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  • Giant wind turbines that generate fossil fuel–free power add a little heat of their own to the planet.

  • From low-emission cows to robotic soil management, the farming industry will have to explore new approaches in the wake of a UN warning that the world needs to cut meat consumption or face worsening climate chaos.

  • Climate change could soon begin to make dramatic impacts on Africa’s agriculture. Up to 60% of land now used to grow beans could become unviable by the end of the century—and in some places, farmers will need to change their ways within the next 10 years. 

  • Add beer to chocolate, coffee and wine as some of life's little pleasures that global warming will make scarcer and costlier, scientists say.

  • Droughts and increased water risks are the new normal in Africa and many farmers and role-players in the agricultural sector have already started to adapt and innovate.

    “But more innovation is needed to help build resilience in agriculture, especially given rapid urbanisation. This must be done in a way that takes local realities into consideration,” said Prof. Danie Brink, dean of the faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University (SU).

    “The face of agriculture and its future prospects, including in an urban setting, looks very different in low-income and high-income countries,” Brink said. “It matters if you live in Lagos (Nigeria), New Jersey (USA) or Groningen (The Netherlands) when we talk about innovations for the future.”

    Brink was one of the guest speakers participating in a workshop on urbanisation and climate-smart agriculture that recently took place at SU. This interdisciplinary workshop, titled Skyscrapers and sky-gardens: perspectives on urbanisation and climate-smart agriculture, was organised and hosted by Dr. Bianke Loedolff. This was part of the first postdoctoral conference of its kind in Southern Africa.

    Loedolff, a researcher in SU’s Institute for Plant Biotechnology, highlighted that drought caused by climate variability is already one of the main concerns for food and nutritional security. Drought damages almost half of our crop and animal production in Africa.

    “Given the ‘hidden’ footprints (carbon, water and ecological) of many of our crops, alternative crops should now be considered,” she argued. Currently, the major crops produced in South Africa are maize and wheat. Both these crops have large water footprints compared to pulses like soya bean and pigeon pea. “It takes 900 litres of water to produce a kilogram of maize. For soya bean, you need 250 litres to produce a kilogram and for pigeon pea only 50 litres. Are these not the kind of crops we should be looking at?” she asked.

    Brink highlighted the fact that 50% of the world’s global population now live in urban areas, with an annual growth of 65 million people in urban centres. By 2050, it is expected that up to 75% of the world’s citizens will live in urban centres. “Millions of people are moving to the cities and towns and have expectations of better lives. Yet, urbanisation has not necessarily improved the lives of people in Africa the same way it has in Asia,” Brink said.

    Sub-Saharan Africa is regarded as the world’s fastest urbanising region. South Africa’s urbanisation trends are higher than that of the Southern African regional average. South Africa is already more urbanised than rural, with 64,3% of the country’s population (34,17 million people) living in urban areas.

    “The rise of urban and peri-urban agriculture in this context of urbanisation and climate change offers new opportunities for changing gender roles, new agricultural value chains and niche markets,” Brink said. “But there are many knowledge gaps to be filled, including policy gaps and challenges related to technologies.”

    Many of the advanced urban agricultural technologies currently being developed are not yet feasible in the African context. Rooftop agriculture, for instance, requires high start-up costs; there are liability and maintenance concerns, and crops are often produced in extreme growing conditions. Controlled environment agriculture is also mostly high-tech, energy and capital intensive, and out of reach of most countries. “In most cases, the high-tech production option is still the least viable and making the least impact (to food security),” Brink indicated.

    Prof. Jennifer Thomson, an emeritus professor in microbiology at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Molecular and Cell Biology department, discussed the possibilities of developing drought-tolerant maize varieties. Thomson is the current president of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). “Finding water stress-tolerant genes and combinations that enable plants to be drought tolerant would be a game-changer in developing crops in Africa,” she said.

    Prof. Jill Farrant, also based at UCT’s Molecular and Cell Biology department, discussed the mechanisms that enable certain plants to have a survival strategy during droughts with potentially huge prospects for agriculture. Farrant, an A-rated researcher and DST/NRF SARChI research chair, is considered a leader in her field of study.

