New, improved oil palm variety
Until recently, the only oil palm variety that grew in cold African climates was the dura type, which has one significant drawback: it produces fruit with a low volume of pulp and therefore low yields of edible oil. Now, FAO's Crop and Grassland Service (AGPC) is promoting a hybrid of the hardy dura and the higher-yielding tenera type that could help African countries boost edible oil production and, with it, supplies of vitamin A in children's diets. The new precocious and high yielding type was developed by AGPC specialists and a Costa Rican company, ASD, using cold-tolerant palms from Cameroon and Tanzania and the tenera type DAMI Deli. Tests in Ethiopia showed that the material becomes productive at 38 months, and grows well at altitudes of 950 metres and at low temperatures that usually limit fruit production. FAO is transferring the technology to other African countries through projects under way in Cameroon, Malawi and Zambia.
Land and Water Digital Media Series
FAO's Land and Water Development Division (AGL) has launched a CD-ROM Land and Water Digital Media Series. AGL says the new series is conceived as a platform for all the division's digital products, including text documents, databases and geographic information systems. The first titles available include the Digital Soil Map of the World, providing country information on soil characteristics and derived soil properties, the Soil and Terrain Database for northeastern Africa, the World Overview on Conservation Approaches and Technologies, the Crop environmental requirements and crop environment response database (ECOCROP), and the Soils and Terrain Digital Database for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Land and Water Digital Media Series complements AGL's extensive printed publications.
Observatory for Mediterranean rabbits
FAO will host in Rome in March 1999 the first general assembly of the International Observatory on Rabbit Breeding in the Mediterranean region. Mediterranean countries are among the world's biggest producers of rabbit meat - Italy alone produced 300,000 tonnes of it in 1990, followed by France with 150,000 tonnes. The purpose of the observatory is to set up a rabbit production databank that will serve its 14 Mediterranean member countries, help develop and fund sustainable rabbit production programmes, promote training, and improve processing and marketing of rabbit products. The observatory's secretariat is provided by Italy's national rabbit-growers association. FAO's Animal Production Service (AGAP) has more on rabbit husbandry, health and production.
New resource against African trypanosomiasis
The Web site of the Programme against African Trypanosomiasis (PAAT), a joint initiative of FAO, IAEA, WHO and the OAU's Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, has been expanded to include extensive documentation on the disease and details of an interactive information system to go on-line by mid-year. The PAAT Information System will contain a geographic information system allowing users to assess cattle, cropping and tsetse fly distribution across the continent and create maps predicting the impact of tsetse elimination on cattle and cropping. Already well developed is a knowledge base featuring more than 50 issues of FAO's Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Information Quarterly, and planned are country fact sheets on trypanosomiasis and the status of tseste control programmes. The PAAT Information System is being developed by FAO in collaboration with the UK's Department for International Development. See also Spotlight (Nov. 1998): Cost of trypanosomiasis.
E-mail conferences link agricultural engineers
The world's agricultural engineers are communicating through a global e-mail network established by FAO's Agricultural Engineering Branch (AGSE) and the International Commission of Agricultural Engineering (CIGR). The Global Network on Agricultural Engineering consists of six e-mail discussion groups hosted on FAO's mailserver and moderated by CIGR. The groups focus on land and water use, farm equipment and structures, equipment engineering, rural electricity and other energy sources, systems engineering, and processing. More details - and instructions for subscribing to one or more of the CIGR-FAO groups - are available here.
African networks on irrigation, land and water...
Workshops sponsored by FAO's Land and Water Division (AGL) in West Africa have laid the groundwork for networks to promote small-scale irrigation development and to report on the state of natural resources in the region. The first, held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in November 1998, found that West Africa has developed only 34% of its irrigation potential. Participants, including high-level government officials and project managers from 14 West and Central African countries, reviewed irrigation technologies suited to local conditions and recommended policy changes to encourage technology transfer. One week later, an AGL workshop in Cotonou, Benin, brought together land resources managers from 12 West African countries to discuss land vulnerability assessment. The network established by the workshop, with Ghana as focal point, will prepare reports on national land, water and plant nutrient resources, and adapt AGL's World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) to include the results of inland valley management in the region.
...and seed security
Meanwhile, 40 African countries have agreed to set up a regional African Seed Network (ASN) to coordinate policies and programmes designed to strengthen and improve local seed production and distribution systems. The new network was the main outcome of a technical meeting on Seed Policy and Programmes for Sub-Saharan Africa co-sponsored by France, Côte d'Ivoire and FAO's Seed and Plant Genetic Resources Service (AGPS) and held in Abidjan last November. The meeting was attended by representatives of African governments, seed industry organizations, international agencies and donors. The network will coordinate working groups in the region to develop inventories of locally adapted crop varieties, harmonize seed rules and regulations, develop demand-driven seed supply systems, improve disaster preparedness and response efforts, and disseminate information on training. See also Spotlight (Oct. 1998): Toward seed security.
New light on in vitro bananas
Banana breeders using in vitro micropropagation techniques usually protect their delicate young plants in growth chambers that provide artificial light and controlled temperature and daylength. The Joint FAO/IAEA division (AGE) has come up with a less costly alternative - sunlight. Researchers at AGE's plant breeding unit in Seibersdorf, Austria, studied micropropagation in non-controlled, natural light conditions and found that in vitro banana plants can withstand exposure to extreme temperatures (up to 43 degrees C) and high light intensities. This is good news for tropical and subtropical countries: sophisticated growth chambers can be replaced by simple, sunlit culture rooms. AGE is planning a large-scale project to demonstrate the advantages of the new technology. Visit the web pages of AGE's Plant Breeding and Genetics programme.
Tractor tillage in West Africa
A new FAO report cautions that, unless carefully planned, widespread use of motorized soil tillage could cause "irreversible environmental effects that will negatively affect food production, food security and food self-sufficiency" in West Africa. The report is based on a survey conducted in 1997/98 by the FAO Agricultural Engineering Branch (AGSE) and FAO's Regional Office in Accra. It says use of motorized tillage is low in West Africa compared to other developing regions: for every tractor there are 4,500 ha of cultivated land, compared to 1,000 ha in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, less than 300 ha in India and barely 100 ha in China. While greater use of tractors in tillage is seen as indispensable for increased farm productivity and overall production, the report lists a series of negative effects, including degradation of soil structure, loss of organic content and fertility, soil compaction, and reduced water retention. It calls for "careful and well considered guidance of the motorization process, with special attention given to soil and water conservation". Browse the full report; explore the advantages of conservation agriculture.