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    Over 100 traditional orphaned crops in Africa that were threatened for extinction have been rejuvenated and safeguarded through the establishment of the African Plant Breeding Academy, a move that spells good tidings as it will help improve the livelihoods of Africa’s smallholder farmers and their families, reduce hunger and boost Africa’s food supply.

    The new academy which is located in Nairobi has been launched through the help of African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC). AOCC aims to see the academy use the latest scientific equipment and techniques to genetically sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops to guide the development of more robust produce with higher nutritional content.

    ‘Orphan crops’ are African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers and industry because they are not economically important on the global market.

    The academy which is located at ICRAF, will train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period.  The work will drive the creation of improved planting materials that will then be offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa. 

    The Academy provides scientists and technicians a dedicated place to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes to help develop food crops with higher nutritional value and which can better withstand climate changes, pests and disease.  The data derived from this collaborative effort will be made publically available with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. 

    "The African Orphan Crops Consortium and the new African Plant Breeding Academy represent an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the training programs we have developed for plant breeders in Africa," said Allen Van Deynze, Director of Research at UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center. "The partnerships allow African breeders to take advantage of the latest technologies to rapidly advance development of crops that are important to African diets and health."

    Prof. Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre noted that this was an initiative aimed at the right people and at the right time. “For the continent that is the most malnourished, the poorest, the most rural and the least forested, the AOCC gives Africa a chance through new science and its application to address many of its perennial problems of development.

    To date, the entire world has genetically sequenced 57 plant species and this uncommon public-private collaboration, based in Africa with Chinese and US support, will nearly triple this number over the next four years. The addition of so many tree species in the list, which can help rural and urban people achieve their full cognitive and physical potential, is ground breaking, and these perennial solutions to nutrition will reinforce the progress Africa is making in so many other fields.”

    He explained that the 100 targeted crops are the ‘back garden’ crops of rural Africa, home to 600 million people. So improving them will greatly improve the diets of Africa’s children, helping to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, which causes stunting which is rife among the children of rural Africa. Prof. Tony Simons sentiments were backed by Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars, Incorporated, who made the case for the AOCC at the opening of the Plant Breeding Academy,

    “In 2010, I learned for the first time that malnutrition and chronic hunger cause a devastating condition called stunting in children. It was shocking to try and grasp the scale of this tragedy, with more than 35% of the children in Africa affected. Today, we are opening an Academy that will place fundamental science that can help in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition in the hands of many more practitioners. This is huge leap forward for the diversity and sustainability of African agriculture and the start of a very different future for rural and urban food consumption patterns.”


    “The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency has as its primary thematic area food and nutrition security; rightly so because of the issue of low agricultural productivity that impacts on this,” said NEPAD CEO, Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki.  “Malnutrition is a direct product of food insecurity. A large number of Africans suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as minerals, iron and vitamin A with devastating effects on population including high mortality and morbidity rates and blindness among children, agricultural labour reduction and poor quality of life.”

    The first orphan crop to be sequenced, assembled and annotated at the Academy will be baobab, which can be used as a dried fruit powder for consumer products. Baobab is called ‘the wonder tree’ in Africa because its gluten-free fruit has ten times the antioxidant level of oranges, twice the amount of calcium than spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges, and four times more potassium than banana, antiviral properties, gluten-free and much more.  By sharing knowledge of the genome sequences of baobab and other African crops, scientists and technicians working at the Academy will inform plant breeders and farmers of species varieties that are more nutritious, productive and robust.

    AOCC was officially launched at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in 2011 as an effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa’s most important food crops. In June 2013, during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in partnership with World Bank Group in Washington D.C., AOCC announced it would be making its data publically available to scientists, plant breeders and farmers. At the 2013 CGI meeting, Howard-Yana Shapiro, who gave an opening speech, confirmed that AOCC had raised approximately $40 million USD in-kind contributions to date to support its work.