    There are only 135 plant species worldwide typically growing in extreme environments that can tolerate 95% of water loss, she pointed out. “Once watered or after rain falls, these plants rejuvenate within only one to three days. They show extreme genetic drought-tolerant abilities that could potentially be replicated in key crops growing in drought-stricken areas,” she said.

    Farrant believes understanding how these resurrection plants switch genes “on” and “off” could hold the key for developing new drought-tolerant crops. “The reality is clear: Given that the bulk of farming in Africa is dryland agriculture, we need to adapt our crops to survive in hotter and drier conditions, given the changing climate,” she said.

    Willem Botes, research lead in SU’s Plant Breeding Laboratory (SU-PBL), said food supply challenges will continue to steer commercial agriculture towards technological innovations. Botes is a renowned plant breeder involved in the DST-Grain SA National Wheat Breeding Platform.

    “New cultivars and genetic materials that are more tolerant of water stress are of key importance to ensure that the agricultural sector remains vibrant,” Botes said. “However, new cultivars for commercial use are not developed overnight; it takes 15 to 20 years to establish. Consequently, we also have to look at how we use technology during production.”

    “We need to focus on our main staple crops and find ways to intensify production in a more climate-smart way,” he concluded. – Stellenbosch University

  • Here we go again. The “sceptical environmentalist”, Bjorn Lomborg, has returned to warn against the excesses of an impending green dictatorship. The latest threat: taking away our burgers!

  • Important Issues- South Africa -First tropical cyclone in the Western Indian Ocean as well as first real El Nino development is negative for the short term as well as second part of the summer season respectively.

  •  The World Bank Group has set new climate targets for 2021-2025, doubling its current five-year investments to around $200 billion in support for countries to take climate action.

  • 2018 will go down in the record books as one of seemingly incessant geopolitical acrimony. For many policymakers, the imminent turn of the calendar offers brief respite – a moment to clear one’s head and take stock of the most salient challenges on the horizon.

  • At a recent AMT congress Prof Nick King, an independent consultant and environmental futurist, spoke about the effects that climate change will have on agriculture in southern Africa. King's main message was that the ongoing drought South Africa is experiencing is not an isolated natural occurrence, but rather 'the new normal'.

  • Hundreds of rows of giant bamboo grow about an hour outside of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. It’s an unexpected sight—Malawi has lost nearly 10 percent of its forests since 2001, and bamboo isn’t even native to the country. But that’s exactly the reason Grant Blumrick knew he had to start the AfriBam giant bamboo farm.

  • Wine or water? This is the choice that many of the world’s winemakers are currently facing as our most well-loved wine regions across the globe shrivel with heat and drought.

  • Agriculture has become a carbon-intensive endeavour. Crop, livestock and fossil fuel use in agriculture account for about 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

  • A radical decrease in greenhouse gas emissions is needed if farmers are to have time to prepare for major changes in rainfall that could decimate crops, researchers said in a report released. 

  • Any private sector investments in Africa’s food sector must take account of Africa’s smallholder farmers if the investments are to survive, particularly with climate change.

  • Obesity, undernutrition and climate change are the biggest threats to the world population, linked by profit motives and policy inertia, a top commission said on Sunday, calling for a binding plan and trillions of dollars to thwart the dangers.

  • African economies have grown rapidly over the past two decades. Growth between 2009 and 2017 averaged 3.8 percent per year, compared to the world average of 2.5 percent. Africa’s growth has been driven not only by high commodity prices but also economic reforms that have improved the macroeconomic and business environments.

  •  Conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence continued to play a key role in global food insecurity, according to “Global Report on Food Crises,” a new report from the Food Security Information Network (FSIN). Food insecurity refers to the lack of secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.

  • The dwindling agrarian and small farming communities around the world have certainly not had it easy during the last 50 years or so. The lure of urban life and salaried jobs along with the increasing corporatization of agriculture across the world which essentially made small, family farms unprofitable are just two of the many factors that have contributed to the vanishing of many small communities.

  • Climate change can't be halted if we carry on degrading the soil, a report will say.

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