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Showing posts from August, 2016

Saying goodbye and reflecting on lessons from the field

Last week I said goodbye to the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) where I have spent the last three months learning about Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). I’m currently in the second year of my PhD at the University of Bristol, where I’m researching how CBSD viruses cause symptoms, replicate and move inside plants.

Cassava is a staple food crop for approximately 300 million in Africa. However cassava production is seriously threatened by CBSD, which causes yellow patches (chlorosis) to form on leaves and areas of tubers to die (necrosis), rot and become inedible. CBSD outbreaks are currently impacting on the food security of millions of cassava farmers in east Africa and it appears to be spreading westward, threatening food security in many countries.

I decided that I wanted to experience the problem for myself, see the disease in the field, meet the farmers affected and understand the different solutions. I am so pleased that I decided to visit NaCRRI; a govern…

Paying a visit to the Plant Doctor in Uganda

Two weeks ago I organised a visit to a plant clinic in the Mukono district of central Uganda. The plant clinics are run by district local government extension staff with support from CABI’s Plantwise programme and offer a place where farmers can bring crop samples to get advice on how to prevent and cure diseases.

Why does Uganda need plant clinics?
It’s estimated that smallholder farmers loose 30 – 40% of their produce to plant health problems before harvest, which threaten food security, income and livelihoods. Ugandan farmers suffer heavily from pests and diseases, including maize stalk borer, wheat rust, banana bacterial wilt, coffee wilt and cassava viral diseases. The situation is always changing, as outbreaks of disease emerge and persist across the country.

Getting access to information is a challenge in rural settings. Often smallholder farmers have very little contact with extension workers and have no way of diagnosing diseases or finding solutions. The plant clinics provi…

Taking basic research to application: Using light quality to improve herb growth

Coriander is the UK’s top-selling culinary herb, an industry worth £18 million a year. However, maintaining high standards of product quality is expensive and can lead to lots of plants being rejected before they make it to supermarket shelves. One of the key objectives for the potted herb industry is the production of compact plants with dark green leaves, but the plants that consumers end up with often do not conform with this ideal and can appear leggy and weak.

Plants compete for light by growing taller
Plants go to extraordinary lengths to maximise their light capture for photosynthesis. When plants grow close together however, they compete for resources and one resource that becomes limited in closely spaced plants is light due to mutual shading.

Shade has a negative impact on a plant’s health as it limits the light that a plant can use for photosynthesis. But unlike animals, which can move to new areas once space, water or food becomes limited, plants are immotile and have evo…

'Back in buzziness'

Awareness of the plight of bees and other insect pollinators, both across the UK and globally, has grown in recent years. One of the main contributing factors is habitat loss and the decline in flowers that provide nectar and pollen, which are vital resources for pollinators. This was highlighted by research conducted by Mathilde Baude and colleagues from the University of Bristol, which featured on the cover of the journal Nature this February (Baude et al., 2016).
Facilitated by generous support from the Alumni Foundation and a Grow For It Award grant, a group of students at the University of Bristol initiated a project to address this issue. Using recycled scaffolding planks from the Bristol Wood Recycling Project, they constructed two raised beds to be sown with a highly diverse mixture of native wildflowers.
Get Bristol Buzzing assisted in selecting the seed mix, which is made up of annuals and perennials of thirty-seven species (including some rare species). When complete, the p…

Olympic opening ceremony leaves some feeling green

Rio Opening Ceremony put climate change front and center https://t.co/pdiiOHzMyRpic.twitter.com/NIt297b0hc — Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) August 6, 2016 For the first time in South America, the ‘greatest show on earth’ opened with a Brazilian bang last Saturday. The ceremony was a colourful celebration of the diversity of Brazilian culture complete with 50m long animated microbes, Amazonian dancers and pop-up favelas. As the BBC’s Andrew Cotter (slightly awkwardly) remarked ‘Beijing was grandiose, London was smart. This is going to be cool’.

Somewhat to my surprise, intertwined with the samba and sparkles the ceremony carried a strong environmental message, showing the world that the diving pool isn’t the only thing with a hint of green in Rio. It was apparent that the organisers planned to tackle the environmental concerns around the most recent Olympics head-on by brazenly exhibiting Brazil’s environmental conscientiousness rather than its negligence. As the ceremony unfolded,…

Breeding cassava for the next generation

Last week I helped to harvest and score cassava tubers a breeding trial at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI). The trial is part of the NEXTGEN Cassava project which applies genetic techniques to conventional breeding and aims to produce new varieties with Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) resistance.

Why cassava and what’s the CBSD problem?
Approximately 300 million people rely on cassava as a staple food crop in Africa. It is resilient to seasonal drought, can be grown on poor soils and harvested when needed. However cassava production is seriously threatened by CBSD, which can reduce the quality of tubers by 100% and is currently threatening the food security of millions of people.
Crossing cassava from around the world
Cassava varieties show a huge variation in traits including disease resistance. The NEXTGEN Cassava project has crossed 100 parent plants from Latin America with high quality African plants to produce new imp…

Talking sweet potatoes at the Source of the Nile

Last month I was invited to the Source of the Nile agricultural trade show in Jinja, Uganda. The show brings together all aspects of agriculture: from crops to chickens, cows and tractors. The event attracts over 120,000 visitors each year and runs for seven days.

I was needed on a National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) stand where Agnes Alajo (a PhD student and breeder) was selling improved sweet potato varieties, which are resistant to pests and diseases with higher levels of pro-vitamin A.

It is estimated that around 35% of children and 55% of child-bearing mothers in rural Uganda suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which is associated with preventable child blindness and mortality. The orange-fleshed NAROSPOT varieties developed by NaCRRI are enriched with pro-vitamin A and it’s hoped their adoption will help improve the deficiency problem.

The stand also had an impressive array of biscuits, cakes and even juice made from processing sweet potato. Agriculture is very i…

Get connected, stay connected

So after a couple months of experiencing the life of being a science policy advisor at the Royal Society, on my RCUK policy internship, I thought it was time to update you on what I’ve thinking about as I come to the end of my internship.

Getting the right people involved…
An essential start to policy advice is to gain a grounding in the areas you are working in, without this, advice would be uninformed, unrepresentative and simply wasting time. So in huge areas such as climate science, the environment and energy, how do you find the right research, how do you find the right people to talk to?

Imagine a stadium full of people at the start of a football match. You need to walk in and find out who is thinking what. Where do you start?

Literature streams
If every one of those people is a research article, it will be impossible to look at all of them. Start with groups and target particular areas that may be relevant, beginning with more general reading but deepen as time allows. None of…