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Science, Technology and Innovation in Agriculture is Pivotal for Africa’s Overdue Transformation

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor's picture
The persistence of poverty and food insecurity on the African continent is a major developmental challenge, both for Africans and the international development community. 
 
History shows that investments in agriculture can be a catalytic force in the fight against hunger, poverty and malnutrition and a well-performing farm economy can be an instrument for achieving sustained structural economic transformation. Agricultural growth was the precursor to industrial growth in Europe and, more recently through the Green Revolution, in large parts of Asia and Latin America.  The Green Revolution bypassed Africa.

When I was elected President of the Republic of Ghana in 2000, agriculture was a mainstay of the nation’s economy, accounting for 35% of its GDP, 55% of employment and 75% of export revenues. But it was a lagging, orphan sector, suffering from decades of neglect and lack of investment. Ghana’s agriculture had sadly changed little from the kind practiced generations ago.  Farmers were still eking out a living, tilling the land by hand, much like their ancestors.  
 
The World Bank’s new Agriculture Global Practice hosted President Kufuor and his colleagues from the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).  Here, Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, argues that science has unbounded potential to contribute to Africa’s agricultural transformation for the benefit of all Africans and the environment.
 
Photo credit: A’Melody Lee


When Robots Attack!

Tanya Gupta's picture

Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction.  Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature.  Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story.  Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.).  However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention.  People started to wonder if robots could replace humans.  When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots.  However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure.  But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?

Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance).  Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

NPR
In Kenya, Using Tech To Put An 'Invisible' Slum On The Map

"If you were to do a search for the Nairobi city slum of Mathare on Google Maps, you'd find little more than gray spaces between unmarked roads. Slums by nature are unplanned, primordial cities, the opposite of well-ordered city grids. Squatters rights rule, and woe to the visitor who ventures in without permission. But last year, a group of activist cartographers called the Spatial Collective started walking around Mathare typing landmarks into hand-held GPS devices." READ MORE

Poverty Matters Blog
Telling countries they're the worst in the world doesn't really help them
 
"The west seems to be obsessed with ranking things. Whether it's Mark Owen's top 20 hits, the Forbes rich list or the 100 greatest Britons, success is apparently relative rather than absolute. But the urge to order things does not stop with pop culture and celebrities. In development, it extends to ranking countries, and not usually by their successes but by their failings. The human development index, the global peace index, the failed states index; time and again mainly northern-based organisations feel at liberty to opine about the progress of nations. The countries with the worst rankings in these indices undoubtedly have serious challenges they need to confront. The pseudo-scientific concoctions that underpin many development indices contain elements of truth, and the countries ranked as most failed have every reason to take a long hard look at themselves."  READ MORE

The Key’s in the Keyboard: New Technologies Can Help Enhance India's Agricultural Productivity

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Agriculture in India still remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population and more importantly the small holding farmers. With an average annual growth rate of 3.3%, the major challenges facing this sector include a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, increasing costs and uncertainties associated with the volatility of international markets.

A pertinent factor that continues to impinge upon these challenges is the lack of timely information about market prices, crop varieties, production techniques, seasonal risk and disease control strategies. The critical question thus is — how can we effectively apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture to mitigate the factors that lead to the physical isolation of the rural smallholder during the ensuing 12th Five Year Plan period.

Inside ICRISAT's Seed Banks & Test Fields, Research Is Changing Farmers' Lives

Rachel Kyte's picture

Deep inside the ICRISAT campus just outside Hyderabad, there are two sub-zero rooms that house the seeds of 120,000 plants from over 100 countries and 120,000 chances to change poor farmers' lives. The rows of plastic containers and freeze-dried metallic packages resemble a huge and very cold medicine cabinet.

These seed banks, or genebanks, hold the keys to growing more productive, hardier, healthier food crops that could help feed the 9 billion people who will be living on Earth by 2050. Scientists use the collection to map characteristics that enable individual plants to withstand water shortages, pests, and disease, or increase yields and nutrient levels. Over 800 improved crop varieties have been developed from this seed bank and now grow in 79 countries.

