At the dawn of the 21st century the world
is still facing the challenge of feeding a fast growing population.
According to FAO statistics there are still about 800 million
undernourished people throughout the world largely situated in
the dry-lands. Food security, defined as access by any human being,
at any time, to sufficient food required for a healthy and productive
life, remains a top priority for the EC's development cooperation
policy. Research for development addresses this objective by looking
for sustainable solutions which are no longer purely technological.
The Green Revolution has highlighted the necessity for placing
agriculture firmly in its environmental and social context.
Long-term food security: protecting
and improving crops
Increasing crop yields through traditional breeding programmes
is approaching its limits. Further augmenting production is therefore
largely dependent on development and application of biotechnology
techniques. Reducing the very significant production losses of
crops through plant pests and diseases is another major priority
of agricultural research which contributes to food security. Extensive
use of chemical crop protection in developing countries is often
untenable because of costs, environmental and safety concerns
' high costs also put mineral fertilisers out of reach.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
The challenge of integrating subsistence
in the market economy
IPM is increasingly recognised as the preferred approach to sustainable
crop protection. It aims at reducing crop losses through the optimum
combination of pest control techniques allowing for agricultural
productivity, environmental sustainability and cost effectiveness.
Intensification of agriculture, with its vast array of chemicals,
has in many cases led to serious problems which may be summarised
as pest resistance, emergence of new pests through disappearance
of their natural enemies, health hazards and pesticide residues.
In Europe, the European Network for Integrated Pest Management
in Development Cooperation was established in 1992 to promote
coherence and support for European policy formulation and implementation
regarding IPM in developing countries.
- Banana research for resistance to leaf spot disease
Bananas, like cash crops in general, have the potential for
boosting small-scale farmers' incomes. But the world's entire
banana production relies on only three varieties and is therefore
very vulnerable to the emergence of any new The challenge of
integrating subsistence farmers in the market economy pathogen.
Like plantains, they are very susceptible to the fungus Mycosphaerella
fijiensis which causes the Black Leaf Streak (BLS) disease.
A cluster of INCO projects contributed to the objective of examining
at a global level the population genetic structure of this fungus
using molecular markers. Another aspect was the study of host/pathogen
interactions. Added value to the above research findings came
from another project looking into pathogenic variability and
partial resistance for M. fijiensis, paving the way for an original
breeding programme to create triploid hybrids resistant to BLS
disease. Promising hybrid varieties have been obtained for introduction
into banana small-holder cropping systems.
- Biological pest control: a difficult path to follow
In spite of successes, IPM strategies are not easily adopted
by farmers as shown by the example of maize growers in Latin
America where use of organophosphate pesticides can cause chronic
poisoning among farmers. Laboratory experiments in the UK and
Spain focused on the development of a baculovirus insecticide
for the key pest Spodoptera frugiperda. Baculoviruses are known
to cause lethal infections in the larval stage of their hosts
but they are benign to beneficial insects and man. Field trials
on small-scale maize farms in Mexico and Honduras allowed various
doses and formulations to be tested. Maize yields, in which
viral agents have been employed to combat key insect pests,
have been equivalent to those obtained with synthetic insecticides,
and so has the cost. However, the environmental benefits are
not yet sufficiently appreciated to encourage environmentally-friendly
practices. Further work is necessary to make the biological
method more reliable, safe and economically attractive to maize
As well as developing these methods, the project has been an
opportunity to train local scientists at all levels and to promote
Breeding to improve natural resistance
Plant breeding and other new techniques to improve the natural
resistance of crop plants to attack could make a big difference.
Some wild relatives of the potato are naturally resistant to
damage from a variety of fungal diseases. A research project involving
scientists from Germany, Spain, Argentina and Costa Rica is working
to identify and isolate proteins from these wild relatives, and
the genes which code for their production, to define what gives
the plants their resistance to fungal attack. The team will then
go on to evaluate how to convey the fungal resistance into cultivated
potato plants. Similar studies will attempt to define the genes
and proteins responsible for resistance to viruses and nematodes.