    Over 100 traditional orphaned crops in Africa that were threatened for extinction have been rejuvenated and safeguarded through the establishment of the African Plant Breeding Academy, a move that spells good tidings as it will help improve the livelihoods of Africa’s smallholder farmers and their families, reduce hunger and boost Africa’s food supply.

     

    The new academy which is located in Nairobi has been launched through the help of African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC). AOCC aims to see the academy use the latest scientific equipment and techniques to genetically sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops to guide the development of more robust produce with higher nutritional content.

     

    ‘Orphan crops’ are African food crops and tree species that have been neglected by researchers and industry because they are not economically important on the global market.

     

    The academy which is located at ICRAF, will train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period.  The work will drive the creation of improved planting materials that will then be offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa.  The Academy provides scientists and technicians a dedicated place to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes to help develop food crops with higher nutritional value and which can better withstand climate changes, pests and disease.  The data derived from this collaborative effort will be made publically available with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. 

     

    "The African Orphan Crops Consortium and the new African Plant Breeding Academy represent an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the training programs we have developed for plant breeders in Africa," said Allen Van Deynze, Director of Research at UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center. "The partnerships allow African breeders to take advantage of the latest technologies to rapidly advance development of crops that are important to African diets and health."

     

    Prof. Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre noted that this was an initiative aimed at the right people and at the right time. “For the continent that is the most malnourished, the poorest, the most rural and the least forested, the AOCC gives Africa a chance through new science and its application to address many of its perennial problems of development. To date, the entire world has genetically sequenced 57 plant species and this uncommon public-private collaboration, based in Africa with Chinese and US support, will nearly triple this number over the next four years. The addition of so many tree species in the list, which can help rural and urban people achieve their full cognitive and physical potential, is ground breaking, and these perennial solutions to nutrition will reinforce the progress Africa is making in so many other fields.”

     

    He explained that the 100 targeted crops are the ‘back garden’ crops of rural Africa, home to 600 million people. So improving them will greatly improve the diets of Africa’s children, helping to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, which causes stunting which is rife among the children of rural Africa. Prof. Tony Simons sentiments were backed by Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars, Incorporated, who made the case for the AOCC at the opening of the Plant Breeding Academy,

     

    “In 2010, I learned for the first time that malnutrition and chronic hunger cause a devastating condition called stunting in children. It was shocking to try and grasp the scale of this tragedy, with more than 35% of the children in Africa affected. Today, we are opening an Academy that will place fundamental science that can help in fighting chronic hunger and malnutrition in the hands of many more practitioners. This is huge leap forward for the diversity and sustainability of African agriculture and the start of a very different future for rural and urban food consumption patterns.”

     

     

    “The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency has as its primary thematic area food and nutrition security; rightly so because of the issue of low agricultural productivity that impacts on this,” said NEPAD CEO, Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki.  “Malnutrition is a direct product of food insecurity. A large number of Africans suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as minerals, iron and vitamin A with devastating effects on population including high mortality and morbidity rates and blindness among children, agricultural labour reduction and poor quality of life.”

     

    The first orphan crop to be sequenced, assembled and annotated at the Academy will be baobab, which can be used as a dried fruit powder for consumer products. Baobab is called ‘the wonder tree’ in Africa because its gluten-free fruit has ten times the antioxidant level of oranges, twice the amount of calcium than spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges, and four times more potassium than banana, antiviral properties, gluten-free and much more.  By sharing knowledge of the genome sequences of baobab and other African crops, scientists and technicians working at the Academy will inform plant breeders and farmers of species varieties that are more nutritious, productive and robust.

     

    AOCC was officially launched at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in 2011 as an effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa’s most important food crops. In June 2013, during the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture held in partnership with World Bank Group in Washington D.C., AOCC announced it would be making its data publically available to scientists, plant breeders and farmers. At the 2013 CGI meeting, Howard-Yana Shapiro, who gave an opening speech, confirmed that AOCC had raised approximately $40 million USD in-kind contributions to date to support its work.

     

     

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    Chinese scientists have taken a lead role in spurring Uganda’s fish industry with the introduction of a new technology to boost commercial fish farming. The new model of cage fish farming focuses on commercialization of fish farming with a main focus on lakes, dams, reservoirs and rivers.

    The project which started in April 2012 is being implemented by Chinese scientists through a three-year China-Uganda cooperation in aquaculture research.  According to Barry Kamira a research scientist at the National Fisheries Resources and Research Institute (NaFIRRI) and the coordinator of the project, the metal cage fish technology is being introduced to foster the fisheries sector of the economy. “We have to adopt diversity and modern ways of fish farming to supplement the traditional means and eventually maintain the insatiable demand.”

    Karima explained that many of the Ugandans’ livelihoods mainly depend on fish farming. “Fish farming supports 4.2 million smallholder farmers in Uganda and the country earns around US$116 million a year from fish exports. Fish is an important commodity that Uganda is exploring how to advance in its development agenda.”
     
    This technology, unlike pond fish farming, relies on metal cages of various sizes that are suspended in a water body. Each cage carries up to 10,000 fingerlings. Fish farmers use a measure of their efficiency in converting food mass into increased body weight to know when to transfer the young fish to the next cage until they mature for harvesting six months later.

    Currently the pilot project is being funded by the Chinese government to enable knowledge and technological transfer and adoption by the locals. When the trial ends, the Ugandan government is expected to roll out the technology nationally. Kamira noted that Uganda is taking the lead among the East African countries — Kenya and Tanzania to demonstrate the potential of rearing fish using metal cage fish farming technology to rapidly transform the sector from subsistence to commercial fish farming, according to Kamira.
     
    Kamira explained that while Kenya is also in its early stages of applying the technology, water hyacinth which is an invasive plant species growing in Lake Victoria, which is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is hampering the process.
     
    The need for the technology has grown because of a drastic decline in fish production resulting in the country neither meeting national demands nor having enough fish for export. "Despite its long history dating back to the early 1950s, fish farming in Uganda has not developed beyond small subsistence scale,” noted Kamira. According to Kamira, initial findings from a study to ascertain the safety of the method cleared any doubts about the environmental impact of the model.

    In addition, the findings also noted that the technology can be used in other water bodies within the country like rivers, water reservoirs and small lakes like Lake Edward. "The technology does not have any negative effect on the water quality. We carry out water quality monitoring in triplicate, that is, at the demonstration area, downstream and upstream.”

    The Chinese experts are building the capacity of NaFIRRI experts on how to operate the technology and will transfer the necessary skills to Uganda to use it commercially. The government and other stakeholders involved in the project are hoping that deepening and adoption of the technology will foster fish farming in the country and eventually commercialize the practice. "Through this technology, people will have enough money for their livelihoods and generate more revenue for the government by using the full potential of the natural water bodies like lake Victoria to breed  and rear fish," added Karima.

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    Hannah Wairimu has never regretted uprooting 100 trees of poorly performing coffee from her two acre piece of land and replacing them with a variety of horticultural crops. Within five years of her investment in horticultural farming she has managed to educate two of her four children to university level and bought three cows to supplement her income.

    Passion fruits, avocado and strawberry leaves have been the goldmine for this 48 year old widow. Thanks to the success of the horticulture market both locally and for export, she now earns Ksh 8 per avocado which she sells to private horticultural companies, a far cry from the Ksh 1 that a single avocado fetched in 2001. “In between my avocado trees I have managed to plant beans, maize and sweet potatoes for my family upkeep something I couldn’t do with coffee,” says Wanjiru explaining another of the reasons that inspired her to go into full time horticultural farming.

    Wairimu is among the 25 members of the Mbari ya Mboche self help group, a community group united in their passion for farming and determination to access the market directly. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Gichuki, a retired officer from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) now turned farmer, the group has benefited from support of researchers at KARI Thika. The support resulted from a successful proposal submitted by the group to get into passion fruit farming. Advice from KARI has included information on better farming practices to increase yields, avoid post-harvest losses while helping them to connect to ready markets.

    The group has also managed to establish market ties with local processors who use their fruits for pulps and juices. One such processor, Rosavie in Nairobi, buys the fruits from the farmers at Ksh 100 per kilo.

    In addition, farmers have learnt to add value to avocados and other fresh produce, including passion fruits, by making their own juices. At social gatherings or when holding a ceremony, they no longer have to buy commercial juices. “We intend to organize ourselves in order to set up a state of the art machine that will assist us produce commercial juices as we look for further ways to diversify our income,” says Gichuki..

    Farming for exports has, however, been a tall order for the farmers as exporters demand stringent conditions that the farmers must meet.  The European Union, and particularly the United Kingdom, who consume most of Kenya’s avocados has become particularly sensitive to food safety issues especially with imports from Africa.

    The exporters therefore only buy Grade one fruits from the farmers, those that have no black marks. Black marks are interpreted to mean the fruit is infected by diseases and is of low quality. “It used to be a very big problem when we started. Exporters would turn down half of the fruits we delivered to them due to this problem. This is now a thing of the past thanks to the extensive training we have received from KARI on better farming practices,” says Gichuki.

    Wairimu, like her fellow farmers, been forced to change the type of avocado she grows from the traditional Fuerte to Hass, which is highly preferred for export. Hass, a medium-sized round fruit that turns purple at full maturity has a tough pebbly skin with an impressive shelf life and its flesh is used in a variety of food products.

     Fuerte a Mexican- Guatemalan hybrid is a shiny- green pear shaped fruit weighing 250 to 450g and, although it has high oil content, the oil isn’t of high quality. Fuerte is predominantly farmed by small-scale farmers for local markets.

    KARI has however taught farmers, who find it hard to abandon the traditional Fuerte, on grafting which introduces the superior characteristics of Hass with the tough traits of Fuerte. “If you cut the stem of the Fuerte which is drought and disease resistant and combine it with the scion (top plant part) of the Hass which produces high quality fruits, you have a fruit fit for export. So farmers don’t have to weed out the Fuerte,” says Samuel Kiiru a KARI researcher.

    The meteoric rise in demand for avocado, both locally and internationally, has been aided by new and expanding uses for the fruit, particularly with rising demand for avocado oil from the cosmetics industry, largely in France and Germany. Avocado oil in these countries is used to make cleansing creams, moisturizers, skin care products, lipsticks, bath oils and make up bases.

    The main challenge for many of the farmers is concerns over the fruit’s shelf-life. Wairimu, who last season harvested three sacks of avocados, only managed to sell one sack. Two sacks went bad after the exporter delayed in collecting the fruit from the usual five days after harvest to seven.

    The memories of the poor returns during 2010 are ever displayed in her wrinkled face anytime she is reminded of that season. “It’s still a painful venture you know. I had invested so much in avocado farming and it was my first time to harvest. Were it not for my fellow women farmers, I would have uprooted the trees like I did with coffee,” she says as she bends to weed around one of the avocado tree, a panga in one hand and a bunch of weeds in the other. She has, however, had greater success with passion fruit and growing strawberries.

    Responding to the farmers’ please, KARI has started working at ways of increasing the fruit shelf life- from five to as many as 10 days- by slowing the production of the ethylene hormone responsible for avocado’s normal ripening.

    For farmers such as Wairimu, once tied to painfully low prices for her coffee berries from the local factory, divesification into horticultural crops has already transformed her fortunes. But as research and replanting continues the sector’s now growing number of processors and exporters claim that Kenya has the opportunity to gain yet much more from the blossoming horticultural sector.

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