Wednesday, September 30, 2015

José Graziano da Silva on Seed Security

27 August 2015, Svalbard, Norway - Varieties of one of the world’s most important staple crops will be stored for perpetuity deep in the Arctic ice today. José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is joining scientific experts and delegations from Peru, Costa Rica and Norway to witness a ceremony here this afternoon that will help to preserve these vital crops for future generations.

Food Security and Nutrition Online Courses

Hi there -

If you want  to increase your knowledge of nutrition, agriculture and food security, consider enrolling in these free courses offered by USAID Agrilinks and FAO ELearning platform. They were released recently so feel to disseminate. 

1) COURSE: Nutrition-Sensitive Agricultural Programming

Overview: Welcome to USAID’s online training course on nutrition-sensitive agricultural programming! This comprehensive three-hour course is explicitly designed to support the Feed the Future nutrition-sensitive agricultural programming guidance. Developed by the Bureaus for Food Security and Global Health, the course introduces the fundamentals of nutrition-sensitive agriculture and provides guidelines for practitioners to use when designing programs that promote access to nutrient-rich foods and dietary diversity.

2) COURSE: Nutrition, Food Security and Livelihoods: basic concepts
Overview: This very interactive and short module addresses the basic terms and concepts relating to food and nutrition, malnutrition, food security and livelihoods. Understanding these concepts is indeed very important in order to be able to assess the nutrition situation, to design and implement programmes, investments and policies that address nutrition problems, and to evaluate the nutritional outcomes of programmes, investments and policies.
The French and Spanish versions will be available in November 2015. This course is the first module of a set of modules around Nutrition and Food systems. We hope to develop the two next modules by the end of the year. We will keep you informed!

3) COURSE: Agreeing on causes of malnutrition for joint action
Overview: This module guides you through the simulation of a workshop process in the fictional country of Namambar. You will learn how to use a methodology based on malnutrition problem-and-solution trees to support joint planning for combating food insecurity and malnutrition, and building resilience. Through this course, you will also improve your understanding of the multisectoral causes of malnutrition, and gain new facilitation skills for successful participatory workshops.
The module is available in English and French. The Spanish version will be available in November 2015

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Wheat Rust: A Threat to the Afghan Bread

Wheat Cropping Systems in Afghanistan Central Highlands. Lal, Ghor. (c) 2015
Farmers in the Afghan Central Highlands depend on wheat as their main source of calories. Wheat is the key ingredient to make naan and other products that keep rural families somewhat nourished through the winter months.

There are two types of wheat cropping systems: irrigated and rain-fed. The irrigated wheat crops abound in the narrow valleys, usually intercropped with potatoes and fodder crops.  Wealthy farmers own this fertile land and they tend to produce surplus grain. Poorer farmers plant rain-fed wheat on mountain slopes in late fall. Dependent on the snowmelt, ground moisture retention, and sparse rain showers, rain-fed wheat is a lot more susceptible to changes in weather patterns and voracious livestock.  Rain-fed wheat also has lower yields and it's usually grown by replacing natural vegetation that would otherwise preserve a healthy watershed.

These problems, however, are minor compared to the potential impact of the “polio of agriculture” - Wheat Rust (UG99). Named after being identified in Uganda in 1999, this fungal infection affects wheat crops, leaving the stems with scaly red pustules. Farmers affected by the ‘rust’ could lose up to a third of their crops. For a region where farmers are subsistence or below subsistence, the rust's impact could be devastating for the family diet.

Cow and Donkey  Traditional Wheat Thresher. Lal, Ghor (c) 2015 
Carried by the wind, billions of spores can travel miles virtually unstoppable. In 2008, UG99 hit Iran, possibly coming from Yemen.  While the border between Iran and Afghanistan is close to 1,000 km according to the Rust Tracker, UG99 hasn't trespassed into Afghan territory to date. Unfortunately, it's a matter of time until the spores find an adequate host and establish a new home in the Central Highlands.

Decades of war has left research institutions and extension services underfunded. In the district where I'm based, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), has three extension workers and one motorcycle to cover about 400 communities. The NGO community has little understanding about the formal and informal mechanisms for seed security. In other words, we don't know where and how farmers access and manage their seeds, particularly for the less-profitable rain-fed wheat.

All these factors leave the country very ill-prepared for a potential attack of UG99. Hopefully, by the time that happens, research from CGIAR centers (CIMMYT and ICARDA in particular) will assist in the cultivation of new rust-resistant varieties, ready to be deployed throughout the country. -As they say here - Inshallah.

To learn more about Wheat Rust check out this excellent video from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative: