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I was involved in the discussions about the future challenges faced by African Agriculture.


How do we achieve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020?

What are the challenges?

  1. Poverty and growing population.

    In Sub-Saharan Africa 80% of the farmland is in the hands of small-holders farmers. Many of these are extremely poor and rely on family labour for production. Also, the population of sub-Sahara Africa has increased by 670 million people in the last 60 years and it is going to keep growing.

  2. Emerging pest diseases

    New and re-emerging diseases are a major threat for crop production. Only in the cereal crops, 40% are lost to pests and diseases. The lack of pesticides, farmers' knowledge of the diseases and diagnostics tools worsen the problem.

  3. Climate change and abiotic stresses

    Climate change causes raise in the temperatures, elevated carbon dioxide levels and unpredictable changes in rainfall. Climate change affects food production not only causing drought but also favouring the manifestation of new pest diseases.

  4. Threat to biodiversity

    Habitat destruction, over-exploitation and introduction of alien species are affecting biodiversity and the natural ecosystems.

How can we tackle them?

  1. Effective communication

    We need to involve everyone in the discussion, from small-holder farmers to breeders, scientists and policy makers to create strong partnerships. We also need to involve women who make up to 50% of the agricultural force.

  2. Develop strategies for disease surveillance

    We need accurate disease identification, reporting systems and monitoring of emerging crop diseases in the field. Data about emerging diseases should be freely available for farmers and scientists.

  3. Effective soil and water management

    Soil management needs affordable, user-friendly tools for soil evaluation (pH, nutrients). Beneficial plant microbiomes can improve soil fertility, plant growth, nutrient use, drought and disease resistance.

  4. Development of new varieties

    The latest crop improvement techniques including genome editing and genetic modification should be incorporated in breeding programs to produce high yielding or resistant varieties.

  5. Crop fortification

    Food security comes together with nutrition security. Biofortification can be used to increase micronutrient concentrations in the crops.


A conceptual approach for measuring farmers’ attitudes to integrated soil fertility management in Kenya

Abstract: Publication date: Available online 18 July 2015 Source:NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences Author(s): Carl Johan Lagerkvist, Kelvin Shikuku, Julius Okello, Nancy Karanja, Chris Ackello-Ogutu A sustainable increase in agricultural productivity is essential in assuring food security in developing countries. Low soil fertility is a major contributing factor to the current vicious cycle of low agricultural productivity and inadequate livelihoods among smallholder farmers. Integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) is one way of achieving sustainable agricultural development, but improving soil fertility through ISFM requires interventions that match the behavioural inclinations of farmers and their decision making. Using survey data on 125 commercial peri-urban farmers growing kale (Brassica oleracea) around Nairobi, Kenya, this study examined two conceptual approaches for measuring ISFM attitudes. A Rasch model, where the odds ratio for engaging in an ISFM practice is given by the difference between farmers’ attitude and the difficulty of the practice in terms of behavioural cost, identified ISFM attitudes as a unidimensional concept. However, assessing attitudes based on a standard valence method raised problems of construct validity. Accounting for behavioural costs as determinants of ISFM, in addition to other pecuniary costs, may improve our understanding of how farmers deal with complex choices in the ISFM context. Our findings suggest that high behavioural costs in relation to use of human faeces as manure, use of crop residues and transport impede adoption of ISFM practices vital to increased productivity. These findings can be used to develop ISFM communications and improve the efficacy of different interventions intended to increase potential uptake of ISFM practices.

Pub.: 29 Jul '15, Pinned: 23 Apr '17

Achieving food security for one million sub-Saharan African poor through push-pull innovation by 2020.

Abstract: Food insecurity is a chronic problem in Africa and is likely to worsen with climate change and population growth. It is largely due to poor yields of the cereal crops caused by factors including stemborer pests, striga weeds and degraded soils. A platform technology, 'push-pull', based on locally available companion plants, effectively addresses these constraints resulting in substantial grain yield increases. It involves intercropping cereal crops with a forage legume, desmodium, and planting Napier grass as a border crop. Desmodium repels stemborer moths (push), and attracts their natural enemies, while Napier grass attracts them (pull). Desmodium is very effective in suppressing striga weed while improving soil fertility through nitrogen fixation and improved organic matter content. Both companion plants provide high-value animal fodder, facilitating milk production and diversifying farmers' income sources. To extend these benefits to drier areas and ensure long-term sustainability of the technology in view of climate change, drought-tolerant trap and intercrop plants are being identified. Studies show that the locally commercial brachiaria cv mulato (trap crop) and greenleaf desmodium (intercrop) can tolerate long droughts. New on-farm field trials show that using these two companion crops in adapted push-pull technology provides effective control of stemborers and striga weeds, resulting in significant grain yield increases. Effective multi-level partnerships have been established with national agricultural research and extension systems, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to enhance dissemination of the technology with a goal of reaching one million farm households in the region by 2020. These will be supported by an efficient desmodium seed production and distribution system in eastern Africa, relevant policies and stakeholder training and capacity development.

Pub.: 19 Feb '14, Pinned: 23 Apr '17

Tackling the threat to food security caused by crop pests in the new millennium

Abstract: Crop yields are reduced and destabilized by pests which also affect the quality of harvested produce. To keep pace with growing demand, global food production needs to increase by an estimated 70% by 2050. Thus, the losses caused by pests need to be tackled. Synthetic pesticides have provided cost-effective control of pests over the last few decades but have several disadvantages. They may adversely affect natural enemies of insect pests, which would otherwise provide a degree of control and pests may evolve resistance to the pesticide. The discovery rate of novel bioactive compounds is low and their exploitation increasingly inhibited by stringent regulatory requirements. Use of resistant crop cultivars is another solution but when based on single genes it also suffers from the evolution of biotypes of pests that can overcome the resistance conferred by the gene. Biocontrol with natural enemies can contribute to pest management but biocontrol agents are often hard to maintain at sufficiently high levels in open field environments. New solutions could include novel resistant cultivars with multiple resistance genes, suitable epigenetic imprints and improved defence responses that are induced by attack. Plant activator agrochemicals could be used to switch on natural plant defence. Habitat manipulations such as push-pull can improve pest management and yields in less intensive systems. Genomic and transcriptomic information will facilitate development of new resistant crop cultivars once annotation and availability of data on multiple cultivars is improved. Knowledge of the chemical ecology of pest-plant interactions will be better exploited once the genes for biosynthesis of key plant metabolites are discovered. Genetic modification of crops has the potential for speeding the development of crops with novel resistance.

Pub.: 14 Apr '10, Pinned: 23 Apr '17