The project is developing plants with increased resistance, by
understanding of the regulatory mechanisms involved, and how to
use them effectively in breeding programmes.
Crop plants in adverse growth conditions
Agricultural intensification, characterised by its higher levels
of inputs and output, has allowed a doubling of the world's food
production in the last 35 years (FAO Statistics) with only a 10%
increase in arable land while at the same time it could not prevent
gradual erosion of quality cultivated land. Land degradation is
on-going and omnipresent leaving researchers with the challenge
of reversing this process, as well as the necessity of bringing
marginal land into production where crops are often grown under
less than ideal conditions. Many INCO research projects are addressing
the issue of environmental constraints; looking for technologies
suited for small-scale production by breeding to select desirable
traits such as resistance to biotic or abiotic stress.
The aim of one such project in Mexico and Peru, with partners
in Germany and Spain, is to develop crops and breed potato and
bean plants tolerant to stresses such as drought, salinity, cold
and freezing. The hope is to combine stress-tolerant bean plants
with strains of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, to enable beans to fix
nitrogen (and improve soil fertility) in conditions of water stress.
One project outcome will be plants with vastly enhanced efficiency
for producing food, which can grow in adverse conditions at minimal
cost. Another is the expertise gained by local scientists so they
can develop their crops in the future.
Improving under-utilised crops
Bambara groundnut is a much under-used African legume similar
to the peanut, producing edible underground fruit. It is potentially
a rich source of energy and protein, but little used because its
productivity is low and variable. Almost no research had been
done on this crop until the work of a UK-led INCO project with
partners in Germany, Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana. Genetic
and agronomic studies were combined with farmers' knowledge to
define the ideal varieties for varying conditions of soil moisture,
radiation and temperature. Simple molecular techniques were set
up for local laboratories to characterise groundnut races suited
to particular environments. They are now able to develop a strategic
groundnut breeding programme for each country.
Another new important food source has been identified via research
in Botswana and Namibia, by domesticating indigenous fruit trees
with high fruit yields. The project, involving contributions from
Italy, Germany and Israel, defined seven species suitable for
cultivation, and capable of producing fruit even during periods
of drought. All have root mycorrhizae, associations with fungi
and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which help reverse soil degradation
and do not need a fertiliser input. It has also been possible
to predict which species will not suffer from being grown in plantation
systems. The outcome is twofold: a new source of fruit; and, by
encouraging tree planting, a means of reducing soil degradation
and improving soil fertility.
Moringa trees, which grow in the Kenyan drylands, are the potential
source of a whole range of as yet unharvested products. A UK-led
project with participants in Greece, Germany and Kenya, has elucidated
the possibilities offered by Moringa. Proteins from its seed kernels
can be used as flocculants for water clarification, and high-quality
oil for both cooking and industrial uses can be extracted from
its seeds. Compounds in the seeds and leaves have various pharmaceutical
and agrochemical uses; the wood can be used for pulp, and leaf
material can be eaten by animals and humans. The results of this
project are now being exploited at village level and are offering
resources and a source of income not previously recognised.
Beneficial micro-organisms - mycorrhizal
Beside nitrogen, phosphorus is the most limiting plant nutrient
to achieve adequate yields in tropical soils. The use of arbuscular
and mycorrhizal fungi presents a low cost alternative for farmers
to release phosphorus from organic and inorganic sources.
Biodiversity of mycorrhizal fungi is enormous, and presents
an almost unlimited resource for low-cost input agriculture in
developing countries by screening stable varieties, developing
inoculation protocols and characterising these strains at the
physiological and molecular level. Studies of banana cropping
systems in the Caribbean isolated and investigated the characteristics
of several mycorhizal fungi from all types of soils, in particular
'vertisols' and 'nitisols'. Depending on the Glomus species, mycorhization
of banana roots increases tolerance to attacks from the nematode,
Radopholus similis, or reduce its development within the root
system. A positive impact to the fungi Cylindrocladium spp., following
Glomus versiforme infection, was also observed. Similar encouraging
work was undertaken on representatives of the genus Pseudomonas.
