Iowa Public Television

 

Developing countries use mix of high and low tech solutions

posted on January 28, 2000


WITH JUST ONE DAY LEFT IN NEGOTIATIONS OVER HOW TO GOVERN TRADE IN GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS, TALKS BETWEEN SOME OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST TRADING PARTNERS BROKE DOWN. BLAME FOR THE COLLAPSE WENT N-O-T TO USUAL GMO WHIPPING BOY, THE UNITED STATES, BUT TO CANADA. BY ATTEMPTING TO REOPEN GMO TRADE ISSUES ALREADY SETTLED, THE EUROPEAN UNION ACCUSED CANADA OF TRYING TO STALL THE DISCUSSIONS.

IT'S IRONIC THAT WHILE THE WEST IS ABSORBED IN MATTERS CENTERED AROUND HIGH TECHNOLOGY, A PARALLEL RESEARCH UNIVERSE IS DEVISING TECHNOLOGIES APPROPRIATE TO THE NEEDS AND MEANS OF THE WORLD'S POOR. EXAMPLES OF THAT EFFORT CAN BE FOUND ON DIVERSE CONTINENTS. TYLER TESKE EXPLAINS.

BOUNTIFUL HARVESTS. OVERPRODUCTION. GOVERNMENT PRICE SUPPORTS. THESE ARE NOT PHRASES FAMILIAR TO PEOPLE IN MUCH OF THE WORLD. IN FACT, HAVING TOO MUCH FOOD IS A FOREIGN CONCEPT TO 40 PERCENT OF THE WORLD'S POPULATION.

THE SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM IS BEING MET HEAD ON BY RESEARCHERS, OFTEN OUTSIDE OF DEVELOPED NATIONS.

THE CONSULTATIVE GROUP ON INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, OR C-G-I-A-R, IS AN INFORMAL ASSOCIATION OF 58 PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ENTITIES. THE CONSORTIUM SUPPORTS ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND PRACTICES IN THEIR MISSION TO PROVIDE FOOD SECURITY AND ELIMINATE POVERTY IN DEVELOPING NATIONS.

BECAUSE C-G-I-A-R WORKS WITH IMPOVERISHED PEOPLES, RESEARCHERS RELY LESS ON SIMPLY HIGH TECH SOLUTIONS AND CONCENTRATE MORE ON APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY FOR THE PEOPLE THEY ARE HELPING.

IN DEVELOPING NATIONS, THE LATE BLIGHT FUNGUS CAN BE ONE OF THE MOST DEVASTATING OF ALL CROP AFFLICTIONS. ONCE THE AIRBORNE FUNGUS TAKES HOLD, IT OFTEN DESTROYS AN ENTIRE POTATO CROP AS IT DID DURING THE IRISH POTATO FAMINE.

AND FOR FARMERS WHO CAN'T AFFORD CHEMICAL SPRAYS, THE FUNGUS IS A COMPLICATED ENEMY.

Rebecca Nelson: "This is a terrible pathogen that changes real rapidly and comfortably so when that first round of breeding attempts met with failure so the new resistant materials were susceptible before they were really released, for instance, they were considered not to have worked and again the fungicides were the solution that came in instead."

THE MOISTURE FROM THE LAST EL NIÑO WREAKED HAVOC UPON THIS STAPLE CROP IN PERU.

AND, AS IF THE LATE BLIGHT FUNGUS WERE NOT A HIGH ENOUGH HURDLE, POTATO CROPS ALSO FACE A HOST OF INSECT PREDATORS AS WELL. WEEVILS, FLIES AND MOTHS MAKE EVERY STAGE OF THE PLANT'S LIFE DIFFICULT.

BUT POOR FARMERS ARE IMPLEMENTING SOLUTIONS TO ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS BECAUSE OF CGIAR RESEARCH. TO COMBAT THE INSECTS, FARMERS ARE LEARNING INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT.

SOME I-P-M STRATEGIES ARE AS SIMPLE AS TAKING CHICKENS INTO THE FIELD TO EAT WEEVILS BEFORE PLANTING POTATO SEEDLINGS. OR, TO COMBAT THE MINER FLY, FARMERS EXPLOIT THE INSECT'S PASSION FOR YELLOW. LARGE YELLOW TARPS COATED WITH A THIN LAYER OF MOTOR OIL ARE PLACED THROUGHOUT A FIELD TO CREATE GIANT FLY TRAPS.