ICRISAT is the international crop research institute for the semi-arid tropics and one of 15 CGIAR research centers. Scientist here work on sorghum, millet, chickpeas, pigeon peas, and ground nuts - the food crops that smallholder farmers from the driest parts of the world depend on for their survival.

A walk through the campus reveals the power and potential of international research.

Land Law Advocacy for Farmers in China

XiaoHui Wu's picture

Photo Credit: Landesa.orgEven though Chinese law offers farmers protection from land grabs, readjustments, and other confiscations, news reports paint a different picture of embattled farmers defending their land from local officials working in concert with developers. In fact, every year 3-4 million farmers lose their property to land readjustments and other forms of compulsory forfeiture in China.

Many of these farmers do not know their legal rights. According to independent surveys, fewer than 30% of farmers have heard of China’s Property Law, the most important law governing properties, and land rights. As a result fewer than 10% of Chinese farmers ever appeal to administrative and judicial institutions when their land rights are violated.

More Foreign Direct Investment in Retail for India?

Bingjie Hu's picture

Recently, India has seen a heated debate on the entry of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country’s $400 billion retail market. In November 2011, the government proposed a policy change to open up the country’s multi-brand retail segment -- for retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. Foreign investors were to be allowed to own up to 51 percent of a multi-brand retailer if they invested at least $100 mn, with half spent on infrastructure development in India. Within weeks of the announcement, the government suspended the decision amid protests from opposition parties and small shopkeepers citing concerns over large scale job losses, especially in the small, unorganized retail sector.

What is FDI?

Foreign direct investment (FDI) refers to the net inflows of foreign investment to acquire a lasting management interest (more than 10 percent of voting stock) in a domestic company. In 1997, the government permitted 100 percent FDI in the wholesale cash and carry trade, in which customers arranged the transport of goods from wholesalers and paid for goods in cash (not credit), on a case-by-case basis.

Paving the way for a greener village

Smita Jacob's picture

A tiny green oasis stands out amidst acres of dry arid land. As many as 12 different crops—including a wide variety of pulses, fruits, vegetables, and flowers—as well as a farm pond constructed through the Employment Guarantee Scheme and a vermicomposting pit are all seen on this one acre farm in the drought-ridden village from Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. Suhasini, a young Dalit woman who decided to experiment with the only acre (0.4 hectares) of land she owned, asserts confidently “Next year, most of this surrounding land would be green as well—the other farmers will definitely follow me.”

Suhasini is one among over 1.2 million farmers across 9000 villages that are practicing a cheaper and more sustainable method of agriculture across 1.2 million hectares in the state, even as more farmers are becoming part of what is termed a farmers’ movement for sustainable agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. The program named Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) is essentially an alternative to the conventional-input intensive-agriculture model. It promotes the use of locally available, organic external inputs—including cow dung, chickpea flour, and palm sap—and the use of traditional organic farming methods such as polycropping and systems of rice intensification (SRI). 

Young, educated, and choosing to become farmers

Mamata Pokharel's picture

As part of the upcoming World Bank Open Forum on the food crisis, we have been asking everyone for ideas on how to put food first for the almost 1 billion people who go to bed hungry today.

A lot of the solutions offered center around increasing agriculture productivity, improving distribution networks, and making sure we don’t waste food.

Mobile money platforms for agricultural micro-insurance

Sanket Mohapatra's picture
   Photo © WorldBank/Flicker

An Economist article discusses how a “private-private-NGO” partnership between Safaricom (the parent company of Kenya’s mobile money transfer service M-Pesa), an insurance company, fertilizer and seed companies and an agricultural foundation has produced an innovative micro-insurance scheme in Kenya. The crop insurance scheme, called “Kilimo Salama” (safe farming in Kiswahili), collects insurance premiums using M-Pesa when farmers purchase seeds and fertilizers, and in the event of adverse weather, makes payouts directly into the M-Pesa mobile phone accounts of the farmers.