Appropriate food processing
Phaseolus vulgaris beans are known to be hard to cook (HTC)
after storage ' traditionally this has been countered by prolonged
cooking. A joint project involving the UK, Spain, Kenya and Cameroon
looked into the biochemical mechanisms that cause the HTC defect
and possible solutions such as: processing methods to counter
the effect, training for workers from Kenya and Cameroon in bean
processing, and ways to exploit the results to contribute to better
use of the beans for nutrition.
Research learnt that cooking and extrusion of otherwise less
palatable beans with low nutritional value produce bean flour
which is satisfactorily digestible, dry, stable and storable.
It is particularly useful for enhancing the dietary protein of
foods commonly eaten by rural communities, including baby food,
porridge, wheat bread and biscuits.
Improved nutrition is not the only project result. Beneficial
effects were also achieved for the environment as the new processing
method uses less wood as fuel and less water for cooking, and
is significantly labour-saving for African mothers. Extruding
protein from beans may also lead to income generating activities
that could contribute to alleviating poverty.
Long-term food security: protecting
Field trial of inoculation of
sweet potato with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi - Hebei Province,
People throughout the world depend on livestock for food, clothing
and draughtpower. Their animals' vulnerability to food and water
shortage is compounded by bacterial, viral, protozoal and insect
pests and diseases which adversely affect their health, reduce
their output and ultimately curtail their lifespan. In addition,
growing economic globalisation has increased the risk of spreading
infectious animal diseases beyond national and regional borders
with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Preventing these high-risk situations constitutes a joint responsibility
for developing and industrialised countries. INCO, with its commitment
to regional working, is perfectly placed to research these problems.
Achieving health security of animal populations, and meeting
the various and diverse environmental pressures to ensure public
health through the control of zoonoses has been the focus of various
INCO research projects.
Controlling animal diseases
Rinderpest and peste des petits ruminants (PPR) are two devastating
and closely-related viral diseases. Rinderpest, affecting cattle,
is now restricted to a few isolated areas, but more recently PPR
has come to prominence, causing similar symptoms and a high death
rate in sheep and goats. PPR has been identified in many West
African countries, the Middle East, Central Asia, India, Pakistan,
and Bangladesh. Rinderpest and PPR are among the animal diseases
targeted in the FAO Empress priority programme. Vaccination programmes
to control both diseases are heavily funded by the EU.
One current INCO research project, linking EU workers with institutes
in Kenya and the C'te d'Ivoire, aims to develop heat-stable vaccines
suitable for mass oral vaccination of wild animals in tropical
countries ' not possible with currently available vaccines. This
development will be a great advance as it will allow vaccination
of large numbers of wild animals and give them life-long immunity.
The project examines how the two diseases are circulating will
be invaluable to the future design of disease control and wildlife
Thirty-two agricultural and university institutes in 23 countries
(including 12 from Africa and South America plus two associated
partners) are working together on tick-borne diseases. An online
database of blood parasites will help diagnostics and vaccine
development against both ticks and the diseases they carry. Guides
for identifying ticks on ruminants will be used to spread the
information in the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Saharan
Africa. The environmental impact of this project is potentially
high as it may put an end to current disease prevention techniques
based on large quantities of chemicals.
Cattle grazing dry pasture ' Manyara
Lake area, Tanzania
Animal trypanosomiasis, transmitted by the tsetse fly, is another
dreaded animal disease which can have a huge impact on local economies.
Existing control is not satisfactory and there is little prospect
of a conventional vaccine. An INCO project involving workers from
South Africa and Burkina Faso, as well as France and Belgium,
with EDF support to West African regional research (CIRDES, ITC
and NARS) under CORAF, took a different approach by trying to
reduce the pathological effects of infection and to improve methods
for diagnosis. Some cattle are trypanosome-tolerant, showing only
limited symptoms and developing antibodies. Susceptible cattle
could therefore be immunised with the trypanosome element which
stimulates antibody response. While productivity might still be
reduced because of infection, it would not be lost. This novel
approach to animal disease control recognises the scale of the
problem, and uses research knowledge to propose new actions which
will support a change to a sustainable method of husbandry.