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Archive for June, 2013

9th Triennial Conference of the African Potato Association starts tomorrow

Tomorrow starts the 9th Triennial Conference of the Africa Potato Association. The event takes place in Naivasha, Kenya and will gather potato scientists from Africa and around the world to discuss issues around five major themes:

  1. Appropriate policies for germplasm exchange, food and nutrition security, and trade in Africa
  2. Getting seed systems moving
  3. Major advances in breeding and crop management
  4. Innovations in postharvest management, processing technologies, marketing systems and  technology transfer
  5. New evidence concerning nutritional value and changing behaviours

We will be present at the conference with a presentation on “Ex-ante Evaluation of Improved Potato Varieties for Sub-Saharan Africa”, which will also soon be available on this blog.

The conference can be followed on Twitter at @APA2013 and on Facebook under AfricanPotatoAssociation.

Is a fertilizer revolution the right recipe for African agriculture?

It is often argued that to increase its farm yields and close its yield gap, Africa needs a new Green Revolution, based on the expanded use of fertilizer. An intriguing analysis by Pablo Tittonell of Wageningen University, however, tells a somewhat different story (find it on p.17ff. in Tittonell’s inaugural lecture at WUR.

In an on-farm research program carried out in Western Kenya, Tittonell and others compared maize yields on the fields of 60 households under different management regimes. A part of the plots was managed by the farmers themselves, with or without use of fertilizers. Another part was managed by researchers without the use of fertilizers, only taking care of the right planting time and plant spacing, frequent weeding, and using certified local cultivars. A third part of the plots was managed by the researchers with the use of N-P-K fertilizers.

MaizeYields

Source: Taken from Tittonell (2013).

The figure shows the striking result that the plots managed by researchers even without fertilizers had higher yields than the plots managed by the farmers, thus illustrating the potential of proper agronomic management. In particular with rising distance from the homestead this potential is high.

On the other hand, the figure also shows that N-P-K fertilization has an even higher potential for increasing yields. However, the researchers also argue that, given the current quality of the road network, bringing the amounts of fertilizers required to obtain significant yield increases at scale to the rural communities would not be feasible .

The analysis raises a number of interesting questions. The overarching question is – taking optimized agronomic management and the use of higher amounts of N-P-K fertilizers as alternatives – what is the better alternative?

Read more…

Potentially record breaking sweetpotato harvest on Lima city balcony!!!!

A city balcony in Lima has just seen a potentially record breaking sweetpotato harvest!!!

Record sweet potato harvest.

A record sweetpotato harvest

The marvelous crop of 3.5 kg from one single plant translates (with the adequate assumption on the area occupied by the plant) to up to 182.292 tons of sweetpotato per hectare!!! The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports world average yields of only 13.109 tons per hectare.

“Among the reasons for this phenomenal success are not only the favourable climate with abundant sunshine, but also the use of high quality planting material, a careful management of soil fertility and the application of sound agronomic practices” says the justly proud owner and manager of the farm.

(And now for the more serious minded: The point is that growing food even with the limited space of a city balcony is possible. It may not bring a huge production, but adds at least from time to time a bit of own-produced food to the table, is enjoyable, great fun for the kids and gives for nice conversation with like-minded people.)