AND SOME SOLUTIONS ARE MORE HIGH TECH...BUT INEXPENSIVE. FARMERS CAN PROTECT THEIR STORED POTATOES BY DUSTING THEM WITH A VIRUS LADEN TALC. THE VIRUS IS LETHAL ONLY TO THE MOTH, PROVIDES 100% PROTECTION, AND CAN BE PRODUCED LOCALLY AT A VERY LOW COST.

THE LATE BLIGHT FUNGUS HAS BEEN A MORE DIFFICULT TASK. BECAUSE OF THIS FUNGUS, POTATOES ARE THE MOST SPRAYED CROP IN THE WORLD. EXPENSIVE CHEMICAL SPRAYING IS OUT OF THE QUESTION FOR THESE FARMERS. BECAUSE OF THIS CHALLENGE, THE NEW SOLUTION IS TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN, BUT UNLIKE CHEMICAL SPRAYS THIS TECHNOLOGY WILL BE GIVEN TO FARMERS IN DEVELOPING NATIONS.

RESEARCHERS AT THE POTATO INSTITUTE IN LIMA, PERU, ARE BREEDING RESISTANCE INTO POTATOES TO AVOID USING CHEMICAL SPRAY. THE CGIAR MEMBER INSTITUTE IS USING A METHOD CALLED HORIZONTAL BREEDING, A TECHNIQUE THAT BREEDS MULTIPLE RESISTANCE GENES INTO ONE PLANT.

Nelson: "We can say that using the strategy, using the materials, using the genetic resources that we're using, methodology we're using, we have a good chance of having stable, long-lasting resistance."

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD FOOD CROPS ARE LESS OF A CONCERN THAN ANIMAL PROTEIN. A DIET LACKING PROTEIN CAUSES A LARGE PORTION OF THE POPULATION IN BANGLADESH TO SUFFER FROM MALNUTRITION.

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, SEASONAL RAINS HAVE FLOODED THE GANGES AND THE BRAMPUHTRA RIVERS, TURNING MUCH OF BANGLADESH INTO A SHALLOW SEA. THE FLOODING PROVIDED IRRIGATION FOR RICE CROPS, AND FISH, THE LARGEST SOURCE OF ANIMAL PROTEIN. BUT TODAY, FISH ARE SCARCE.

Tripathi: "Plenty of fish was available here 20 years ago but because of the changing circumstances, changing ecology, because of the draining of rivers and the blockage of the migration routes of fishes, the breeding of fish has stopped and the population of fish has gone down and the result is that there is almost no fish in the rivers now."

SMALL PONDS FORMED BY THE FLOODING ARE OFTEN DRAINED TO CLAIM EVEN THE SMALLEST FISH FROM THE MUD. IT IS THESE PONDS THAT ARE IMPROVING LIFE FOR MANY OF THE POOREST CITIZENS OF BANGLADESH.

THE INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR LIVING AQUATIC RESOURCES MANAGEMENT, OR ICLARM, HAS IMPLEMENTED TALAPIA FARMING IN THE SMALL PONDS FOUND SO FREQUENTLY IN BANGLADESHI BACKYARDS. A BREED OF TALAPIA THAT THRIVES IN THE BANGLADESHI CLIMATE WAS DEVELOPED ALONG WITH A PLAN FOR GROWING THE FISH.

AT FIRST, THE RESEARCH RESULTED IN A PLAN THAT WAS MORE PRACTICAL FOR A TEST POND THAN REAL LIFE.

GUPTA: "They said no, this is not possible. We don't have these feeds, we don't have these fertilizers, we cannot afford to give it."

WORKING WITH THE FARMERS, THE RESEARCHERS FOUND MORE SUSTAINABLE AND AFFORDABLE TECHNOLOGIES. A READILY AVAILABLE MIX OF COW MANURE, RICE HUSKS AND DUCK WEED WERE SUBSTITUTED WITH POSITIVE RESULTS.

FISH PRODUCTION IN THE PONDS INCREASED TEN FOLD, YIELDING TWO TO THREE TONS OF FISH PER TWO AND A HALF ACRES OF POND. PRODUCTION COSTS CAN BE COVERED BY SELLING 25 PERCENT OF THE FISH HARVEST, AND THE EXTRA MONEY FROM SELLING SURPLUS FISH HAS HELPED MANY OF BANGLADESH'S POOREST TO BUY LAND OR SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO SCHOOL.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THESE APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGIES WILL HELP POOR COUNTRIES INCREASE THEIR PRODUCTION DRAMATICALLY IN THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS, POSSIBLY AVOIDING THE REAL THREAT OF A WORLD FOOD CRISIS.

FOR MARKET TO MARKET, I'M TYLER TESKE.

Tags: agriculture news technology