Sachs in Kenya

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project, is in Nairobi, and The Nation reported yesterday that he “said … giving farmers high yield seeds, fertiliser and mosquito nets to prevent malaria infection would accelerate the country’s economic growth.” He quoted the experience of the Millennium Villages: at Sauri in Siaya District, for example, cases of malaria have dropped by half since the distribution of free mosquito nets and last year the harvest was four times bigger than two years ago. I have no issue with the malaria interventions, but does anyone really still think that “high yield seeds” and fertilizer are the sole answer to agricultural development in Africa? Couldn’t Prof. Sachs have said something about the importance of diversity too?

A tale of two genes

From FoodNavigator, two stories about cool genes: one from an orange cauliflower that could be used to increase beta-carotene in other crops, and one from coffee that could make for a better-tasting cup. It’s always fun to hear about such genes. Now comes the hard part, I guess.

Singular stories

We get used to reading about massive great projects involving loads of stakeholders with mountains of milestones. And we get jaded. But sometimes solutions are much smaller and with them comes a sense of uplift and possibilities. I got that when I found a post from a woman called Juliana, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. Her big push is for a millet grinding machine. Here’s why:

This machine grounds the millet the women spend so long to pound everyday. It can also ground peanuts into peanut butter and shea nuts to extract their oil. Mali is one of the leading producers of Shea butter so I’d like to help contribute to it’s production in my village.

If I get this machine it will allow the women much needed free time to do other things during the day. Plus one part of getting the machine is the ‘alphabetisation’ of the women. They need to learn how to read and write so that they can keep proper records for the machine. An NGO will take part in helping to provide the education for the women and the training for record keeping. It’s a good way of introducing literacy into a small village.

And she writes about trialling different kinds of millet in the village.

Bioversity International (my day job) has helped to introduce millet mini-mills in India, and the positive repercussions have been phenomenal. Not to blow my own horn too loudly, but you can hear about the mini-mill here, and there’s an accompanying article in New Agriculturalist.

So, Juliana, if you’re reading this, go for it, and let us know how you get on.


I just heard a programme on the BBC World Service in the One Planet series called “Nuts.” It looked at the problems encountered in developing the Brazil nut as a source of income for poor Amazonian farmers. Unfortunately, it appears that some very tight – some would say unreasonably tight – EU regulations about levels of aflavotoxins are preventing exports. There’s part two next week. The website for the One Planet series is here, but this particular programme does not seem to be online yet. I’ll keep looking out for it. Coincidentally, WWF also has a long piece on the Brazil nut out today, which you can find here. International Trade Forum had a piece on Brazil nuts here in 2004.

How breeders use genome information

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the use of genomic information in plant breeding but were afraid to ask is covered in a feature article from the US Department of Agriculture. Well, not quite everything, but Improving Crop Plants Through Genomics does offer a quick run down on some of the techniques and some of the projects, including one on nutritional quality and others on marginal environments and pests and diseases.