What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Africa Day 2016: focus on stories from Africa

The future of Benin will be shaped by its geography, The World Bank

Make farming a rewarding career for Africa’s youth, SciDevNet

Brexit may provide boost for African agriculture, The National

Tanzania orders drought-hit herders to leave national parks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

African Leaders Push for Increased Nutrition Investments, AllAfrica

Drought-tolerant maize improves yields in 13 countries, SciDevNet

The economics of reducing malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, Global Panel

On this Africa Day, we need to talk about nutrition, Institute for Global Health Innovation

GIZ – Post-Harvest Losses of Rice in Nigeria and their Ecological Footprint, GIZ [Read more…]

On this Africa Day, we need to talk about nutrition

By Alice Marks. Originally posted by the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

Photo Credit  Fintrac Inc - kenyan families feeding children nutritious foodAs we celebrate Africa Day 2016, it’s time to reflect on the state of nutrition in Africa and the weighty effect malnutrition has on the continent’s ability to prosper. Progress has been made over the past decades, for example through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to reduce extreme hunger and starvation. However, it is the quality of food that people consume and a lack of variety that is of increasing concern. A few weeks ago, Roger Thurow, a Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, released a new book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World. The book lays out that nutrition, or lack thereof, in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to the age of two – has a profound and lasting influence on a child’s ability to grow, learn, develop and work.

Stunting is a measurable impact of malnutrition, but the height of a child doesn’t tell the full story. The development of the child’s brain is also affected, so stunted children are more likely to fall behind in school, fail to achieve decent incomes, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty for the next generation. The cumulative effect of widespread malnutrition in a group of people can therefore directly impact, and limit, a society’s ability to develop and prosper. Thurow’s book highlights Uganda in particular, where half of women of childbearing age are anaemic and about 35% of children suffer stunting due to malnourishment. Indeed, a staggering 40% of all under-five deaths in Uganda are caused by malnutrition. Tragically, Uganda is not an isolated case in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40% of all children under the age of five are stunted. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Biodiversity – special focus

Access and benefit sharing of genetic resources – making it work for family farmers, Bioversity International

Unravelling the costs of rubber agriculture on biodiversity, Science Daily

Investing in safeguarding crop diversity for a food-secure future, Bioversity International

Animals vital for preserving carbon-storing forests, SciDevNet

Knowledge Exchange Program Addresses Threats to Agricultural Biodiversity, FoodTank

Saving Biodiversity By Integrating It Into All Spheres Of Society, Ecosystem Marketplace

Community seed banks: origins, evolution and prospects, Bioversity International

Battle against time to bank world’s threatened seeds, SciDevNet

Food security & feeding cities

Food, business and the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Food Security [Read more…]

Three reasons to protect agricultural biodiversity

By Alice Marks


Durum wheat variety, Ethiopia. Credit: Bioversity International

Even though new species are being discovered every day, one in five plants are threatened with extinction, according to the first annual State of the world’s plants, 2016 published by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in May 2016. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the largest threats facing these endangered plant species are the conversion of land for agriculture and biological resource use – the deliberate or unintentional consumption of a ‘wild’ species. Indeed, agriculture has been identified as the main threat to 85% of all threatened species, plant and animal, on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. For example, the growth of palm oil plantations has led to significant losses of natural forests and peatlands, with accompanying impacts on biodiversity.

