

Through these and other technologies, SIMLESA researchers aim to increase small-scale farmers' food production by 30 percent within the next decade.

The program is targeting some 500,000 farms in the five countries, which is expected to increase food security for some three million people in Eastern and Southern Africa.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Role in Fighting IS Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Enter Public Office in Record Numbers

A steady deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid