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Conference - Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: options from life sciences and biotechnologies
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How could life sciences improve the economic viability of food production?

Disease control: Finding ways to beat a deadly ‘cattle plague’

Rinderpest is one of the most devastating diseases affecting animals and has been prevalent in Africa since the end of the 19th century, where it caused considerable damage during the 1970s and early 1980s. It ruined many livestock owners in countries where cattle farming was not only a jewel of national and sub-regional economic life, but also key to the social and cultural integration of many rural communities.

Since the 1970s, governments, farmers and animal health experts have been working hard to design, finance and organise a massive, continent-wide vaccination campaign to combat a disease that is no respecter of national borders.

To help continue the fight against Rinderpest, epidemic surveillance networks were set up in African countries by the PACE Programme (Pan African Control of Epizootics) in 2000. The programme will run for a period of five years with financial and technical assistance from the European Commission and some EU Member States. The aim is to enable African countries to monitor and control the health of their herds.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Bernard Rey at Europe Aid
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Pest management: Making maize immune to fungal infection

Maize grown in all parts of the world is liable to contamination by a fungal disease before and after it is harvested. This presents a safety hazard, as the infected grain is poisonous to both humans and animals. In addition, the resulting reduction in crop yields aggravates food shortages in poorer regions and can put local farmers out of business.

A European Commission (EC) supported project, bringing together researchers from Europe and Africa, aims to develop new types of maize that will counteract such a fungal disease without the use of pesticides.

The main focus of this project, ‘Genetic improvement of maize to enhance food safety by introducing resistance to Fusarium monilliforme’, is the development of different strains of maize with genes resistant to the toxins released by this destructive Fusarium fungus. The toxin problem begins with fungal infestation of cereals during the growth phase, while the negative effects are only found after harvesting and storage, in final food and animal feed products.

The project – which includes partners from South Africa, Italy, The Netherlands and Zambia – will begin in the middle of 2004 and is slated to finish at the end of 2007.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Achim Boenke at Research DG
Website
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Disease management: Discovering what keeps a shrimp healthy

ShrimpsShrimp farming forms an important part of the economy in tropical countries in South East Asia, and Central and South America. Together these regions provide about three-quarters of a million tonnes of shrimp annually – i.e. roughly 30% of the world market. However, various viral and bacterial diseases are now dramatically affecting shrimp production, with total annual losses due to diseases estimated at about €3 billion. A European Commission (EC) project aims to prevent and control shrimp diseases as a way of safeguarding the industry.

The four-year project that began in 1997 – ‘Characterisation of immune effectors in penaeid: application to disease prophylaxis and selection of resistant shrimps’ – aimed to characterise the cellular defence mechanisms in response to disease or stress in shrimps. This focused mainly on various Penaeus species of shrimps, the ones most commonly cultured in developing countries. Partner laboratories in Central America, Europe and Asia have now implemented this project. It was part of a wider collaborative research programme also set up by the EC in 1997.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Cornelia Nauen at Research DG
Website
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Subsistence farming: Hunting sweet potato viruses in Africa

Sweet potato is a major food staple in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Since it is largely propagated vegetatively, plants are often infected with several viruses, leading to very large yield reductions. Development of resistance to viruses is given highest priority by international and national institutes. However, progress is slowed by the fact that the majority of the 20+ viruses that are known to infect sweet potato have been inadequately described and have not been tested for in Africa.

A project supported by the European Commission (INCO programme) provides the technical and socio-economic information required to develop appropriate resistant varieties.

The project – ‘The identification, incidence and control of sweet potato viruses in east and south Africa, and assessment of host plant resistance for sustainable development’ – seeks to develop diagnostic methods, understand the molecular basis of plant susceptibility, and combine laboratory research with local plant breeding knowledge and management techniques for the control of sweet potato viruses.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG
Website
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Sweet potato: Engineering viral resistance in China

Chinese farmers China produces 90% of the world's annual harvest of sweet potatoes. The crop is grown mainly by poorer farmers for food and feed for livestock. One of the major challenges facing sweet potato cultivation is the crop's susceptibility to a family of viruses (potyviruses) that cause plant disease and drastically reduce yields.

The European Commission (EC) is supporting a project that aims at improving the adaptation of sweet potato to virus infection, thus contributing to a more environmentally friendly agricultural production method, as well as increasing the revenue of small farmers.

The project, ‘Development of advanced sweet potato genotypes resistant to the complex poly viruses infecting sweet potato in China’, is funded by the European Commission’s INCO programme. It aims at overcoming that bottleneck by harnessing two complementary approaches: the detection and characterisation of resistance sources among existing or old varieties of the crop, wild forms of the same species, or closely related species; and by developing engineered resistance to the complex of Potyviruses prevailing in China.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG
Website
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