Agricultural biodiversity, defined by Bioversity International as “the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture,” is facing serious decline. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) some 75% of genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s. There are several causes of this loss of diversity, but the main reasons are ease of production and changes in consumer expectations and preferences, leading to an ever greater uniformity in the end product. If the produce is what people want to buy and it’s easy to produce why should it matter if there is less biodiversity? Here are three, of many, reasons why it is of paramount importance:

  1. Genetic diversity is important for an uncertain future
varieties of quinoa credit FAOALC

Several different varieties of quinoa grown in Peru. Credit, FAO

Genetic diversity in agricultural systems may be lost if species go extinct or different varieties of a species fall out of favour. If this happens, genes that are important for resistance to pests or diseases, confer tolerance to changing weather patterns and extreme weather events, or make the crop nutritious, may be lost. Even if these traits are not evident or useful now, the advantage they confer may be valuable for future generations, and may be difficult or impossible to recreate once they are gone. Indeed, work by Bioversity International highlights how the wild relatives of cultivated crops are already becoming increasingly important in the search for traits that farmers can use to improve domesticated varieties through crossbreeding. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.


This highlight on stories from Rwanda is in honour of the launch of our new report, Off The Ground: Investing in Rwanda’s agriculture value chains

Special report – Rwanda: A new model for growth, This Is Africa

Switzerland of Africa: Little Rwanda has risen, Times Live

Rwanda’s Maternal and Child Health Week delivers preventative measures to ensure good health, growth and survival, Scaling Up Nutrition

Spotlight on Rwanda as WEF opens in Kigali, The New Times

In race to catch up, Rwanda risks property bubbles, Reuters

East Africa: Made in Rwanda Becomes Top Policy, AllAfrica

Rwanda: Landslides caused by heavy rains kill dozens, BBC News

New technologies 

Global Data, Global Agriculture, and the Universal Age of Information, The Chicago Council

Meet the site that is like Uber — but for tractors, Washington Post

Uganda: Cassava for Beer – an Opportunity for Farmers, AllFAfrica

70% of Africans make a living through agriculture, and technology could transform their world, World Economic Forum [Read more…]

Farming in a tough environment: A visit to Rwanda

By Gordon Conway

landscape Rwanda (9)Visiting farms in Rwanda is an exercise in mountaineering, scrambling sometimes on all fours over great volcanic boulders. But the effort is worth it. As we saw on our visit there in February, farmers in Rwanda are beginning to do well.

The statistics tell a good story. GDP has rebounded with an average annual growth of 7-8% since 2000 and average annual agricultural growth rates reached 5.7% between 2001 and 2012. And you can see the effects on the ground, partly the consequences of a good partnership between NGOs, the private sector and the government. The new minister of agriculture Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, who gained her PhD in bean genetics from Michigan State University is a good example of President Kagame’s policy of appointing technically qualified ministers. She works on developing new policies while one of her predecessors Dr Daphrose Gahakwa is DDG of the Rwanda Agricultural Board that oversees research, extension and other implementing agencies.

Technoserve STRYDE schadrack with tree tomatoes

Schadrack, a farmer on TechnoServe’s STRYDE programme, with his tree tomatoes

Farm plots across the country have an average size of 0.6 hectares and tend to be fragmented over several locations. As a result, many households actually farm as little as 0.4 hectares. Farmers use the flat land to grow crops to sell at local markets, and the steeper, more difficult to farm slopes for growing food for household consumption. An increasing population density is putting additional pressure on the scarce land, encouraging people to move on to ever steeper slopes. The mountainous landscape presents significant challenges to farmers. Farming is not only physically more demanding and tiring but the shallow soils found on steep slopes are also prone to erosion and landslides. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.


Africa’s digital revolution: a look at the technologies, trends and people driving it, World Economic Forum

Digital financial services abolish ‘poverty tax’ for millions of Africans, The East African

Helping Smallholder Farmers Build Stronger Businesses with Information and Communication Technology, FoodTank

The innovators: desalination unit brings clean water on wheels, The Guardian

Leadership and economies

Great leaders aren’t born – they’re made. And Africa is showing us how, World Economic Forum

South Africa, Tunisia and Botswana best in Africa for entrepreneurs, This Is Africa

SDGs: No one will be left behind, AfricaRenewal

Rwanda takes long view to invest in African science, African Brains

A blueprint for bringing local economies to life in South Africa, The Conversation [Read more…]


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