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 The Developing World > Feeding people while protecting resources
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Feeding people while protecting resources

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Developing countries must find more efficient and sustainable ways to produce more food to fight against poverty, and at the same time protect the natural environment from problems that can sometimes be brought about by agricultural practices. Statistics show that the world is desperate for successful research in this area: 1.5 billion people live in absolute poverty, and 800 million simply do not have enough to eat now. Experts fear the onset of a structural famine in less than 20 years, affecting South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

These problems put enormous pressure on natural resources, land, fresh-water and biodiversity resources; but it is virtually impossible to increase the land available for agricultural use without damaging ecosystems, in particular fragile rain forests. The answer is that the world has to use what it has now but must do things better.

INCO offers a framework for progress via joint research to increase agricultural production and to use land and water more efficiently through a variety of projects. In terms of policy, the programme refuses to countenance old ways that so damaged the environment and were marked by poor practices such as 'slash and burn', overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, and poor water management. In addition, it tries to modify the approach to agricultural research by promoting greater participation of end-users.

INCO's work here covers a variety of areas such as plant crop production, food crops, cash crops and agro-forestry, food and non-food processing.

A-maize-ing solution for acid problem

Maize is an important crop because it is a staple food in many developing countries. Unfortunately its usefulness is limited by the fact that it does not like acid soils, such as those found in the tropics. An INCO project, led by a German team, involving research facilities in Spain, Cameroon, Colombia, Brazil and Guadeloupe, searched for a more successful incorporation of maize into cropping systems for acid soils in the tropics. Plant-soil relationships, physiology and agronomy were closely examined as scientists made genetic improvements to maize plants. The work - which shows that high productivity and sustainability can only be achieved by both genetic and agronomic strategies - has produced new varieties of maize that are now being grown in Brazil and Cameroon and new practices which can offer better yields in acid soils.

 

Trees for life

The Moringa is often called the miracle tree because its by-products have a variety of uses. An INCO project examined the value of the Moringa oleifera and stenopetala in an agroforestry system to produce both vegetable oil and coagulants for water treatment. Trials took place in Kenya, monitored by local scientists and colleagues from Greece, Germany and the UK. They showed how the trees could be best utilised to produce oil for consumption and industry. The results - and those for the use of the tree seeds in water treatment - are now being used by NGOs in development projects.

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Confirming the international role of community research